N.Y. (WETM) — Housing scams are a continuous risk, so the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection released a guide to help first-time homebuyers avoid getting scammed.
“Buying a first home is an exciting milestone, but with so many steps and different professionals to work with, scammers often look to take advantage of first-time homebuyers who are new to the process,” said New York Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “If you’re about to embark on the adventure of finding your first home, make sure to do your research, exercise caution and follow our tips throughout every step of the process so you can recognize a potential scam before it turns into a costly mistake.”
The guide recommends taking the time to research all of the people you will be working with during the home-buying process. You can verify that the real estate professionals you’re dealing with are licensed by searching the Department of State’s public license database. When you meet with one of these professionals, you can also ask to see their real estate license and make sure they match the photo on the license. When it comes to other people you work with, you can check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
You can also search for home inspectors on the same database. It’s best to avoid using home inspectors recommended by real estate agents because they could be biased. In addition to checking for BBB complaints, it’s also a good idea to check your inspector’s references. Once you find a reliable inspector, make sure they have access to the entire property you’re looking to buy and get a copy of the report so you don’t miss something important. Home sellers could be trying to hide costly damage or other problems, and it’s better to catch this with a thorough and unbiased inspector instead of finding the issues after you own the house.
The Division of Consumer Protection says to avoid using mortgage comparison platforms online. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, these platforms may appear objective, but some of them only refer people to lenders that pay the platform. Not only is this illegal, but it could keep you from finding the best deal.
First-time buyers should be cautious about paying upfront fees. According to the Division of Consumer Protection’s guide, real lenders will be transparent about fees and will itemize them before closing. If a lender asks you to pay fees before any work is done, they could be a scammer. Further in the purchasing process, a scammer might pretend to be a lender or real estate agent and send you new wiring information. The guide says to verify any last-minute changes with a trusted representative, not to click any links emailed to you, and not to send any sensitive information over email.
The last thing the guide recommends is to hire your own attorney to review all documents and contracts before you sign them. Much like with inspectors, lawyers provided by real estate agents or lenders could be biased.
For more tips to avoid scams, you can visit the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection website.