House Buyout Deals Too Good To Be True?

By Tom Ramstack
April 27, 2007 – PDF

Signs hanging on trees or light posts in the Washington area touting “We Buy Homes — Fast Cash” can hide a dangerous truth.

Investors offering quick money for less than the value of a house or condominium sometimes leave homeowners with a bad deal, housing regulators say.

“They do it under the guise of helping you out of foreclosure,” said Joe Rooney, Maryland’s deputy commissioner of financial regulation.

Although the investors, sometimes called “foreclosure specialists,” have always been around, the decline in the housing industry and rising foreclosure rates are helping them thrive.

Foreclosures rose 35 percent nationwide in the first three months of 2007 compared with a year earlier, according to, an online foreclosure tracking organization.

The investors buy houses at discounts and then “flip” them by selling them quickly at a higher price.

Government regulators license mortgage lenders but can do little about buyers and sellers other than to prosecute fraud.

“If your house is worth $200,000 and they offer you $180,000, they’re allowed to do that,” Mr. Rooney said. “This is America.”
   Typically, the sellers are low-income homeowners who recently suffered a financial collapse.
   “It tends to be a lost job, a medical condition or a lot of times a divorce,” said Mike Burnette, spokesman for Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a nonprofit housing advocacy group in Richmond. “Everything they have is in their home, and they just don’t have a lot of cash to bail themselves out.”
   Real-estate regulators warn sellers to check out investors carefully when offered cash for their houses to make sure that they are not being scammed.

“It’s a buyer-beware situation,” said Mary Broz-Vaughan, spokeswoman for the Virginia Real Estate Board. The number of home investors is up about 30 percent in the past two years, said Jeremy Brandt, chief executive officer of 1-800-CashOffer, a Dallas company that seeks to certify home investors by checking their backgrounds and references. There are no official statistics to verify his estimate.

As many as 30 percent of the investors are “unethical,” he said.

He suggests that home sellers “ask a lot of questions and get references.”

Sellers should find out how many properties an investor has purchased in the past six months and check to see how they are funded to ensure he can pay, Mr. Brandt said. They also should have a lawyer review their home sales contracts.

 Here are some of the most common scams:

Most foreclosure scammers identify their victims by watching for property that has been listed for sale in court. They approach the homeowner with offers to help. Other scammers are contacted by potential victims who have seen a flier advertising “foreclosure rescue.”

Find a local pro: