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Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

October 11, 2017

Real Estate Scams to Avoid

By David Reiss

Scam Detector quoted me in 10 Real Estate Scams That You Need To Avoid Today. It opens,

The real estate industry is a sector that’s extremely profitable if done right. If you think about it, a house is the most expensive item that a person buys over his/her lifetime. Big money, big opportunities. However, on the same token criminals prey on the weak and use creative ways to make a lot of money by scamming victims all over the world, whether buyers, sellers or realtors.

Amongst the most notorious fraudulent practices on the market, we have already exposed and shared information about real estate investment scams, home buying scams, residential real estate tips and the Real Estate Agent Scam.

This week we caught up with a few fraud prevention experts and real estate professionals. We invited them to share new tips and expose some prevalent scams they’re aware of, which are happening now.

Here are 10 real estate scams that you need to avoid today:

1. Hackers Stealing Your Down Payment: Mortgage Closing Date

“A hacker could fool you into thinking he’s your agent and trick you into sending him money, which you’ll never get back. It’s so bad the FTC even sent an alert warning consumers that real estate agents email accounts are getting hacked.”, says Robert Siciliano, fraud prevention expert with IDTheftSecurity.com.

He continues: “Let’s say your realtor’s name is Bill Baker. Bill Baker’s e-mail account gets hacked. The hacker observes Baker’s correspondences with his clients—including you. Ahhh, the hacker sees you have an upcoming closing. The hacker, posing as Bill Baker, sends you an e-mail, complete with  instructions on where to wire your closing funds. You follow these instructions. But there’s one last step: kissing your money goodbye, as it will disappear into an untraceable abyss overseas. This scam can also target your escrow agent.”

“It’s obvious that one way to prevent this is to arrange a home purchase  deal where there are zero closing costs”, says Siciliano. “The scam is prevalent, perhaps having occurred thousands of times. It was just a matter of time until scammers recognized the opportunity to target real estate agents and their clients.

The lax security defences of the real estate industry haven’t helped. Unlike the entire financial industry who have encrypted communications, the real estate industry is a hodgepodge of free e-mail accounts and unprotected communications.”

In addition, Robert points out: “Realtors, who are so often on the go and in a hurry, frequently use public Wi-Fi like at coffee houses. Anyone involved in a real estate transaction can be hacked, such as lawyers”.

When it comes to preventing this particular scam, here are a few points that Siciliano suggests:

– Eliminate e-mail as a correspondence conduit—at least as far as information on closings and other sensitive information.

– On the other hand, you may value having “everything in writing,” and e-mail provides a permanent record. In that case, use encrypted email or  some setup that requires additional login credentials to gain access to the  communication.

– For money-wiring instructions, request a phone call. And make this  request over the phone so that the hacker doesn’t try to pose as your Realtor over the phone.

– Any e-mailed money instructions should be confirmed by phone—with the Realtor and the bank to send the money to.

– Get verification of the transfer ASAP. If you suspect a scam, have the  receiving bank freeze any withdrawal attempt of the newly deposited  funds—if you’ve reached the bank in time, that is.

2. Real Estate Agents Assigning The Sales To Themselves

“I know a victim of a realtor who is scamming his buyers by taking advantage of sudden traumatic life events”, says Mariko Baerg from Bridgewell Group.

A buyer had purchased a house. Between the time it was a firm deal and the title transfer date he got in a severe car accident and could no longer work for the short term.

The realtor that was representing him had coerced the buyer into assigning the sale to the realtor himself for a discounted price because he fearfully convinced the buyer that he would have difficulties keeping his financing from the lender.

Assigning to yourself is a clear conflict of interest, the realtor did not try to market the assignment to anyone else, and the sale amount was $100,000 less than market value! He also forged the seller’s signature to convince the buyer that it was OK to assign the property.

