Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tips for Avoiding Foreclosure Rescue Scams

Foreclosures are increasing nationwide, and so are scams that promise to “rescue” homeowners from foreclosure. What these scams do is take your money, ruin your credit record, and wipe out any equity you have in your home.

Foreclosure con artists take advantage of people who have fallen behind on their mortgages and face foreclosure. Con artists know that people in these situations are vulnerable and likely to be desperate. Potential victims are easy to find: mortgage lenders publish notices before foreclosing on homes. After reading such notices, con artists approach their targets in person, by mail, over the telephone, or by e-mail. They advertise their services on Web sites or publications. They often refer to themselves with titles that sound official, such as “foreclosure consultant” or “mortgage consultant,” and market themselves as a “foreclosure service” or “foreclosure rescue agency.”

Your mortgage lender – or any legitimate financial counselor – can help you find real options to avoid foreclosure. If someone offers to negotiate with your lender and offers to arrange to stop or delay foreclosure for a fee, carefully check his or her credentials, reputation, and experience. To protect yourself, follow the recommendations contained in this Consumer Advisory.


Lease-Back or Repurchase Scams – Be very suspicious if someone offers to pay your mortgage and rent your home back to you. This scheme often involves signing the deed to your home over to the con artist. The con artist may promise to sell your home back to you, but this may be very difficult, if not impossible, under the terms of the contract.
Signing over the deed gives the con artist the power to evict you, raise your rent, sell the house, or steal the equity you have in your home. You will still be responsible for your mortgage, so if the con artist stops paying it, your lender would have the right to foreclose on your home, and the foreclosure and any other problems would go on your credit record.
  • Refinance Fraud – Look out for people posing as mortgage brokers or lenders and offering to refinance your loan so you can afford the payments. Con artists may trick you into signing over the ownership of your home by saying that you are signing documents for a new loan. Signing over the deed to your home exposes you to the dangers described above. Even if you are a victim of fraud, you could still lose your home.
  • Bankruptcy Schemes – Several scams attempt to abuse the bankruptcy laws. For example, a con artist may ask you to give a partial interest in your home to one or more persons. Each holder of a partial interest can then file bankruptcy, one after another. The bankruptcy court will issue a “stay” order each time to stop foreclosure temporarily. However, the stay does not excuse you from making payments or from repaying the full amount of your loan. In another kind of scam, a con artist may offer to obtain refinancing or negotiate a payment plan with your lender. If you may make payments to the con artist, he or she may keep the money rather than pay the lender on your behalf. The con artist may even file a bankruptcy case in your name, without your knowledge, as a part of the scam.
    Bankruptcy laws provide important protections to consumers. Scams can only temporarily delay foreclosure, and they may keep you from using bankruptcy laws legitimately to address your financial problems. Signing over ownership of your home, or even partial ownership, can result in serious financial harm.

    • Know what you are signing. Read and understand every document you sign. If a document is too complex, seek advice from a lawyer or an approved, trusted financial counselor. Never sign documents with blank spaces that can be filled in later. Never sign a document that contains errors or false statements, even if someone promises to correct them later.
    • Get promises in writing. Oral promises and agreements relating to your home are usually not legally binding. Protect your rights with a written document or contract signed by the person making the promise. Keep copies of all contracts you sign.
    • Make your mortgage payments directly to your lender or the mortgage servicer. Do not trust anyone else to make mortgage payments for you.
    • Be very careful about signing over your deed. Foreclosure scams often require you to sign over ownership of your home to a con artist or another third party. Never sign over your deed without getting the advice of your own lawyer, financial advisor, or other independent person that you know you can trust. Understand the terms of the deal you are making. By signing over your deed, you lose your rights to your home and any equity built up in the home.
    • Report suspicious activity to the Federal Trade Commission and to your state and local consumer protection agencies. Reporting con artists and suspicious schemes helps prevent others from becoming victims.

