Unfortunately there are people who do not have everyone’s best interest at heart. They are determined to scam others out of money and will use a variety of ways to do so. Real estate scams cost sellers, buyers, renters, and landlords billions of dollars each year. 

Housing scams are out there, but how do you know if something is legitimate or a scam? Scam artists have no shortage of ways to try and get money away from people and into their pockets. Here are a few practices by scammers that should tip you off to their fraud, whether you are wanting to purchase or rent a home.

If the photos of a property for sale or rent have a watermark on them, the person posting the photos are not the owners of those photos and snagged them off of the internet. 

Details are unclear

The person writing the description of the house has probably never been in or near that home. They may not mention details about utilities, use very generic descriptions of the house or may describe something being within walking distance of the house but in reality that destination is several miles away. 


Lack of paperwork

The scammer will not have the appropriate documents needed for the sale or rental of a property. They might claim to produce the needed documents as soon as the buyer or renter sends money. 


Avoid showing you the house 

When you contact them to see the place, they may avoid your calls or messages and then offer a virtual tour instead of actually meeting you at the house for a walk through.


Background information on potential renters not wanted

Most landlords want reliable tenants and will perform a background check before any lease is signed or security deposit handed over.  


They want too much info before showing you the property

If the “landlord” or “owner” won’t show you the place or requires the personal info first, this is a red flag. A person trying to scam you may ask you for a lot of personal information before they even let you look at the property. You should never have to provide your social security number, credit card number or date of birth before seeing the place.


They are “out of the country”

Typically the scammer will tell anyone interested in the house that they are out of the country and therefore can’t meet in person to show you the property. 


They want you to sign or pay right away

Scammers will try to create a sense of urgency and pressure interested people into signing paperwork or sending them money ASAP.


The price of rent or purchase price seems too good to be true

If the price of the house is well below the price of other homes in the area, chances are it is a scam.


Scammers want either cash, payment wired to them or a money order

Any request or demand for money to be wired to someone is a huge indicator that this is a scam and you will never get your money back. And there is no way to track cash or money order payments. They will tell you that it is for a down payment or a security deposit and they want the money right away.


Realistic looking website and email

They will set up a fake website or email account that looks very close to a legitimate title company or agent that you are working with. It is important to pay close attention to the web address or email address. Often only one number or letter is different making it easy to mistake it for the real thing. 


Homes for sale listed on Craigslist for rent

Scam artists will find a home that is for sale, snag the info off line and create a for rent ad on Craigslist. They will then “require” a showing fee or application deposit.


Buying houses for cash

A quick sale of the home is promised. The homeowner agrees to sign over the deed to the home while a rapid mortgage payout is promised. Once the deed is signed over to the scammer, they now have control of the property and can take possession of it. They can rent the property out, making a profit while the victim is still on the hook for a mortgage payment and is out of their house. 


Vacant land for sale is listed below market value

Scammers will look for vacant land that is free of any mortgage or lien. The scammer will then pose as the owner of the land and contact a realtor. 


Home for sale now for rent at an amazingly affordable price

A scammer will assume the identity of a home seller, claim to change their mind about selling the property and offer it for rent way below what the rent should be. They will then avoid showing the house to the potential renter giving the excuse that they are out of town. Then the pressure will come for the potential renter to wire security deposit and 1st month’s rent. 


No Lease Required or Available

No matter how short or long of a time you are wanting to rent a property, a lease is required. If there is no lease available, this could be a scam. And if a lease is provided, read it thoroughly.


The buyer sends too much money

The scammer will offer to buy your home, sight unseen, and wants to do so quickly. They will then send money, but will be too much. They will then ask you to send them a refund through a wire transfer. And usually by the time their overpayment is wired back to them, the check that they sent will come back as forgery. 


To avoid being a victim of a home buying or renting scam, do your homework. Check references, websites, business profiles, and even the Better Business Bureau. Don’t be pressured into a quick sale or to sign over your home for the promise of a cash or quick sale. Don’t wire money to anyone, especially that you have not met. Always work with reputable Realtors, lenders and mortgage companies. 

New Directions Real Estate will never ask anyone to wire money or pressure you into a quick sale of your home. We have your best interest at heart. If you have any questions or concerns, or want to make sure something is legitimate, do not hesitate to call us or stop in and meet face to face. 

If you are a victim of a real estate or rental scam, report it to local law enforcement.

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.