It’s all over but the shouting. You found the house, cut the deal with the help of a qualified real estate professional, and now you’re counting down the days to the move. You might feel as if this is when everything goes on autopilot as you pack boxes and deal with the enormous to-do list before you. But you’d be wrong. Despite your diligence and preparation, scammers and con artists can throw curve balls your way, and you won’t even know what hit you.


The purchase of a home is easily one of the largest lifetime investments you’ll make, which means you need to be extra cautious with your money during, before, and after the sale, keeping an eye peeled for these unfortunate real estate scam scenarios:


While you are anticipating the closing date, you get an email from what appears to be your real estate agent with instructions on where to wire your down payment. This has the potential to be mortgage fraud, but what can you do to guard against it? For one, don’t trust the email address even if it looks legit. Call or email your agent and ask if he or she sent anything looking like this, and chances are good they will be in abject shock.


Cybercriminals are adept at hacking into the email account of someone involved in a real estate escrow, whether it’s the buyer, the seller, any attorneys involved, real estate agents or bankers. These hacked emails tell them all the details they need to know, including your closing date. And as soon as they see your funds in their phony account, your down payment goes the way of that sock in the dryer that is never found again. To guard amassing this, keep communications open with the people involved, both over the phone as well as email, and hand that bank check to someone in person whenever possible, even if you have to pay a courier to do it.


But wait. There’s more. A new homeowner arrives at their new front door and tries the key in the lock only to find that it doesn’t work. Suddenly someone opens the front door asking why you’re there and you peek inside, only to see the house is already occupied — by renters.


It’s useless to be angry at the occupants, however. These poor folk probably have no idea they were scammed as well. After all, they answered an ad from someone who advertised themselves as the landlord of a vacant property, signed a dummied-up a lease, handed over a deposit, and even got a new set of keys. Your appearance their front door is as shocking to them as theirs is to you. They no doubt already lost not only their deposit but also their first and last month’s rent to this scammer. Whatever transpired, they now have renter’s rights, and you may have to go through a costly eviction process to get your own home back.


Unfortunately, the law hasn’t caught up with this crime quite yet. But there is something you can do if the home you bought had been vacant for a while before closing. Ask your agent and anyone else you can think of to check on it regularly, even peering through the windows. The most you can do is try to catch this phenomenon happening before closing takes place.


So now you think you’re safe. Even with every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed, however, you can still get rooked during the move itself. The federal government receives thousands of complaints every year about moving companies who offer you a quote and then bills you for twice as much, holding your belongings hostage until you pay up. Some of your items may end up missing as well, only complicating this nightmare.


What to do to protect yourself from this? Check customer reviews not only the website of the moving company you hired; also check sites like Yelp! for what others say about this company, and look up their Better Business Bureau score as well. Get more than one estimate and see how it compares to others to determine if it’s on track for the number of rooms they’re loading up and the distance your belongings are being moved. And by all means, call your insurance agent to inquire about buying some short-term insurance to protect your belongings in the move.


Scams like these continue to happen, becoming even more sophisticated over time, and we’re not trying to freak you out. It’s a matter of staying diligent until the very day you hook up the big screen TV. For more information on how to deal with these and other fraud issues, go to your local Department of Real Estate Services website.


Source: TBWS

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For many who enjoy semi-maintenance-free living and prefer living closer to city centers, (apart from having fewer windows) townhome-living feels no different than living a single family home. From the outside, however, one thing is very obvious: one or more shared walls.


This begs the question: who is responsible for issues that arise out of that common (or party) wall experience? What if you have leaks, pests, or mold growing inside? Unlike a condo, where you only own the airspace and none of the structure itself, townhome owners are liable for their common walls.


The owners of each lot are jointly responsible for maintenance and repair of these walls unless damage is caused by one owner’s negligence, in which case the negligible owner is responsible for repairs, according to real estate lawyer Gary M. Singer, writing for the Sun-Sentinel. He advises you not to consider your neighbors recognized authorities on matters like these, even saying the board of your association can be working under a misunderstanding of what your governing documents actually say.


