Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Schemes, Scams, & Frauds

It seems like fraud attempts have spiked in the last 3 months. We have seen each of these scams either sting us or Realtors with whom we work:

  1. Toner Scam: Your company gets a call from your copier service company confirming your correct copier ID and that your shipment of toner is late, but on the way. A week after the shipment arrives, the invoice will arrive. It is from Supply World, Inc., IDC Servco, or some other company and is for 10-15 times the price of your product. If you’re not careful someone will pay the invoice. The scam starts with an earlier call in which the scammer asks to confirm your copier ID number, make and model. They might call later and get more information, such as the name of the person in charge of orders. Now, the hook is set and they can call with all of the information that makes them appear to be your legitimate servicer.
  2. Phishing and Malware Attacks: These are all over the internet – emails with malicious links or files. The key is that they are so well targeted to your business or interests that it can be very hard to tell the scam from the real thing.
  3. Microsoft Hacker Scam:   A “Microsoft representative” calls to tell you’re your computer is signaling their servers that the updates are not running properly.  This is causing trouble on their end and slowing down your computer (your computer is running slow, who’s isn’t).  They provide the Microsoft Webpage, you log in and give access to your computer, and they’re off!  You just gave a hacker access to your computer.  The call was fake, the website an authentic mimic, and the hackers job too easy.
  4. Advertising Scam: A number of local service providers fell pray to a scam in which a company sells advertising space on a prominent Realtor’s marketing materials. For $1500, their company can advertise on the folders that the Realtor gives to customers and clients at closing. The catch: The Realtor never agreed to this, the company has no plans on printing real folders, and the whole operation is just a scam. The parties lost their money and the innocent Realtor’s reputation took a potential hit with angry business owners feeling burned.

To Avoid these and other scams, here are a few simple rules:

  • NEVER provide private information that is solicited over the phone or by email.  Credit Card Companies, Banks, and vendors will never ask for this information when they contact you.  If you call a trusted number, then it is ok to give information.  Examples:
    • Credit Card Fraud:  You may receive calls alerting you of fraud on your account. Do not link to the site in the email and do not call the number provided.  Call the number on the back of your card!
    • Bank Account Issues:  You may receive email of phone alerts about problems with your bank account. Often the emails are incredibly authentic.  Do not link to the email or open any attachments.  Call the number from your own records or your local representative.
    • Toner Scam:  The key to this scam are the first phone calls asking for seemingly harmless information.  Often, the first call is just to “confirm” the copier ID number or the make and model.  Do not give this out. More importantly, all staff should be aware of this scam and avoid agreeing over the phone to anything relating to toner or computer supplies and avoid sending payment for any questionable item.
  • Computer Scams:
    • Microsoft Update Scam:  NEVER give access to your computer to anyone other than a person you have chosen to hire. If they call you, don’t give any information, access to information and certainly don’t allow them remote access to your computer.
    • Phishing Scams:  Don’t open any attachments you are not expecting or links.  An email with nothing but a hyper-link is not linking to something “Awesome” or “Interesting” or anything else.  It’s a virus, malware, etc.  Be especially wary of .zip and .exe files.
  • Advertising Scam: This scam can often be avoided with a simple Google search. Before committing to contracts or payments with unknown parties, do your research. It is as easy as a Google search. If the first page of Google is filled with Ripoff Report.com; bbb.org; snopes.com and complaintsboard.com, your are likely the target of a scam.

Much of this is easier said than done. Scammers are sophisticated and constantly adjusting to appear legitimate. Simply being aware of the scams will keep your radar up for red flags. Be skeptical and curious, do your research, and be cautious of these scams and you have a better chance of avoiding them.

Finally, don’t be embarrassed and don’t hide your story.  Share it with others in your organization and elsewhere.  Knowledge and awareness is the best way to shut these scams down.


Read Full Post »

Wisconsin Passes New Privacy Law Affecting Closings

A new state law may make the closing process slightly more difficult. The law makes it harder to order water bills for real estate closings. Being aware of the new law can avoid delay and help ease concerns when the title company asks for information or signatures.

