Identity protection real estate

identity protection
Be proactive with identity protection (infographic from nsa.gov)

Even with precautions and laws to protect your sensitive data while conducting financial transactions, there can still be a weak link in the chain that can put your personal data at risk.  You may not have heard about the latest data breach, but it involved the potential leaking of over 24 million mortgage documents. Identity Protection during the real estate process takes awareness and vigilance. However, what do you do after the transaction is over?

The data breach to which I refer was discovered and reported by Bob Diachenko, Cyber Threat Intelligence Director of Security Discovery with the assistance of Zack Whitaker of Techcrunch.  This data breach was discovered by Diachenko just by searching public search engines.  According to Diachenko’s report (securitydiscovery.com/document-management-company-leaks-data-online), the unprotected database contained about 51 GB of credit and mortgages information.  The database potentially exposed more than 24 Million files.

Essentially, the over 24 million unprotected records (24,349,524 according to Diachenko) that existed on the database were likely scanned (OCR) from original documents.  Diachenko stated, “These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as social security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history, and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report. This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.” 

Diachenko and Whitaker tracked down the owner of the database and found that the exposed database belonged to a third party.  After the database was secured, however, Diachenko found a second vulnerable server that contained original documents.

How is consumer identity protection handled through through institutional real estate transactions?

According to Whitaker, the documents date as far back to 2008, possibly further.  The documents concerned “correspondence from several major financial and lending institutions” including government entities such as HUD.  Whitaker stated that not all data was “sensitive,” however the database included: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, bank and checking account numbers.  They also found some documents that contained other “sensitive financial information,” such as bankruptcy and tax documents, including W-2 forms. 

To understand the broader implications of identity protection in a real estate transaction, read Diachenko and Whitaker’s first (techcrunch.com/2019/01/23/financial-files) and second (techcrunch.com/2019/01/24/mortgage-loan-leak-gets-worse) report. The reporting of Diachenko and Whitaker is significant because it exposes how your identity and sensitive information can be mishandled in the broader financial transactional process that occurs between entities.  Even though direct correspondence with you may be encrypted and secure, security lapses can occur during the institutional transaction process (such selling and/or transferring a mortgage)

The moral of the story is that once your information is out of your hands, you cannot assume it’s 100 percent secure.  Even blockchain technology, which has been touted as a safe means of digital data management, has weaknesses.  And as governments and financial institutions are looking to blockchain as the “answer” to data security, there are reports of “attacks” of increasing sophistication according to James Risberg (Yes, the Blockchain Can Be Hacked; coincentral.com; May 7, 2018). 

Take your identity protection seriously when buying and selling a home

Be vigilant and proactive to protect your identity and sensitive information.  Be wary of unsolicited requests for information, even if it appears to be from someone with whom you are conducting business. Always make a call to confirm the request. Consider a credit freeze to prevent fraudsters from opening credit accounts in your name.  Check your credit report regularly and dispute errors.  If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov site can help you report it and create a recovery plan.  You can learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft from the FTC (consumer.ftc.gov) and the Federal Reserve (federalreserveconsumerhelp.gov).

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/identity-protection-real-estate

Copyright© Dan Krell

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Buy vs rent market

buy vs rent
Buy vs Rent Housing Market (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

After last year’s active spring, the housing market’s fall home sale decline shocked many.  Although home sales were on target to outpace the previous year’s activity, the slowdown diminished the spring’s impact.  In fact, the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) January 22nd press release indicated a sharp decline of home sales during December.  The 6.4 percent month over month nationwide decline should not have been a surprise because of the season.  However, December’s nationwide 10.3 percent sales decline from the previous year is significant.  The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (gcaar.com) indicated that Montgomery County single family home sales decreased 12.2 percent during December. Is this an indication of another buy vs rent market?

Back in August, I predicted and discussed the causes for the fall’s sales slowdown.  Among the issues that contributed to the slowdown include increasing mortgage rates and the continued home sale inventory shortage. However, it’s important to note that although home sales seemed to go to sleep during the early winter, home sale prices continue to increase.  It’s not the 4-5 percent price gain that home owners have become accustomed.  But the 2.9 percent nationwide price increase (2.7 percent increase in Montgomery County) during December is indicative that home ownership is still valued.

Although there are many who are saying it’s now a buyer’s market, it’s not entirely true.  The current housing environment has home buyers under pressure.  Increasing mortgage interest rates are making buying a home more expensive, and there are not many homes from which to choose.  Consequently, motivated home buyers who are eager to buy a home during the winter are pushing back against high home prices.  The reality is that home sellers will remain in the driver’s seat as long as they price their homes correctly.

There is a lot of promise for the spring, but it still depends on many factors (such as inventory).  But the push back on increasing home prices will likely continue, as home buyers are increasingly sensitive to housing costs.  “Buy vs rent” and housing affordability will once again become hot topics this spring. 

Buy vs rent is on the mind of home buyers. Although buyers are in the market to buy, there is no urgency. However, it’s clear that this market is about value.