“I have lost count of the times an association was trying to enforce a restriction that only exists in their ‘understanding’ of the rules,” says Singer. “To get to the bottom of this, you will need to review the documents to see what they actually say. Association rules are, in reality, nothing more than a contract between you and your neighbors, and the only way to know what is in a contract is to read it.”


He goes on to say that attached housing that shares a wall or fixture is governed by either the community documents or a private “party wall agreement” between direct neighbors. “If, for some reason, your community documents are silent on this sort of maintenance issue, and there is no party wall agreement in place, the general provisions of law — what lawyers call ‘common law’ — will give you the answer,” he says.


Under common law (as the word implies) problems with shared walls are split equally between the landowners that share the problem. “This means that unless your community’s governing documents state the association is responsible, you and your next-door neighbor are on the hook. If your neighbor is not cooperative in resolving the issue, you will need to take care of it and look to your neighbor for reimbursement of half the cost.”


Source: Sun-Sentinel, TBWS

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It’s happening right under our noses, but few of us know it. The newest commercial parking facilities are being designed with autonomous cars in mind — the ones that drive themselves. Some developers are even going so far as to explore ways to repurpose existing parking garages. The question follows: how could autonomous vehicles change residential real estate? Will it render the two-car garage obsolete and increase livable square footage and home values?


Forbes’ Justin Thompson explored this in his article The Value of Your Home Could Get a Big Twist from Autonomous Cars, where he discusses things like how, after dropping its passengers off, the driverless car could simply (1) return to where the trip originated, (2) circle the neighborhood and wait to be called back, (3) head off to a remote parking spot for a while, or (4) just wait for another passenger, like a taxi or an Uber might do.


So if people are presented with an autonomous, on-demand vehicle service might they simply opt out of car ownership? Thompson says proponents point to the success of current ride-sharing platforms and the behavior of younger generations as evidence that this future is already unfolding.


The appeal is, of course, that autonomous vehicle ride sharing could very well offer the same mobility as car ownership without the major capital outlay expenses like insurance, maintenance, and depreciation.


For real estate purposes, a decrease in car ownership would likely translate to a decrease in the need for garage space. No big deal? Think again. In congested metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, where square footage sells for a premium, it would be a huge deal (remember– appraisers do not include garage space in a home’s total square footage). When you figure the current average price per square foot for a residential dwelling in LA County is between $400 and $600, it’s an in-your-face proposition. Thompson explains, “A 100-square-foot increase in the size of a home (which is the difference in size between a typical two-car garage and a typical one-car garage) would translate to an increase of roughly $40,000 to $60,000 in home value for a home in Los Angeles County, California. A shift of that magnitude could well incentivize builders to devote less square footage to garage use and more to the livable area of the house.”


He goes on to imagine the economic effects of this, explaining how an increase in home values would likely lead to a hike in property taxes while local government could expect to see an increase in permitting fees for all those garage conversion projects.


It’s anybody’s ball game whether autonomous vehicles will be adopted and integrated into our society. But it’s fun to think of how very differently both our homes and our lives might be affected.



Source: Forbes, TBWS

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It’s terrifying but it’s true. One minute you think you own a property and the next, it has been recorded in someone else’s name. Fraud in real estate is alive and well, with authorities all over the country saying homes are illegally taken without owners’ consent.


Because of the ever-growing rise of technology, it is now easier than ever to create fraudulent documents that can be easily recorded in public records making your house appear that it was sold and now belongs to someone else.


In a Texas case, a deed turned out to be a forgery perpetrated by a daring group of rogue businessmen who claimed ownership of more than 70 vacant houses and lots across Houston. These con artists allegedly made millions by reselling them to unwitting buyers, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of pending civil and criminal lawsuits.

