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Home · Property Management · Financing : Watch ID Theft When Selling ‘By-Owner’

by Ilyce Glick, Inman News

Mystery manQ: I placed my home on a for-sale-by-owner Web site and was contacted by someone who said he wanted to buy it.

He provided an offer via e-mail and I found that price to be acceptable provided that he put down some earnest money. The buyer asked for a contract offer sheet, which I filled out to include both the price of the home and the earnest money to be required.

I didn’t sign the contract but asked him to sign it and forward it to me along with the earnest money. I had an expiration date on the contract to make it null and void if I did not receive it within a certain period of time.

He responded to my e-mail stating that no earnest money was required, as he intended to pay cash. I ignored that e-mail, and have assumed that since he didn’t want to put down any cash, he wasn’t that interested in the house.

Here’s my question: What risk have I taken by providing this individual with an unsigned “contract to sell” for my house?

A: As long as you didn’t have a lot of personal information on the contract (such as your Social Security number, name, etc.), you’re probably OK in terms of identity theft.

But your guard should have been up when the buyer made an offer to purchase your home without having seen it. While that does happen from time to time, it’s still rare, and I think it raises a lot of red flags.

What could you have done differently?

When selling a house, particularly when you’re selling without an agent, you should hire an attorney to help you handle situations like this. Having an attorney on board can help you weed out potential scam artists who won’t want to tangle with your legal team.

If you had said, “Joe, thanks for your offer. I’m glad we agree. My attorney will call you to discuss the contract and arrange for a good faith deposit,” I’m guessing that you would have figured out before a contract was sent that this guy wasn’t legit.

If you work in a state that does not generally use real estate attorneys and you opt not to hire one, your personal information should be given only to the closing agent or escrow agent.

In general, you should never give anybody any of your personal information when selling your home in this manner.

It’s terrific if you can sell by owner and save yourself the commission. But you should have a solid team on hand who can help you get through the process of selling your single biggest asset. A good real estate attorney is at the top of my list.

To get even more valuable advice from Ilyce, visit her Personal Finance and Real Estate Center.

What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

Copyright 2008 Ilyce R. Glink

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