Money Wiring Scams Are Hitting South Florida Real Estate Closings

Money Wiring ScamsIn recent years, a growing number of shocking hacks into Realtors’ and closing agents’ email accounts have led to changes in how sellers and buyers should send wiring instructions for their real estate deals in South Florida. Here’s what’s going on:

• Hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds have vanished the moment the closing agent hit send. That’s because the instructions they were sent by email, ostensibly by the seller, were in fact fraudulent. According to law enforcement, savvy hackers can target Realtors and real estate attorneys, and follow the train of email conversations long enough to get the names of the buyers and sellers and amount of the deal. Then they send phony instructions on the bank the proceeds should be sent to—usually offshore accounts that can’t be traced. While this has thankfully never happened to me, I have heard horrifying stories from other real estate attorneys who wired hundreds of thousands of dollars their sellers never received.

• Similar problems can happen on the front end, when a buyer asks in an email where they should wire their hefty down payment or funds for a cash deal. If that email is read by hackers, they can send a reply with wiring instructions to their own offshore accounts. This problem has so concerned the industry that last year the Federal Trade Commission issued a joint warning with the National Association of Realtors about these potential threats to settlement funds.

What can buyers and sellers do? If buyers receive email instructions about where to wire their money, they should take a few moments to call the escrow agent to confirm they have the proper information. (Most closing agents no longer take bank checks, and none take personal checks, so wiring is typically the only way to deposit money.) Sellers can avoid this problem by bringing their wiring instructions with them to the closing rather than sending them by email at all. The closing agent will likely ask the seller to sign the instructions to be sure they are confirmed.

For more information about real estate deals in South Florida, contact the Law Office of Gary M. Landau by email or call 954-979-6566. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls to him.

What Buyers Must Do After Signing A Real Estate Contract

It’s an exciting time for a homebuyer when you find the home of your dreams and that final “T” is crossed and the real estate contract is signed. As soon as that happens, however, there are steps that a buyer must take right away.

Real Estate contract

Here is a quick checklist for after the contract is signed:

1. Fund the escrow account. If you didn’t put your full deposit amount into your attorney’s escrow account when you signed the contract, you’ll need to do that as soon as possible.

2. Order an inspection. A typical real estate contract gives a buyer a set amount of time—usually a week or two—to have the property inspected. If the inspection turns up too many problems and you wish to back out, this can be done only during the specified timetable. Therefore, the first call you should make after a seller agrees to the deal (even before your best friend!) is to a qualified inspector. Depending on the terms of the contract, you might also be able to seek concessions from the seller or have him fix the problems uncovered if you have the inspection done during this window.

3. Start the process of getting a mortgage. Ideally, even before you signed the contract you received a pre-qualification letter from a lender. This doesn’t guarantee they will give you the loan, however, so as soon as the contract is signed you will want to work with a mortgage broker or bank to officially apply for the loan and to lock in the terms and the interest rate. Again, this must be done quickly, especially since any “finance clause” in the contract allowing you to cancel the deal if your loan falls through usually has an expiration date. During the loan application process, the bank will also order an appraisal to make sure the home is worth the purchase price.

4. Apply for condo or homeowner’s approval. If the home you will be buying is in a community that requires approval before you can purchase, you’ll need to get and submit the application and any supporting documentation right away, because this process can be lengthy. Many associations charge a small fee for this process.

5. Dive into the docs. Under Florida law, after the contract is signed a buyer in a condo has 3 days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) to nullify the contract after receiving a complete set of the Declaration and all amendments, by laws, and other documents governing the association. There’s a lot to read, but you should comb through them with care; you may not want to buy into a development whose docs do not allow a pet or a home business, say, if these are important to you.

Having the Law Offices of Gary M. Landau by your side during each step in a real estate deal helps insure that the process goes smoothly. For more information about your real estate contract in South Florida, call 954-979-6566 or email for a free consultation. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls to him.