    Contact your mortgage lender or mortgage servicer as soon as you think you are unable to make your mortgage payment. Lenders are often in the best position to help, especially if you are current on your loan or not seriously late on your payments. Your mortgage lender or mortgage servicer may be able to identify options to help you bring the loan current or to modify your loan.

    Contact a legitimate housing or financial counselor to help you work through your financial problems. To find one:
    □ Call (800) 569-4287, or visit to find counselors approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
    □ Call the Homeownership Preservation Foundation at (888) 995-HOPE, or visit, to reach a nonprofit, HUD-approved counselor through HOPE NOW, a cooperative effort of mortgage counselors and lenders to assist homeowners.
    Visit the following Web sites for information:
    □ NeighborWorks America,
    □ Federal Trade Commission,

    If you have a complaint or question involving a national bank and cannot resolve it directly with the bank, contact the OCC’s Customer Assistance Group by calling (800) 613-6743, by e-mailing, or by visiting

    Finally, if you are just not certain about where to start, contact me. I can assist and direct you.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    Is Your Real Estate Agent Web-savvy?

    Most home buyers and sellers would assume all real estate agents have a personal website. The second assumption most real estate consumers have is that just because a real estate agent has a website means the agent is “web-savvy“. The truth is some agents maximize their online presence to their client’s advantage and some don’t have any online presence whatsoever. So what defines a web-savvy real estate agent and why should that be important to you as a home buyer or seller? Great question!

    A Web-savvy Real Estate Agent - Defined!
    In the realm of the real estate market, real estate agents who understand how to use the power of the Internet to help buyers and sellers experience positive outcomes is the true definition of a web-savvy real estate professional. It’s all about you the consumer having access to a valuable information portal filled with user-friendly navigation and easy to read content. The portal should help make the real estate process easier for you not more difficult. Of course a website will never replace a real estate agent, but it should provide you the consumer free access to easy to use property search tools.

    You’re a Person - Not a “Lead”
    To some real estate agents, it’s about using the power of a website to “harvest your contact information” and send you spam emails. To us, you are a person deserving of our utmost respect. You are not a “lead”. If you do decide we are worthy of your business and you decide to provide us your name and email address, we will always respect your privacy and we promise to never share, rent or sell your private information to any third party. To me, Brenda - You are a person and you deserve to be treated respectfully!

    We look forward to your feedback!

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Young Billionaires

    Whoever said youth was wasted on the young probably wasn't talking about the youngest members of our billionaires list.

    Sure, a bunch of them were lucky enough to inherit their wealth. China's richest woman, Yang Huiyan, owes her $7.4 billion fortune to her generous father, Yeung Kwok Keung, the media-shy chief of real estate outfit Country Garden, who transferred all his shares to her in 2005, the same year she graduated from Ohio State University.
    So too Hind Hariri, 24, the daughter of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri. A recent graduate of the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Hariri is a fashionista who frequents Paris shows and reportedly favors designer Chanel.

    But many actually made their own fortunes. The Ukraine's youngest billionaire, Kostyantin Zhevago, was only 19 when he started out as a finance director at a bank. He later gained a majority stake in its holding company. Today the 34-year-old is worth $3.4 billion and is a deputy in Ukraine's parliament.
    Then there is the Chinese billionaire nicknamed Light: Xiaofeng Peng, 33, who got into solar energy in 2005 and took his company, LDK Solar, which makes silicon wafers used in solar panels, public on NYSE Euronext two years later.

    American John Arnold whizzed through Vanderbilt University in three years. He became an oil trader for Enron, supposedly earning the company $750 million in 2001. After the business collapsed, he started his own hedge fund, Centaurus Energy. He has done well enough to debut on Forbes' World's Billionaires list with a net worth of $1.5 billion.

