Real Estate Wire Fraud Is Real -- And It Almost Happened To Me

Thousands of Americans fall victim to real estate wire fraud every year. This writer was almost one of them. photo credit: Getty

Thousands of Americans fall victim to real estate wire fraud every year. This writer was almost one of them. photo credit: Getty


It all started with an email.

Just days before closing on a home, I got a message from my escrow officer—or at least someone pretending to be her. Our closing costs needed to be wired to the title company right away, she said, or our closing date would be pushed back.

Considering the six weeks I’d spent waiting to close on the property—not to mention the disdain I had for our current rental home—the message sent my heart racing.

The font was right. The signature was right. There was even a CC to my real estate agent. But something seemed off.

A closer look at the header revealed the problem. Each email address—one for my agent, one my mortgage broker and one for my escrow officer—was a single character off.

It was a fake.



It Happens All The Time

A thief had tried to steal nearly $60,000—and my dream home—right from under me. But my case was far from unique.

Thousands of unwitting homebuyers fall victim to these fraud schemes every year. And as the industry gets more and more digitized, the number of victims (and their losses) only grows.

According to the FBI, Americans lost nearly" style="box-sizing: border-box; background-color: transparent; cursor: pointer; color: rgb(0, 56, 145); text-decoration: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0);">$150 million to real estate scams just last year. Scams in the industry have" style="box-sizing: border-box; background-color: transparent; cursor: pointer; color: rgb(0, 56, 145); text-decoration: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0);">jumped more than 1,000% since 2015, and real estate is now" style="box-sizing: border-box; background-color: transparent; cursor: pointer; color: rgb(0, 56, 145); text-decoration: underline; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); outline-width: 0px;">one of the top victims of malware attacks in the country.

9 Things Reality TV Shows Get Wrong About Real Estate


Insider scoop and secrets on Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles and other popular TV shows.

If you love real estate like we do (love doesn’t even begin to encapsulate it!), then it’s likely you’ve caught any of the real estate TV shows currently saturating reality TV. Maybe your eyes roll at the staged scenarios, or perhaps you indulge in a full-on binge. Either way, these shows grab attention by tapping into the thrill of the market, without any of the risk.

Real estate reality is fun, and a healthy dose of voyeurism. Peek into dream homes, watch bidding wars unfold, and find out who would really be willing to pay $60 million for a crumbling mountain mansion. It’s a preview of international markets and what money can (or can’t) buy.

Whether it’s a guilty pleasure or must-see TV, just remember that in real estate, reality TV is only so real. “It makes it look very easy. You don’t typically see a lot of failures,” said Redfin agent Alec Traub.

Los Angeles-based Traub works in the high-end market, and surprisingly, loves these shows.

“I sometimes watch House Hunters or Flip or Flop but mostly Million Dollar Listing, which is fun because I’ve done deals with those agents. The properties on Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles are properties shown on TV are often homes I know,” he said. “I’d watch even if I weren’t an agent, but because it’s my industry, it’s interesting to see how the business is portrayed. But I’m not watching myself; I’m watching a glorified version of my workday.”

As such, Traub, a luxury agent in LA, is quick to point out that the portrayal is far from accurate.

“It’s a lighter version of what I do. They depict agents and structure the show like it’s fantasyland real estate. I can watch and kick my feet up and think, ‘how nice would it be if it all happened that easily?’”

