Real Estate Scam

A standard Corrupt Corporate Executive scheme, a Short Con on a large scale: playing with property value to gain profit. Different versions exist, but in its most simple form it involves using nefarious means to drive tenants out of their homes, and generally lowering the property value of a neighbourhood in order to make room for a new building project.

This trope is a good, if somewhat overused, way to get a bunch of ordinary people involved in the story.

Not to be confused with Landmark Sale.

See also Shady Real Estate Agent.


    open/close all folders 

  • The Corrupt Corporate Executive Big Bad in You Don't Mess with the Zohan tries to make the New York Israeli and Palestinian communities fight each other so he can buy off the neighbourhood and build a mall on top of it. When creating a conflict doesn't work out, they hire a group of neo-nazis to vandalize the neighbourhood.
  • In Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, the Big Bad orchestrates a crimewave alongside an old bus route, which would soon be the route of a train line. The crimewave would then drive down property prices allowing him to buy them and then resell them when the train line is complete and the price skyrocketed. It's even lampshaded at the end:
    'Commisioner Hurst: So you're saying all of this was nothing more than a real estate scam!?
    Sgt. Hightower: A billion-dollar real estate scam, sir.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the conspiracy to buy Toon Town and turn it into a paved highway.
  • Blazing Saddles: The railroad line currently being built has to be re-routed through the town of Rock Ridge. Big Bad Hedley Lamaar comes up with a scheme to drive out the town's residents and acquire the land cheaply, then sell it for millions to the railroad company.
    Hedley Lamarr: Unfortunately, there is one thing standing between me and that property: the rightful owners.
  • The film Local Hero plays around with this trope.
  • Superman — Lex Luthor's plot to buy up all the cheap land in the desert bordering California before blowing up the fault line and turning that desert into beach front real estate.
  • Same song, different beat in Superman Returns. Lex wants to create a new continent in the Atlantic Ocean, destroying half of the US in the process, and then sell it at a premium.
  • The movie Hot Fuzz — this is a subplot (at least Sgt Angel thinks it is).
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  • Subplot out of Evan Almighty — The main character Evan, who is a congressman, cosponsors the destruction of a natural forest for urban development.
  • One of the main characters of An Education partakes in "blockbusting": a scam often performed prior to the 1970s in which a Shady Real Estate Agent would convince white homeowners into selling their homes at a loss to them by implying that black people or other racial minorities would move into the neighborhood and cause property prices to plummet.

  • A major part of the plot of the Tim Dorsey novel Triggerfish Twist.
  • Part of Lockhart's plan to raise the capital to find his father and save his family home in Tom Sharpe's The Throwback.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Deputy Prime Minister in Ali G Indahouse plans to raze Staines so that Heathrow Airport can be expanded.
  • CSI: Miami has a murder take place in a neighborhood that turns out to be a plot to lower property values.
  • Burn Notice "Broken Rules": Michael helps out a neighborhood in Little Havana where a gang has suddenly started extorting much higher amounts of money from the locals than they used to and killing anyone that cannot pay. Michael infiltrates the gang and discovers that the boss has been intentionally extorting too much from the neighborhood families to drive them out and make a killing by purchasing the local real estate once the values plummet due to her reign of terror.
  • A standard plot on Leverage.
    • One example that stands out is "The Miracle Job" — a priest is assaulted by gang members, who were paid by a real estate mogul trying to buy up the land his church (which is in danger of closing) is on. The gang tries to prevent the church's closing by faking a miracle... which backfires, as the mogul's now going to build around the "crying statue" and turn the place into a faith-based moneymaker.
    • Also used in "The Snow Job", by way of Crooked Contractor.
  • Amoral Attorney Maurice Levy from The Wire constantly suggests his clients from Organized Crime turn to real estate; they do. One of the background subplots is that drug money is being funneled to State Sen. Clay Davis, who then tells Stringer which buildings are due to get revitalization grants so Stinger can buy them while they are still dirt cheap.
  • The All in the Family episode "The Blockbuster" had the Bunkers dealing with the titular scammer.
  • Subverted on Daredevil. A slumlord is using vandalism and intimidation to drive out his rent-control tenants. Matt and Foggy suspect that he is planning to build condos on the property but while this would not be out of character for the slumlord, he is just an agent of Wilson Fisk and Fisk does not care about making a profit on the property. Fisk promised the property to the Yakuza ( actually a faction controlled by the Hand) and they do not want the residents getting into way of whatever nefarious plan they have for the block of New York estate.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A weird variant in one of the Shadowrun short stories from Wolf and Raven: a Corrupt Corporate Executive is conspiring with racist gangs to drive out or kill elves living in a particular neighborhood. The twist is that he's not trying to buy the elves' property cheap, but to change the demographics of the neighborhood, so it'll be the ideal location for test-marketing his company's products. Same methods, different profit motive.

