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Freddie Mac warns of the top four short sale fraud schemes

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Portrait of a fraud, image by Don Hankins.

Freddie Mac sends out warnings

With short sale fraud on the rise, Freddie Mac has been getting a high volume of calls, so they are setting out to communicate with Realtor associations as well as individual agents about these fraudulent activities.

With 6.5 million Americans more than 30 days delinquent on their mortgage payments and recent reports that delinquencies rose in the second quarter of 2011, and Freddie Mac saying the volume of short sales they have processed in the first half of 2011 is up 31 percent over the first half of 2010, it is highly likely that fraudulent activity will increase as short sales and foreclosures remain a target.

Rigging sales and illegal flipping

Freddie Mac officials have noted that the rising fraud sometimes involves a failure on the Realtor’s part to disclose other parties involved in a transaction and that these Realtors “rig sales” at a low price and hide better offers from the distressed homeowner and even from Freddie Mac.

“Then, after the house is sold, the fraudster can flip it a few hours later for the better price and walk away with the profitable difference,” said Freddie Mac VP, Shelley Poland and Fraud Investigations Associate Director Robert Hagberg on Freddie Mac’s blog.

“By concealing the higher offer, short sale fraud worsens losses to home sellers, Freddie Mac, and taxpayers. It also throws another wrench into the housing recovery by undermining the trust and transparency at the core of any real estate transaction,” they continued.

Investigating the fraudulent acts

Freddie Mac has a unit dedicated to short sales fraud which is now the top priority of Director Hagberg’s unit. Poland and Hagberg said that the unit has “also added the perpetrators to our Exclusionary List – firms and individuals barred from conducting business with Freddie Mac – and worked with law enforcement agencies to prosecute them.”

The top four fraudulent trends

Manipulation is the name of the game as Freddie Mac notes Realtors involved in fraud manipulate bids, manipulate broker price opinions, manipulate flipping schemes and manipulate settlement statements.

As the unit investigated the fraud, specific trends emerged such as agents discouraging legitimate bids by putting in false offers on a property and making sure their accomplices get the property for a predetermined low bid. Other agents manipulate the listing price to make overstating repair costs to obtain an artificially low broker price opinion in order to manipulate the listing price.

Also on the rise is dirty flipping schemes wherein an agent buys a short sale from Freddie (or the banks) by using falsified loan documents and title documents, then selling the property to a legitimate buyer at a higher price, often within hours of closing.

Freddie Mac warns that some are altering the HUD-1 settlement statement to “skim away net proceeds” from the sale into their own pocket.

Dealing with short sale fraud

In addition to their Exclusionary List, Freddie Mac now requires all parties in any short sale to sign an affidavit, “attesting that it is a true arms-length transaction,” thus strengthening Freddie’s “legal path.”

“There are many conscientious real estate professionals who want to do the right thing. We often receive calls in our servicing, quality control, fraud investigation, outreach, and HomeSteps divisions from real estate agents who know they’ve seen something inappropriate and won’t look the other way,” the executives said. “They understand that real estate fraud turns a shortsighted profit at the cost of the public’s long-term confidence in homeownership and the housing industry.”

Tara Steele is the News Director at The American Genius, covering entrepreneur, real estate, technology news and everything in between. If you'd like to reach Tara with a question, comment, press release or hot news tip, simply click the link below.

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38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Liz Benitez

    August 23, 2011 at 10:42 am

    It is ridiculous!! How is our market supposed to recover when there are agents undermining it left and right?

  2. William Gassett, JR

    August 27, 2011 at 11:08 am

    This is another attempt by Freddie Mac to control the market and CREATE LAW.
    Let's go through this a bit.

    1 – “rig sales” at a low price and hide better offers from the distressed homeowner and even from Freddie Mac." – Agents submit ONE OFFER at a time. If the first offer is accepted and it's low, I HAVE NO DUTY so submit the higher offer. This is CRAZY. Do you know the lawsuits from sellers and buyers I would face if I just start submitting ALL OFFERS to Freddie Mac?? How EXACTLY are agents RIGGING sales?

    2 – “Then, after the house is sold, the fraudster can flip it a few hours later for the better price and walk away with the profitable difference,” – Ok ONCE I OWN A HOUSE, I should be able to do what I want with it right? there was no straw buyer, the INVESTOR TOOK TITLE. Investors aren't in business to LOSE MONEY?? They are cleaning the GLUT of homes on the market. My house, my profit.

    3 – "By concealing the higher offer, short sale fraud worsens losses to home sellers, Freddie Mac, and taxpayers. It also throws another wrench into the housing recovery by undermining the trust and transparency at the core of any real estate transaction,” – AGAIN as an agent I can only submit more than one contract at a time. EVERYTHING AFTER THAT FIRST OFFER GOES IN BACK UP POSITION and IT'S NOT FREDDIE MAC'S business at that point. If they DENY the first short sale then I can submit the back up offer whether it's higher or lower. Again, legitimate FLIP investors DISCLOSE they are marketing and reselling the property immediately for profit. At the time they submit the contract they have NO IDEA if there is a higher offer or not. Transparency. They TELL the servicer they are selling immediately for profit. HOW IS TELLING A LENDER THAT FRAUD?

    How does it worsen losses to sellers? They can't get money for the short sale? So long as there is a full deficiency release, HOW does an investor offer WORSEN LOSSES. It doesn't matter if an investor makes the offer or suzie and joe smith making the same offer. Lenders follow INvESTOR GUIDELINES. They need minimum nets and it makes no difference if the offer comes from an investor or Joe and Suzie Smith

    3-"Manipulation is the name of the game as Freddie Mac notes Realtors involved in fraud manipulate bids, manipulate broker price opinions, manipulate flipping schemes and manipulate settlement statements." How exactly does a Realtor MANIPULATE a BPO? Isn't the BPO agent HIRED BY THE LENDER? Is the Realtor STEALING the BPO info and submitting it to Freddie and pretending to be the BPO agent???? C'mon Freddie, we know you want to keep most of the money possible, but get real.

    It's perfectly LEGAL to buy and sell property EVEN ON THE SAME DAY so long as it was disclosed in the contract. I GET that Freddie wants to preserve the most money possible, but STOP driving fear into home sellers and Realtors by publishing information that is EXTREMELY misleading.

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Austin

Austin tops the list of best places to buy a home

When looking to buy a home, taking the long view is important before making such a huge investment – where are the best places to make that commitment?

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Looking at the bigger picture

(REALUOSO.COM) – Let us first express that although we are completely biased about Texas (we’re headquartered here, I personally grew up here), the data is not – Texas is the best. That’s a scientific fact. There’s a running joke in Austin that if there is a list of “best places to [anything],” we’re on it, and the joke causes eye rolls instead of humility (we’re sore winners and sore losers in this town).

That said, SelfStorage.com dug into the data and determined that the top 12 places to buy a home are currently Texas and North Carolina (and Portland, I guess you’re okay too or whatever).

They examined the nerdiest of numbers from the compound annual growth rate in inflation-adjusted GDP to cost premium, affordability, taxes, job growth, and housing availability.

“Buying a house is a big decision and a big commitment,” the company notes. “Although U.S. home prices have risen in the long term, the last decade has shown that path is sometimes full of twists, turns, dizzying heights and steep, abrupt falls. Today, home prices are stabilizing and increasing in most areas of the U.S.”

Click here to continue reading the list of the 12 best places to buy a home…

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Housing News

Average age of houses on the rise, so is it now better or worse to buy new?

With aging housing in America, are first-time buyers better off buying new or existing homes? The average age of a home is rising, as is the price of new housing, so a shift could be upon us.

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aging housing inventory

The average home age is higher than ever

(REALUOSO.COM) – In a survey from the Department of Housing and Urban Development American Housing Survey (AHS), the median age of homes in the United States was 35 years old. In Texas, homes are a bit younger with the median age between 19 – 29 years. The northeast has the oldest homes, with the median age between 50 – 61 years. In 1985, the median age of a home was only 23 years.

With more houses around 40 years old, the National Association of Realtors asserts that homeowners will have to undertake remodeling and renovation projects before selling unless the home is sold as-is, in which case the buyer will be responsible to update their new residence. Even homeowners who aren’t selling will need to consider remodeling for structural and aesthetic reasons.

Prices of new homes on the rise

Newer homes cost more than they used to. The price differential between new homes and older homes has increased from 10 percent traditionally to around 37 percent in 2014. This is due to rising construction costs, scarcity of lots, and a low inventory of new homes that doesn’t meet the demand.

Click here to continue reading this story…

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Housing News

Are Realtors the real loser in the fight between Zillow Group and Move, Inc.?

The last year has been one of dramatic and rapid change in the real estate tech sector, but Realtors are vulnerable, and we’re worried.

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zillow move

Why Realtors are vulnerable to these rapid changes

(REALUOSO.COM) – Corporate warfare demands headlines in every industry, but in the real estate tech sector, a storm has been brewing for years, which in the last year has come to a head. Zillow Group and Move, Inc. (which is owned by News Corp. and operates ListHub, Realtor.com, TopProducer, and other brands) have been competing for a decade now, and the race has appeared to be an aggressive yet polite boxing match. Last year, the gloves came off, and now, they’ve drawn swords and appear to want blood.

Note: We’ll let you decide which company plays which role in the image above.

So how then, does any of this make Realtors the victims of this sword fight? Let’s get everyone up to speed, and then we’ll discuss.

1. Zillow poaches top talent, Move/NAR sues

It all started last year when the gloves came off – Move’s Chief Strategy Officer (who was also Realtor.com’s President), Errol Samuelson jumped ship and joined Zillow on the same day he phoned in his resignation without notice. He left under questionable circumstances, which has led to a lengthy legal battle (wherein Move and NAR have sued Zillow and Samuelson over allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets), with the most recent motion being for contempt, which a judge granted to Move/NAR after the mysterious “Samuelson Memo” surfaced.

Salt was added to the wound when Move awarded Samuelson’s job to Move veteran, Curt Beardsley, who days after Samuelson left, also defected to Zillow. This too led to a lawsuit, with allegations including breach of contract, violation of corporations code, illegal dumping of stocks, and Move has sought restitution. These charges are extremely serious, but demanded slightly less attention than the ongoing lawsuit against Samuelson.

2. Two major media brands emerge

Last fall, the News Corp. acquisition of Move, Inc. was given the green light by the feds, and this month, Zillow finalized their acquisition of Trulia.

…Click here to continue reading this story…

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