Lured by the prospect of buying five rent-to-own houses in the Houston suburbs without putting up any of his own money, Mr. Romney jumped into a speculative deal geared toward “affluent free enterprise capitalists who desire a quality investment with tax shelter benefits,” according to a prospectus. Based on frothy assumptions of a never-ending real estate boom, it was unlike the data-driven, analytical investments that came to define his later successes at Bain Capital.
The result was a rare Romney flop: The housing market soon collapsed, and he was stuck renting out the houses for years before unloading them, mostly at a loss, in the late 1990s, according to property records. The renters were offered the first chance to buy, but the Stampses could not qualify for a mortgage, recalled Mr. Stamps, who at the time had recently lost his job at an oil company.
“Then I got this phone call, personally, from Mr. Romney, asking if we really wanted to buy the house,” Mr. Stamps, 63, said in an interview the other day at the barbershop he now runs. “I said, yes we did. And he said he would loan us the money. He really helped us when we needed it.”