Fischer: Buyer beware – Scams and schemes are ever-present
We’ve all heard the lines “Burn Fat While You Sleep” or “This Free Seminar Can Change Your Life” (steak dinner included). These are just two examples of what the Department of Justice has labeled “The Dirty Dozen,” i.e., variations of the most common pitch lines used in classic scams. While it is physiologically impossible to burn fat while you sleep, even if you dream you are running a marathon, it is, admittedly, an enticing thought. The seminar, on the other hand, sounds long and uninspiring, even for the menial price, which, coincidentally, turns out to be much higher than advertised.
Unfortunately, there are frauds, hoaxes, shams and scams in nearly every industry, and real estate is certainly no exception. As a homebuyer or seller, it is particularly important that you are extra cautious as these are high dollar amounts that are being exchanged.
One scam that has been well publicized in recent years is the wire transfer scam. When exchanging money for a home, the title company is most likely handling the closing (and if they are not, they should be). As a result, it would not be out of the ordinary to receive an email with wire instructions. However, there are hackers who have figured out how to tap into those systems and create a fake email address to get your money. That is why it is so important to verify the wire instructions by calling the title company. As Realtor’s, we are very aware of this scam, and we would advise you to be extra cautious. Always verify.
Another potential scam is the well-posted advertisement “We’ll buy your house for cash …” To be fair, some of these companies that offer cash for your home are legit. There are several investors who will pay real cash money for your home. Keep in mind, however, that even these legitimate investors want a deal. It’s a strong possibility that your home is worth much more than they are offering, even if you have been sent a “handwritten” letter. Call a local Realtor immediately and verify your property value. After all, it’s all cash in your pocket after you sell, whether there is a loan involved or not.
While the internet is such a great search tool to find existing homes for sale, it is simple for people who would rather spend countless hours swindling people to make money than to work a real job. As such, these nefarious ne’er-do-wells steal genuine current listings from real estate sites and duplicate these listings offering their number as the contact. When you reach out with interest, they let you know that due to the incomparable amount of activity on the property, they will need a deposit to secure an appointment to see the place. Don’t even think about it. You will see neither the house, nor your money, ever again.
The biggest hoax of all is one that so much of the population has, at one time or another, subscribed to: the “Zestimate.” Some may not label this as fleecing, but Realtors, the people with the true facts on values, believe it is exactly that. How exciting it is to see that your home is worth thousands more than you had thought. And how disappointing if you find it is thousands less. These sites use algorithms to determine value. There is no way an algorithm can know the specific area well enough to place a definitive value on a home. Can a computer really know that homes in South Ogden, for example, or homes on the east side of Harrison Boulevard in Ogden can significantly differ in value within a mere one block radius? I submit to you that they do not. Inaccuracy and unreliability with intent to deceive is dishonesty. I rest my case.
Don’t hesitate to consult a trusted, professional Realtor before making any decisions in the arena of real estate. Nobody gets any thinner while sleeping.
Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or firstname.lastname@example.org.