Integrity, for the Most Part, Still Rules in Real Estate

We all need to be careful that we are not scammed. We see scams all around us — in our emails, phone calls, text messages, and snail mail. Seniors in particular are targeted by scammers who have no shame about cheating someone out of their life savings.

Title companies warn buyers and sellers about wire fraud. Buyers have been known to get emails purportedly from their agent or title company giving them wiring instructions for their down payment or, in the case of a cash buyer, for the entire purchase price of a property they are buying, only to discover that they wired the money to a scammer on another continent from which it can never be retrieved.

Time shares (or fractional ownership) is another area rife with misrepresentation and deceptive practices that can trap an unwary buyer in the purchase of something they don’t really want and can’t really sell. (I speak from personal experience.)

And, yes, there are a few local real estate professionals who engage in illegal or improper behavior for which they get disciplined by the Colorado Real Estate Commission.

But I have to say that overall I have been very impressed by the level of integrity that I encounter among my fellow professionals.

Ask any Realtor, in particular, and he or she will probably tell you, as I can, that they can hardly recall a time when a fellow professional intentionally lied to them or misrepresented a client, listing or situation.

If, for example, I’m representing a buyer and the listing agent says there are three other offers and they’re all above full price, I’m confident in believing that to be true. I’ve completed hundreds of transactions and can’t recall one where I was told something that turned out not to be true or a fact withheld by the agent. Most sellers, I have found, are also aware of their responsibility to disclose all known defects, and, if not, their agent lets them know.

As an industry, we need to trust our fellow professionals, and I have found little or no reason not to. We are not just “honor bound” to be truthful. Being dishonest puts our very livelihood at risk, since any colleague or member of the public could report us to the Real Estate Commission, our MLS, or our Realtor Association, possibly resulting in a fine or even the loss of our license to practice real estate.

Here’s Some Practical Advice on Avoiding Scams When Hiring a Moving Company

I have never been scammed by a moving company, because I have never used one. The last time I remember seeing a moving company truck at my home was when Mayflower moved my family from Maine to Denver in 1953. As an adult, I always used U-Haul trucks until I bought my first box truck as a Realtor in 2004.  

So, I have no personal experience to call upon when it comes to being scammed by movers, but, according to a federal agency, 1 in 10 consumers falls victim to a moving scam. That agency, which is part of the Dept. of Transportation, is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Stop Moving Scams in their Tracks” is just one useful section at fmcsa.dot.gov/protect-your-move.

I was reminded of this topic last week as Rita’s son and daughter-in-law hired a moving company to move from L.A. to Denver. They described the experience of hiring and working with their movers as nightmarish. Coincidentally, this week I also received and read a blog post on this subject by Anita Clark, a Coldwell Banker agent in Florida.  Much of the following is inspired by (or from) her useful blog post.

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to have a written contract that clearly states what the mover will do as part of the terms of the contract. If the contract is vague or does not specifically identify what they are responsible for, you will need to resolve those issues before signing any contract. You do not want to get caught with questionable fees at the end of your move.

As with anything in life, if a mover’s quote looks too good to be true, it probably is. Quotes from legitimate companies should be within 10% of each other. If one quote is much lower, you’d be wise to not go with that company because they’ll probably get you later with hidden fees, as described below.

Typically, movers ask for a deposit up front and full payment before they open the truck at your new home. That’s when they could hit you with those unexpected charges, with urgency and lack of management present working against you.

In her blog post, Anita listed the following common hidden fees consumers might encounter:

Gas fees: Gas costs to pick up and deliver items.

Assembly/disassembly: To take apart or put items back together.

Bulk items: Piano, large appliances, outdoor equipment, etc.

Environmental: Typically seen as a disposal fee, such as for moving materials.

Insurance: Moving companies are required to assume liability for the items they are moving.

Packing labor & supplies: This can be costly, so consumers should understand what is included in their contract.

Tolls: You shouldn’t pay these.

Weight: A company might give a low quote based on a weight estimate but a new and higher price once they drive to the scale and weigh the truck. Another way these movers overcharge customers is by adding weight (e.g., fuel or passengers) to the truck before weighing it.

 Some of the key things you can do to avoid moving scams are:

Online company check: Review their history, reviews, website and BBB rating and interview past clients if possible.

