When selling a property, scams used to be almost unheard of and easy to spot.
A ‘buyer’ would look at your property and make an offer at which point any estate agent worth their salt would make a few basic checks and quickly discover that they were either a daydreamer who would never go ahead, or worse – somebody with the intention of committing property fraud.
Jump forward to today’s high paced, internet based property market and unfortunately it’s a different story.
So much property and personal information is now publically available that home sellers, especially those who haven’t sold before or are in a vulnerable position are now actively targeted by unscrupulous criminals eager to steal someone’s largest asset.
So what can home owners do to protect themselves?
We asked long-time property professional Jonathan Rolande of The National Association of Property Buyers (NAPB) who also runs the respected property firm House Buy Fast.
Q: What type of thing might a criminal want to do with a property?
A: The most common is identity theft. A criminal finds an empty property such as one that has been inherited and they will find out if there is a mortgage on it. If not, they will try to assume the identity of the real owner and sell the home either with a local estate
agent or using an online company who may or may not be involved in the crime.
Q: Are there other types of property crime?
A: Oh yes, criminals will try to sell property they have let – some have even changed their name to that of their landlord to try to hoodwink agents and the innocent buyer. Money Laundering is also a huge problem in the UK market and involves billions of pounds a year. That’s where criminals use illicit funds to buy and sell property in the hope of hiding where the cash originated. There are many different types of property crime and the techniques are constantly changing but some simple things can help to protect owners enormously.
Q: So what should home owners do?
A: The first thing is to set up an HM Land Registry Property Alert. It’s a free Government service that sends an email if anything is attempted legally on the property such as a new mortgage or change in Title. It helps to stop anything happening without your knowledge and is especially important if there is no mortgage on the home.
Q: Great, anything else?
A: Homeowners should take even more care when going on the market to sell. Research estate agents, read reviews and check that they are members of a recognised Ombudsman scheme which will sort out any problems should they occur. Owners may be targeted with leaflets, letters, people coming to the door or adverts online promising to ‘buy in 7 days’, ‘pay 100% cash’ etc. Whilst many may be legitimate, some will not be. Always check the credentials of the buyer, are they who they say? Are they a member of The NAPB and TPOS which will resolve any problems independently. If not, I would avoid at all costs.
Q: Sounds like good advice. What else would you suggest?
A: Well, in general the old phrase ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ should be kept in mind at all times! Be wary, don’t sign anything or pay out money until you’ve checked with your solicitor and you’ll avoid becoming yet another property crime statistic.
Further advice including the various options a seller has to find a good buyer is available from The NAPB at https://www.napb.co.uk/faqs/
House Buy Fast is an accredited member of The NAPB and The Property Ombudsman Service.