(This article first appeared in Real Estate Investor's Monthly.)

Twenty-five years ago, this book would not have pertained to real estate investment. Back then, all for-sale real estate investment information was sincere if varying somewhat in quality. Not anymore.

Steve Salerno has written a book called SHAM about the Self-Help and Actualization Movement as he calls it. SHAM is its acronym. Get-better-quick seminars and "mentoring" in general, and real estate investment seminars and "mentoring" in particular are a subset of that industry.

Bigger than you thought

Get-rich-quick real estate infomercials and newspaper display ads are ubiquitous and have a huge influence on our industry today.
One of the new things that Salerno reveals is that this is a broad industry encompassing advice on getting rich quick in various ways, advancing career-wise in organizations, relationships, recovery programs for addicts of all stripes, curing all physical ailments, and filling spiritual voids.

The unifying characteristics are charlatans who promise the moon, assure you that all that is keeping you from your goal is absence of adequate self-confidence and assertiveness and knowledge of a few tricks that is solely available from the seminar or book or whatever is being sold. Then they blame you if the product does not work. Bullet points and enthusiasm are substituted for logic and scholarship. Sound familiar?

Marketing methods

Their marketing methods are also amazingly similar, including non-refundable fees, artificially-famous pitch men, little or no background in the field, criminal records in many cases, infomercials, newspaper display ads, hotel meeting rooms, telemarketing, and testimonials. When the seminar or "mentoring" did not work, the guru always says you need to buy more seminars or "mentoring."


The obvious damage is the billions lost by those who purchase these near worthless services. Many of the unwitting purchasers are spending corporate or government funds for SHAM seminars their employees or students attend. The latter group includes elementary and high school students who attend SHAM assemblies paid for by the taxpayers.

Make things worse

But it goes beyond that. The "students" also often get themselves into serious trouble because of their reliance on these quack cures for everything from cancer to marital problems to lack of affluence.

Ordered by judges

SHAM has so thoroughly permeated society that its services are often mandated by laws or ordered as sentences by judges. Criminals nowadays often have their sentences reduced if they agree to participate in some SHAM "recovery" program, like anger management, that has never produced any evidence of efficacy.
Taxpayers reduce their taxes, thereby making other taxpayers pay more, by deducting SHAM seminars related to businesses they are in. In Canada, business-related seminars have to be accredited to be deductible.


Salerno says many of the most popular self-help gurus are part of SHAM including Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Stephen C. Covey, Tom Hopkins (who started teaching real estate salesmen), Suze Orman, Thomas A. Harris (I'm OK---You're OK), Oprah, Werner Erhard (est), Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul), etc.

Real estate guru Marshall Reddick once wrote to me that I should raise my opinion of him because he was a member of the same speakers association as Tony Robbins. I checked on Robbins and put at my Web site under the Reddick entry that Robbins appears to be one of those success gurus who has never succeeded at anything other than telling other people how to succeed. Business Week says Robbins makes $80 million a year.

Institutions, too

Some institutions are also named by Salerno including Alcoholics Anonymous and the various well-known wilderness boot camps. He says they are extremely reluctant to produce proof of the efficacy of their Twelve Step Program and that Harvard Medical School found that persons who participated in AA were less likely to overcome alcoholism than non-AA.

Repeat customers

SHAM gurus claim that most of their business is repeat business, thereby proving the efficacy of their teachings. In fact, such "repeat busi-ness"?is a manifestation of an insatiable need in some for more and more seminars or "mentoring." In real estate, I have often heard people refer to themselves as "seminar junkies." Dealers who sell to drug junkies do not cite repeat business as evidence of their great product or service---at least not with a straight face.

Salerno says, "The self-help guru has a compelling interest in not helping people. Put bluntly, he has a potent incentive to play his most loyal customers for suckers."

Maybe not you per se

I trust that readers of this newsletter generally are not customers of the SHAM gurus. Although I suspect that many recent new subscribers started out with the SHAMsters. However, the SHAMsters affect you indirectly if not directly.

Real estate clubs, which can be extremely beneficial, are now partly taken over by SHAM seminar grads who want to hear about the bogus strategies they learned at their SHAM seminars. This is a drain on the club's time and resources and may drive away competent members.

When you try to buy, lease, or sell real estate or related instruments like notes or tax lien certificates, you must outbid the millions of SHAM seminar grads. They have turned many niches unprofitable as they flood in like a plague of locusts and overpay. JTR