In-person quote:  Always ensure that a moving company representative comes to your house so he/she can prepare an accurate estimate.

Written contracts: If you aren’t offered a written contract or the contract does not itemize the services and fees, avoid that moving company.

This is just some of the information and advice which you can find at that FMCSA website mentioned in the second paragraph above. If you are contemplating a move in which you can’t use Golden Real Estate’s moving truck, moving boxes, packing material and personnel, definitely learn all you can from that website.

A recurring issue that my own clients have described when moving to or from another state is a “delivery window” of 10 or more days written into the contract. The mover may insist (verbally) that the truck they loaded is going directly to your new home, but unless your stuff filled an entire semi trailer, it’s quite likely that they will wait to combine your stuff with that of another party moving to the same city or state. This might, of course, entail moving you furniture from one truck to another or into a warehouse, then into another truck.

To avoid this double or triple moving of your stuff, I suggest using a “pod” moving company. You load the pod (container), lock it, and it is delivered to your new home.

Don’t Fall for This Gift Card Scam

This Monday, people on my contact list received an email that looked as if it was from me, asking for “help.” If they responded to the email, it went to a scammer pretending to be me who said I was in a meeting but could they help me purchase some Google gift cards for me and I’d reimburse them.

This kind of scam doesn’t hurt the person who’s being impersonated, but it hurts his/her friends and contacts who fall for it. Tell your family and friends about this scam and don’t let them fall for it.

Division of Real Estate Warns Homeowners About ‘Equity Skimming’ Schemes

By now, we should all be wary of people offering to “help” us financially, usually via the internet or email, but also by phone.  As the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Last week the Colorado Division of Real Estate (DRE) issued a warning about scammers cheating homeowners out of their home’s equity on the pretext of helping them pay HOA liens on their home.

Yes, an HOA can place a lien on your home for failing to pay your HOA assessments or fines, and an HOA lien takes priority even over the lien of your mortgage lender.

It is possible for an HOA to foreclose on your $600,000 home because of unpaid dues or fines, no matter how small. But if you can’t pay, what do you do? Those liens and subsequent foreclosure actions become public records, making you an easy-to-find target for a scammer wanting to “help” you.

Here’s a link to the full DRE warning. It describes several scamming scenarios. According to the DRE’s warning, those scenarios “can leave a homeowner losing their property, becoming a renter in their own home, having their credit rating severely damaged, and having the possibility that the lender may pursue a deficiency judgment against them if the property is foreclosed upon, as well as the HOA pursuing a personal judgment against them for unpaid HOA dues.”

Homeowners are urged to look for the following red flags:

>  Anyone wanting you to act fast with a quick-fix to your financial difficulties.

>  Promises to resolve your financial problems and to leave your cares behind.

>  Someone wanting you to transfer your ownership in the property to them.

>  Anyone asking you to sign a power of attorney for them to act on your behalf.

> Proposing that you’ll be a tenant in the home that you now own.

>  Someone telling you that there is no need to consult with an attorney, accountant, real estate broker, lender or anyone else.

Feel free to contact me if you find yourself in this or a similar situation. My intention is not to convince you to list your home with me. I just want to give you my own layman’s feedback on what others may have told you, and I can, if appropriate, refer you to a trusted real estate attorney. First, however, read that DRE warning, which has lots of useful information and links for reporting suspected scams or getting other advice.

And, as I like to say, remember that “Google is your friend.”  When contacted by someone you suspect could be a scammer, do a web search for the person and/or company and/or email address and/or phone number. Also, we have a special app called “Forewarn,” only available to licensed Realtors like myself, where I can instantly search by name or phone number. My broker associates and I use that app to check out people who want to do business with us, instantly learning their age, properties owned, bankruptcies or liens, criminal charges, and even cars they own.  I’m happy to do such a search for you, too.

Lastly, I’d like to put in a good word for my cell carrier, T-Mobile.  My previous cell carrier was AT&T, which didn’t provide Caller ID on people not in my contact list, but I do get Caller ID with T-Mobile. If a number does not have a name associated with it, I let it go into voice-mail, and those callers rarely leave a message, suggesting, I believe, that it was a “spoofed” number by a solicitor or scammer. Thank you, T-Mobile! I’m wasting a lot less time than I used to on answering unwanted calls.

