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Trump U in Tampa: inside a one-day real estate seminar

TAMPA

The seats are filling inside a ballroom at the Marriott Westshore, where Donald Trump stares down from two big posters at the front of the room.

"Unheard of Real Estate Market Factors Have Created A PERFECT STORM Of Profit Opportunity!" said the ads in the newspaper that lured us all here. "FREE INTRODUCTORY CLASS!"

It's hard to resist so many capital letters.

When everyone's equipped with a Marriott pad and pen, and when we've been thoroughly warned against cell phones and recordings, tonight's instructor jogs to the front of the room. James A. Harris wears thin black-framed glasses and a Tommy Bahama shirt. His shoes and hair look expensive.

Harris asks how everyone is. The response is muffled, and he seems angry about this.

"C'mon, guys!" he shouts.

"Good!" we say again.

He says his father left home when he was a boy, and his mother was addicted to drugs. He found himself sleeping in New York subway tunnels at 19, when a mentor taught him how to sell real estate.

Now he wants to help us!

Welcome to Trump University, the latest real estate seminar to slide through Tampa.

"Write this down," Professor Harris says. "Your license plate when I'm done with you is gonna say PAID FOR. Got that?"

When Harris gets going, the session turns and twists and you quickly understand that we're getting about 80 percent of each moneymaking technique.

"We'll talk about that more later," he keeps saying.

Boiled down, this is Trump U's free advice:

Buy low and sell low. Hit singles, and once in a while a double will come along.

Don't do business in your own name, or you'll lose your shirt if you ever have to file for bankruptcy protection.

Use other people's money to do your deals. Find people facing foreclosure, make them a low offer, then sell for more before any money changes hands.

"Are you with me?" he says.

"Not really," says the guy sitting next to me. "You're talking too fast."

The ideas are nothing new. They've been used by speculators for years. But it's not nearly as simple as some free seminars make it seem, experts say.

"There's no magic pill," says Nikki Ubaldini, a local real estate broker with Keller Williams who speaks at seminars across the country. "If they're touting that you can do this on your own, that's a huge fallacy. But if somebody walks out of there armed with information and knows how to assimilate it and finds the right team to surround themselves with . . . then yes, they could walk out of there and do it properly."

The whole thing raises a question: If there's so much money to be made in real estate right now, why aren't Trump and his "hand-picked" real estate experts out there making it themselves, instead of trying to sell their advice?

Anyway, Harris can sell.

"Are you with me, class?" he shouts. "Give me a big YES!"

"Yes," we say.

"Are the markets gonna turn in Florida?" he asks.

"Yes!" we say.

"Are you with me?"

"Yes!"

An Internet advertisement appears on the big screen. We buy your house for ca$h — that sort of thing.

"Guys," Harris says, "do you want to use my ads?"

"Yeah!" somebody says.

"What do you say?"

"Please!"

"Sure," he says. "All you have to do is ask."

He has us eating out of his hand.

As the seminar winds down, Harris, sweating and sipping from an Evian bottle, gets serious. He says he has taught us some good ways to make money, but there's so much more to learn. He says Trump University is hosting a three-day conference in two weeks, where Trump's troops will give you the rest of what you need to make thou$and$ of dollar$.

The price: $1,495.

"There are three groups of people," he says. "People who make things happen, people who wait for things to happen, and people who wonder, 'What happened?'

"Which one are you?"

And . . .

"There are gonna-bes and wanna-bes. And I want to talk to the gonna-bes when we're done."

And . . .

"The only reason I'm up here is because I have a little more confidence than you. But I can give you confidence. I can give you that shot in the shoulder you need."

And . . .

"It's a tax write-off," he says. "So you'll get it back."

On the big screen a picture flashes of Harris standing in his bathrobe between a Hummer and a Mercedes.

"I told you I work in my bathrobe," he says.

The next shot is of him and two young boys. He gets quiet.

"This is why I work," he says, looking like he's about to cry. "Don't do this for yourself. Do it for your kids. Do it for somebody else."

He tells those who want to get rich to head for the sign-up tables in the back, and those who don't, well, we should just leave.

Most of us make for the door.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

Trump U in Tampa: inside a one-day real estate seminar 06/14/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 4:31am]

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