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9 Signs a Cash Homebuyer Is a Scammer

Oct 29, 2015

It’s unfortunate but true: Scammers, posing as would-be cash buyers, are out there. And these all-cash home sale scammers are hoping to swindle sellers — and their agents — out of their hard-earned cash.

Even if the details of the scams differ, one fact is common to them all: These cash buyers don’t really want to buy your home for sale in Sarasota, FL, or Philadelphia, PA. But they’ll work really hard to make you believe they do.

Scam #1: The buyer

The scenario: You get an email from a foreigner who wants to relocate to the United States. He might even explain why. This buyer says he saw your property on Trulia, loves it, and would like to buy it sight unseen … and for cash. He then offers to send you a cashier’s check. Usually, this scammer requests that you retain an attorney to handle the finances and asks you to recommend one. You’ll receive all the pertinent information: the person’s name, phone number, address, and when he would like to close. Unfortunately, you’ll never get the cash, and you might end up parting with some of yours.

If a cash offer seems too good to be true, it could be. Fortunately, there are warning signs to watch for.

1. The buyer is foreign

The fact that this buyer is foreign — and wants to buy the home sight unseen — is a red flag. Why? Most people want to see a property (or at least have their agent see it) before buying or at least be somewhat familiar with the area. This scammer doesn’t, isn’t, and probably won’t even ask questions about the property.

China and Canada have been popular choices in this scam for some reason, but the scammer could say they’re from any country. Foreign checks often take longer to clear, and the buyer’s foreignness could explain why an email would be riddled with typos.

2. The buyer is unavailable

Because of the time difference, this cash buyer — in perfect catfish style — can’t make in-person phone calls to speak with you or the attorney. Instead, the buyer asks you to contact the attorney on their behalf. If you did speak with this person, you might discover that they don’t sound Chinese (or Canadian or whatever). And they’re probably afraid of being traced.

3. The buyer gives you too much information

Who shares detailed financial information before they’re even asked? And with a stranger over email? Cash-buyer scammers, that’s who. They often attach a bank statement or other financial records to the email.

They also give you lots of contact data about themselves in the initial email, more probably than you really need. All this info makes them appear to be legit. And why not? It’s all fake anyway.

4. The buyer is eager

Before you even bring up how to pay, the scammer probably will. They can’t wait to send money to the lawyer’s account. It could be a down payment, earnest money, or even the full price of the house.

5. The buyer makes a mistake

But when the scammer sends money, it’s too much. Oops. Or they “come up with a lie about why they need [you] to refund a portion of their funds immediately after depositing the check,” says Brad Chandler, CEO and co-founder of Express Homebuyers.

The scammer then asks you to send the overpayment back through a wire transfer. When the check he sent you finally clears, it will come back as a forgery — and you will be responsible for the funds you wired over.

“The average amount they are currently sending for down payment is $38,000, and the average amount they are asking for you to return is $8,000,” says Chandler.

Scam #2: The investor

Selling a home can be tough, and this scam takes full advantage. Jeremy Brandt, CEO of We Buy Houses, explains how it works: The “investor” puts your house under contract, typically with no earnest money. The contract has hidden “out clauses” that let the “investor” walk away at any time, while the homeowner can’t get out of the contract. The “investor” then tries to sell that contract to another investor. Most of the time, these deals fall apart and the homeowner is left where they started.

6. The investor uses sketchy advertising

You might have seen the ads nailed to telephone poles or trees or on staked signs at the freeway offramp: WE BUY HOUSES and a phone number. (These signs are not from Brandt’s company.)

“Large, legitimate homebuyers don’t place signs illegally on telephone poles. If the advertising is cheap (or especially free), they likely aren’t legit,” says Brandt.

7. The investor is unprofessional

If you do call that number on the ad, and the person answers with “Hello,” you’re not dealing with a professional. The same applies if the person uses a free email service. Legitimate home-buying companies don’t use free email for their professional account.

Valid investors don’t use high-pressure tactics to get you to sign documents fast either. “Don’t sign any papers you don’t fully understand,” says Brad Chandler. “Any trustworthy person or company will not be offended if you need help in understanding and [wish to] take those documents to a third party for explanation.”

8. The investor has no references

Serious investors can give you contact information of people they’ve bought houses from. “Ask for a list of the properties the buyer has purchased and check the courthouse records to see that they actually purchased the property,” says Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta real estate agent and attorney. “Many of these people never actually close. They assign their contract to a third party and receive a fee for the assignment.”

9. The investor has no money

“The majority of people offering to ‘buy houses for cash’ do not have the money to buy your house,” says Brandt. “Ask for their bank info and call to verify they have the funds to purchase your home.”

But “don’t call the number on the letter,” says Jonathan Macias, an El Segundo, CA, real estate agent. That number could also be fake. Instead, conduct an Internet search for the bank’s number.

And Brad Chandler adds this advice: “Require a large, nonrefundable deposit, 5% to 10% of the purchase price.” And never conduct further business with someone, particularly a stranger, until you have written evidence that the check cleared.

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