    The richest and most celebrated of this overachieving lot are Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The pair, who are both sons of professors, met at Stanford University while pursuing Ph.D.'s in computer science and dropped out together when they were just 25 to start Google. They debuted as billionaires at ages 30 and 31. Today they are worth $18.7 billion and $18.6 billion apiece.

    Still, one hopes all these hardworking billionaires take the time to enjoy their fortunes while they are young. After all, how many people in this world are lucky enough to become so fabulously wealthy before crow's feet and cellulite settle in? Larry Page seemed to take that to heart when he asked British billionaire Richard Branson, an old geezer at 57, to let him borrow Branson's private Necker Island for his wedding festivities last year; the 600-person guest list was said to include Bono and the Clintons. Earlier last year, Brin got hitched on a sandbar in the Bahamas; rumor has it that the bachelor party involved kite surfing on the coast of Greenland.

    The young billionaire brat pack could learn a thing or two from dashing 24-year-old German Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis, who is truly living a near fairy-tale existence. A billionaire since he inherited a fortune at age 18, he lives in a castle, owns 75,000 acres of woodland and spends his spare time driving race cars. Not a bad life at any age, but particularly enviable for someone who hasn't even lived a quarter of a century.
    In Pictures: Young Billionaires
    Zack O'Malley Greenburg , Forbes

    Friday, May 4, 2007


    Quick Facts:
    Judicial Foreclosure Available: Yes
    Non-Judicial Foreclosure Available: Yes
    Primary Security Instruments: Deed of Trust, Mortgage
    Timeline: Typically 90 days
    Right of Redemption: Yes
    Deficiency Judgments Allowed: Yes

    In Georgia, lenders may foreclose on deeds of trusts or mortgages in default using either a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process.
    Judicial Foreclosure:
    The judicial process of foreclosure, which involves filing a lawsuit to obtain a court order to foreclose, is used when no power of sale is present in the mortgage or deed of trust. Generally, after the court declares a foreclosure, the property will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
    Non-Judicial Foreclosure:
    The non-judicial process of foreclosure is used when a power of sale clause exists in a mortgage or deed of trust. A "power of sale" clause is the clause in a deed of trust or mortgage, in which the borrower pre-authorizes the sale of property to pay off the balance on a loan in the event of the their default. In deeds of trust or mortgages where a power of sale exists, the power given to the lender to sell the property may be executed by the lender or their representative, typically referred to as the trustee. Regulations for this type of foreclosure process are outlined below in the "Power of Sale Foreclosure Guidelines".

    Power of Sale Foreclosure Guidelines
    If the deed of trust or mortgage contains a power of sale clause and specifies the time, place and terms of sale, then the specified procedure must be followed. Otherwise, the non-judicial power of sale foreclosure is carried out as follows:

    1. A foreclosure notice must be mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested to the borrower no later than 15 days prior to the date of the foreclosure sale. The time period begins the day the letter is postmarked. The notice must be mailed to the address given to the lender by written notice from the borrower. No waiver or release of the rights to notice is valid if it was signed at the same time as the original documents. The notice must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the sale will be held once a week for four (4) weeks proceeding the date of the foreclosure sale.
    2. The sale must be made by public auction on the first Tuesday of the month between 10:00 am and 4:00 p.m. at the courthouse.

    Lenders may seek a deficiency judgment in Georgia. If you or someone you know may be facing foreclosure contact me for more information.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    7 Tips to Radically Update Your Home (And Not Lose Money)

    7 Tips to Radically Update Your Home (And Not Lose Money!!!)
    by Eric Bramlett

    Everyone loves to update their homes, and if you live in an older home in an appreciating neighborhood, it can be a fantastic investment. There are some pitfalls to avoid, which can cost a homeowner quite a bit of money because of no return on investment. However, it's better to focus on what TO do and stay the course.

