Avoid scammers with these simple steps.
Real estate offers everyone amazing opportunities — especially in markets with low inventory and high demand such as Central Florida. Unfortunately, scammers also see the opportunities. Many people feel they need to scoop up their dream home quickly before it’s gone and interest rates climb. Although it is true the best homes priced fairly sell fast in the Greater Orlando area, don’t allow that pressure to override your standard due diligence efforts taken when dealing with real estate.
Recently, a local man was charged with defrauding timeshare owners out of $88,000 by calling and pretending to be a Realtor with a buyer for their interest. It’s easy to shrug off potential scams and say it could never happen to you. Yet each day, would-be con artists get out of bed and apply the same effort into their “job” of parting owners and renters alike from your money by illegal means and are successful enough to keep trying — sometimes even after an arrest. Most of these scams are easy enough to avoid, provided you use the tools available to you and put in some effort.
One of the main benefits of using a Realtor to help you buy and sell your home is that they are licensed and held not only to the letter of the law but also to a code of ethics. Make sure you are actually dealing with someone who is not only licensed as a Realtor but also licensed in your state. A quick and easy way to check someone’s licensing status is to go to the website or app for the Department of Business and professional regulation at MyFloridaLicense.com. The app can be found in the app store under DBPR mobile. It’s as simple as clicking “Verify a License,” then entering in the agent’s name and or license number. If you don’t know the agent (heck, even if you do), it doesn’t hurt to verify they have an active real-estate license through this site. Be wary of anyone who doesn’t want to provide you their license number or seems offended that you may want to check. It’s good, basic business — and your right to do so.
According to WFTV, the Orlando man charged with the timeshare frauds was collecting up-front payments to find a buyer. I don’t sell timeshares, so I’ll speak with regards to the purchase and sale of real property such as “traditional” condos, townhomes, single-family homes and the like. If a Realtor is requesting a large upfront payment to help you buy or sell your property, as a potential purchaser or seller, I would want a significant amount of information regarding why and where the money is to be kept, etc. It’s my experience in 13 years as a full-time Realtor in Florida that large deposits to the Realtor typically are not requested to list a home and/or find a buyer. I would want more information — and a second opinion if this request were made to me.
One con renters should watch out for is the scam to get a potential tenant to sign a lease and hand over monies on a property that is not owned by the person pretending to be the owner or owner’s representative. This scam is frequently perpetrated in areas with high demand and, in the case of one of my listings, downtown Orlando. I had a lovely single family home in the SODO area for sale only to discover via an alert I had set for myself online that it also was being marketed on Zillow using my photos as a rental at a ridiculously low rate. Pay attention to red flags such as rental rates far below the local average for similar properties — especially if the home appears to be in good shape and marketed with professional photography. No homeowner I know is going to pay for professional photos and representation only to rent their home out for half the current rate. If the rental rate is too good to be true, it probably is, regardless of the sob story posted on the craigslist ad.
Google the address. Is it also listed as a home for sale? When I listed foreclosures, this was something we had to guard against, as well. Con artists will look for homes with absentee owners then try to get multiple people to sign “leases” and provide first and last month’s rent plus a deposit. All the while they do not represent the owner at all. Again, check the Realtors licenses, and don’t be afraid to Google everything. Do they have a physical office and a broker? If you are feeling wary, go there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s better to feel let down about a deal that was too good to be true than to show up on move in day with a truck and no where to go.