A better way to deliver EMDs

Delivery of earnest money deposit checks is about to become incredibly easy and more secure than ever.

We are excited to share with you the benefits of our new partnership with ZOCCAM, a revolutionary service that lets real estate agents and homebuyers send their EMDs directly to Federal Title's escrow account – with just a few taps on their smart phone.

Simply take a picture of the front and back of your EMD check, select Federal Title's escrow account, confirm the information on your check and hit send.

You and the homebuyer will immediately receive email notification that the EMD was received, plus you’ll have saved yourselves the time and hassle of driving a check across town.

ZOCCAM doesn’t contain or hold any financial account information, and all content is encrypted and sent using state-of-the-art security techniques that ensure every client’s non-public personal information is protected.

We're in the final stages of building our partnership with ZOCCAM and believe it’s only a matter of time before this superior method of delivering EMDs becomes standard practice in our business.

We look forward to providing this great benefit to all real estate agents and homebuyers very soon and will keep everyone posted when the service goes live.

Close It!™ House of the Week: Fabulous location, condo in Dupont Circle

This week we’re strolling over to Dupont Circle to check out a unique and appealing condo on the penthouse level of a boutique building. List price is $449,000.

This updated 1BR / 1BA unit features modern wood cabinets, high-end appliances and loads of closet space. The community is a hidden gem with a residential entrance tucked away on quiet Corcoran Street, NW. The new owner of this home will also enjoy sunny western exposures and a fabulous location that’s steps away from shopping, restaurants, culture and nightlife.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $104,020.86. Monthly payments will then be around $2,296.99 including the HOA fee. For a complete picture of the cash to close, including the seller’s side of a transaction like this, try the Web version of Close It™ or download the free Close It™ iOS app.

Close It™ House of the Week: Light-filled historic row house in Mount Pleasant

This week we’re heading into the white-hot Mount Pleasant neighborhood to check out a light-filled historic row house that dates back to the 1920s. With original hardwood floors, coffered ceilings and transom windows, it’s filled with original character. List price is $899,000.

Possibly the best feature of this 3BR / 3BA abode is the enclosed reach porches that have created a sunny and tranquil family room as well as second-floor solarium den space that overlooks a rear garden. The first-floor enclosed porch also opens onto an outdoor deck.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $203,985.12. Monthly payments will then be around $3,843.24. For a complete picture of the cash to close, including the seller’s side of a transaction like this, try the Web version of Close It™ or download the free Close It™ iOS app.

Beware of possible malware attack

Several real estate agents and lenders who work with Federal Title recently received an email purporting to be from a Federal Title employee with the same name as a local real estate professional and with a file attachment for download. The email is a scam, and we implore you to delete the email immediately.

If you ever have questions or concerns about an email you received from Federal Title, please do not hesitate to contact us to verify its authenticity. Also, know that we will never ask for or provide personal / financial information through unsecure channels.

Our technology team suspects the email sent last Thursday at approximately 6 pm was a malware attack. Malware is software that’s intended to damage or disable computers and computer systems.

A malware program might log keystrokes of a user to obtain sensitive login information. Malware can create a computer zombie, allowing a hacker to use that computer to conduct other malicious attacks usually without the owner’s knowledge. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of spam sent worldwide is attributable to zombie computers.

This is not the first time a hacker has impersonated a title company, real estate professional – even a consumer – in an attempt to install dangerous malware or gain access to sensitive information. We want our clients to be aware of another common scam we have observed, one that attempts to steal the consumer’s down payment funds via a fraudulent wire transfer. This kind of attack is unfortunately becoming commonplace, and once the funds have been wired to the scammer’s account they are gone.

The Federal Trade Commission posted a bulletin that explains how scammers phish for mortgage closing costs. They offer a few ideas to help real estate professionals and their clients avoid phishing scams.

  • Don’t email financial information. It’s not secure.
  • If you’re giving your financial information on the web, make sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with https (the "s" stands for secure). And, instead of clicking a link in an email to go to an organization’s site, look up the real URL and type in the web address yourself.
  • Be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain malware that can weaken your computer’s security.
  • Keep your operating system, browser, and security software up to date

We also want to remind you that Federal Title takes Internet security very seriously. We use military-grade email encryption technology and adhere to the American Land Title Association’s Best Practices for the proper handling of each and every individual’s non-public personal information, i.e., social security and bank account numbers.

Unfortunately we anticipate malware and phishing scams will remain a threat to our industry for the foreseeable future. The best way to defend against such attacks is to be skeptical of any email that contains an attachment download or requests sensitive information – and always exercise extreme caution when providing sensitive information online.

The cost of buying a home in Montgomery County to increase Sept. 1

Despite protests from the local real estate community, the Montgomery County Council last week unanimously approved an increase to the recordation tax, paid by homebuyers and sellers at closing, as a way to pay for school construction.

The recordation tax rate will now increase for the first $500K from $6.90/$1,000 to $8.90/$1,000 and for amounts above $500K from $10/$1,000 to $13.50/$1,000, a "pretty significant increase said County Council President Nancy Floreen who proposed the bill.

Put another way, a property purchased for $400,000 under the old tax rate would carry a recordation tax of $2,415 split between the buyer and seller. Under the new rate, the recordation tax will be $2,670, an increase of $255. A property purchased for $700,000 will see an increase of $1,155 in recordation taxes. A property purchased for $1,000,000 will cost an additional $2,205 in recordation taxes.

The median sales price in Montgomery County was approximately $411,000 last April, up 1 percent from a year ago.

Initially the tax increase was slated to take effect July 1, but the Council pushed it back to Sept. 1 amid protests from the real estate community who said they need more time to adjust to the change. The Council also opted to increase the county’s principal residence exemption from the first $50,000 to the first $100,000 in response to industry concerns.

Those in favor of the tax increase, such as the county’s Board of Education and the PTA, said funding increases for schools have not kept pace with growing enrollment. Montgomery County Public Schools is adding around 2,500 new students per year.

Those opposed to the tax increase said the financial burden was being unfairly placed upon a small subset of the county’s population. Roughly 13,000 units are bought and sold each year in Maryland’s most populous county that is home to over 1,000,000 residents. They also said increasing the recordation tax unfairly affects first-time homebuyers and elderly residents.

In the near future, the Council will examine ways to ease real estate tax burdens for senior citizens. They are also contemplating a 6 to 9 percent increase in property taxes.

Check back for updates as we hear more from County Council.

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Our blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. Rate tables and figures that appear on our blog are deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For current rates & policies, refer to our Quick Quote and Consumer Guide. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on our blog.