By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Buyers and sellers aren’t the only victims of real estate scams and crimes. Realtors are also a favorite target of crooks, criminals, and other shady types.

Due to the nature of the real estate business, agents naturally come in contact and work with strangers on a regular basis. Most real estate deals involve big ticket transactions and that adds to the risk of dealing with unfamiliar people.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve highlights a few scams aimed at buyers and sellers. Realtors often get caught in the web of these deceptions as well. They just add to crimes that focus on these professionals.

After quizzing a few Realtors, here are just some of the scams going around lately:

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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:

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scammersLydia Blair
Special Contributor

When you’re buying a home, the last thing you want to think about is criminals and scammers. Unfortunately, as a homebuyer, you are a major (and often easy) target for criminal types. With thousands of unwitting victims every year, it is a lucrative business for crooks.

Maybe homebuyers should be afraid. Be very afraid. But perhaps it’s better to say, “Be aware.” Be vigilant. Be cautious.

Here are the five most common rip-offs I’ve heard about in the past year. (more…)

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

March is a month for changes — in both the Texas weather and real estate contracts. Haven’t you heard? There are recent contract changes that became mandatory for use by agents on March 1, 2019. 

Don’t worry. You’re not the last to learn about these changes. Seems like very few agents are aware of them. They aren’t life changing, but they’re important when it comes to terminating a contract, getting a mortgage or the appraisal.

The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) recently adopted these changes to the addendums that accompany real estate contracts. I think they’re a good thing because they help clarify issues and potential disputes.

Here is the short and simple version of these changes that are now mandatory if you’re using TREC contracts (which would be everyone I know):

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

At closing, some items, like real estate taxes, are divided up between the buyers and sellers so that each party pays their share of the expenses. This is called proration. The amount each party pays is based on the number of days in the year (or month) that they own the property. It is only fair that you are charged ownership fees and taxes just for the time you own the property.

The title agency is typically responsible for dividing these kinds of expenses proportionally based on a unit of time. For annual property taxes, we divide the tax amount by 365 days to obtain the cost per day. We then multiply the cost per day by the days the seller owned the home and the days the buyer will own the home. Each party is responsible for their prorated amount.

If the taxes for that year have not been paid, the seller is charged for their share and it is credited to the buyer to pay the total bill. If the seller has already paid the taxes for that year, the buyer is charged for their share and it is credited to the seller at closing.

Of course, property taxes aren’t the only fees that are prorated …

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When you review contracts every day, spotting mistakes can become routine. The number one mistake that most escrow officers see on real estate contracts involves blank spaces.

To be clear – contracts should always be filled in completely. There should be nothing left blank.

I’m referring to the standard Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) contract. Ninety-nine percent of real estate contracts received by title agencies are written on one of the standard TREC contracts. These are created by TREC for use in real property transactions in our state. They are frequently reviewed and are updated every few years based on feedback, requests, and legal issues.

There is a valid reason for each paragraph and blank space on these contracts. There are dozens of blank spaces on the most popular TREC contract. They all should have something on them. Some paragraphs have an option to choose from two or more boxes to check. One of the choices should be selected.

Yet, we see smart people submit final contracts that leave too much ambiguity because they are not fully completed. Obviously, most folks ensure the contract contains the proper names, address, sales price, who is paying for what, etc. But often they leave some parts of the contract incomplete.

How do we know the intention of all parties when a space is left blank? Perhaps the blank space means zero dollars. Then it should have a zero written. Or maybe it is not applicable? It should show N/A. Maybe it was accidentally missed? Or was it intentionally ignored? Even dashes in the space helps us see that the parties didn’t intend to mean something else.

If a space is blank because buyer and seller are still negotiating, then the contract should not be executed yet. Once it is executed, any changes must be made with an addendum. Changes are not allowed on the finalized contract once it is executed.

The riskiest and most overlooked blank spaces typically found on contracts include:

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Moving is exciting. And exhausting. There is a whole lot to do. Packing and unpacking, emptying and reloading cabinets and drawer. You may even be painting and remodeling.

Every day, I meet people who are immersed in the moving process as they are signing closing documents. They usually have their heads and hands full of things to do. But there are a few more items I want to tell them to take care of before they finish unpacking.

I’ve moved more than 20 times, including eight home remodels, which helped me come up with a list of eight essential tasks that you may not think about when moving. Make it a goal to complete these in the first couple of days of your move.

Tackle these eight items first. If you’re overwhelmed, hand this list to someone who loves you and ask them to assist.

Here are eight important things to do when you first move in:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Remember privacy? It’s what most Americans enjoyed a few decades ago. Today, it’s elusive and rare. It’s simple for any of us to find just about anyone with a few clicks on a keyboard.

In an effort to reduce the solicitations for carpet cleaning, bogus tax filing services, mortgage insurance scams and such, I tried to make the information on my recent home purchase a little more private. The result was somewhat effective.

How do these companies and salespeople find out you’ve purchased a property? It’s highly unlikely that they got it from the title company or real estate broker. We don’t share information with third parties unless we must. Government entities are about the only ones we disclose details.

However, property owner information is public and online in Texas. Our county tax appraisal sites allow people to search the owner of a property by property address or owner name. It’s pretty hard to make your ownership information private on those county web sites. But, I’ll explain how below:

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