Act 25 And Municipal Water Bills

When a home owner sells a house, they must assure that the water bill is paid in full as of closing. Title companies take care of this by ordering the Seller’s final water bill from the municipality. This is typically the only utility that the title company will handle because it is listed on the offer to purchase and can become a lien against the property if not paid.

Wisconsin Act 25 now prohibits a municipality from releasing customer information to any person (including a title company) without the home owner’s consent. This means, title companies need a written authorization and consent from every seller in order to request the water bill.

While this might seem like a minor detail, it adds time and complication to an already rushed and complicated process. Many sellers are nervous about the process and are skeptical and hesitant to give information and authorization to a title company that they hardly know.

The Wisconsin Realtor’s Association has advised all Wisconsin Realtors to include the following authorization on their listing contract:

The Seller authorizes the Broker and/or the title company Seller anticipates will close the transaction, to obtain any municipal utility customer information relating to the Property, including but not limited to customer usage or account information.

Homestead Title has already revised our Authorization (used for mortgage payoffs) to include any municipal utilities.

Homestead’s mission and passion is to make the closing process easier. By providing education and helping Realtors and Sellers understand the process, we make the process more enjoyable, less stressful, and smooth for everyone involved.

 

Read Full Post »

Up, Up, and Away

Rates on the Rise, But Sales Remain HOT

Mortgage rates spiked over the last two weeks. In fact, since the end of April, the average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage increased by nearly 25%.

Pressure From The Fed Kept Rates Low

The Fed had helped keep mortgage rates low through a bond purchase program called Quantitative Easing (QE for short). But, recent announcements by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke signaling a slow down or end to QE spooked the market.

Mortgage rates jumped and have continued to rise since those announcements.

Real Estate Market Continues Hot Streak

Despite rising rates, the real estate market remains hot. Realtors continue to be overwhelmed with activity and many sellers are seeing multiple offers near or at asking price.  Homestead’s numbers are no different. After an incredible year of growth in 2012, we have seen a 30% year over year increase in closings. And, despite the jump in interest rates from April to June, our new orders have not slowed.

Homestead’s growth is both a function of a strong market and of our strong commitment and passion to making the closing process easier for our customers and clients. Our values of caring, empathy, flexibility, loyalty and a hands-on, education based approach have cemented a loyal following of Realtors and do-it-yourself sellers.

Read Full Post »

Mortgage Rates Shot Up This Week

Mortgage rates shot up this week and many are wondering why and what’s next. Homestead Title is going wonky today and dabbling in the guessing game of mortgage rates.

Bonds and Mortgage Rates

Mortgage Rates tend to follow long term bonds and, specifically, the 10 year Treasury Bond market. As bond yields increase, mortgage rates go up. And, sure enough, bond yields rose this week. But, most economists believe there is a much stronger force at play that has kept interest rates low. It is called the Fed and its program of Quantitative Easing.

Quantitative Easing Explained

The Federal Reserve has ways of influencing the economy. Its primary tool is to lower the interest rate charged to banks for inter-bank lending. By lowering the cost of money they hope Banks will borrow more, lend more freely, and spur economic growth.

Over the past 4 years, the Fed lowered rates to nearly zero, yet banks still weren’t lending enough and the economy wasn’t growing fast enough. In fact, banks were borrowing this cheap money and using it to buy safe bonds that paid a small return. Unable to lower the cost of money, the Fed sought to influence the quantity of money (hence the term Quantitative Easing). They pumped cash into the economy by buying up the same bonds and safe investments that banks were buying. This lowered the yields on bonds and indirectly lowered mortgage rates.

And sure enough, people borrowed. This spring has seen a surge in the real estate market and low interest rates have surely played a role.

Why Did Rates Rise Suddenly This Week?

When the Fed talks, the markets listen. On May 22, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed might slow down or stop Quantitative Easing sooner than expected. The markets and banks reacted strongly (some would say they overreacted) and mortgage rates spiked.

