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Couple sues real estate agent, title co, bank over wire fraud #WatchOut

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Wire fraud in the digital age: it happens. Is there anything that can be done about it or is everyone vulnerable?

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A simple wire transfer

It should have been a dream come true for James and Candace Butcher. They’d chosen the house they wanted to retire in, negotiated the price, and sold their home for a down payment.

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All that was left was the last wire transfer – $272,000.

The next day, they were bankrupt.

Too good to be true

Like many older adults, the Butchers entered the real estate market with family in mind. They wanted to live closer to their son, and to have a place big enough for grandchildren to enjoy.

“We were truly excited, when through negotiations, we won the bid,” Candace Butcher said. “Through the entire process, I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this is going to be our house.”

All it took to rob them was a simple confluence: wire fraud and poor security precautions. The email that provided the Butchers with wire transfer details was sent from the proper domains for the Butchers’ pay agreement, under the proper names.

The only problem, according to the complaint and the Butchers’ attorney, was that those domains had been hacked.

Someone had gotten inside Land Title Guarantee Co. and Envoy Mortgage and used their contact information to obtain a fraudulent wire transfer.

The secret behind the hack

It’s a frighteningly simple trick: all it takes is the password to the right email account. The exact dollar amount had yet to be specified, and the Butchers had no reason to think an email from their mortgage company would be anything but legitimate. They’re currently suing both companies for insufficient security.

They’re also suing Wells Fargo, the bank handling the transfer. According to the complaint, Wells Fargo failed to acknowledge the fraud and neglected to make recourse available, including a 72-hour freeze that would have saved the couple’s savings.

Instead, while the problem is being resolved, the Butchers are living in their son’s basement.

The details of the whole sad saga can be found here, but the takeaway is simple: security is everything. Everyone cares about housing. Not everyone is an expert in data security. The real estate industry has a moral and professional responsibility to guarantee secure transactions.

Better safe than sorry

Real estate customers can avoid tragedies likes the Butchers’ by taking precautions on their end.

The National Association of Realtors provides guidelines for both. They should be required reading for anyone in real estate, but by way of a simple version:

If you’re a real estate professional, be aware of the possibility of fraud. Build warnings into your client communication structure. Better yet, educate your clients about common types of scams and what to do about them.

Better than better, designate or hire a staff member who is specifically responsible for the process, keeping lines of communication open to guarantee this never happens to you.

Don’t reuse passwords.

Don’t repeat passwords.

Clean out your email to secure sensitive information.

Instruct clients double-check everything. What happened to the Butchers started because they trusted an unverified email.

Don’t do that, ever.

When you receive instructions via email, confirm them by phone or in person, and at the risk of stating the obvious, don’t use any of the contact info in the email. Some very committed hackers will even put up legitimate looking websites. Call someone you’ve already spoken with in person, or for that matter, drop by.

New startup solves this problem

You can do all of those things and still feel insecure about the process. But we’ve uncovered a brand new real estate tech startup that is dedicated to solving this problem.

BuyerDocs can help prevent wire fraud cases like this with its simple, free, easy-to-use solution. Our service can save home buyers from losing their down payments to a scam, while also helping protect title companies from potential lawsuits,” Abigail White, Cofounder & CMO

Because the startup is brand new, it’s not yet the industry standard, but it truly should be.

Send a link to your title company and ask why they’re not using BuyerDocs to protect your clients.

Finally, trust your instincts and teach your clients to do the same. If something about the transaction feels wrong, go with that feeling and confirm.

The Butchers are working with attorneys and the FBI to resolve their fraud claim. This is how you keep from having to do the same.

#fraudsucks

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Homeownership

Loftium trades a fat down payment for a spare bedroom made available for Airbnb

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) Loftium will help you out with a down payment on your first home if you turn your spare bedroom into an AirBnB and millennials seem open minded about this option.

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Homeownership may not be such a distant dream for renters hoping to buy one day. Seattle-based startup Loftium has devised an alternative approach to obtaining a down payment on a house: Airbnb a bedroom in the house for up to three years.

For buyers who have been pre-approved by a lender, Loftium will pay up to $50,000 on a down payment on a house.

The home must be the primary residence of the homeowner, so Loftium is not available for purchase as an investment property, per their eligibility FAQ.

In exchange for the dough, Loftium requires home buyers to sign a service contract agreeing to list a spare room on airbnb.com for 12-36 months, depending on the loan amount and rental price, and split the profits 70/30 with Loftium. The idea is to generate a passive income stream for the homeowner to help with monthly payments on the home.

While Loftium does take a cut of the Airbnb profits, they are in no way a co-owner of the home. If you purchased a home through them, it’s yours and yours alone – “like it should be,” the website declares.

There are a couple of caveats, and I mean, if someone is handing you $50,000 to help you buy a house, it would make sense to look into the conditions of ownership.

For instance, the Loftium home owner must be a good Airbnb host. So no sabotaging the listing by making the space sound like Shawshank, no making guests feel awkward or unwelcome, and listed rooms must be furnished with at minimum: a queen-sized bed (or larger) with mattress and frame, a chair, a desk or bedside table, and a lamp.

All other stipulations would be the same for any other Airbnb host.