The players in this massive swindle simply strolled into the Harris County Civil Courthouse with fake deeds bearing the freshly minted signatures of long-dead men, faked notaries’ seals and other blatantly false claims to seize and sell others’ property, according to the Chronicle. The consequences of this fraud — carried out between 2002 and 2008 — continue to affect hundreds of people in some of the city’s humblest neighborhoods and much of the mess remains unresolved.


Your best defenses against fraud of this kind are awareness and diligence, not permitting yourself to go on autopilot. The most straightforward way to make sure you are not a victim of this sort of fraud is to check public records regularly, looking for changes. Every city has a place where the public can go to search for information on a property. Property records are maintained at either the county courthouse, county recorder, city hall or another city or county department. Many public offices are staffed by knowledgeable personnel ready to help you find property deeds and encumbrances.


Telltale signs something is amiss would be things like getting mail addressed to a different name at your address or seeing that mail you normally might receive regarding your home is no longer arriving in your mailbox. Any new deed recorded in the public records triggers a slew of mail advertisements, so they are a great warning sign that something is up.


Another sign is sudden unsolicited interest from prospective real estate agents or home service-related companies. If anything sends up a red flag, go online and check for changes. Then check it again a few weeks later to confirm.

Vacation homeowners will need to be extra-vigilant, since these sorts of properties are especially vulnerable to fraud. Find a neighbor, or hire a reputable property manager, to regularly check and report on your property. Also, make sure to have mail related to that property forwarded to you, and be concerned if the flow stops unexpectedly.


Most times there will be nothing amiss regarding the ownership of your home. But it’s much easier to take steps to avoid a problem of this proportion than to spend a lot of time and money fixing it.


Source: Sun Sentinel, Houstong Chronicle, TBWS

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It’s not that kitchen island that offers more entertainment space for those weekend gatherings. And it’s not the relaxing master bathroom with two (count ‘em, TWO sinks) that drive millennials into taking the mortgage plunge. It’s their dogs.


A 2017 Harris Poll conducted by Sun Trust Mortgage revealed that a full one-third of millennial home buyers’ decisions to buy homes is driven chiefly by their desire to have a dog or have space for a dog that didn’t require them to head down a set of apartment stairs at 6 am every day. In fact, dogs outranked weddings and kids as one a prime incentive for buying a house.


It isn’t just the inconvenience of having to walk a dog several times a day that is at the heart of this, however. Much of it is tied to guilt — guilt over owning a dog that is forced to stay cooped up each day. With dog rescues becoming a lasting trend, millennials’ desire to give one’s dog the best life possible is one that real estate brokers see more frequently than one would imagine.


Ask any Realtor who specializes in the millennial demographic, and they’ll describe how their buyers will go into the house, through the kitchen, and then walk directly into backyard, assessing it for their dog(s).


This phenomenon is also a reason homebuilders and remodelers are seeing a surge in amenities like dog-washing stations, retractable kitchen drawers for dog bowls, and under-stairs retreats designed just for canines. A nearby dog park is a huge neighborhood feature as well. Think about it. How many romantic comedies involve two people meeting over a dog romp? It seems having this trait in common with others that live nearby forms bonds between people that eclipses the neighborhood barbecue or yard sale day.


Another feature millennials look for in their to-be neighborhoods are dog-friendly restaurants. Eating establishments are rising to the occasion, with entry areas that offer fresh running water, patios that offer seating for pet owners with their pets in tow, and even a standard free menu treat. Starbucks now offers a free “puppacino” — a frothy concoction in a cup that will have your dog sporting one of those “Got milk?” smiles all day long.


Millennials also take note of the number of walking trails nearby and if they don’t exist, will bolster efforts to add pet waste stations to keep things looking good. Sound a little extreme? It’s obvious millennials regard their pets as family members — arguably more so than any previous generation. In an NBC News article on the topic, Laura Schenone, author of The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril, says, “Millennials have grown up in a different world than boomers and Gen-Xers, and it has impacted the way they see dogs. For one thing, this generation is more educated than any before: 27 percent of millennial women have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 14 percent of boomers and 20 percent of Gen-Xers. There is research to show that the college educated are more aware of the environment and the natural world, which includes animals.”