What Will Happen Next

We’re a Title Company, not fortune tellers. If we could accurately predict the economy, we’d be on a beach in the Caribbean. But we can report what other’s are saying. Many economists think this is still a volatile market and rates will drop back down. It is hard to imagine rates dropping back to the historic lows of the last year, but we never imagined that was possible in the first place. Rates are still well below 4%, which is a screaming deal by comparison to rates over the last 50 years.

Read Full Post »

Madison Plant Sales

Spring is finally here and its time to get planting! If you are selling a home, a beautiful garden can add curb appeal. If you’re staying put, a garden can add to your home’s value, the sustainability of your property, and your happiness.

Homestead Title takes pride in being green and sustainable. Every year we provide a list of local garden sales in the Madison area. Enjoy!

 

Date

Location

Event

May 4, 9am-1pm Alliant Energy Center Compost Bin Sale: bins are $45 each
May 5, 12pm-2pm Olbrich Gardens Dahlia Tuber Sale: sponsored by the Badger State Dahlia Society
May 10-11, 9am-3pm Olbrich Gardens Plant Sale with the Pros: Olbrich Gardens annual fundraiser.
May 10 -11, 8am-4pm West Side Garden Club: 3518 Nakoma Rd. West Side Garden Club annual plant sale.
May 10-12, 8am-3pm 5586 Cheryl Dr., Fitchburg Fitchburg Plant Sale
May 11, 9am-2pm UW Arboretum Visitor Center Native Plant Sale
May 11, 9am-1pm 1008 Shorewood Blvd, Shorewood Hills, WI Shorewood Hills Garden Club Plant and Mulch Sale
May 11, 9am-2pm Waterman Park, downtown Oregon Oregon Garden Club Plant Sale
May 11, 8:30am-1pm 7437 Terrace Ave., Middleton Sunset Garden Club Plant Sale
May 11, 8:30am-11am Mt. Horeb Fire Station, 120 S. First St., Mt. Horeb Mound Vue Garden Club Plant Sale
May 16-18, 9am-5pm Habitat ReStore, 208 Cottage Grove Rd. Habitat for Humanity of Dane County Plant Sale
May 18, 9am-12pm West Madison Agricultural Research Station, 8502 Mineral Point Rd. Wisconsin Hardy Perennial Society plant sale.
May 18, 9am-11am Spring Harbor School Indian Hills Garden Club plant sale
May 19, 12pm-3pm 1 Fen Oak Ct., Madison (east side UW-Extension) Master Gardener Plan Sale, Dane County UW-Extension Office
June 2, 10am-2pm Olbrich Gardens Wisconsin Hosta Society, hosta sale

Read Full Post »

There is a new scam targeting Wisconsin small businesses. A company called Corporate Records Services is sending out very official looking forms that request information about the company, the submission of an Annual Minutes Form, and the submission of $125. The form appears to be required by state statute. Businesses are not required to fill out this form. In fact, it is difficult to see what, if any, services this company provides.

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions has issued and official statement cautioning business owners against this scam:

http://www.wdfi.org/newsroom/press/2013/AnnualMinutesFormAlert.pdf

Other states, including Illinois, New York, Maine, Indiana, and Tennessee have also issued warnings against this scam.

Wisconsin business owners who have questions about this form are urged to contact the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) at 608-266-1622.

 

Thank you to the WRA for alerting the Real Estate industry, many members of which have been targeted by this scam.

Read Full Post »

Will 2013 Outpace 2012 for Another Great Year in Real Estate?

It was a great year for real estate. Yes, 2012 was “great” for real estate! We finally saw a marked improvement in sales both in Dane County and the State. Dane County sales were up by over 22%. Homestead Title outpaced the market with an increase of 40% in 2012! In addition, sales related to foreclosures showed a steady decline for the entire year. This is all great news.

In addition, there has been good economic news with lower unemployment and a surge in the stock market. As so often happens, this has corresponded with higher interest rates. Rates on 30 year mortgages ticked up last week. If you haven’t refinanced, NOW may be the time or you might just miss this historic window.

