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Protecting Senior Clients from Real Estate Fraud and Scams

Image of real estate agents looking at a house

Written by: Kris Lindahl

Published: March 24, 2020

Seniors are disproportionately targeted by fraud and scam attempts. Social isolation, fear of losing independence, mental and physical decline, and other factors can all make seniors more likely to fall prey to a scam artist.

As a real estate professional, you can take steps to help protect your clients from these unscrupulous individuals. Knowing the signs of a scam, educating your clients, and advocating for your clients can help make a difference in the lives of senior home buyers and sellers.

How to Protect Your Senior Clients

Get to Know Your Client and Their Motivations

It's important to spend time talking to your clients, gaining their trust, and learning about their personal situation. With senior clients, getting to know them and their motivations can help identify if anything is amiss. Find out why they're buying or selling a home. If a family member or friend is involved in the sale of the home, find out more about their motivations and plans for your client. If possible, introduce yourself to the other person who is helping your senior client. Evaluate their motivations by asking them questions, and check whether their story matches with your client's story.

Emphasize the Market Value of Their Home

Talk to your client about what their home is worth to avoid a situation where your client might be misled by a serious low-ball offer. Tell them the fair market value of their home more than once to ensure the message is heard. If possible, give your client a piece of paper with information on the value of the home and the factors you took into consideration to reach that determination.

Having this information in writing gives your client something to reference should they be presented with a low offer. This can also be helpful for clients who ultimately choose not to sell with you at this time, as they may receive offers in the future through the mail or in person which may not accurately reflect the value of their home.

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Educate Yourself and Your Client on Common Tactics and Scams

There are many types of real estate scams which are aimed at senior homeowners, buyers, and sellers. Sometimes the scammer is a friend or relative, other times it's a stranger. Stay up to date on the latest scams in your area and know the red flags that can accompany those scams. Talk to other real estate professionals in the area to find out which real estate scams are prevalent in your area. Raise questions about unusual home buyer or seller activity that could be a sign your client is being manipulated or scammed.

Arming yourself and your clients with knowledge can help you identify potential schemes. For example, while reverse mortgages are not a scam, they may be a common vehicle for certain individuals to mislead homeowners. Some scam artists work by convincing homeowners they must get a reverse mortgage in order to make home upgrades they don't need.

Encourage your client to get a professional home inspection before buying a home, and recommend a few reputable inspectors you know in the area. Teach your clients to be vigilant when thinking about making significant decisions with their home or their savings. It's always important to work with reputable lenders and to read all paperwork carefully. Many seniors can also avoid problems by hiring a lawyer to read all paperwork and contracts.

Check in Regularly

The support of trustworthy people can help seniors make better decisions. Check in regularly with your senior clients. Ask your client about their motivations and guide them through the home selling or purchasing process. Point them in the direction of reputable resources or professionals when your own expertise isn't enough.

Watch for scam artists who jump in midway through the process. Some examples of the types of fraud your clients may become victim to include:

  • Bogus repairs. If your senior clients are having home repairs done during the home selling process, encourage them to use a licensed, reputable contractor.
  • Phishing. Sensitive information may be requested by a person impersonating an individual involved with some part of the real estate transaction.
  • Wire fraud. Be wary of any urgent emails asking for money or mysterious offers that seem too good to be true, and teach your client to do the same.

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Caution your senior client against any home offers which fall well below the value of the home. The more proactive you are for your client, the better off your client will be, and the better the home selling or buying process will go. Most transactions will go by without major issues, but it never hurts to have a helpful agent with a client's best interests in mind.

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Kris Lindahl is a nationally recognized innovator in real estate, marketing, leadership, and community involvement. In 2014, he was Minnesota's #1 real estate agent as ranked by Real Trends. In 2017, the Kris Lindahl Team rose to become one of America's top real estate teams. And, in May 2018, he fully embraced his own real estate model to form Kris Lindahl Real Estate, Minnesota's premier independent real estate agency.