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Posts Tagged ‘title company’

Too Much Money is a Red Flag!

Realtors, attorneys, and home sellers should be alert to red flags that indicate fraud, scams, or troubled deals. One major red flag is when a buyer offers too much money. Sellers should beware of any offer with a purchase price that is far higher than expected or earnest money that is far more than customary in the market.

Common Scams

Foreign Buyer Blindly Purchasing Home

One common scam involves foreign buyers emailing Realtors asking for help purchasing a home. After a few emails, the buyer (usually from China, England, or Canada) will make a full price offer on a home the he has never seen. He will then send earnest money in a certified check. If the red flags weren’t waiving already, they should be when the Earnest Money is way too high. For instance, in Madison, Wisconsin, earnest money typically ranges from $1,000 – $3,000. The foreign buyer will send $100,000 or more in earnest money. They will then ask for a return of the excess money. If you return the funds via wire, as requested, you will soon find yourself in a bind when the certified check bounces. It was fake.

Too much earnest money is a red flag!

For more information on this, common scam: Link here.

Local Buyer Seeking Occupancy

Another potential scam occurs when a buyer seeks to purchase property with an extended, pre-closing occupancy. In this case, we have seen buyers offer substantial earnest money (10-20 times the typical amount) and request occupancy for many months prior to closing. The buyer then moves in, fails to close and refuses to leave. The seller must file an eviction proceeding to remove the buyer.

Again, too much earnest money raises red flags. In additions, extended, pre-closing occupancy should raise a red flag worthy of retaining an attorney.  Interestingly, one of the ways to mitigate the risk of an extended occupancy period is to ask for an unusually high amount of earnest money.  Thus, red flags don’t always lead to fraud.  But they can indicate additional risks.

Unrealistic Purchase Price

Any time a buyer offers far more than the reasonable value of a home, it is a red flag for fraud. In some cases, this kind of fraud can benefit both buyer and seller. But, it may be fraud nonetheless and can expose the Realtor or other professionals to liability and harm.

For additional resources on avoiding Real Estate Scams, check out the following links:

Various Real Estate Scams: http://realtormag.realtor.org/law-and-ethics/law/article/2010/08/5-real-estate-scams-you-need-know-about

Foreign Buyer Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/real-estate-scam-warning/

Corporate Records Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/scam-alert-annual-minutes-requirements/

Deed Copy Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/deed-copy-scam-alert/

Better Business Bureau False Complaint:
https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/better-business-bureau-false-complaint/

 

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

 

 

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DEED PROCESSING NOTICE – Don’t Fall For it!

Home owners are being targeted for a simple, yet effective scam. At least two companies are offering to send copies of “grant deeds” for a charge of $86. They recommend that homeowners obtain this deed in order to confirm their ownership in the property. Yet, these public records are readily available for almost no cost.

Why Do Many Officials Call This A “Scam?”

These companies send official looking notices that often include warnings of late fees, compliance response deadlines, or the phrase FINAL NOTICE. While these sales pitches are not illegal, they are deceptive. As the Lake County Recorder of Deeds in the Chicago area noted: “It is not against the law, but it breaks the spirit of the law . . . It is very, very deceptive.” Officials Warn Homeowners of Deed Scams, Chicago Tribune.

The companies often charge $86 for the deed but also include a $35 late free for not meeting a fictional deadline. It is only in the fine print that they disclose that this is not a bill and that you could receive the same information from the County Recorder (or register of deeds).

Deeds Can be Obtained Inexpensively or Free

In fact, copies of deeds, mortgages, or any recorded document may be obtained from your local Wisconsin Register of Deeds office, for a very nominal fee. Generally the fees are $2.00 for the first page, and $1 for each page thereafter. Deeds are usually one or two pages.

In addition, homeowners should have received a copy of their deed from their title company when they purchased. Homestead Title and many other title companies will provide a duplicate to their customers at no charge.

Homestead Title Company is always happy to assist Dane County homeowners with such requests.

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February might have been a great month! The National Association of Realtors will release its existing-home sales data tomorrow and many analysts are already predicting strong numbers. Bloomberg reports that home purchases climbed in February to the highest level in almost two years. New construction, on the other hand, shows a more mixed message. Today, the Commerce Department reported that housing starts fell in February but permits for future construction jumped to their highest level in over 3 years.

Unsold Inventory, Low Prices and The Drag on the Economy

Unsold inventory and lost equity continue to be a drag on our economic recovery. Despite steady improvement in both new construction and existing homes, an oversupply of unsold homes continues to keep prices down and slow the recovery. (U.S. Housing Report Shows Uneven Growth, N.Y. Times, March 20, 2012). This oversupply also includes the vast “Ghost Inventory” of distressed properties, such as short sales, foreclosures, and REOs.

