The real estate franchise HomeVestors – known for national billboards such as this one in Las Vegas – is hoping to open 13 offices in Connecticut this year. The company plans further expansion throughout the Northeast.

A real estate franchise that is perhaps best known for its catchy slogan “We Buy Ugly Houses” is planning to open 13 offices in Connecticut this year. The company opened up a pair of offices in Massachusetts this summer, and the two already have purchased seven homes.

“The phones have been ringing off the hook,” said Fran Yerardi, a real estate investor and former restaurant owner who opened HomeVestors Baystate Properties in Newton, Mass., in June. The office is part of HomeVestors of America Inc., a Dallas-based franchise operation that specializes in acquiring homes that are in need of repair, renovating those properties and then selling or renting them.

Yerardi, who started advertising his business with billboards posted in the Dedham, Mass., area and Boston neighborhoods like Hyde Park and West Roxbury earlier this summer, bought homes in Newton and Halifax, Mass., and is preparing to close on two more properties in September.

The opening of the Newton office, as well as another office in Westminster, Mass., that serves the Worcester, Mass., area, is part of HomeVestors’ aggressive expansion along the East Coast. The company is in the process of opening franchise offices in New York and New Jersey. It also opened an office in Philadelphia about three years ago.

“Our thrust is to go East,” said John P. Hayes, president and chief executive officer of HomeVestors. “We’re real strong in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.”

The privately held company has plans to open a total of 45 franchise offices in New England, including 21 in Massachusetts and 13 in Connecticut this year. Thirteen franchises are targeted for the Greater Boston region, according to company officials.

Hayes said one reason Connecticut and Massachusetts are good markets to expand into is because of the abundance of older homes in the states.

“There are a lot of homes that are 30 to 40 years old that fall into our business model,” he said.

HomeVestor franchisees typically purchase homes that need significant improvements below market value or at a discounted price. They also purchase property from sellers who need to move quickly but are having trouble selling their homes, as well as homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes through foreclosure.

Franchisees can buy homes with financing offered through the HomeVestors corporate office, or they can obtain loans through a bank or private lender.

With the Bay State real estate market softening considerably over the last 12 to 18 months, Yerardi said he sees a huge opportunity for the HomeVestors model in Massachusetts.

“This is the perfect business model for Â… the market we’re heading into,” said Yerardi, noting that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of homes for sale and that properties are taking months longer to sell in Massachusetts.

“If you could put your home on the market and sell it within two days, you wouldn’t need me. But those days are gone,” he said.

Even though HomeVestors offers to buy a home at a discounted price – Yerardi estimates that a homeowner using a traditional real estate broker in Greater Boston might be able to get 10 percent more for his property – homeowners don’t have to go through the expense and trouble of making costly repairs and paying a real estate commission.

Yerardi pointed out that HomeVestors does not require a home inspection and there is no mortgage contingency attached to a purchase-and-sale agreement. So, once a purchase-and-sale agreement is signed, it’s virtually a guaranteed sale.

“Most people would rather have the money in their hand today,” he said.

Yerardi said he plans to purchase about four homes a month, adding that he expects to renovate at least half of the homes and sell them, while selling off the remaining properties, sans renovations, to other investors.

“We have a growing list of investors to purchase property from us,” said Yerardi, who said he wants to hire a sales team this month.

‘Explosion of Activity’

Dave Macchia opened MG Realty/HomeVestors in Westminster in May and has already purchased five properties in central Massachusetts. He has signed purchase-and-sale agreements on five other homes.

Finding properties to purchase in a softening real estate market – where there is a glut of homes for sale – hasn’t been tough. “The problem isn’t buying the properties. The problem is selling the properties,” said Macchia, who has purchased, renovated and flipped homes in the past.

HomeVestors, which started franchising 10 years ago, has more than 250 franchise offices throughout the nation and plans to have 500 offices by 2008. The company currently has franchise offices as far west as Arizona, Nevada, Seattle and Oregon, but none in California.

Since HomeVestors primarily focuses on buying entry-level homes, the sluggish housing market hasn’t necessarily been a boon for business. “We buy entry-level homes for the most part and those homes have not dropped as much in value,” said Hayes.

But with foreclosure rates rising in many parts of the country and many homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages struggling to stay in their homes as interest rates climb, Hayes said HomeVestors is anticipating “an explosion of activity” and more opportunity to work with banks and mortgage companies to work out deals to purchase properties quickly.

Franchisees must pay an initial fee of $49,000, as well as an ongoing monthly fee of $495 and a $775 transaction fee, according to the company’ s Web site. In addition, franchisees must contribute $175 for each property purchased to a marketing fund and spend at least $5,000 a month for advertising.