Top Seven Tips for Avoiding Real Estate Investment Scams

By: Eric Bramlett

Every industry has its scam artists, and real estate is no exception. While most of the professionals who work in real estate are ethical and honest, there are people in the industry who want to take your money and run. Worse, there are scam artists who use real estate as a cover. These fraudsters may know nothing about real estate but simply use properties to extract money from victims. Sadly, properties mean large amounts of cash and this can attract criminals. You don't have to be a victim, though. Whether you are investing in real estate or buying your own home, there are a few things you can do to stay safe:

1) Get it in writing. The simplest and most effective way to stay safe is to assume that nothing is concrete until it is in writing and signed. Any verbal promised made simply does not count unless it is in a legally binding contract, so never assume anything until you have a contract in hand. Never assume that someone will follow through on a promise of any kind unless there is a viable contract.

2) Get professional advice. An experienced real estate attorney should be looking at any property contracts you sign. If you are interested in investing, join a real estate club so that you can get advice and help from professional investors. If you are buying a home, get the help and input of a professional assessor and inspector. Interested in learning about real estate investing? Make sure that your instructor is an experienced and qualified investor themselves. Aim to work with the best professionals you can find. Whether you need to find the value of a home or the loopholes in a contract, turn to the appropriate professionals. They will help you uncover shady deals.

3) Keep abreast of common real estate schemes. Thank goodness real estate scam artists (like other fraudsters) are not too original. In many cases, criminals will use the same scams again and again. If you are buying a home, refinancing, selling, or investing, find out from the media and from the IRS about common scams. That way, you can watch out for red flags.

4) Deal only with professionals. Make sure that anyone you are dealing with - from a real estate agent to a real estate attorney - has the right qualifications for their job. If you are dealing with a buyer, make sure that they are honest about their employment and credit history. Scam artists will often invent elaborate backgrounds in order to gain your trust. If you detect the lie, you can detect the fraudster, so do your research.

5) Ask lots of questions. Be willing to trust yourself to walk away if an offer is too good to be true or if your questions are not answered to your complete satisfaction. Any real estate deal you make should have a benefit for you and a benefit for the other party. If the deal seems to favor you, find out what the other party is getting.

6) Keep an eye out on your credit scores and accounts. In many cases, real estate fraud ends with identity theft. Fraudsters may take your property under false pretenses or use your personal information to open accounts in your name. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from credit bureaus. This shows you how much you officially owe and which accounts you have open. Keeping tabs on your finances ensures that you don't become a victim.

7) Don't pay more than you can afford for real estate. If you are buying, don't pay more than you have to. Fraudsters will often try to have you spend too much or sell for too little so that they can pocket the difference. A classic scam in real estate involves a con artist with charm or an urgency encouraging you to sell your home for nothing or encouraging buying a property for far more than it is worth. Always know the value of real estate you are dealing with and budget accordingly.

These simple tips can prove helpful when doing business in real estate. These basic tips cover most types of real estate fraud and help you avoid the real estate scams that are out there. Good business common sense can help you stay safe.

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