These depressed prices and the loss of homeowner’s equity both caused the economic crisis and is slowing the recovery. The decline in home values (prices) has restricted borrowing power, further slowing the recovery. Indeed, many people are unable to tap the value of their home by refinancing or selling. As an unexpected consequence, our economic recovery has been strongest in areas that did not have severe price drops, reports Amir Sufi, professor of finance at the University of Chicago. (Measuring Housing’s Drag on the Economy, New York Times, February 24, 2012). Likewise, the recovery has been weak in states like Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada – states hit with the larges housing price declines.

Thus, the improvement in home sales is the first piece of good news. A full economic recovery, however, may require more than strong numbers in new and existing home sales. It will likely require more robust recovery in home prices.

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Many people have media-fatigue when it comes to interest rates. It seems like 10 straight years of constant chatter that “interest rates are near historic lows.” Once again, the news, radio ads, and constant phone calls are imploring people to refinance because “rates are at or near historic lows.” Many people shrug this off and ignore it, happy with their already “historically low” interest rate. This can be a mistake. The reality is that, with a dragging economy, mortgage rates have once again dropped.

Rates ARE at Historic Lows!

Interest rates are indeed at historic lows and, for most people, it makes economic sense to refinance. At this time last year, consumers heard the same drumbeat about low rates. And the news was all true – rates were at historic lows, with 30 year rates at about 4.5%. Today, many banks are offering rates of 3.85% on a 30 Year mortgage. Once again, rates have hit record lows. But many home owners just don’t believe the hype.

Lender and Realtors will tell you that there is no better time to borrow or buy. From the standpoint of interest rates, this certainly appears accurate. Indeed, even if a homeowner purchased or refinanced this summer, it can still make perfect financial sense to refinance again. With interest rates almost a full point (ten basis points in lending terms) lower than early summer, a homeowner with a $225,000 mortgage can save over $130 per month. And, a first time homebuyer has incredible purchase power, with the combination of lower home values and incredibly low interest rates.

Is an ARM an Option?

It is hard to believe that mortgage rates could go any lower. Of course, we’ve all been saying this for 10 years. Still, most people would say it is crazy to pass on locking in on a 30 year mortgage at rates in the 3’s. Then again, how many people own the same house for more than 30 years? Most people move before the end of 10 years. Indeed, it is very common to move every 5-7 years. If you know that you will not be in the same house 4 or 5 years from now (your kids will be in college, your family will outgrow the house, your already thinking of a move), then an adjustable rate loan (an ARM) could be an incredible cost savings. Some banks are offering 5-Year Adjustable Rate Loans at 3.2% or lower. Using the same example above, a homeowner with a 5% interest rate might save $235 per month for the next 3-5 years.

The Challenges of Refinancing

There are challenges to refinancing. Of course, there is the paperwork and time. And there is also the increased standards and scrutiny. Gone are the days when a poor credit score could be overlooked. And gone are the days of easy appraisals. With housing values near or below levels seen 8-10 years ago, many homes simply don’t appraise for enough to support a new loan. For homeowners with decent credit and a lot of equity in their homes, these are not insurmountable hurdles. And, any homeowner thinking of refinancing should work with their lender and never assume they simply won’t qualify.

All of this is to say, believe the hype. Interest rates ARE at historic lows and it IS a great time to buy or refinance. Don’t pass up an incredible opportunity to save money or buy the home of your dreams.

Homestead Title is not a lender and does not provide any loan products. We do provide incredible service and great rates for Wisconsin buyers, sellers, and home owners wishing to refinance their loans.

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Congress Extends the Deadline to CLOSE

Last year, Congress passed a tax credit for first time homebuyers and many “long-time” homebuyers. This credit provided for two deadlines:

  • Receive a binding offer to purchase on or before April 30, 2010
  • Close the sale on or before June 30, 2010.

Lenders, title companies, and real estate professionals worked feverishly to close transactions before that June 30th deadline. All the while congress was working (less feverishly, we are sure) to pass an extension of the bill.

Hours before it was set to expire, the Senate finally approved an extension to the June 30 closing deadline for the homebuyer tax credit, The move will give buyers who signed a purchase agreement by April 30 more time to close and still receive the tax credit of up to $8,000. Once signed by the President, the new deadline will be Sept. 30, 2010.

This extension will benefit those home-buyers who’s deals stalled or financing ran into trouble.  Many homebuyers could not close on short-sales or other distressed properties because of delays in lender approval.  The extension will be a welcome relief to those buyers.


