Title Tip: The Top 6 Scams Aimed at Home Sellers

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

The internet can be both an ally and an adversary to today’s home seller. When it comes to scams and cons, homeowners are easy prey for professional criminals.

Let’s face it. When selling real estate, you are inviting strangers into your home. Figuratively with online photos, maps, and more. And literally when they come to view your property. You and your home are exposed for the world to see.

Being aware of the scams aimed at sellers is the first step to stopping them in their tracks. These are some of the most popular swindles I’ve heard about in the past year:

  1. Hijacking your property and listing it for lease. This con has been around for years (because these conmen are so good). The scammer lists your property for lease on sites like Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist, etc. for an enticingly low monthly rent. They copy photos, description, etc. from legitimate real estate sites and often create an email address that includes the owner’s name (like JohnDoe1234@….com). They communicate with their victims via email and get them to pay an application fee or deposit to hold the property for them. They keep collecting until someone shuts them down – usually after one of the victims comes knocking at your door. It’s an ugly scene for everyone.
  2. Open house thieves. These crooks make their living stealing medications, jewelry, credit cards, and other valuables. Typically, they operate at open house events and pose as prospective buyers. They may operate alone or in pairs. While they can be nicely dressed and well spoken, they’ll take anything that can fit in a pocket or purse. Lock away everything you can, including all prescriptions.
  3. The amazing offer from the fake buyer. This guy doesn’t have an agent representing him and claims to be moving here from out of state. While his story may vary, it’s usually a good one. He needs a ‘long close’ because he’s going through a divorce, or waiting on an inheritance, or payment for his movie script, or some scenario. He’s willing to pay your asking price or more and close in a few months. He may want to lease the property for a huge monthly sum until he can close. Because he’s never going to close. His checks are going to bounce. He may even move into the property by the time you realize it. But essentially, he is going to tie up your property so that you can’t sell it to anyone else until you pay him to go away. 
  4. “I’ll buy it if I can’t sell it” ploy. This gimmick from smarmy agents comes with stipulations that most logical owners wouldn’t want. Usually, the agent will set the asking price and the offer to buy is way below market value.
  5. Knocking on your door. Yes, some of these criminals will actually knock on your door either trying to sell you something or to convince you they have reason to come inside. Just say no. They should have an appointment to view your home with an agent present and you should never buy anything from someone selling door to door (unless they’re school aged). Contact your agent to verify them before letting anyone in or giving them anything.
  6. For sale by owner targets. These cons are an entire category unto themselves. When there is no agent involved to monitor who sees the property, it’s anyone’s guess as to who they really are. Most sellers are hesitant to ask a prospective buyer for their identification. And they certainly don’t want to leave a stranger alone in their home. These ‘prospects’ could be thieves or just casing the house to come back and rob it later.

Licensed Realtors benefit from an appointment and key box system managed by the MLS. The system records every entry and identifies all agents that have entered a property. It is the agent’s job to screen potential buyers both before they enter your home and before you enter into a contract with them.

The opinions expressed are of the individual author for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Contact an attorney to obtain advice for any particular issue or problem.

Lydia Blair (formerly Lydia Player) was a successful Realtor for 10 years before jumping to the title side of the business in 2015. Prior to selling real estate, she bought, remodeled and sold homes (before house flipping was an expression). She’s been through the real estate closing process countless times as either a buyer, a seller, a Realtor, and an Escrow Officer. As an Escrow Officer for Carlisle Title, she likes solving problems and cutting through red tape. The most fun part of her job is handing people keys or a check.

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