    1. Raise the Roof!!!
    Not literally, but gut the attic, and raise the ceiling in, at least, the living room. Older homes typically have 8 foot ceilings, and it's one of the first characteristics that buyers notice. It's relatively inexpensive, when you compare your return on investment, to demolish the ceilings of your older home and sheetrock over your new, vaulted ceiling. It's amazing how much larger and lighter your home will feel.
    2. Knock Down Walls
    Literally, knock down as many walls as you can and still retain the integrity of the home, and the NECESSARY separation of rooms. If you compare older homes to newer homes, you'll notice that older homes are typically "choppy" while newer homes feel "open and flow well." This is due to "line of sight." Newer homes opt for less separation in rooms. You can create this same feeling by demolishing a half-wall that separates your kitchen from the living room or knocking down the wall between the living room and dining room to create one grand room. You'll be AMAZED at the difference it makes.
    3. Overhaul Your Kitchen and/or Master Bathroom
    These are the two rooms in the house that you can ALMOST go overboard and still get your money back when you sell the home. Refinish or replace the cabinetry, put in new tile and sinks - even install a new, stand-up shower! When (or if) you put your home on the market, you should see a GREAT return on investment.
    4. Add a Master Bathroom
    The 1-Bathroom houses from the 1970's and earlier are now obsolete. Americans have decided that we like a private bathroom for ourselves and another bathroom for our guests and children. While 90% of the house additions are bad ideas because they don't flow well or create poorly usable space, a master bathroom addition is a fantastic way to add more square footage, and more value to your home. Make SURE that your builder ties in the new slab to the old, and make sure that the addition is done properly. A poorly designed or executed addition never adds value - most buyers immediately imagine demolishing the work.
    5. Xeriscape Your Lawn
    It's trendy, it's cheap - it should be a go! Your homes curb appeal is the first thing that buyers notice, and it's how buyers decide whether or not they'll "click on your house" online to further investigate the interior. You can xeriscape a ¼ acre lot for around $3000, and you'll more than make up for that when your home goes on the market. Furthermore, it's environmentally & fiscally responsible. Stop wasting water!
    6. Paint!!!
    It's fairly obvious, but painting your home modern, neutral colors makes a HUGE difference in the appearance of the home. And when you factor in the cost - roughly $0.75/s.f. - it would be a HUGE mistake to forego painting your home when you decide it's time to modernize it. If you're planning on staying in the home for some time, paint it whatever colors you wish, but plan on repainting right before it's time to put it up for sale. If you plan on updating your home in order to sell it, go with neutral colors so that it will appeal to the widest audience.
    7. Put in Wood Floors
    You won't ALWAYS get your money out of installing wood floors. If you're in a great area, and it's time to replace the floors, look at the cost difference between tile, pergo, and wood. If your home will sell for $250k+ then forget about pergo and, if you choose tile, make sure it's not cheap tile. If the cost difference between wood and your other options is negligible, then go with wood - it appeals to the most buyers.

    Updating your older home can be very fun, very rewarding, and potentially very lucrative. Older homes in established neighborhoods are ripe for updating and can draw a premium on the marketplace. Make sure and follow these guidelines, and you should see a great return on your investment.

    Saturday, March 17, 2007

    Is Paying Off a Loan a Good Idea?

    Is Paying Off a Loan a Good Idea?
    Published: March 16, 2007 (NY Times)

    AS many homeowners dip into their home equity, a small but growing number are doing the opposite — paying off their mortgages quicker than lenders require.

    Enlarge this Image
    But is ending a mortgage sooner than necessary a wise move? There’s no simple answer. Financial advisers disagree sharply about whether, and when, such an approach makes sense.

    “I talk with clients about this every day, probably five, six times a day,” said Jonathan Satovsky, an investment adviser in Manhattan with Ameriprise Financial, a financial management company based in Minneapolis. Mr. Satovsky generally warns his
    clients against prepaying.
    First, he said, assuming that the homeowner has a 6.25 percent fixed-rate mortgage and is in the 20 percent income-tax bracket, the net interest rate — after mortgage interest is deducted on tax returns — is about 4 percent. Although homeowners would save that 4 percent by paying off their mortgages, he said, they would earn more than 4 percent interest if they invested the money instead.

