Listing Your Rental On Your Own? Lessor and Lessee Beware.

Photo by: Ann Marie Marthens

Photo by: Ann Marie Marthens

Ann Marie Marthens has a two bedroom charmer in Highland Park she is leasing for $3,000 a month. Nestled on Abbott Avenue, it’s close to Armstrong Elementary and within walking distance to all the fun on Knox/Henderson and the Katy Trail.

As the property owner, she listed it on Trulia, as well as mentioned its availability on the Park Cities Online Yard Sale group on Facebook a few days ago – and then something weird happened.

abbotthouse“At first I was confused, when I got a few calls asking about my house in HP for $1,000,” she said. “They all said they had seen it online.”

Then she logged on to her computer and saw that someone in the yard sale group had posted a screen grab of a nearly identical listing – photos and everything – that offered her house for $1,000 a month, asking the group if they remembered seeing the same home listed a few days ago. And well, they did. For a lot more.

“I was shocked and confused,” Marthens continued. “At first I thought my Trulia account had been hacked. But when I went to correct the bogus price I realized I couldn’t because the con artist had actually entered the listing under his own account and used a picture and description of my house.”

The scammer – listed as Kelvin – simply added a #A after the actual address of the home to create his listing.

And then others started chiming in with comments on the post, like:

  • I am a Realtor doing property management and almost every house we list now has this happen.”
  • “This happens with almost every listing. If it looks too good to be true, it is. We always ask to see the property first.”
  • “This happened to me a a couple of years ago after buying my house. A scammer had used the MLS photos and posted it for rent on several other sites. We literally had people coming to our house during the day and looking through windows!”
  • “One of my clients had some people show up with ALL OF THEIR THINGS trying to move in (a month or so after they started leasing it) because they thought someone was supposed to be there with the keys. The poor people had already given the scammer the deposit and first months rent. “

So clearly, there is a pretty big problem. And since some mentioned they had trouble getting their listings removed, I did two things: I began chatting with Trulia PR, and I posed as a potential renter and emailed Kelvin myself.

Trulia representative Matt Flegal responded immediately, first asking for the address of the home in question. He quickly emailed back and said that the company had taken down the fraudulent listing immediately.

“Fraud is something we take very seriously,” he said. “It’s a challenge that everyone in the industry is facing. Trulia is fighting it in several ways.”

He said their first action is to block fraudulent listings. They have software tools that look for suspicious listing continuously, and then a team reviews them. “We proactively contact agents to claim and confirm listings,” he added.

He also said that consumers can flag suspicious listings directly on the website, or email the team at fraud@trulia.com, and that they also try to educate consumers with information about common types of fraud, and warn on each listing to look for rental fraud.

Flegal also agreed that you should never give someone money without touring the interior of the home, and should always question a rent that is far lower than market value.

Back in 2013, we talked to Realtor Colin Lardner about these types of scams, and he suggested informing sites like Trulia and Zillow immediately when you see something wrong. “We have also contacted the FBI when we see a poached listing,” he added. He suggested also listing on MLS, where it is harder to scam.

Realtor Jeff Cieslik agreed. “You could also use a realtor and use MLS listings only. Agents are required to have signed listing agreements before posting to the MLS. More accountability there and a professional system. Your agent also works directly with the listing agent typically.”

So what about that email to “Kelvin,” asking for information about the home? Well, he emailed me back Sunday morning. And his (or her, I suppose) email was a doozy. It contained a story probably designed to make me think they’re Christians, “The main reason our house is up for lease is because I got transferred from my church to (LOUISIANA) on a Missionary Work by my church here and also for my son operation who have cancer,” he/she said.

And get this – that $1,000 lease includes utilities. The “application” asks if I smoke or drink, but advises me that “(We just want to know don’t get it twisted) no hard feelings.” Kelvin is asking for $1,000 for the first month’s rent and $1,000 for a deposit. He/she also says that, “As i am not around to show the inside, you can go check out the house and the neighborhood from the outside and get back to me if you really like it for more information. Please respond ASAP. ”

Hello, this is Texas – a Castle Law state. Peeking in windows of an occupied home might just earn me a few lead accessories in my brain case, if you know what I mean. So yeah, yeah. I’ll be doing just that. Personally, I think Kelvin made a tragic error in not knowing the market value of the area in which he was trying to pull off a scam. For real, people, just in case you’re wondering – $1,000 all bills paid just isn’t happening in Highland Park.

“I think it awful that people are losing thousands of dollars to these scam artists,” Marthens said about her experience. “The government has to do something to try to catch these guys. It is rampant all over the internet.” 

But in the meantime, lessee and lessor beware. And if you see a fraudulent listing, contact the site to report it as so, and also consider reporting it to the FBI, via here, or here.

 

5 Comment

  • This happened recently with a rental property I owned. I contacted the websites hosting the bogus listings (the same person had repeated the listing on a few sites) and had the sites pulled down. I then added language on my listing warning of scammers. A few days later I was emailed by someone ready to send a check to the thieves but he’d seen my warning and stopped. YES, IF IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS.

  • mm

    Honestly, has anyone ever leased a property on one of these sites without using a Realtor? I tried it in San Antonio just for fun, also in Dallas. Nada. I even listed my SA home on the military site and actually got some interest. With my Averill Way prop in Dallas I was too busy to focus on the lease, so Kelly Logsdon Rush handled it and got the job done beautifully. Personally, I think you need a Realtor.

  • The rip off scams are pretty common. Normally the rent is about 1/2 to 1/3 what it should be. Clients call all the time so excited to see a house at a ridiculously low price. We know on sales when we starting see a thousand cars cruising by slowly, but not stopping that there’s a bogus listing.

    The scammers normally pose the missionary story and say if they will Western Union the money they will send them the keys. Funny I would never rent a house without seeing the inside or checking things out, but I think many people want the story to be true so hard…that they forget common sense and do something they shouldn’t.

    I think if Z and T or zulia or trillow or whatever they call themselves now really cared they’d cut these guys out before they post. They are willing to take them down quickly when flagged, but by then it might be too late. I think they should take the high road and only accept the listings from MLS or broker feed they can verify, and if they want to take one off listings figure out a way to verify the owner.

  • We sold our home while we were out of state for my husband’s job and were unable to look at properties ourselves. We really didn’t want a managed rental as so many people I know who live in one complain about the companies being slow to respond to repair needs and the homes were overall not in very good condition. We actually found a home on Craigslist and I inquired about it. He gave me his name and I did some research and found his name through property tax rolls. I also found that he was a VP of student affairs at our local university and was visibly involved in the community. I asked if my friend, who was house sitting for us, could meet him at the house and take a look at it. She and her oldest son went and looked at the house and it was the same man in the picture I sent to her and it was the same home that was in the pictures. Only then did we talk about sending him a deposit and signing the contract. If he would have had a problem letting my friend see the place, then the red flags would have gone up. I’m glad now that we were very careful and I feel for those who have lost hundreds if not thousands to scammers.