So what’s actually reality? Here’s what Alec thinks you should consider the next time you tune in:

  1. Home sales don’t close as quickly on TV
    “There’s so much more to buying or selling a home, and it’s so much harder to put one together, than what you see on TV. Million Dollar Listing makes it seem like a closing takes a matter of sitting down, making a couple of phone calls, and within five to 10 minutes, you’re done. They never show the weeks of back and forth negotiating, counter offers and discussing terms.”
  2. TV doesn’t include what happens after agreeing to price and terms
    “The hard part starts once you’ve accepted the offer and then have to go through escrow, inspections and an appraisal. But those steps are much drier subject matter with far less drama and excitement. A 40-something minute show would never devote minutes to line items on an inspection report. But for me personally, it would be pretty interesting to see how Million Dollar Listing’s Josh Altman handles a low appraisal or a buyer with financing troubles, which are still common in the high end market.”
  3. More home closings fail than you think
    “Agents face failures every day, such as lost listings or clients. Every now and then, you’ll see someone get fired on Million Dollar Listing, but that’s few and far between. In reality, about one in every three to four offers on a home in Los Angeles falls out of escrow for any reason, which you won’t get a sense of watching the show.”
  4. Finding clients isn’t as easy as it looks
    Million Dollar Listing only shows the listing or client after it’s successfully signed. They leave out the process of how they sourced that business in the first place. Clients are often referenced as a friend or colleague, with no mention of how that relationship began, or whether the agent had to knock on doors first.”
  5. The pool of agents is not accurately represented
    Million Dollar Listing makes it seem like there are about a dozen agents in all of Los Angeles, when really there are thousands. The agents have a certain presence, but there are just four or five of them. In LA, you’re constantly competing against so many people for every client and listing consult.”
  6. However in smaller luxury markets, certain agents do dominate
    “In high luxury price points like Beverly Hills, Bel Air or the Hollywood Hills, it’s true that only a handful of agents tend to represent those buyers and sellers. You see the same people; there’s maybe 10 agents in each of those neighborhoods and everyone else is on the periphery.”
  7. Real estate TV shows misrepresent agents
    Million Dollar Listing doesn’t deter the negative image of a real estate agent having a sleazy reputation. Episodes show agents making backhanded deals that perpetuate the stereotype. But that’s the drama of TV. If someone followed me around with a camera, they’d be bored. The real work can be frustrating and tedious, and wouldn’t translate well to TV.”
  8. Whether you want to believe it or not, the shows are staged
    “I only watch House Hunters International when it’s in a cool destination like New Zealand, to see what properties are like. But it’s harder to watch knowing it’s all fake drama of ‘I can’t decide!’ when the buyer has actually already purchased a property. Million Dollar Listing is also staged to a certain extent. The circumstances around a buyer or property might seem tense and uncertain, but they always know the offer will come together.”
  9. The agents on Million Dollar Listing are real, successful agents–and people!
    “I’ve closed with Madison, the Malibu agent on Million Dollar Listing. That was great–there was no ego, and we worked well together. I’ve also had good interactions with Josh Altman and Josh Flagg on their properties. When the cameras aren’t there and it’s not a production, they’re down to earth, normal, regular people just trying to help their clients buy and sell homes. The show is edited and only shows a certain over-the-top side of the business. But when we work together, we all have the same focus: closing a home for our clients.”
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Must Love Dogs: These Are the 20 Most Dog-Friendly Cities of 2019" class="post-share--item" role="listitem" title="Twitter" target="_blank" style="box-sizing: border-box; min-height: 0px; min-width: 0px; background-color: transparent; outline: 0px; text-decoration: none; color: rgb(178, 178, 178); line-height: inherit; transition: color 0.4s ease-in-out 0s; display: inline-block; margin-right: 2.5em;">   

Seattle, Chicago and Denver are top dog, as are mixed breeds and labs, according to data from Redfin and Rover.

Dogs are family, but when you have one, moving can be, well, ruff. Not only do you need to find the perfect home for you and your family, but you need to ensure there’s plenty of room and nearby green space for your furry family members too.

It also might help if you’re moving to, or within, one of the following cities.

That’s why Redfin partnered with Rover, the largest network of five‑star pet sitters and dog walkers, to determine the top cities for dog lovers. Rover ran the numbers on over 14,000 cities across the country, compiling a list with the highest counts of walks, dog walkers and sitters, along with total hours, minutes and distance per walk by each dog walker or sitter on Rover.