    “There might be periods where the markets go backward, and you think it’s a mistake,” he said. “But over 10, 15 years, they’ll earn a lot more by not prepaying.”

    In addition, he said, because mortgage interest is front-loaded, the interest deduction drops sharply in the later years of the mortgage.

    Andrew Schweitzer, the chief executive of the Gulfstream Financial Corporation, an advisory service in Sunrise, Fla., disagreed. “The goal should be to free up earned income so you can accumulate it for retirement,” he said. “If I’m paying $24,000 a year on a mortgage, I may have saved $8,000 a year in taxes. But if I didn’t have a mortgage, I would have saved $24,000 in overall expenses. It’s not rocket science.”

    By clearing the debt earlier, you pay much less over all in interest over the life of the loan, and free that money for investment.

    Mr. Schweitzer’s company sells a service that essentially uses clients’ money to pay bills on their behalf, choosing debts with the highest interest rates first. Typical clients, he said, have about $120,000 in annual household income and carry about $120,000 in debt, from cars, mortgages, home-equity credit lines and credit cards.

    With the service, Mr. Schweitzer said, assuming the clients spend the same amount but stop using credit cards, their total debt, including mortgages, is typically paid off within eight years. The average client, he said, saves about $200,000 in interest by paying off the debt in less than the full period allowed and pays Gulfstream $1,500 for the service.

    Clients can save and invest their money for retirement, he said, and achieve financial independence more quickly than they would have while carrying debt.

    (There is an important caveat — some mortgages carry prepayment penalties, which can total thousands of dollars, so borrowers should check with their lenders for details.)

    Other services offering guidance, like’s Track Cards, help homeowners choose which debts to pay off first but do not manage the client’s money directly and typically do not include mortgage payments.

    Should homeowners choose to prepay their mortgages, Mr. Satovsky of Ameriprise suggests they take out a home-equity line of credit before they begin. “Prepaying is dangerous,” he said, if the homeowners’ equity is completely locked into the value of the house and they are not disciplined savers.

    “You could have $2 million in equity in the home and say you’re ready to retire,” he said. “I say: ‘Great! What will you live on? Social Security? You spend $20,000 a month.’ ”

    If the homeowner then becomes disabled or unemployed, he may not qualify for a home-equity loan when he needs money, Mr. Satovsky said.

    Friday, March 9, 2007


    Buyer Beware

    Caveat Emptor (“Buyer Beware”) is often the bottom line in real estate deals in Georgia. The following list offers ways to avoid practical and legal pitfalls for your buyer:
    1. Look through recent newspaper archives. Disclosure rules favor the seller; look for recent events that might affect the desirability of the home, neighborhood or area.
    2. Talk to neighbors. How many people own their homes? Are there a lot of rentals?
    3. Ask if the neighborhood has an association. Be sure to give the closing attorney the information to be sure the home’s account is current and to pro-rate dues on the HUD.
    4. Quiz the sellers. Be scrupulous in your review of the seller’s disclosure and ask questions.
    5. Get a home inspection. Again, sellers are largely not responsible for defects unknown to them. Get a thorough inspection including lead paint, termites, radon and the like (if applicable).
    6. Get detailed records on past improvements. This will tell you exactly when they were done, what materials were used, and may help predict the need (if any) for future similar repairs.
    7. Ask for utility bills. Call to transfer service and use the bills to estimate costs.
    8. Pay close attention to taxes. Look at the taxes for the past several years; have they gone up each year? Look at any exemptions claimed by the current seller. If you will not be able to claim the same exemptions, you may receive a higher tax bill.
    9. Check with City Hall. Look at zoning ordinances and other issues that may affect the property.
    10. Explore the surrounding area. Are there train tracks nearby? An airport? A school?