Vacant Home Scams

Have a Vacant Home? Beware of These Scams!

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I was reading a blog this morning from a real estate broker on ActiveRain, and I thought it important enough to make mention of. The blog, “It’s another one of those firsts . . . This one is important.”, written by Mike Cooper, a real estate agent from Winchester, VA, was a description of a recent experience he had with a scam in which a roofer was hired by an alleged buyer to give an estimate on a roof replacement for a home he was buying – Mike’s listing. The roofer was contacted through a site that charges for leads. He went out to the house, noticed Mike’s sign in the yard, but went ahead and did the estimate for the alleged buyer. The roofer was suspicious, but there were no red flags yet, so he proceeded with caution. It wasn’t until the buyer said he wanted the roofer to get started with the work and was paying with a deposit via credit card was the roofer sure it was a scam. The alleged buyer requested the roofer’s merchant account information for the deposit, which was probably where the scammer was going to make his money. The roofer verified this was a scam when he contacted Mike and learned that this was not a real buyer.

It’s not uncommon for buyers to get estimates on large projects prior to finalizing a home purchase. This is part of the Due Diligence Period, the timeframe in which they can do further research into the affordability of the home. However, it is uncommon for there not to be some other party involved to protect the interests of the seller and their property – a real estate agent, transaction coordinator, etc. – and no work on the home is to take place prior to the deed recording in the buyer’s name.

So, why was this home targeted? The listing photos showed that the home was vacant. If you own a vacant home that’s listed for sale, you should make it a routine to stop by the home on a weekly basis. If you aren’t in the area, you should make sure you have a neighbor and your real estate agent monitoring the home. If the roofer hired to work on Mike’s listing hadn’t been so ethical or diligent in protecting his business, chances are that home would have been involved in a real mess.

Other scams that affect vacant homes are fake rental listings. Scammers will steal pictures and information from homes currently listed and post fake rental ads on Craigslist and Zillow. They make their money collecting a deposit from the potential renter or even going as far as breaking into the home, changing the locks, letting the people move in, and collecting a monthly rental payment. Yep, we’ve had one of our listings appear in a rental ad, but we were quick to find out and report it to the site owners. They removed it promptly and the only harm done was being contacted by a potential renter.

The internet has made it incredibly easy for criminals to access public information about homes and homeowners to create scams such as this, but careful monitoring can help prevent their efforts from coming to fruition. If you ever see something – if it’s an online rental ad or activity at a home – that doesn’t seem quite right, it never hurts to do a quick online search and call the listing agent. Scammers are becoming increasingly creative in their efforts to steal from others, and we see something new every year. Better safe than sorry!

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melaniecameron