You’ve probably seen the signs — “Fast $$ for Houses,” “We Buy Ugly Homes” — tacked onto telephone poles or scrawled onto yard signs by the side of a main road.

The advertising doesn’t inspire confidence. The hand-scrawled, occasionally misspelled signs scream scam.

Who would call one of these up? Well, me.

A yellow yard sign on the West Springfield I-91 south off-ramp says in black Sharpee “I Buy Houses Any Condition.” I called expecting the person who answered would try to trade me my house for some magic beans or a bridge in Brooklyn, but instead I got an answering machine for Jim and Nancy, two people, the message assured, who were very interested in hearing about my home. I left my information and the woman from the message, Nancy Martelle, called me back within the promised 24 hours. She sounded nice and not at all bothered by the fact that I’m writing an article about her suspicious sign.

“It’s handwritten, plain Jane,” Nancy Martelle says of the signage. “It’s worked well for us. They’re homey signs, just like we’re a homegrown business.”

Wife and husband team Nancy and Jim Martelle of Chicopee have been in the real estate investment business for about 15 years, Nancy says, buying fixer-upper homes and flipping them for a profit. They’re not affiliated with any group or investment business and don’t have a company, let alone a company name. They do, however, have a website,

Jim has been in contracting since the ’80s, she says, and she grew up around her father’s contracting work. The duo buy about one home per month, hires subcontractors, and then quickly gets the property to a listing agent for sale. The homes they are looking to buy are places that are more neglected than dilapidated, Martelle says. Often times the people who contact her have a property left to them by a deceased loved one. Martelle says she makes offers to home buyers based on the fair market value of the home minus the repairs needed. Depending on whether a home is occupied, repairs can begin the same day as closing.

“We have to be able to make a profit, so we don’t take just anything, though, but we do buy homes in most conditions,” she says.

In addition to communicating a no-frills approach to home buying and selling, Martelle’s signs distinguish her from the competition.

“We strictly use yellow signs. I want to stand out from those other fast cash companies,” she says.

And with good cause. Home-for-cash dealings have a bad rep. A common scam is that a person agrees to buy a home and hands the homeowner a check. A day or two later, the buyer decides against the transaction and asks for his money back. The seller writes him a new check, which he promptly cashes before the homeowner discovers the original check didn’t clear, leaving the homeowner out thousands of dollars. The lesson? Never exchange cash for a check until the check clears.

“There’s a lot of corporations out there, a lot of different scams. There’s always a lot of that going on when things get financial,” Martelle says. “We try to build trust.”

The advantage of selling a home to someone who will buy “any condition,” says Martelle, is the sale is quick because she has her own inspectors and cash to buy already lined up.

“It can be a relief to people to have this taken care of within a week,” she says.•