Q: We have a high end home for sale. The price of the home is $2.6 million and we are the least expensive home of five homes that are for sale in our gated community.
All of the owners have the same problem and we can’t figure out how to stop it. We hope you can help.
We have these fraudulent buyers coming through our homes. They give their buyers’ agents fake names, invent stories about how much money they have and what they do for a living, and tell us that they are paying all in cash — but can’t come up with $40,000 in earnest money when they sign contracts.
Most recently, we went to the closing table with one of these buyers, who, of course, didn’t even show up. Our Realtor hired a private investigator and discovered that she was a stripper in Atlanta.
Our Realtor has tried to screen these people. She asks for proof that they can qualify. These buyers provide letters written by bogus loan officers. One fake buyer went from house to house, putting in offers without any earnest money.
The last fake buyer claimed to be a basketball player from the Pacers. But when the selling agent asked his buyer’s agent to provide a driver’s license before they came out to see the house, he disappeared.
The closing attorney called the state Attorney General’s office to report it when our closing didn’t happen, but was told that the AG couldn’t figure out what the “scam” was. How can we prevent this from happening?
A: It’s a tough seller’s market out there, even for people who own expensive homes.
I think you’ve already touched upon one part of the solution: requesting some form of picture identification.
Anyone who is rich enough to buy a $2.5 million dollar house will have a driver’s license and passport. Before you agree to show the house even once, you should ask for a copy of each as well as a copy of account statements from national or regional bank or financial institution showing that the buyer has the wherewithal to purchase the property.
Legitimate buyers may be put off by this. But if they’re truly interested in the property, they will be happy to have their private banker write a letter of introduction once they understand what has been happening.
The only people who won’t want to do this are those who have something to hide — like your bogus buyers.
Of course, you won’t need to go through this once the word gets out that you won’t be showing the property without proof of identification and finances. The portion of the brokerage community that represents truly wealthy families in each community is small, and everyone knows each other. If someone you trust or your broker trusts asks to see the house last minute, because their client is flying in on his private plane that day, well, you’ll do your best to accommodate him or her.
But for those buyers who arrive unagented, as leads from the Internet or over the phone, they’ll have to cough up identification and proof of funds. That’s the price of admission co-ops in New York and Chicago require. There’s no reason for you and your neighbors to go through this time and time again.
As for why people do it, many folks have a fascination with the rich and powerful — and why not? They’re highly celebrated. But if I were to guess why this is happening over and over again, I’d say that these folks are either desperate to pretend they have this kind of money, or they’re looking to case the joint. Your real estate agent should keep a copy of the identification and letters he or she receives for future reference.
Jan. 7, 2008.