And because each top city needs a top dog, Rover also uncovered the most popular breed in each area. Why yes, we have noticed a lot of French Bulldogs in New York lately, now that you mention it.

We then coupled Rover’s insights with Redfin data to take a closer look at what life as a dog is like in each city. We recorded how often the keyword ‘dog’ appeared in the online listing descriptions of homes for sale, typically to note that a property was dog-friendly, close to dog parks, etc. We also included each dog-friendly city’s Walk Score®, to highlight how easy it is to treat your dog to his or her favorite activity.

So, which cities are home to the ‘good-est’ boys and girls? Here’s Redfin and Rover’s definitive ranking for the most dog friendly cities of 2019:

City Rover Rank Share of Homes for Sale that mention “Dog” Walk Score Top Dog
Seattle, WA 1 2% 73 Labrador Retriever
Chicago, IL 2 4% 78 Mixed Breed
Denver, CO 3 4% 61 Labrador Retriever
Manhattan, NY 4 4% 89 French Bulldog
Washington, DC 5 1% 77 Mixed Breed
Portland, OR 6 2% 65 Mixed Breed
Los Angeles, CA 7 2% 67 Chihuahua
Brooklyn, NY 8 4% 89 Pit Bull Mix
San Francisco, CA 9 4% 86 Mixed Breed
San Diego, CA 10 2% 51 Mixed Breed
Philadelphia, PA 11 2% 79 Pit Bull Mix
Houston, TX 12 2% 49 Mixed Breed
Austin, TX 13 3% 40 Mixed Breed
Arlington, VA 14 3% 37 Mixed Breed
Minneapolis, MN 15 1% 69 Labrador Retriever
Alexandria, VA 16 3% 60 Mixed Breed
Dallas, TX 17 2% 46 Labrador Retriever
Atlanta, GA 18 5% 49 Mixed Breed
San Jose, CA 19 2% 51 Labrador Retriever
Nashville, TN 20 1% 28 Mixed Breed

Despite the notion that some people may wait to move to the suburbs to adopt a dog, urban cores still rank highest in dog friendliness. Cities renowned for leafy parks and outdoor activities like SeattleChicago and Denver claimed the top spots. And while New York City, Brooklyn and San Francisco rank highest for walkability, a seemingly significant factor when deciding to get a dog, they rank lower for overall dog friendliness, perhaps due to a higher cost of living, and housing inventory of typically smaller apartments–there’s no room for a large golden retriever in a fifth-floor walkup studio, sadly.

Other highlights include Washington, D.C., and its suburbs of Arlington, V.A. and Alexandria, V.A. all making the list, possibly aligned to an influx of interest in the area following Amazon’s arrival to town.

When it comes to breed, well, all dogs are adored equally, but Rover sees the highest intake of Mixed and Labrador Retrievers nationwide. And ever the cosmopolitan hubs, New York City and Los Angeles stand out with Frenchies and Chihuahuas, respectively. Across the river from Manhattan, Brooklyn marches to its own beat, and prefers Pit Bull mixes, as does Philly.

No matter where you live, and what dog you own however, if you’ve opened your home to love and care for a dog, we’re guessing it’s as dog friendly as it gets.


Find out which projects offer the best return on your investment dollars

 May 12, 2019
Houzz contributor. Realtor, Home builder, project consultant, and writer. Loves...More
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Repeat after me: I am the master of my remodel. Perhaps you should say it again, because sadly, it’s not always so. Remodels sometimes have a tendency to develop their own inertia, as decisions lead to new dilemmas, unintended consequences and surprising outcomes. In some cases, these flights of fancy are perfectly acceptable, provided the design and completed execution truly align with the vision and budget.

But if your budget is a concern, and the wise investment of limited home improvement dollars matters, then there are a few basic guidelines you should familiarize yourself with before planning your remodel. Today we review five remodels that typically make good financial sense, providing a nice return on the investment at the time of resale — and five that don’t.