The issue could be avoided by making sure you have a power of attorney lined up in the case that you have an accident, making your realtor show you comparables to confirm what market value is before transferring. Also, if you have a feeling there may be a conflict of interest always obtain legal counsel or receive a second opinion to determine what your options are.”, explains Berg.

3. Arc Fault Breaker Swap Out Scam

This next fraudulent practice is exposed by Jeff Miller, co-founder of AE Home Group: “Arc fault breaker swap outs are a common scam I’ve seen in the flipping industry. Modern building code requires that electrical boxes contain arc fault breakers as opposed to traditional breakers in order to further prevent electrical fires.

While safer, these arc fault breakers can add upwards of $800 to the cost of the renovation. Following the issuance of a use and occupancy permit, some flippers will return to the home and replace these expensive arc fault breakers with the cheaper traditional breakers, adding profit to their bottom line.”, says Miller.

4. Real Estate News: Bait and Switch Scheme

Another fraudulent real estate practice is the “bait and switch” scheme, explained here by Lucas Machado, President of House Heroes: “The scam occurs when a prospective buyer offers an “above market value” price to a home seller. The seller – blown away by the high offer – excitedly signs on the dotted line.

Sadly, the unscrupulous buyer has no intention to purchase the property at this price.

Once the seller signs the contract, the seller may only sell to that buyer for a specified time (weeks to even months) for the buyer’s purported due diligence. When that time ends, the fraudster asks to extend the contract a few weeks to work out closing details. Sounding reasonable, the seller agrees to the extension blinded by the high offer.”, warns Machado.

“There are two impacts on the seller. The seller keeps paying taxes, maintenance, utilities, insurance and develops an emotional commitment to sell.

Here’s what happens in the bait and switch: the buyer comes back to the seller with an excuse as to why this price no longer works, requests  a reduction to below market value, and threatens to cancel if their demand  is not met. Stressed by passage of time and on-going costs, the frustrated  seller agrees to the reduction.”

Machado offers a concrete example: “Our company had a scenario where we offered $185,000. The seller accepted a $220,000 offer. The “buyer” asked for extension after extension, for 12 months, and then the tired seller agreed to sale price $180,000. The victimized seller had on-going costs around $10,000 and lost approximately $20,000 by not accepting our offer a year ago.”

How can you avoid the bait and switch scheme?

a. Confirm proof of funds at time of executing the contract.

b. Do not grant unreasonable extensions or reductions.

c. Set expectations early on.

d. If extension or reduction is based on condition, request an inspector or general contractor report verifying claims.

5. Duplicated Listings

Leah Slaughter with OmniKey Realty warns about a scam constantly happening in the real estate business: the Duplicated Listings.

“We often see companies copy our legitimate rental listings and post on Craigslist for a much cheaper price. Unfortunately, many people fall for  these fake listings and wire or overnight money to the owners of these fake  listings and then cannot get access and eventually locate us and all we can  do is refer them to the police.”, says Slaughter.

“When searching for a rental, do your research and make sure you are working with a reputable company or a licensed agent/broker. If a landlord says they are not local and cannot give you access to the property, that is an immediate red flag.”

6. Real Estate Lawyers: Fake Profiles

David Reiss from Brooklyn Law School warns about a new type of scam: impersonating real estate lawyers. “In this case, the scammer takes control of the proceeds of a real estate closing by impersonating one of the parties to the closing and redirecting proceeds to an account controlled by him/her. The criminal might impersonate the seller’s lawyer and instruct that the proceeds from the sale be redirected to a new account.”, says Reiss.

“All such changes should be confirmed by a phone call (to a number that you know to be valid!) to confirm that they are from the real seller.”

October 11, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

October 10, 2017

How To Buy a 2,3 or 4 Family Home

By David Reiss

photo by Kgbo

FitSmallBusiness quoted me in How to Buy a Duplex, Triplex, or Fourplex – The Ultimate Guide. It opens,

Buying a duplex, triplex, or fourplex can be a good investment for both investors and residential home buyers. Purchasing small multi-unit properties requires some basic understanding of how to locate, finance, and manage multiple units. Those activities are only slightly more involved than for buying single-family properties but can lead to a profitable multi-unit investment.