Investors Target Seniors & Others, Buying Homes Below Their True Value

As a long-time Realtor serving the Denver metro area, I am committed to protecting homeowners and especially seniors from being cheated out of their home’s true worth by investors who offer to buy homes for cash without putting them on the market.

Unsolicited offers in the mail or by phone should be a red flag for you. These people know what they are doing and depend on you not knowing the true value of your home.

I want to uncover people who seek to cheat you. If you get such a solicitation, call me at 303-525-1851, and I’ll tell you what you’re home is really worth. Keep in mind that investors will only make an offer that leaves room to make a big profit — at your expense.

It’s easy for any investor to go online and identify homeowners who purchased their home 30 or 40 years ago for a fraction of what it’s worth now.  It’s a sure bet that such an owner is a senior and would be impressed by a cash offer of, say, $300,000. But how will you feel a month later when that investor sells your home for $100,000 more without making any significant improvements to it? You’d feel “ripped off” — and rightly so.  Don’t let this happen to you!

You may not even want to sell your home, but the offer of a quick $300,000 could lure you into a sale which you would only regret later.

Seniors in particular can’t afford to be cheated out of their home’s equity. The money they receive needs to last through their remaining lifetime. As a senior myself, I make those same calculations about how much money I need to support Rita and me for as long as we both live.

Don’t feel that you’re imposing on me to ask for my advice, which I give free over the phone. Using my computer, I can tell you within a few minutes whether an unsolicited offer you receive is close to what your home is really worth. My computer is always on, and unless I’m away from it when you call, I can enter your address in two different programs and tell you during the same phone call what those programs say your home is worth.  If you actually do want to sell, I can refine those valuations by looking at your home’s condition and location and studying the sales of comparable homes in your immediate neighborhood. With my years of experience, this is easy for me, so please feel free to ask!

I promise that I won’t ask you to list your home with me. You’d have to raise that subject. I just want to save you from being cheated or scammed. 

In my 18 years of practicing real estate in the metro area, I have come across many scams perpetrated against homeowners of all ages, but especially against seniors.

For example, I remember how one caregiver in Lakewood convinced her elderly client with dementia to add her name to his checking account and to the title of his car and even made her a co-owner of his home. When he passed, this man’s relatives couldn’t do anything about it because all those acts were ruled legal despite the man’s dementia. That “caregiver” drained his checking account, sold the house after his death, and his relatives didn’t get a dime.

If you’re a senior, beware of people who befriend and pretend to love you. They may have ulterior motives. If you are not a senior but have a relative who is elderly and lives alone, keep in touch with him or her and ask questions. Don’t let your relative be scammed — or feel ignored by you. That only plays into the scammer’s hand.

Now, if it is time for you to give up owning a home and move into a senior community where you have no maintenance worries and enjoy the company of others your age, I have a colleague who specializes in helping seniors find the right facility. She will listen to your needs and wants and even take you to visit facilities which best meet your needs. She knows their services and their histories, both good and bad. She’ll keep you from choosing a facility that you’ll regret later. She’s motivated to find you a facility that you like, because the facility only pays her a commission if you stay there for at least 90 days.  She’s a sweet, caring person, and you pay nothing for her services.

Or perhaps you’d just like to downsize into a smaller home or one with the master bedroom, kitchen, living room  and laundry all on the main floor. That’s where I can be of service personally.  I can send you listings like that and show you ones that sound appealing.

Call my cell phone anytime at 303-525-1851.  I answer it day or evening.

Seniors: Learn What You Need to Know About Real Estate

Last month’s column was about the risk seniors face of being scammed or conned out of their homes.

Let’s face it — seniors need to be careful and knowledgeable about real estate as they age. There are issues of downsizing as well as inheritance. And you need to know how real estate works, how to choose the best Realtor and know that he or she is working in your best interest.

At Golden Real Estate we have two agents who have earned the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation as a result of special training on a multitude of issues facing seniors. One of them is David Dlugasch, shown at right during his PowerPoint presentation to a group of seniors. The other is Kristi Brunel.  If you belong to a senior group that welcomes outside speakers, please consider calling David at 303-908-4835 or Kristi at 303-525-2520 and arranging for a live presentation.  You may learn something that could help you in the future.