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.

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.

RSVP to our software demo of Create.io

Create is a Web-based application we recently discovered that is helping us improve how we do business. It occurred to me that other real estate pros might like to see how they can also benefit from this useful tool.

We have organized a live demonstration of Create and invite you to join us at our Friendship Heights office on Tuesday, March 1 at 10 a.m. to learn clever ways you can leverage this software to improve your real estate business. Click here to RSVP.

The application provides excellent insight into the District’s inventory of real property – residential and commercial. It's essentially a clickable 3D map of the city. Click on any building to get a highly detailed report of the property, including such things as ownership, zoning and permits.

Beyond the property itself, Create offers a snapshot of current market conditions and the people currently living in the neighborhood: average household income, educational attainment, cars per household, average commute times and more. We've found this information to be useful for tailoring marketing strategies to the specific audiences and neighborhoods where we work.

I reached out to the developer of this nifty tool, Stefan Martinovic – who told me Create is generating buzz with nearly every active brokerage, developer and investment company in town – and asked him to present a live demonstration at our Friendship Heights office on Tuesday, March 1 at 10 a.m. Click here to RSVP.

In the meantime, you can test the application for free by heading over to Create.io from your desktop browser. Stefan is also offering a 40% discount on the premium subscription with the promo code "CreateLove."

Close It! House of the Week: Completely transformed in Glover Park

Close It! House of the Week: Completely transformed in Glover Park

This week we're looking at a 4-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom attached row house in the Colonial style with a fully finished basement that can be used as an in-law suite or a rental to help offset the mortgage. It's near the Naval Observatory in Glover Park, and it's listed at $975,000.

This house features two massive decks, a fantastic kitchen with pantry and a beautiful exposed brick wall in the entry way. It includes two parking spaces, and there's a Whole Foods and Starbucks nearby.

Click here for more photos.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $$223,117.96. Monthly payments will then be around $4,219.40 per month.

For a complete picture of the cash to close on any property in the D.C. metro area, including the seller's side of the transaction, try the Close It™ Web app or download the free Close It™ iOS app.

FIRPTA withholding rate to increase to 15% for sales exceeding $1 million

FIRPTA withholding rate to increase to 15% for sales exceeding $1 million

Starting February 16, 2016, there will be changes to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act ("FIRPTA").

FIRPTA is a tax law passed in 1981 that requires foreign persons to pay U.S. income tax on the gains they make from selling U.S. real estate.

The duty is on the U.S. national buyer to deduct and withhold a portion of the sales price and report the sale to the IRS. Buyers can withhold less than the statutory amount if they obtain a determination of the specific amount of tax owed by the foreign national using IRS Form 8288-B.

In most cases, the settlement agent is the party that actually remits the funds to the IRS, but the buyer is held legally responsible. Additionally, until the tax is paid in full, the government obtains a security interest in the real property.

The 10% rate will still apply for those transactions in which the property is to be used by the Buyer as a residence, provided the sales price does not exceed $1,000,000, and the existing $300,000 “exemption” remains unaffected. So here are the new guidelines:

  • If the sales price is $300,000 or less, AND the property will be used by the Buyer as a residence (as provided for in the current regulations), no sums need be withheld or remitted.
  • If the sales price exceeds $300,000 but does not exceed $1,000,000, AND the property will be used by the Buyer as a residence, then the withholding rate is 10% on the full amount realized.
  • If the sales price exceeds $1,000,000, then the withholding rate is 15% on the entire amount, regardless of use by the Transferee.
  • Under the law, the Buyer is the withholding agent and is responsible for withholding and remitting the proper amount to the IRS and could be liable for any additional withholding tax, penalty, and interest if their intent is ever challenged by the IRS.

    The current FAR/BAR contract form contains language specifically referring to a 10% withholding. An amendment to the contract for closings scheduled on or after February 16, 2016 should be added to change the potential rate of withholding to 15%.

  • Ways to save at closing

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  • What are closing costs?

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  • What's title insurance?

    Insure your legal ownership just like you'd insure the building, but for lots cheaper.

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