Second Home Scam Self Defense

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 26 June 2007 17:00

If you are a member of the so-called "Greatest Generation" or an older baby boomer, I have great news for -- you are part of the most affluent group of Americans who have ever lived. The bad news is that everybody knows it, including con artists.

While you earned your comfortable lifestyle the old fashioned way, con artists are determined to take a shortcut to their lifestyle of the rich and famous by fleecing you out of your fortune. My advice? Keep one hand on your wallet, a close eye on your bank account, and a skeptical ear whenever you hear somebody offering you a great deal on a piece of property.

Americans who are affluent enough to afford a second home are particularly attractive targets for a con job I like to refer to as the second home scam. This particular type of scam always involves the purchase (or at least promise) of a second home, but it can take a variety of forms. Here are some of the warning signs:

  • Guaranteed appreciation: In real estate, appreciation and profits are never guaranteed. Housing values rise and fall.

  • Preconstruction specials: Any offer of special deals, especially cash back, if you BUY NOW raise red flags. When builders are financially strapped for cash, they may be tempted to scam buyers in order to save their business by way of a builder bailout.

  • Glitzy advertising: Real estate con artists often try to dazzle their victims with fancy marketing materials so people will hand over their money without looking at the details, the property, or the documents.

  • Offers to manage the property: Someone selling you a property, particularly an investment property, may offer to manage everything for you -- find renters, collect the rent, pay the mortgage and property taxes, and so on -- and then never do it. This type of scam is commonly known as chunking.

  • Pressure to buy site unseen: Anyone who discourages you from visiting a property before buying it is probably crooked. They may tell you that the property has renters, and you certainly "don't want to inconvenience your future tenants." They don't want you looking, because you will see the truth.

To defend yourself against these common second-home scammers, watch out for the warning signs and take the following precautions:

  • Don't buy on impulse. People often get excited about a vacation hot spot, buy there, and then learn that it's not quite paradise in the off season.

  • Spend your time checking out neighborhoods and homes in the area. A second home is not just a purchase decision -- it is a lifestyle decision.

  • If you are buying the second home as a vacation (seasonal) home, consider renting a place, perhaps in different neighborhoods in the area over an extended period of time. You may rent a different place for two to four weeks every year over the course of two or three years. This helps you determine if you really want to own property in the area and which neighborhood you would find most appealing.

  • Wait at least one year after the death of a spouse before purchasing a property or moving. This gives you time to adjust and make more rational decisions.

  • Hire a buyer's agent to look for homes and represent you. Don't simply contact a builder, talk to the representative in the model home, call the number on a For Sale sign, or contact someone who is selling real estate online. If you do that, you are dealing with the seller's agent and have nobody representing your interests.

  • Don't trust what you see on the Internet. People can post photographs and online video tours of anything they want to dazzle the eyes and make you believe that they are offering an incredible deal. A con artist can build a million dollar virtual home on the Web in matter of minutes that simply does not exist in the real world.

  • Don't trust home values that you may see online. Some home valuation sites on the Internet are better than others, but they are all susceptible to fraud. Hire an independent appraiser to give you an honest, qualified opinion of a property's value.

  • Don't buy anything site unseen. No matter what someone tells you, you have to inspect the property with your own two eyes and have it professionally inspected (by an independent home inspector), prior to closing. It's like buying a car, you have to kick the tires.

  • Hire your own people to check it out. Never rely on the seller's agent, appraiser, inspector, loan officer, or title company to make sure everything is legitimate. If the seller is a con artist, these people are probably accomplices or at least willing to look the other way.

  • Never close on a newly constructed property before construction is complete or before your inspector has given it his seal of approval.

A second home can be one of the best investment and lifestyle decisions you will ever make, as long as you do your homework and have the proper people in place to protect your interests. Let down your guard for even a moment, and you become a prime target for a greedy con artist.

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