The average home in the United States has a value of $206,000, a record amount. Real estate prices have been rising throughout the country during the last five years, and homeowners have seen the value of their property skyrocket. In California alone, the equity in private homes has increased by more than one trillion dollars in the last five years alone. Many homeowners do not even realize that their home may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they know. Unfortunately for them, a new breed of thieves is well aware of the value of home equity, and a scam known as “deed theft” has allowed them to steal homes from thousands of people.
Deed theft is simple in principle. The perpetrators of deed theft post flyers around town offering “foreclosure help. ” They seek homeowners with mortgages who may be experiencing some temporary financial setback that threatens them with foreclosure. It’s not uncommon for people who have been living in their homes for years to have a sudden financial emergency that prevents them from making their house payments. Perhaps a job loss or illness is to blame. The economic downturn of the last five years has left a lot of people struggling to pay their bills, and these are the people that the deed thieves seek. Their flyers promise to help those in danger of having their homes taken through foreclosure. The thieves meet with the homeowners and ask to have the title to the home transferred to them. In exchange, the “rescuer” will promise to pay the delinquent bills and rent the home to the victim for a year or so at a fair price. During this time, they say, the homeowner can save their money or pay off other bills. At the end of that year, the victim can buy the house back from the “rescuer. ”
This seems like a friendly gesture, except that the “rescuer” has no intention of selling the home back to the victim. Once the title is signed over to them, they legally own the home. They may evict the victim, sell the home, or borrow against it, and there is little recourse for the victim, who is now nothing more than a squatter. Many of these victims fail to realize that they may have had hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in their home or that their mortgage company may have been willing to either refinance their home or assist them in some other way with making their payments.
This scam is currently popular across the country and homeowners could easily avoid being victimized by simply calling their mortgage company at the first sign of financial struggle. Mortgage companies aren’t really interested in foreclosure; they’d much rather get paid if at all possible. Before accepting the “help” of strangers who post signs on streetcorners, homeowners should start by asking help from those with whom they are already doing business. Doing so could not only save the homeowner money, it could save the homeowner’s house.
©Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing. Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm devoted to informational Websites, including End-Your-Debt.com, a Website devoted to debt consolidation information and HomeEquityHelp.net, a site devoted to information on home equity loans.