This may sound a little insane, maybe even a little desperate to anyone who has successfully managed a down payment on a house to share the space with strangers for an agreed upon time, but this is exactly the boost many renters need to overcome the down payment hurdle. And Millennials are already primed for this sharing economy and are open minded to the arrangement.

Loftium co-founder Yifan Zhang believes that within the next five to ten years, prospective home buyers will have three standard options for coming up with a down payment: save, ask the parents to help out, or sign up for Loftium. Based on early interest, likely from those signing up for quotes and votes for their city (more on that), Zhang expects business to scale quickly.

So far, Loftium is only available in Seattle as a beta test for the service. There have already been successful homeowners in this brand new program, one of which had the clever idea of finding a place with a mother-in-law quarters to rent out as her listed space/bedroom, and Loftium is currently offering 50 down payments initially this fall in the Seattle area.

The plan is to eventually expand into Chicago and Washington D.C., but interested renters have the option of submitting votes for their city. As of publication, Austin is currently sitting around 4,000+ votes.

There will be some obstacles for particular cities that will prevent Loftium from setting up shop, such as city legislation that prevents people from renting out rooms in their homes, but I suspect that with the rise in popularity of alternative approaches to homeownership coupled with the demand of travelers seeking to rent out a shared space, this could absolutely change over time.

The service sounds almost too good to be true, and it will be very interesting to hear the success, or even horror stories, of how these contracts will play out, but I believe others will jump on board to offer something similar.

Take heed millennials, homeownership is within reach!

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Homeownership

How many homeowners are impacted by proposed MID cap?

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) The mortgage interest deduction (MID) cap inserted in the proposed tax bill could impact more homeowners than originally thought.

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As a part of the recent tax reform legislation release, the House proposed reducing the mortgage cap at which one can no longer deduct their interest payments from their taxable income by a factor of 50 percent. But how many people would this proposal actually affect? As it turns out, quite a few.

The current mortgage interest deduction (MID) sits at a cool million dollars, meaning that anyone who currently has a mortgage of up to $1,000,000 can deduct the amount of paid interest from their taxable income. These proposed changes would lower that number to $500,000 — still a respectable figure, some would argue.

That said, researchers at the National Association of Realtors (NAR) crunched the numbers, and the results are surprising: somewhere around 15 percent of Americans own homes with mortgages totaling at least $500,000 — and those numbers are “conservative” by NAR’s estimates.

Additionally, projections show fairly aggressive growth in the number of homeowners with $500,000-plus mortgages in as few as 10 years.

Once one adjusts for future inflation, the number of people who might be affected by this bill within the next ten years certainly isn’t negligible, with some states seeing almost twice the number of $500,000 and up mortgages within that time frame.

The bill wouldn’t affect people who now own houses with mortgages that are in excess of the proposed MID cap, but the current rate at which houses are rising in value means that the percentage of people affected could still be quite high, and anyone hoping to remodel or sell during this time will most likely have to contend with the revised MID cap if the legislature does pass.

Ultimately, NAR says a bill lowering the amount of deductions from taxable income will lead to a few things. First and foremost, homeowners whose mortgages meet or exceed the proposed MID cap may be reluctant to sell, resulting in scarcity and tampering with the market.

Equity value could potentially drop, and home values in general may be susceptible to dropping values as a result of the tax reform as it is currently proposed.

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Homeownership

Feds say Northwest Trustee knew they illegally foreclosed on active military, veterans

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) The Justice Department alleges that for the past six years, Northwest Trustee opted to knowingly foreclose illegally on active and former military servicemembers.

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Obviously foreclosures are heartbreaking and tragic, but what if you had your home taken away from you while you were overseas serving your country? Should be impossible, right?

In exchange for their service, the U.S. federal government protects active duty military from foreclosure under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The Act ensures that servicemembers can’t have their houses repossessed while they are actively serving in the military.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the largest foreclosure trustee in the Pacific Northwest has knowingly violated this law on many occasions over the past six years.

Recently, the Justice Department filed suit in the U.S. District court in Seattle. The case will potentially provide financial compensation for 28 military servicemembers or veterans whose houses were repossessed while they were serving.

The case centers on Jacob McGreevey, a Marine who has served four tours of duty in the Middle East. His Vancouver home was repossessed between his third and fourth tour by Northwest Trustee Services of Bellevue, Washington. It was only several years later that McGreevey found out that he should have been protected by the SCRA.

The Justice Department says that Northwest Trustees did reference a database to see if McGreevey was protected by the Act, and then chose to foreclose on him regardless.

Originally the court had sided with the lender, saying that McGreevey had waited too long to file suit. After McGreevey and his lawyer wrote a complaint, the U.S. Justice Department took up the case. They argue that there is no statute of limitations on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. This contradicts state laws.

Legislation may be necessary to reconcile the federal and state laws.

Annette Hayes, U.S. Attorney in the western district of Washington says that their “investigation revealed that Northwest Trustee Services repeatedly failed to comply with laws that are meant to ensure our servicemembers do not have to fight a two-front war – one on behalf of all of us, and the other against illegal foreclosures.”

Sean Riddell, McGreevey’s lawyer and former commanding officer, condemned Northwest Trustee in even harsher terms.

“I want Northwest Trustee and PHH put out of business, their buildings burned down and the ground salted so that nothing ever grows for what they did to veterans,” said Riddell.

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