Compare this to the childhood many baby boomers experienced with larger dogs or those that shed relegated to the backyard, when responsible dog ownership included rolled up newspapers and choke collars, and routinely putting pets to sleep instead of spending the thousands of dollars dog owners now spend to keep Fido around for even six more months.


Part of this dog-centered penchant on the part of millennials may also be due to how they wait to have kids or decide not to have them at all. “Some millennials say they are having dogs [instead] of children,” says Schenone in the article. “That’s a leap, but not hard to believe; after all, they are less well off than boomers and Gen-Xers were at their age, and more burdened by student loans and debt. Everybody needs love and a family: dogs are cheaper, easier, and provide love.”


Source: CBS News, TBWS

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Anyone visiting a weekend open house knows that most for-sale properties today have been “staged” to show them at their best and most appealing. Some would-be home sellers have wondered whether it might be better to go one step beyond staging and do a remodel of their home to increase its value. After all, who’s not impressed by a brand new, state-of-the-art kitchen and bathroom?

The remodeling industry chalked up sales of more than $340 billion in 2017—a 7.5% increase from the previous year. Are these homeowners onto some financial secret? Can remodeling increase the value of a home?

The simple answer is yes—but it is unlikely that spending money on a major remodel will translate into a high enough sales price to justify the expense. According to a recent survey completed by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the average recovery of remodeling costs is 56%. This means that spending $20,000 to update an older kitchen to a shiny new on will increase the value of the home by only about $11,200.

There are some improvements that may offer better numbers. Replacing and modernizing structural items, such as garage doors and windows, can give a return of 75% of their cost. Interior projects tend to have less favorable returns: adding a master suite, for example, may increase the value by 56.6% of its cost—and this represents a 14.7% drop from the previous year. Major kitchen upgrades return about 56%, down 10.9% from last year.

Reining in the cost and extent of remodels can provide better returns. A minor kitchen update can return up to 81% of its cost. Bathroom tune-ups are much the same. Buyers respond favorably to appliances and fixtures that are functional and new.

Many homeowners, aware of rising interest rates and prices, are turning to remodeling to avoid a move, choosing to spend money to make their homes more livable and attractive over a longer period, not so much for resale value.

If you are contemplating a remodel, you should decide whether you are hoping to increase the value of your home for resale in the immediate future, or whether you simply want to make your property more livable over a longer period. If you are planning to sell, you should think twice about spending the money, since you’ll only get a portion of it back in the form of a higher sales price.


Source: TBWS

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There are always people who seem to find scamming consumers to be a worthwhile career choice. This time, the miscreant is Michael Davenport, former bass player for pop-punk band, The Ataris. Davenport and his alleged co-conspirator, Cynthia Rawlinson, operated a telemarketing boiler room in Santa Barbara. According to the indictment, they collected more than $27 million dollars from unwary consumers over a seven-year period.

The scam was a common one: they placed ads on Craigslist offering houses for sale or rent at “favorable prices.” Hopeful consumers would pay $199 to be able to view the listings. Once the victim paid the fee, they would discover that many of the addresses did not exist.

Davenport and Rawlinson allegedly collected money from more than 100,000 people in all 50 states until their office was raided by FBI agents in October 2016. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $853,000 that was in a merchant processing account at the time of the raid, along with $104,000 in cash seized later fr0m Davenport at a Little Rock, Arkansas airport, where Davenport was arrested in December. If the two are convicted, they could face up to 30 years in prison.