Buying a duplex, triplex, or fourplex can be broken down into 7 steps:

1. Determine Whether Buying a Duplex, Triplex, or Fourplex is Right for You

Whether you learn how to buy a duplex, triplex, or fourplex as an investor, or as a home buyer attempting to secure some rental income from your property, buying a small multifamily investment is a bit different than for a single-family property. Assessing the benefits and downsides at the outset is a good idea.

Benefits of Buying a Duplex or Small Multi-Family Building

There several reasons why duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes are sensible purchases. Home buyers can live in one unit and generate rental income with the others; they provide a good way to start investing in multi-unit properties; and, for investors, they diversify the rents and consolidate expenses among multiple units.

You Can Live in One Unit of a Multi-Family Building and Generate Rental Income

If you are buying a personal residence, a duplex or other small multi-unit building will provide you with a place to live along with rental income. You can live in one unit while renting out the others to generate income.

It is fully possible, particularly with triplexes and quadraplexes that your rental income can pay your entire mortgage and maybe even a bit more. In effect, you can purchase a place to live, but have your tenants pay for it.

David Reiss, Professor of Law and Director, CUBE, The Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, Brooklyn Law School tells us:

“There are significant benefits that you can get fromDavid Reiss - How to buy a duplexbuying and living in a duplex, triplex, or fourplex instead of a single-family home. For instance, you may be able to use the rental income from the additional units to increase the amount that you can borrow and that rental income can offset a big part of your monthly mortgage payment. You can also deduct more of your expenses, such as part of your insurance premium and a portion of your repair bills, as business expenses.”

 

Duplexes, Triplexes, and Four-Unit Properties Are a Good Way to Start Investing in Multi-Unit Properties

Learning how to buy a duplex, triplex, or fourplex provides a good entry into multi-unit properties without taking a deeper dive into apartment buildings. While screening tenants and managing renters in any kind of multi-unit building is a bit different than with single-family properties, the leap isn’t insurmountable. Duplexes and the like provide a good transition from managing single-family properties to handling multi-unit buildings without getting overwhelmed.

October 10, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • In a seemingly rare occasion, a bipartisan alliance has formed between a Democrat and Republican. The duo paired together to garner support for a repeal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Know Before You Owe rule. The CFPB’s rule requires specific mortgage disclosures which they believe pose harm to consumers. They cite title insurance and fees as the cause of the harm to consumers.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released new guidelines regarding payday loans. The goal of the regulatory agency is to ensure lenders are not taking advantage of those in lower socio-economic households. The new guidelines mandate lenders to determine a borrower’s capability to repay a loan before they can issue said loan. This new rule will likely decrease the profit of the $38.5 billion lending industry.

October 10, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

October 9, 2017

Obama on Columbus

By David Reiss

The Landing of Columbus at San Salvador, October 12, 1492

Here is how President Obama commemorated Columbus Day last year in his Presidential Proclamation:

In October of 1492, Christopher Columbus completed the first of his expeditions that would land him on the shores of North America. Sponsored by Isabella I and Ferdinand II, Columbus embarked on a 10-week voyage he had hoped would lead to Asia. But when his ships instead landed in the Bahamas, a new story began to unfold. The spirit of exploration that Columbus embodied was sustained by all who would follow him westward, driving a desire to continue expanding our understanding of the world.

Though Columbus departed from the coast of Spain, his roots traced back to his birthplace of Genoa, Italy. Blazing a trail for generations of Italian explorers and Italian Americans to eventually seek the promise of the New World, his voyage churned the gears of history. The bonds between Italy and the United States could not be closer than they are today — a reflection of the extraordinary contributions made by both our peoples in our common efforts to shape a better future. Across our Nation, Italian Americans continue to enrich our country’s traditions and culture.

