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Scam cost homeowners a bundle

Selling your home without a real estate agent means you need to be extra diligent with potential buyers, as a New Brunswick couple found out.

John and Julie Wickham put their home up for sale in spring and in late April a woman made an offer for the $229,000 asking price and agreed to pay separately for the appliances. She gave the Wickhams her lawyer’s name and the name of the company that would be financing the deal,adding that she needed to move into the house within a couple of days.

Here’s what happened next:

The Wickhams agreed to vacate and rent the house to the buyers for a month to allow the purchase details to be finalized. They also made arrangements to move to Ontario where they stayed with Julie’s parents pending John’s new job in the U.S..

When the Wickhams tried to cash the rent cheque, it bounced. They then learned the couple didn’t have the financing to buy the house and the lawyer who was supposed to be handling the deal had not been retained.

They made immediate efforts to get the people out of their house, but the couple resisted, saying they had the right to stay there. Then Julie’s father- in-law visited the home with an RCMP officer and the couple was warned that if they took possession using fraudulent means, they could be charged.

After a lot of anguish, a threat that utilities would be cut off and an eviction notice, the couple finally moved out, the local newspaper reported. The Wickhams lost thousands, related to moving expenses, the storage of their belongings and lost wages. Because of that, Julie told the paper they planned to file criminal charges against the couple.

In fact, the Wickhams were fortunate to get the tenants evicted so quickly. In Ontario, landlords do not have the right to cut off utilities and the police will usually not get involved. That leaves the landlord with no alternative but to go to the provincial Landlord and Tenant Board to evict the tenants, which can take months.

Whenever you are selling or renting a home, do not give the keys to the buyer or seller before you have the purchase money in your hands. If it is not a money order or certified funds, do not give out the keys until the cheque clears.

Be very careful to qualify properly any buyer or tenant in advance. In this case, the Wickhams should have called the lawyer given to them by the buyer immediately, before doing anything further.

To avoid this ever happening to you, remember the following:

  • Never guarantee a loan or add your name to a mortgage unless you fully intend to purchase the property.
  • Always know who you are doing business with, if you are buying, selling or renting a home.
  • Conduct proper background checks in advance.
  • Never sign anything until you know exactly what you are signing.
  • Find out who actually owns any property you are thinking about buying or renting. You can go to either the government registry offices to do a search for a fee, or you can ask a real estate agent or lawyer to assist you, as they have access to the government Teranet computerized search system.
  • If any deposit is required, make sure the funds are paid to the actual owners.
  • Never give out keys until the cheque clears.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

This piece by Mark Weisleder was originally published in 2012 but the facts remain relevant at any time. Robert.

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