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‘Not for Sale’: Real estate official warns against acting on unsolicited offers

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Bethany Culley tosses the unsolicited postcards and letters from investors that offer to pay cash for a house right into the trash.

“I just throw them away,” said Culley, who has no need for such because she happens to be a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty. “I got two of those the other day in the mail.”

Many Northsiders’ mailboxes have been flooded with post cards seeking to purchase their homes.

A letter usually pledges an all-cash sale for the purchase of property in its current condition.  Also typically promised: no formal appraisals or inspections, no commission because a Realtor isn’t involved, the payment of closing costs, a closing date of the homeowner’s choice and the option to remove only belongings the homeowner wants to keep and leave behind anything unwanted. Moving assistance may be mentioned as an option.

One postcard showed a photo with the note: “We got the picture off Google, we have NOT driven by” and included a QR code that could be scanned for more information.

Culley said some of her clients have received the unsolicited pieces of mail after their parents died. 

“I have a feeling that they target estates, but they send them to all ZIP codes,” she said. “They’re trying to find someone whose parents have died or they’re hoping that someone may have a house they don’t want to deal with who will just dump it.”

Whether the option of selling a house for cash in its as-is state is a good one would vary from one homeowner to another and depend upon the condition of the property, Culley said. 

Robert Praytor, administrator at the Mississippi Real Estate Commission, said sell-for-cash deals are common across the country because people want to make money and others look for quick options.

“It’s rampant all over the United States,” he said. “There’s always someone willing to sell their house and take advantage of it.”

Numerous sellers in Mississippi who are unhappy with the sell-for-cash deal they took have contacted the commission with complaints, Praytor said.

“Everything told to them did not come true,” he said. “Many times, they end up with their house being tied up for months and months, not being able to sell it to anybody else.”

In Mississippi, an offer to buy a house for cash does not come from a real estate licensee, Praytor said.

“We’ve not run into any of them doing that advertising that are real estate licensees,” he said. “In the state of Mississippi, you have to indicate you have a real estate license. If they fail to do so, they’re subject to discipline by the commission. Under the worst scenario, it’s going to be revocation of their license.”

Praytor is well acquainted with the offers because he receives two or three of the sell-for-cash letters or postcards a week, many of them brought to his attention by real estate licensees.

“Real estate licensees feel like they’re operating out of the law,” he said, “and that some are not operating on the up and up.” 

There’s no standard offer, he said, noting that people who reach out with the offers typically aren’t in the business of helping a seller get the best deal.

“There are many different ones, different types of plans,” Praytor said. “Some could be helpful. Some could be scams.”

The commission refers anyone with a complaint about one of the deals to the consumer protection division of the state attorney general’s office, he said. 

Michelle Williams, chief of staff for Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, said the attorney general’s office has not received any complaints about cash for homes communications.

Anyone who has received something they consider fraudulent or may have fallen victim to a scam can report it to the attorney general’s office at consumer@ago.ms.gov or 1-800-281-4418.  

In addition, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has an online reporting mechanism for fraud via U.S. mail at https://www.uspis.gov/report.

John O’Hara, chief executive of the Better Business Bureau Serving Mississippi, advises as a rule of thumb: If something sounds too good to be true,  that may very well be the case.

Because property values have changed in recent years, it is a good idea to ask a real estate licensee for an estimate of a sale price or pay a real estate appraiser to provide the market value of property that is being considered for a sale, said O’Hara and Praytor.

“Lots of people do not realize how dramatically the prices have increased over the last year or so,” Praytor said. “It’s certainly a seller’s market if the property is in good condition and in a good location. It’s not unusual for a property to sell in a short time with multiple offers.”

The Market Heartbeat report for November, produced by the Central Mississippi Multiple Listing Service, for a 10-county area that includes Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties noted: 

“The economy is improving, unemployment is falling, and the U.S. real estate market remains strong as we head into the holiday season, a period when activity typically slows as people take time to travel, celebrate, and spend time with loved ones. Although the market is not as frenetic as was seen earlier this year, buyer demand is high, bolstered by attractive mortgage rates and a low supply of inventory.

“New listings in the Central Mississippi area increased 13.6 percent to 550. Pending Sales were down 3.7 percent to 498. Inventory levels fell 35.7 percent to 837 units.

“Prices were even with last year. The Median Sales Price held steady at $237,000. Days on Market was down 44.6 percent to 35 days. Sellers were encouraged as Months Supply of Inventory was down 37.1 percent to 1.3 months.”

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