Is that property really for sale? A Realtor and title company saved an Oregon couple $136K. Their agent noted red flags and researched the “owner” selling the property.
MADRA, Ore. – John and Mary Miller (not their real names) almost lost $136,000 dollars trying to buy the perfect piece of property. They want to tell their story so no one else falls into this trap but asked us not to use their real names. So far this year, at least 30 people in Central Oregon have almost lost a fortune to people posing as sellers.
A great deal
The Millers had been looking for property to build on and found the perfect Crooked River Ranch lot come on the market. It had a view, power, and water and was priced below market.
“Wow! This is a good deal!” said Mary. They wanted to act quickly.
They put in a full-price, cash offer with a quick close.
Meanwhile, across the street, Tracy Hupp noticed an unusual number of people stopping to look at the property and take photos. He counted about eight or nine prospectors. One couple actually drove up from Redding, California, to look at the property
When the Millers told Hupp they were buying the property and were going to be his new neighbors, Hupp thought that was odd. He knew the owners personally and they had been adamant in the past about not selling the property.
The woman who lives next door came out to talk to the Millers. She was also surprised when they told her about the property sale. She had written the owners regularly telling of her interest to buy the property if they should ever want to sell.
Undaunted, the Millers moved ahead with the property purchase. They wired the full purchase amount to the title company. The seller even requested bank statements to demonstrate they had the full amount, something they now regret.
The buyers didn’t think twice when the seller needed to delay closing from Friday to Tuesday. The Millers even had the power and the water put in their name so they could start working on the property as soon as the deal closed.
Then things started taking on a different color. The Millers’ agent, Molly Charley with Crooked River Realty, researched the owner. He was born and raised in Oregon and was in his 80s. The purported owner spoke in broken English, unusual for someone born and raised in Oregon.
“That’s when I knew this was a scam,” said Charley, who had just days earlier seen a warning about these swindles. “I can’t tell you how many remote transactions I’ve done. This is a rural area,” said Charley. “There are a lot of transactions where I’ve never met the people or seen the seller.” Charley says agents depend on the title companies.
The title company, Ticor Title, saved the day in this case. Sellers must sign the title over in person in front of an approved notary to confirm their identity. This seller insisted he had already notarized the title.
“When you’re requesting to use your own notary, that’s bizarre,” said Charley. “Who would ask to use your own notary unless they were trying to slip something by?”
When Ticor stuck to its policy, the seller and the deal evaporated.
Charley contacted the actual owners in this case who confirmed they had not put the property up for sale and were not interested in selling the property.
“The title company and the real estate agent are the huge heroes in this story,” said Mary.
The Millers feel fortunate. They got all their money back.
Central Oregon Association of Realtors President Brent Landels says of the 30 Central Oregon buyers hit by this scam so far this year he’s not aware of anyone who’s lost money, but the organization tracks only customers who use real estate agents.
“It’s the most unfortunate reason people should work with a Realtor,” said Landels, implying there are plenty of other reasons to work through an agent. This particular scam is on the rise across the country and in the state, but newly taking hold in Central Oregon, Landels says.
In this particular case, the person posing as the seller went through an agent who listed the property with the Multiple Listings Service. COAR and the Oregon Realtors Association has notified agents and title companies who have put safeguards in place to protect buyers.
Dishonest people can list homes with other listing services like Zillow as for sale by owner. Landels says he wouldn’t know if people lost money to fake sellers in those transactions.
Criminals play this game with renters too. Charley has seen this happen twice recently, one listing on Facebook Marketplace, another on Craig’s List. “They verbatim cut and pasted a listing on a property I was selling but included their contact information,” said Charley. The defrauders tried to collect deposits from unsuspecting renters.
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