    Video Games 
  • "Nothing brings down real estate prices like a good old fashioned gang war" — said by Avery Carrington in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Donald Love in Grand Theft Auto III.
  • In Saints Row 2, one of the minigames available is 'Septic Avenger', where you ride around in a septic-truck and spray property with crap to lower the values. Ironically, this is feasible because of Ultor's reconstruction of the once-embattled Saints Row district, turning it into an upscale office-park... and creating a severe shortage of low-price housing. Meaning that hard-working low-income families are willing to buy a cheap house even if it's covered in crap. (The realtor-term is "Fixer-upper".)
  • A big scam drives the plot of L.A. Noire. The Suburban Redevelopment Fund, a cabal of several prominent local officials and citizens, buys up land along the proposed route of the new freeway, building cheap houses on them to drive up the value when the government offers to buy them out under eminent domain.

    Western Animation 
  • Happened in "The Itis", a first-season episode of The Boondocks — Ed Wuncler shuts down a vegan restaurant that's across from a public park he wants to buy, and turns it into a soul food restaurant (run by Robert Freeman, natch). By the end of the episode, the restaurant's closed down (thanks to a lawsuit from a former customer) and Wuncler owns the park (thanks to the lowered property values created by the restaurant and its effect on the neighborhood).
  • Futurama has many examples of this, the most notable being the Scammer Aliens in Bender's Big Score.
  • The episode "Karate Island" of Spongebob Squarepants is about this.
  • This seems to be the main motive for Scooby-Doo villains, usually about scaring people away from the old amusement park/neighborhood/whatever so that the owner would have to sell the land.
    • For example, the Where Are You episode "Spooky Space Kook".
  • South Park has the parents of the kids taken to a ski resort in Aspen for a timeshare presentation, and they are unable to leave because they salesmen keep taking them back in the resort till they take their offer.

    Real Life 

  • As mentioned above, "blockbusting" was an unfortunately common practice between the 1940s and 1960s. When relatively affluent African-American families finally were able to buy property in former all-white neighborhoods due to the gradual victories of the Civil Rights movement, real estate moguls would intentionally play up the fear of (mainly working-class) whites and say that the world was going to end. As a result, the moguls were able to buy up the properties at a severe discount, and then sell them back to the arriving African-American families at a steep mark-up. African-American families still had lots of problems finding banks that would give them favorable mortgages, so the deals that they made were very exploitative. The African-American families, therefore, had little extra money to put into repairs or upkeep, leading to an unintentional deterioration of the neighborhood. Thus, whites viewed the African-Americans moving into their neighborhood as a death sentence on their hard-earned property value, and African-Americans viewed whites as part of the system out to exploit them. The entire core of modern racism, all because of some cynical real-estate moguls. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was intended to deal with some of this, but at the end of the day it barely put a dent in the problem.
  • Eminent Domain fraud. Eminent Domain is the power by which governments can take land (while, theoretically, providing just compensation). Usually, this is to remove houses and buildings to make way for things like roads and utilities. The fraud kicks in when some companies claim to have eminent domain power when they don't, threatening to throw people out of their houses when they have no legal right to do so.
    • Part of the controversy of the Keystone XL Pipeline is the claim that the company placing the pipeline is doing this to remove people who refuse to sell their land to them.