If you’re a home buyer trying to figure out the market, consulting with a professional Realtor can help you decide if it’s the right time to buy a home.  Trulia’s Rent vs. Buy Calculator (trulia.com) is a tool that compares the cost of buying to renting a home over time in a specific area.  It can estimate the point at which home buying is better than renting.  However, depending on your budget and area, renting may be a better financial option.  Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA) and the Housing Opportunities Commission (hocmc.org) offers affordable housing programs for first time home buyers and renters.

If you’re a home seller, think back to the 2014 spring housing market when home buyers pushed back at the sharp home price gains of 2013.  It’s recommended that you don’t take home buyers for granted, buyers are just as savvy as you.  Keep in mind that buyers are thinking about “buy vs rent.” Don’t over-price your home, however expect to negotiate the price.  Make your home show its best through preparation and staging.  Stay away from cheap renovations meant to look expensive, this can actually decrease your home’s value.  If you’re selling “by owner,” consider consulting a staging professional to help prepare and stage your home.  If you’re listing your home with a Realtor, your agent should have a strategy to sell for top dollar in this market. 

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/01/25/buy-vs-rent-housing-market

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

New home diligence

new home diligence
New home sales (infographic from nar.realtor)

It’s understandable that new homes are alluring.  After all, newly built homes are modern and efficient.  And there is the idea that new homes require minimal maintenance for the first year of ownership.  But new homes are not flawless.

Last week’s Florida’s Attorney General home builder settlement is the latest reminder that new home buyers need to exercise due diligence.  The multi-million-dollar settlement with PulteGroup, Inc came after a two-year investigation.  A simultaneous complaint alleges that the home builder violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act by: failing to disclose to certain home buyers in Florida that the homes were being constructed in violation of applicable building codes; unfairly denying certain homeowners’ repair claims for various reasons: unfairly denying certain Florida homeowners’ repair claims without performing an adequate inspection of the home; and unfairly withholding a customer’s deposit in certain instances.  The details of the settlement can be found in the Florida AG’s December 28th news release (myfloridalegal.com). 

This settlement comes two years after the Florida AG entered into a settlement with KB Home in 2016 for similar alleged complaints. 

Home builder complaints are more common than you think.  In fact, Home builder complaints occur throughout the country alleging violations that may include (but not limited to): code violations, improper warranty denials, and improper handling of deposits. 

Maryland’s Attorney General fined NVR Inc in 2012 because it was alleged that required warranty protections were omitted from their subsidiary new home contracts.  A number of other home builders were fined that year for failing to register with the Consumer Protection Division’s Home Builder Registration Unit.  And in 2016, the Maryland AG filed charges against a Rockville home builder for alleged violations of the Home Builder Registration Act, the Maryland Express and Implied Warranties Act, and the Consumer Protection Act.  And more recently, the Maryland AG filed charges in September against a Baltimore County home builder for allegedly “failing to comply with Maryland’s Home Builder Registration Act, Consumer Protection Act, and the Custom Home Protection Act.”

Unfortunately, many home buyers let their diligence lapse when buying a new home.  New home builder reps are friendly, helpful and often appear to be on your side, so it’s understandable how a home buyer may misconstrue the builder rep’s loyalties.  However, when buying a new home, you should conduct your due diligence.  You should also consider hiring a Realtor and a licensed home inspector to assist you through the new home buying process.

When buying a Maryland new home, you should know that the state regulates home builders.  Before considering a home builder, make sure that the home builder is registered with the Consumer Protection Division’s Home Builder Registration Unit.  Before entering into a contract with the home builder, review and understand the contract.  You may want to consult an attorney to make sure that your Maryland new home contract complies with the state requirements. 

You should also keep in mind that Maryland has established a Home Builder Guaranty Fund that is overseen by the Consumer Protection Division. The fund allows consumers to seek recourse “for losses resulting from an act or omission by a registered builder who constructs a new home for a consumer.”  For additional information about due diligence when buying a new home and obtaining the handbook “Buying a New Home, Consumer Rights and Remedies Under Maryland Law,” contact the Maryland Office of Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/CPD).

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/01/03/new-home-diligence

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Real estate futurism

real estate futurism
Real estate futurism (infographic from nar.realtor)

Humans are fascinated with the future and technology.  Whether it’s the promise of hope and deliverance, or the warning of a dystopian nightmare, there will always be a continued conjecture of the future.  And it’s no different with real estate.  Real estate experts also like to dream about the future and technology, and depict real estate futurism

Housingwire is one the foremost authorities on anything real estate and housing.  It also is a leader in reporting about real estate technology too. This year’s reporting of Housingwire’s Tech100 Awards caught my attention.  But it wasn’t about some shiny new technology that is touted to be “the next big thing.”  Instead, it was the real estate futurism prediction and where real estate technology is headed (Expert: Here’s where real estate tech will be in five years, And will AI replace humans?; housingwire.com December 21, 2018).

