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.

Fewer hands in the pie means more pie to go around

Happy Pi Day! What better day than Pi Day to remind homebuyers about all the hands in their "pie" so to speak when it comes to real estate closings.

It's no surprise that everyone wants a piece of the proverbial pie, from the real estate agent's commission to the lender's fees to the government's taxes and, yes, even the title company's charges.

Having to share some of your pie is a fact of life. Having to give up all of your pie is a tragedy of life.

Just like homebuyers, we don't like having to give up our entire pie. That's why we have held firmly as an independent title company – we will not share our pie, or profits, with referral sources through Affiliated Business Arrangements or Marketing Service Agreements.

Not all title companies feel the way we do. They happily share their pie with their referral sources because they believe they can make it up by taking more pie from unassuming homebuyers. Unfortunately, they are often right.

Homebuyers who understand how much dough is at stake, however, are often surprised by the cost difference between one title company to the next. When made fully aware of these differences, most homebuyers choose to spend less.

With fewer hands in the pie, as our company founder Todd Ewing likes to say, there's more pie for everybody. In this case it means a cost savings of up to $750 for our clients.

The cost savings we extend to our homebuyers is part of our revolutionary REAL Credit™ program, which reflects costs passed through to consumers who close with other, affiliated title companies. To date, the cost savings hovers above $8 million.

That's a lot of pie.

Income, purchase price limits for DC Tax Abatement increase

Income, purchase price limits for DC Tax Abatement increase

The purchase price and qualifying income limits for the District of Columbia's popular tax abatement program have gone up, according to the Office of Tax and Revenue, which should be good news for local homebuyers who have seen median home prices soar over $500,000 in recent months.

Under the latest guidelines, purchase price may not exceed $408,000. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 homes are currently on the market in Washington, DC at a list price that meets the purchase price qualification for DC Tax Abatement, based on a quick search on Home Snap.

Limits on household income, the other major qualifying factor for DC Tax Abatement, also increased. Review the income qualification table below:

Persons in household
Household income limits

For those who haven't stopped by in a while, we recently revamped our page on the DC Tax Abatement program. There we answer several commonly asked questions about the program and address some of the finer points on qualification criteria. The topic of household income, for example, is a popular one.

The DC Tax Abatement program is one of our favorite topics to write about. Check out our collection of articles on DC Tax Abatement to learn more about how the program works and how to qualify.

What to do when the home seller has dementia?

A Power of Attorney allows a person with dementia ("the principal") to name another individual ("the agent" or "attorney-in-fact") to make financial and other decisions when the person with dementia is no longer able. 

As with any Power of Attorney, the decision in regards to who to appoint as the attorney-in-fact should be made after careful consideration.

In addition, a successor agent should be named in the event the original agent is unavailable or unwilling to serve.  

The Power of Attorney does not give the appointed person the authority to override the decision making of the person with dementia. The person with dementia maintains the right to make his or her own decisions as long as he or she has legal capacity.

However, just because there is a Power of Attorney, it does not mean that the title company will allow it to be used for the sale of the property. If you plan on using a Power of Attorney for an individual with dementia, be prepared to answer the following questions: 

  1. When was the Power of Attorney executed?
  2. When was the principal diagnosed with dementia?
  3. What is going on with the current transaction?  
  4. How are the funds to be disbursed?
  5. Who is the attorney in fact and what is that person’s relation to the principal?

When dementia is involved, there is always a concern that the principal may not have been competent at the time the Power of Attorney was executed. 

The best way to persuade the title company to use the Power of Attorney is to obtain an affidavit from the principal’s physician setting forth the approximate date that the principal was diagnosed with dementia and a statement that at the time of the execution of the Power of Attorney, the principal was mentally competent and did have the capacity to understand the nature and significance of the Power of Attorney that he or she signed.  

Without this document, most title companies will hesitate to allow the use of a Power of Attorney for an individual with dementia, based on a fear that the Power of Attorney might in the future be declared invalid if it was executed after the principal lacked the capacity to make decisions. In the event of a future challenge to the validity of the Power of Attorney, the title company will want to prove that it properly vetted the validity of the document. 

So what can be done if the title company will not allow the use of the Power of Attorney and the individual is no longer able to make his or her own financial decisions?  

A guardian or conservator will need to be appointed by the court.   

A guardianship or conservatorship is not common, but it can be granted by the court when it finds that a person is totally or partially legally incapacitated. 

Since the procedure for obtaining a guardianship or conservatorship varies per jurisdiction, you should consult with an attorney if you are considering this possibility. 

5 marketing ideas for real estate agents from Close It!™

The best real estate agents are constantly on the look-out for ways to better market themselves to their home buyers.

And while the latest report shows it's 34% more affordable to buy versus rent in the DC metro area, many would-be homebuyers remain on the fence

How can you get these homebuyers off the fence – and then convince them to buy the fence along with the house that comes with it? Here are 5 ways Close It!™ can help you market your real estate business:

1. Follow up with clients by sharing Close It!™ in your email, social media or blogging campaigns. 

You've already got a database of email addresses, Facebook page likes and Twitter followers. Perhaps some of those contacts are would-be homebuyers who aren't quite sure if they can really afford to buy a house. Reach out to them about the only app in the region that calculates a homebuyer's total cash to close. It's a fun and useful tool that lets them crunch the numbers any way they want. 

2. Customize your Close It!™ reports with photo and contact info.

You're already working with several prospective homebuyers who no doubt have lots of questions about how much everything is going to cost in the end. Follow up on last weekend's house tour with a set of HUD-1s custom branded with your professional photo and contact information. Your homebuyers will be impressed when you outline every cost for them down to the penny.

3. Appeal to the foreign investor market.

If you're working in neighborhoods like Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and the West End, it's quite possible you've worked with foreign investors or that you will at some point. Did you know that sellers who do not participate in the U.S. tax system must pay the IRS a tax of 10% of the sales price for all properties over $300,000? A surprise like that at closing could cost you a client, or worse yet, merit you a negative online review. Close It!™ helps you better serve foreign clients by accounting for FIRPTA withholding along with every other nuance of real estate law and tax code for each jurisdiction.

4. Appeal to the first-time homebuyer market.

The first-time homebuyer demographic may make up a smaller share of homebuyers now compared to historic levels, but it's only a matter of time before an influx of millennial homebuyers causes it to explode. And the millennials, more than previous generations, are more likely to look to technology to help them gather information about the process. Be their guide. Keep up with real estate technology, including mobile apps, and share your favorite findings with your millennial homebuyers. Close It!™ is one app homebuyers in the DC metro region in particular will appreciate, but there are many more apps, tools and resources to discover. 

5. Appeal to the move-up buyer market with seller's calculator. 

For buyers in the move-up market, how much house they can afford often depends on how much money they can net from their existing home sale. Introduce those clients to the app that toggles between a net proceeds calculator for the seller side and a cash-to-close calculator for the buyer side. 

Close It!™ is a free iOS and Web app that helps real estate agents, buyers and sellers drill down the costs of buying and selling real estate.

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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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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.