Buyers, Realtors, and other professionals should be aware that this extension only affects home buyers who are in a binding contract that was signed before May 2010. It will not benefit those potential homebuyers who are still shopping for a home.
Interest Rates at Historic Lows

Nevertheless, today’s unprecedented interest rates may amount to a savings almost equal to the tax credit. Indeed, in January, a home-buyer might have locked in on a 30 Year Mortgage at 5.4%, a wonderfully low rate by historical standards. Today, that same 30 Year Mortgage might be at 4.6%. On a $200,000 mortgage, this amounts to a monthly savings of about $97.75 or $4,600 in just four years. While the tax credit might not be available for those still shopping for a home, the savings are still there.

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I am Dr. William Grey, M.D. and internist in Titchfield Engalnd. I am relocating my family to Madison, Wisconsin and I am interested in retention of you services to buy a house. Please send me information about homes that costing $400,000 to $600,000.

Sounds too good to be true? In most cases it is too good to be true – it is a complex scam that we first wrote about in 2010.  Its back and scammers are posing as oil rig workers from China.

Falling for the Scam

The scammers are sophisticated and even the suspicious, cautious REALTOR or attorney can fall prey. A wealthy, out of town buyer relocating to your area is every REALTOR’s dream. When you look up the foreign buyer’s name, you will find his information checks out. And, upon further emails, he will be very specific about his needs and wishes. He will tell you about his wife and children, his need to for 3 or more bedrooms, his desire to be near a school and he may even tell you the neighborhood he likes best.

Then, after sending 5 or 6 listings, he will tell you he is ready to buy MLS Listing 0654321, the beautiful colonial on the west side. “Please make a full price offer, unless you think, in your judgment, that a different amount would be appropriate.” He will also provide you with the name of his financial advisor in New York and ask you for a referral to a local attorney.

At this point, the deal still seems suspicious, too good to be true, and likely to be a scam. But how can it be? He’s using a local attorney. He has a financial advisor at Global Financial, Inc. in Manhattan. And, his emails are so specific.

How The Scam Likely Works

The buyer signs an offer to purchase remotely from China (or England or Canada) and then sends in the earnest money to either the REALTOR or the attorney. The earnest money check will be far larger than the customary amount — it may even be for the entire purchase price. Oops. And some cases, the buyer will also send another check for a hundred thousand dollars or more. OOPS! Then, after the checks have been deposited, the buyer will request that the excess funds be returned via wire or western union. Even if the funds appear to have cleared or been credited to the REALTOR or Attorney account, the check will bounce. It was a fake. The wire goes to a foreign bank and is gone forever.

Avoiding the Scam

If a transaction appears too good to be true, it likely is. Some red flags and similarities include:

  • A foreign buyer sends you large amounts of funds by accident
  • A buyer asks you to deposit funds that come in by check and, shortly thereafter, return them via wire or Western Union (Western Union is a major red flag!)
  • A buyer offers to pay full price for a house, sight unseen.
  • The Financial adviser either is named Karen James or Paul Jackson and may work at Global Financial, Inc. (While it is possible these are real names and individuals, scammers are using these names)
  • The Buyer is from China, Japan, England, or Canada (really any foreign country where the buyer is suddenly relocating and buying sight-unseen)
  • The initial emails contain typos or poor grammar
  • The Buyer moves incredibly fast, making a decision in hours or even minutes rather than days or weeks.
  • The Buyer’s name is Otake Iwao, Miki Watanabe, Han Cheung, Han Hung, or Yuji Inoue
  • The Buyer works or lives on an Oil Rig in southeast Asia
  • The email address comes from @asia.com or some other generic email .

If you suspect a scam, ask lots of questions and have verbal, phone conversations at a minimum. Don’t send any private information, bank account numbers or anything else that you would not want a scam artist to have. Alert your Broker or legal counsel whenever a foreign individual is sending funds, even if the funds originate within the U.S.  — this alone is cause for caution.  Do not send out wired funds if the incoming funds were not wired. And do not send back large amounts until your bank can confirm with 100% certainty that the incoming funds were legitimate and fully cleared. Having access to the funds does not mean they cleared. Work with your bank to provide solid assurances that the funds are real and cleared whenever you suspect fraud.


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Foreclosures getting worse

This story aired on May 28, 2010 on WKOW News.

By Bob Schaper – bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MADISON (WKOW) – A quarter of all home sales last month involved distressed properties – and the situation could be getting worse.

Peter Zarov, owner of Homestead Title, says the number of distressed sales – such as short sales and auctions – is likely to go up because closings lag months behind foreclosures.

“I’m hoping we’re at bottom,” he said. “But every time I say that it gets worse.”

Nationally, distressed sales were 33 percent of all sales in April, according to the National Association of Realtors. That was down slightly from March, when it was 35 percent.

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