Although the article was only one expert’s opinion of real estate futurism, it’s telling nonetheless.  The expert sees that tech assisted appointments and automatic doors are technological advancements.  Additionally, home buyers will be using virtual reality to view homes.  He sees that consumer searches are geo-located. Big data will know what they want based on their online behavior, and so on.  If his list of the industry’s future tech sounds as if it came from the early 2000’s, you’re not alone.  If you think about it, much of this five-year tech advancement prediction has already been around in one form or another.

This expert’s vision of real estate tech in the not-so-distant future is basically more of the same.  It makes you wonder if the real estate industry is focused on using shiny things to get people’s attention (but really doesn’t do much to make the transaction easier and safer).  This interview also signifies that real estate futurism is relegated to existing tech. In other words, real estate technology is not exclusive unto itself, but is only the application of existing technology. 

Predicting the future is difficult and requires the ability to depict a new paradigm.  Spyros Makridakis, an expert in understanding future technology, writes that tech advancement depends on four things; (1) the benefits of the technology, (2) funding to create/implement the technology; (3) growth in funding the technology; and (4) the urgency to solve a problem (Forecasting the Impact of Artificial Intelligence, Part 5:The Emerging and Long-Term Future; The International Journal of Applied Forecasting; 2018; issue 51 p36-41).  Makridakis’ vision of future technology will not be about shiny things that make you go “ohh,” but instead how you interface with technology.

Makridakis’ prediction for the future is that you won’t be using computer screens like you do today. Instead, you will have a type of wrist device that projects holographic images that will “blend virtual and augmented” reality.  These devices will be like your smartphone but allow holographic communications.  Additionally, brain-computer interfaces will allow you “unlimited access to computer power.”  He believes that this paradigm shift will affect how you work and interact socially.  He also believes that robots will become personal assistants and be assigned the boring and uninteresting work.

Real estate futurism based on Makridakis’ futuristic thinking could mean a slightly different home buying and selling process.  Your augmented brain-computer interface will allow you to process information about a home significantly faster, as well as digitally sign AI prepared contracts and closing documents. And instead of scrolling through pictures or wearing a virtual reality mask, you will be walking through holograms of homes right in our living rooms projected from your wrist.

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/12/29/real-estate-futurism

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Civil asset forfeiture

civil asset forfeiture
Home Buyer Sanpshot (infographic from nar.realtor)

Can your home be seized through civil asset forfeiture? Consider the ongoing and expanded effort to identify cash purchases of residential real estate to catch criminals.

An imminent Supreme Court decision on Timbs v. Indiana could have implications on your home and property. Although the case is about excessive fines brought on by a state, it highlights the issue of due process in civil asset forfeiture. To bring you up to speed, the case is about the seizure of an Indiana resident’s $42,000 Land Rover by the state of Indiana, although his drug related fine was only $10,000. The Land Rover was allegedly purchased from cash obtained from an insurance policy, instead of illicit monies.

Civil asset forfeit is a when the government (federal, state, or local) confiscates your property when you are suspected of a crime. You don’t necessarily have to be charged or convicted of the crime. Civil libertarians criticize governments and law enforcement agencies for abusing civil asset forfeiture for profit. Maryland is one of the many states that have recently passed legislation reforming civil asset forfeiture. However, Congress has yet to pass a civil asset forfeiture reform bill.

In their effort to fight money laundering and mortgage fraud, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (fincen.gov) recently stated that their Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) program has “provided valuable data on the purchase of residential real estate by persons implicated, or allegedly involved, in various illicit enterprises including foreign corruption, organized crime, fraud, narcotics trafficking, and other violations. Reissuing the GTOs will further assist in tracking illicit funds and other criminal or illicit activity…”

Previous GTO’s required title companies to report all-cash transactions that met specific criteria. The purpose was to track and identify individuals who mask their identity behind shell companies. FinCen found that the GTO program provided “valuable data on the purchase of residential real estate by persons implicated, or allegedly involved, in various illicit enterprises including foreign corruption, organized crime, fraud, narcotics trafficking, and other violations.” So much so, that A November 15th press release revealed expanded reporting criteria and metro coverage. FinCen believes that the “reissued GTO” will assist in “tracking illicit activity.”

FinCen’s targets were previously limited to suspected foreign entities purchasing luxury properties. However, FinCen is becoming increasingly aggressive to include more transactions and individuals in their reporting criteria.

Two years ago, I reported on the expansion of the FinCen’s interest in fighting mortgage fraud and money laundering through residential real estate transactions. A January 13th 2016 FinCen release stated their intention in expanding their anti-money-laundering efforts to cash purchases of luxury real estate. The GTO was supposed to help learn about the risk posed by “corrupt foreign officials, or transnational criminals” who were suspected of “secretly” buying of luxury real estate in certain metropolitan areas.

Previous GTO’s focused on the cash purchases of luxury homes (over $1 million) in limited metro areas. However, in their November 15th revision, FinCen lowers the reporting threshold of cash purchases to $300,000. Additionally, the metro areas of interest have been expanded to include certain counties Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas. Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Additionally, title companies in those metro areas are also to report “natural persons” behind shell companies used in all-cash purchases of residential real estate, as well as virtual currency purchases.

Original published at https://dankrell.com

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.