This rental scam is not significantly different from the others. They all prey on the most vulnerable people who are facing ever-rising rents and prices. The best defense against scams like this one is simple: never pay a fee or subscription to see properties that seem too good to be true, and always verify that an owner’s representative is who they say they are. Scams like this one are always conducted by people hiding behind email addresses and mail drops, so the victims never meet the criminals trying to relieve them of their hard-earned money. Legitimate rental agents will always meet prospective tenants at the property and provide access.

Don’t be taken in by offers that appear to be too good to be true; there is always a catch.


Source: TBWS

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Buy Real Estate with Bitcoins? In Dubai, you can.

British entrepreneurs and real estate developers Michelle Mone and Doug Barrowman have begun offering units in their 2.4 million square foot buildings in Dubai…for Bitcoins. A studio apartment will go initially for the low, low promotional price of 30 BTC, while the more spacious 1-bedroom units will bring 50 BTC. The prices of the 150 units offered for Bitcoin payment are tied to the US Dollar, so they will fluctuate as the Bitcoin moves. The studio apartment was initially offered at $133,918—but that was when 1 BTC was trading at its high of $4,600.

At today’s prices, 1 Bitcoin is worth $3,850. No, wait: it’s $3,854. Hold on…it’s almost $4,000. Now it’s back to $3,850. It reached a high of $4,683 in August 2017. Bitcoin is somewhat volatile; you might say—this time last year, you could buy 1 BTC for about $600. Interested readers can find the history of Bitcoin prices online.

For anyone not quite familiar with the term, Bitcoin (BTC) is a form of “cryptocurrency.” It first appeared in 2009, introduced by an anonymous person using the name, “Satoshi Nakamoto.” No one knows for sure who this person is.

Part of the appeal for many is that transactions conducted in BTC are completely anonymous; the parties are identified using a unique, encrypted digital “key, ” and the transactions occur online. The anonymity of BTC transactions causes a certain amount of anxiety to security experts around the world. Some might consider it to be the equivalent of numbered Swiss bank accounts.

We’re likely to hear more about cryptocurrencies in the future.

It’s not likely that we’ll see Bitcoin used to purchase real estate in the U.S. anytime soon, if ever. Large financial transactions, such as anything involving real estate, requires a detailed accounting of all the funds involved. A wealthy buyer can’t walk into the title company with a wheelbarrow full of cash—or a digital “wallet” full of Bitcoins—and expect to close escrow. A “cash” buyer must document the source of the funds to avoid any possibility of money laundering.

While the units in the Dubai luxury complex will almost certainly sell out quickly to wealthy cash (Bitcoin) buyers, those who hold Bitcoins in the U.S. will still have to settle for paying for their real estate acquisitions with good old dollars.

Source: TBWS


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WASHINGTON (November 6, 2013) – The majority of metropolitan areas in the third quarter experienced robust year-over-year price gains, with the national median price showing the strongest annual growth in nearly eight years  Read full article

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National Home Prices Nearing Pre-Crash Levels
Aug 26 2013, 11:11AM – From Mortgage News Daily

Home prices keep edging closer to pre-crash price levels and today’s Home Price Index report from Lender Processing Services (LPS) indicates that national prices are now back within 15.2 percent of that peak.  The index for June rose to $229,000 from 226,000 in May, an increase of 1.2 percent and is up 6.9 percent from the end of last year.  The peak, in June 2006, was $270,000.

LPS used its loan-level databases and June 2013 residential real estate transactions to conduct a repeat sales analysis of home prices.  The LPS HPI represents the price of non-distressed sales by taking into account price discounts for bank-owned real estate (REO) and short sales.

States with the biggest month-over-month appreciation were Nevada, up 2.4 percent, Florida, 1.7 percent, and California and Illinois at 1.6 percent each.  Other states with increases exceeding one percent in a month were Delaware, Georgia, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado, and Arizona.



All states showed some appreciation from May to June but the smallest gains were in Nebraska at 0.4 percent, Alaska at 0.5 percent, and Iowa at 0.6 percent.  Click Here for Full Article

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