How do Real Estate Flipper Schemes Work?

Past flipper schemes typically do not impact current buyers

Housing Crisis
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Question:

"We're buying a bank-owned home that our real estate says was involved in flipping. My husband is worried that this will flipping will backfire on us, but I think it's behind us since the bank now owns the home. How do real estate flipper schemes work?"

Answer:

You are correct. If the home was flipped and went back to the bank, the flipping scheme won't involve you. In fact, you are probably buying this bank-owned home at a very good price.

For example, clients bought a foreclosure home in the Pocket area of Sacramento last fall. It had originally sold for $50,000 more than list price and had been rented before the bank foreclosed. After checking the transaction history, it appeared the agent -- who was also the mortgage broker -- most likely obtained an inflated appraisal. He sold the home to a relative who then rented it out and never made a single payment. The buyers picked up this home for almost half of its original sales price and way under market value.

For added protection, make sure you get a title insurance policy to protect your interests in this home, but once title has been transferred to the bank via a trustee's deed in a foreclosure, all liens are cleared.

There are many ways a flipping scheme can work. The above example illustrates one way to do it, but there are other scams perpetrated in real estate, one of which involves straw buyers -- a buyer who isn't the real buyer.

Flipper Schemes With Straw Buyers

Not all flipper houses involved schemes. For example, buying a flipper house from an investor who bought a fixer-upper and made improvements is common in some neighborhoods, and the investor most likely has not broken any laws. Flippers got a bad rap over the years, because some mortgage brokers and agents were in cahoots with disreputable investors.

This is one of the ways that flipping schemes worked:

  • Parties involved
    Flipping involved four parties: the appraiser, the investor (or real estate agent), a mortgage broker and a straw buyer -- all four knew each other.

     

  • Investor
    The investor would make a deal with a seller to buy the home at a bargain-basement price. Typically, the seller was not involved in the flipping scheme but was instead a victim.

     

  • Straw buyer
    The investor would then pay a few thousand to entice a straw buyer to purchase the home at a value much higher than market value. The straw buyer typically had a good credit rating but insufficient income.

     

  • Appraiser
    The appraiser was instructed to appraise the home at its inflated value and present the false appraisal to the mortgage broker.

     

  • Mortgage broker
    The mortgage broker packaged the loan for the straw buyer, relying on "stated income," which is self-reported, unverified income, and the deal closed.

     

  • The profits
    The straw buyer, appraiser, mortgage broker and investor then divvied up the proceeds among themselves, with the bulk of the profit going into the investor's or agent's pocket.

     

  • Property resale
    The investor put the home on the market and sold it to a real buyer, letting the straw buyer sign the deed over to the new buyer. Typically, the new buyer did not show sufficient income, either, the same mortgage broker qualified the buyer.

     

  • Foreclosure
    A few months after closing, the new buyer goes into default on the loan. By this time, the original parties are long gone, and the home goes to foreclosure.

Due to the extent of this type of flipping, regulators have cracked down. Appraisals are scrutinized closely and lenders have tightened guidelines for loans. The FBI also closely monitors mortgage fraud.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.