As we mark this rich history, we must also acknowledge the pain and suffering reflected in the stories of Native Americans who had long resided on this land prior to the arrival of European newcomers. The past we share is marked by too many broken promises, as well as violence, deprivation, and disease. It is a history that we must recognize as we seek to build a brighter future — side by side and with cooperation and mutual respect. We have made great progress together in recent years, and we will keep striving to maintain strong nation-to-nation relationships, strengthen tribal sovereignty, and help all our communities thrive.

More than five centuries ago, one journey changed the trajectory of our world — and today we recognize the spirit that Christopher Columbus’s legacy inspired. As we reflect on the adventurers throughout history who charted new courses and sought new heights, let us remember the communities who suffered, and let us pay tribute to our heritage and embrace the multiculturalism that defines the American experience.

October 9, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • A decade ago, Greenberg Trauig LLP allegedly participated in a Ponzi scheme involving mortgages. Recently, the entity settled its issues with their accusers for $9.75 million.  A federal bankruptcy judge in Arizona approved the settlement, and quoted the settlement as, “reasonable and a fair compromise.”
  • The state of Texas will soon be in court against T-Mobile. T-Mobile South LLC and Eco-Site LLC sued Brownsville, Texas and their city commission because they rejected the entities’ application to develop a local unused lot. T-Mobile and Eco-Site allege the city unlawfully denied their application.
  • South Korean real estate brokers may believe justice is served regarding their loss of $500,000. The brokers believed they were bribing a Middle Eastern investor; however, the duo were being deceived by an art blogger. The art blogger received a 31/2 years in prison for his actions.

October 9, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

October 6, 2017

Treasury’s Overreach on Securitization Reform

By David Reiss

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Being Sworn in by Vice President Pence

The Department of the Treasury released its report, A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities Capital Markets. I will leave it to others to dissect the broader implications of this important document and will just highlight what it has to say about the future of securitization:

Problems related to certain types of securitized products, primarily those backed by subprime mortgage loans, contributed to the financial crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. As a result, the securitization market has acquired a popular reputation as an inherently high-risk asset class and has been regulated as such through numerous post-crisis statutory and rulemaking changes. Such treatment of this market is counterproductive, as securitization, when undertaken in an appropriate manner, can be a vital financial tool to facilitate growth in our domestic economy. Securitization has the potential to help financial intermediaries better manage risk, enhance access to credit, and lower funding costs for both American businesses and consumers. Rather than restrict securitization through regulations, policymakers and regulators should view this component of our capital markets as a byproduct of, and safeguard to, America’s global financial leadership. (91-92, citations omitted)

This analysis of securitization veers toward the incoherent. It acknowledges that relatively unregulated subprime MBS contributed to the Great Recession but it argues that stripping away the regulations that were implemented in response to the financial crisis will safeguard our global financial leadership. How’s that? A full deregulatory push would return us to the pre-crisis environment where mortgage market players will act in their short-term interests, while exposing counter-parties and consumers to greater risks.

Notwithstanding that overreach, the report has some specific recommendations that could make securitization more attractive. These include aligning U.S. regulations with the Basel recommendations that govern the global securitization market; fine-tuning risk retention requirements; and rationalizing the multi-agency rulemaking process.

But it is disturbing when a government report contains a passage like the following, without evaluating whether it is true or not:  “issuers have stated that the increased cost and compliance burdens, lack of standardized definitions, and sometimes ambiguous regulatory guidance has had a negative impact on the issuance of new public securitizations.” (104) The report segues from these complaints right to a set of recommendations to reduce the disclosure requirements for securitizers. It is incumbent on Treasury to evaluate whether those complaints are valid are not, before making recommendations based upon them.

Securitization is here to stay and can meaningfully lower borrowing costs. But the financial crisis has demonstrated that it must be regulated to protect the financial system and the public. There is certainly room to revise the regulations that govern the securitization sector, but a wholesale push to deregulate would be foolish given the events of the 2000s.

October 6, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments