The attendees of increasingly popular "financial freedom" courses are worryingly credulous
‘Who wants a free house,” the man on stage shouts at a packed room of excited onlookers. “Raise your hand and say ‘I’.” All over the room hands shoot up and people shout out.
There are 500 people in there, hopefuls pursuing their dream of becoming “financially free” by ditching their day jobs and becoming rich through property.
I am in Manchester in a large conference room at the city’s Mercure Hotel attending a “crash course” held by Property Investors with Samuel Leeds.
Mr Leeds, who has 147,000 followers on YouTube, says he started investing in property at 17. He became financially free by never using his own money to buy property – he calls them “no-money-down deals” – and is now teaching others how to do the same.
Although the course is advertised as “free”, it costs £1 (and there’s a £100 charge if you don’t turn up).
Held over two days, it promises to “change your financial life forever”. The website claims you can be “financially free in 12 months”.
I arrive at 9am and am welcomed with high fives and a room filling with people while pop music blares out of the speakers. A man takes to the stage and asks us whether we want to become financially free.
We are told: “High-five the person next to you and say, ‘You’re in the right place’.” He then introduces our main trainer for the day, a “multi, multi, multi, multi-millionaire” named Ryan Rieder.
Mr Rieder quickly teaches us our first lesson. That we need to show “energy” (even writing it in big letters on a whiteboard).
This will be tested today as the seminar will not end until 10pm. He speaks for around an hour and a half about the importance of investing in ourselves and seizing our dreams. His speech is filled with phrases such as “this isn’t a seminar, it’s a do-inar”.
I am the guy who is doing it, Which one are you? pic.twitter.com/JPGkdqIpZ8— Samuel Leeds (@samuel_leeds) December 17, 2019
He says: “If you have money in the bank you are financially illiterate” and “if you use your own money to buy property you are lazy”.
We are taught how to find a “deal” – a cheap property that could earn rent of £500 a month, a return of 30pc, which we could sell to another investor for a “finder’s fee”. Mr Rieder does cover the risks, such as costly repairs or bad tenants, but these all pale into comparison with the biggest risk of all: that we don’t buy the house.
Throughout the morning he has mentioned a further course called the “deal-finding extravaganza” (DFE) and a programme called the “Academy”. But it isn’t until later that we learn what these are.
Alasdair Cunningham, Mr Leeds’s right-hand man, explains that to be successful we need the DFE. Two years ago, he says, he was sitting where we are today.
The DFE includes an intensive course, a pack of DVDs and ongoing mentoring, and he puts a price tag on it of £7,995 plus VAT before abruptly cutting the price to £2,000 – but only for the first 27 people who dash to the back of the room and register.
Before he mentions the discount people begin to run. One of the first to go is the man sitting next to me, a 21-year-old mechanic. I later ask him if he signed up and he tells me this is actually his second crash course and he has already been to a training session. He is attending another course for “networking”. Why he ran to the back is unclear.
Finally, at about 8.30pm, the man of the hour arrives. Mr Rieder asks us if we are ready to learn about “super rent” and “infinite returns”. The 30pc-return deals we found this morning? Small fry. How about returns of 50pc? Enter Samuel Leeds.
Mr Leeds runs through a few property investing tips. But he largely appears to be working to the same script as Mr Rieder, repeating several lines. Fliers for the academy are on our seats. The total cost is £12,000, but modules can be paid for individually, from a “lease option boot camp” for £2,995 to a “HMO boot camp” worth £7,995.
“I’m not going to sell you the academy,” Mr Leeds says, before adding that people who come to the crash course and don’t go any further “don’t want to be successful”.
Mr Leeds is not the only person running “financial freedom” training. A quick online search will turn up countless results for courses – some led by his former students.