So how does 2013 look? It is way too early to tell, but the early returns hint at another strong year. Anecdotally, things look great: Facebook and twitter are lighting up with Realtors and Lenders celebrating an incredible start to 2013. Reliable statistics aren’t in, but Homestead Title’s early numbers suggest that 2013 is off to an even better start than 2012. Homestead Title’s sales orders are up over 40% from this time last year. In fact, this has been the best January we’ve ever had.

Here’s to a GREAT 2013 in real estate!

 

Read Full Post »

BREAKING NEWS:
On January 1, 2013, Congress extended an important law that exempts many homeowners from paying taxes on cancelled debts. As part of the “Fiscal Cliff” deal, Congress extended the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 until the end of 2013. This will have a positive impact on distressed homeowners.

Cancelled Debt

If you owe a debt to someone else and they cancel or forgive that debt, the cancelled amount may be taxable.

Cancelled or forgiven debts happen every day in the Real Estate world. Short sales and foreclosures result in substantial, cancelled or forgiven debts. The Bank’s loss may be considered the home owner’s gain – a taxable, forgiven debt. A short sale happens when the proceeds of a home sale are not enough to pay off the mortgage. The bank agrees to take a “short” payoff and may cancel or forgive the shortage.

For the last 5 years, most homeowners were exempt from paying taxes on that forgiven or cancelled debt. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 exempted many homeowners from paying taxes on forgiven debt. But, that law was set to expire on December 31, 2012

Taxable Income

If you owe $200,000 on your home but your sale only results in $150,000 in proceeds, you will be “short” by $50,000. You would likely need to count that $50,000 as taxable income to the IRS! In this case, you might owe and additional $12,500 in tax liability. In fact, you may owe this tax even if your house is foreclosed if it results in a shortfall to the bank.

Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 exempts many home owners from paying taxes on the forgiven debt. On January 1, 2013, Congress extended the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 until the end of 2013. This has the potential to save distressed homeowners millions of dollars in “phantom” tax liability over the coming year.


Read Full Post »

Scam Alert: It’s Not A Real Bill!

Homestead Title just received a very realistic looking bill from DNS Services. The bill is for “Managed DNS Backup Business Services.” Man that sounds important. Its not – its a scam.


As with many fake bills, this one contains the hidden warning that it is “a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill…” Other scams involve fake phone bills, yellow pages ads, and printer toner. Don’t fall for the scam. Throw the bill in the garbage.

Read Full Post »

If you owe a debt to someone else and they cancel or forgive that debt, the cancelled amount may be taxable.

Cancelled or forgiven debts happen every day in the Real Estate world. Short sales and foreclosures result in substantial, cancelled or forgiven debts. The Bank’s loss may be considered the home owner’s gain – a taxable, forgiven debt. A short sale happens when the proceeds of a home sale are not enough to pay off the mortgage. The bank agrees to take a “short” payoff and may cancel or forgive the shortage.

For the last 5 years, most homeowners were exempt from paying taxes on that forgiven or cancelled debt. Unless Congress acts soon, homeowners will have to start paying income taxes on that debt.

Taxable Income

If you owe $200,000 on your home but your sale only results in $150,000 in proceeds, you will be “short” by $50,000. You would likely need to count that $50,000 as taxable income to the IRS! In this case, you might owe and additional $12,500 in tax liability. In fact, you may owe this tax even if your house is foreclosed if it results in a shortfall to the bank.

Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 exempts many home owners from paying taxes on the forgiven debt. This law, however, is set to expire at the end of 2012. If it does, it may have a chilling effect on short sales and loan modifications. Many experts and commentators believe Congress will extend the law. It was originally effective until 2009 and Congress extended it to 2012 as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. In August, the Senate Finance committee approved a one-year extension, with bipartisan support (this was not a full vote of Congress). Others are more skeptical. A lame-duck Congress has its plate full with the looming “Fiscal Cliff.”

If the law is not extended, many believe the Real Estate market will suffer. Indeed, over 20% of Dane County sales are distressed property sales. These distressed sellers would be faced with another, “phantom” tax just to walk away from their homes.

 

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »