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Russian mob Ponzi scheme allegedly steals $6M from Texas land investors

Investors file a lawsuit against a man said to have ties to Russian organized crime activities and believed to have swindled real estate investors out of over $6 million dollars.

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Real estate investment scam

Two Austin investors have filed a lawsuit claiming the North American Title Company helped to orchestrate a land investment scam, overseen by members of an East Coast Russian mob, according to YNN Austin News.

Investor Steve Aubrey is suing the title company at its regional headquarters in Dallas, claiming their agent based in Round Rock failed to proof check a land deal which cost him and his business partner over $900,000.

“I think of the Bernie Madoff people that were hurt, and I think about how awful it is for them, and I see it as just a little bit worse because this was a friend of mine that did it to me,” Aubrey said. As is common in traditional pyramid or Ponzi schemes, family or friends are tapped first as investors.

How the scheme worked

YNN reports that Aubrey is accusing his friend, Austin venture capitalist, Peter Barlin of organizing hard-money investments in 2006, promising high-interest returns to develop 1,700 acres of land in Texas called “Wild Horse Ranch.”

Court documents show that Barlin negotiated through a company he set up on behalf of developer (and alleged Russian mob member) Vitaly Zaretsky, called Creative Financial Solutions which Barlin’s attorney disavows any affiliation with.

Zaretsky was supposed to use the financial investment to develop Wild Horse Ranch, but the ground is still untouched. Aubrey and his partner believe Zaretsky may have taken off with over $6 million from other Central Texas investors.

“This is not something Peter was aware of. This is all going on without Barlin’s knowledge, but it’s something we now know as a result of this litigation,” Barlin’s attorney said.

“A Russian mob-driven Ponzi scheme”

According to YNN, Aubrey’s attorney says that between broker Peter Barlin, title agent Karen Williams, developer Vitaly Zaretsky, among others mentioned in lawsuit, it’s only a matter of time before their court-cited actions will show a Russian mob-driven Ponzi scheme. “North American Title Company closed no more than 26 transactions associated with Vitaly Zaretsky. There was a personal relationship here. They knew each other. They knew each other well.”

The title agent involved is said to be seeking a criminal defense attorney, Zaretsky has left town, North American Title Company cannot comment on active litigation, and Wild Horse Ranch is still vacant land. The Wild Horse land deal will go to trial in federal court in coming months.

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.

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

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.

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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

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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