Business

Homeowners, watch out for this property deed scam

DEAR MR. MYERS: We recently got a letter offering to provide us with a certified copy of our home’s property deed for $95. We are thinking of taking advantage of this service, because we don’t know where our original deed is and would like to have proof that we are the rightful owners. Would the $95 be a good “investment,” or is this offer just another scam?

ANSWER: It’s not really a scam, but it’s close to being one. That’s because you can get a certified copy yourself if you’re willing to visit your county clerk or assessor’s office. You probably would pay $10 or less for the same document, a hefty savings over the $95 that the third-party company wants to charge.

Some of these companies have duped unwitting homeowners into paying exorbitant amounts for a copy of their deed by using a letterhead that looks like it’s coming from an “official” government agency and even including an “act-before” date.

In reality, they simply “glean property parcel numbers, assessed values and other details from public records to make their letters seem authentic,” said Sid Kirchheimer, author of the book “Scam-Proof Your Life.”

“It’s only in the small print, if anywhere, that you learn that it’s not a required bill and the sender is not affiliated with any government agency,” Kirchheimer said.

The bottom line: Pay the $95 only if you trust the company that sent you the letter about your property deed and don’t have time to get the copy yourself.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Now that Donald Trump is our president-elect, will he have to sell all of his hotels and other buildings to avoid future conflicts of interest?

ANSWER: No, there’s no federal law that says a president must sell off any of his real estate holdings or other assets before or after taking public office. But, as Trump has been planning, many previous presidents have chosen to create a “blind trust” that’s operated by independent financial experts who (supposedly) don’t tell the commander-in-chief how his portfolio is faring so that he can avoid conflict-of-interest concerns when deciding whether to approve or veto a bill that might affect his personal finances.

Meantime, the president-elect’s last name, which is boldly emblazoned on many of the properties, is having some unexpected consequences.

Equity Residential, a nationwide realty investment company that purchased the swank Trump Place apartment complex in Manhattan back in 2005, recently said that it would drop his controversial name from the development’s three high-rise buildings and rename them to “appeal to all current and future residents.”

The November announcement was made after some Trump Place owners and tenants said they didn’t want their home associated with a president-elect that they didn’t support.

Other owners and brokers, though, say that keeping Trump’s name is adding value. Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago has seen its market value rise as much as 75 percent since his win, according to Chezi Rafaeli, a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

Rafaeli – who has sold more than 200 apartments in Chicago’s Trump Tower – also said he has been fielding more international calls from interested buyers since “The Donald” won.

“It’s a huge honor for them,” Rafaeli said. “Buyers from Russia, Asia and Brazil have been calling me saying they are interested in Trump property. The property [value], in my opinion, will go up tremendously, especially if he does well in office.”

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Donald Trump’s personal net worth is $3.7 billion, Forbes estimates. Remarkably, that’s down $800 million from a year ago – a drop largely attributed to New York City’s softening commercial real estate market.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We are buying our first home, and have followed your advice by making our offer contingent upon first receiving a satisfactory report from a professional home inspector. The inspection will be done on Tuesday, but what if the house fails?

ANSWER: A house cannot “fail” an inspection. The nonprofit American Society of Home Inspectors (1-847-759-2820;homeinspector.org) notes that it’s merely an examination of a property’s general physical condition, much akin to how a doctor might give a patient a basic physical exam on the patient’s first visit.

Still, you were wise to include the inspection contingency in your purchase offer. If you’re not happy with the report, the contingency will give you the power to insist that the seller make any needed repairs or cut the originally agreed-upon sale price so you’ll have the money to make them yourself.

If the seller won’t do either, you can still go through with the sale and pay for the repairs from your own pocket, or you can cancel it and get your deposit back.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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