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Thieves, Scammers Target Empty Houses, Realtor Warns

Veteran Sherman Oaks Realtor Matt Epstein issues warning to sellers and offers tips on how to avoid being victimized.

Sellers, beware!

There's something happening in this area to unoccupied homes that are on the market.

What’s going on is something that most people are unaware of: Homes in this area are under attack by thieves.

These unsavory people go online, look at brochures and attend open houses, looking for opportunities to burglarize homes.

We all know how easy it is to look online at any of the various real estate websites and see what the insides of the homes look like. Well, thieves are looking as well. When they see a home that is empty, they see opportunity.

They search for empty properties, then go there in the middle of the night to steal whatever they can. They take appliances, fixtures, heating and air conditioners; they are also stripping the copper piping and electrical wiring out of the walls and then selling it for scrap.

Some people break into a home and then move in. They’re called squatters.

These are people who do not have leases or any authorization from the property owners when they move into properties. Getting them out is not as easy as just asking them to leave. The police cannot help with this, because it is a civil matter that needs to be resolved through the court system.

You will need to go to court and receive an unlawful detainer. This process takes months, sometimes longer if the squatter is smart or the property owner comes to court unprepared. Once the squatters move out, the house is often not found in the same condition as you left it.

Here's another scam happening with empty homes. Thieves will find an empty house and then put an ad in the local newspapers or on websites advertising these homes—which they do not own—as rentals.

They will break in and interview as many people as they can. Then they will sign leases with various prospective tenants and have them all give them cash or cashier’s checks for the first month’s rent and the security deposit. Once everyone realizes that they were scammed the thieves have gone on to find the next victim.

Here are a few things that can be done to help protect you, the seller, from not becoming the next victim.

First: Try to find a real estate agent who works regularly in the area where your home is located. A good agent will visit the property often to make sure that things are looking the way they should be looking.

Your agent should be an extra set of eyes for you. Many thieves are looking for unattended properties. I cannot believe how many homes I see where the properly is vacant and the listing agent is from out of the area.

Some of those property owners may have hired a relative or a friend who is a real estate agent, who gives them a slight discount on the real estate commission.

But without that extra set of eyes, many property owners are realizing that they should have paid a little bit more to get someone who knows and works the neighborhood.

Part of my job involves meeting with my representatives from the LAPD every month, and I receive email updates about subjects that will alert me about trends that are happening in the areas where I work.

If I am alerted to a new scam, I will make sure that my clients are made aware of it and we will do whatever it takes to safeguard the property.

The next thing that you should do is spend a little money and have your home staged. On the Internet, there is no way to tell that a staged house is unoccupied.

I hope that these tips will help you to avoid becoming a victim. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Matt Epstein of Prudential California Realty at somatt@aol.com or 818-789-7408.

Tracey the Safety Lady December 22, 2011 at 01:33 PM
Matt, great article! I am a real estate agent safety trainer and am grateful for you bringing a whole new topic to light! This goes directly to seller safety issues. The solution? House-sitters! Pay someone, or a family, to both occupy and stage your house with their furniture! I love it and it serves 2 different markets! I know what my next discussion topic will be in my Real Estate Agent Safety Forum group on Linked In! Thank you and check it out, please. "Tracey, the Safety Lady".
Lisa December 22, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Actually, I found a scam just last night on Craig's List: http://losangeles.craigslist.org/sfv/apa/2756244694.html I wrote the person who placed the ad and received a reply this morning. Just looking at the reply I received, you could tell it was suspicious. With just a couple of Google searches, I was able to determine that it was CLEARLY a scam. The ad is still up, btw.
joanzgalaviz March 25, 2012 at 06:12 AM
Refinancing to a shorter mortgage term may allow you to build your home equity and pay off your mortgage faster. You can easily find your rates from websites like "Official Refinance" in secs

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