"Would you like to sell your house?" - Scam?
April 14, 2021 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Unsolicited call asking if I am 'Joe Blow' (using my real name.) Then asking whether I own the property at '1234 Oak Street' (using my real address.) Finally asking if I'm interested in selling my property. Scam?

I have received three or four calls like this in the past couple of years. Is this a scam? How does it work? If it isn't a scam, what is going on.
posted by leafwoman to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ha, I got this exact text the other day. I responded "I'm Joe's wife" and "donna" responded saying she was an "Investor interested in properties in the area" and wondered if I wanted to sell. I said no, and she said "okay, sorry to bother you, if you know anyone else who might want to sell send them my way". I thought maybe it was related to two other houses on our street going on the market (and selling for way above asking in less than 48 hours, wth), but I supposed it could be some kind of crazy scam?
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:12 AM on April 14

Could it be a scam? Maybe, but then again, everything could be a scam at face value.

Sometimes a real-estate agent will be selling a property for their client in area X. Meanwhile, their clients really want to live in area Y. The agent will put a few feelers out if he/she can find a seller in this area.

Alternatively, sometimes instead of phoning, estate agents will distribute postcards along the lines of "Park Ave Residents - Are you interested in selling?"

Hope that sheds some light on it!
posted by jacobean at 9:17 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

Probably not a scam as such, just an annoyance. It's the telephonic equivalent of those signs advertising "We Buy Houses!"

The ownership of properties is public information. Very often, the city tax assessor will have a publicly searchable database. Realtors and developers troll for people willing to sell, in the hope of being able to flip the property on the market. Saying "no thanks" and ending the call is the right response.
posted by Weftage at 9:19 AM on April 14 [21 favorites]

I've gotten the same types of calls/texts. I asked how they got my contact info and was told it was from my county's public record after I'd recently bought an investment property. It doesn't appear to be a scam, just investors hungry for properties since there's almost nothing on the market right now.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:19 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]

It's not usually outright fraudulent/illegal type of scam. Usually they are real people with real money who want to offer you a really low price, in cash, fast. Then they may or may not tidy it up and sell it at a much higher price.

It is super common to target older folks/houses in hotter markets, people who don't want the hassle of traditional selling, may have serious issues with the house, and are seriously tempted by fast cash, even if it's well below what the house is worth.

When I lived in ATX a few years back, 'we buy old houses for fast cash' was everywhere. Billboards, flyers, paper signs tacked up at stop lights, calls, texts, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:19 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]

I’ve heard that those folks who sell house-flipping classes and seminars often sell “lead lists” to their customers so that they can start mailing and cold-calling and getting a jump on their BRAND NEW CAREER as a professional house-flipper. All this $$$$$ is waiting for you! Just buy now to win!

So, yeah, scam. But you are just data, most likely, in someone else’s profiteering.
posted by amanda at 9:19 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

It could be a scam, but I also know friends of mine who just sent letters to people who lived on their dream properties, and they live in one of those places now.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:21 AM on April 14 [9 favorites]

House sales in my area have been going crazy the past 12 months with many selling for above listing price. Lots of houses being flipped for profit, 3 just in our street are currently being worked on. I've been told it's because interest rates are so low. I've had 2 of these calls and more notes in the mailbox than I can count in that time. We figured it's because house is older, and we're slowly renovating it, but it would be a prime buy for someone wanting to flip a house. Slap some paint on it put in a new kitchen bam profit. So based on my anecdotal evidence I'd say not a scam just annoying.
posted by wwax at 9:21 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

When you bought your house, that transaction was public record. Unless you used shell corporations, it's not surprising that they know who you are and where you live. Your phone number may also have been on the paperwork.

If you don't want to sell your house, ignore it. If you do, start researching and figure out what price/terms it would take to get you to sell directly not to list it.
posted by momus_window at 9:27 AM on April 14

As someone currently entering the real estate market (as a seller) its a wild one out there - there are a huge number of people who deferred moves based on the pandemic and a giant reshuffle is happening in many places - theres very little inventory and it is not at all necessarily a scam for relators to be doing cold solicitations because inventory is just so low.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:37 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

My phone number is on somebody's lead list, next to the name Peggy and a house address on the other side of the river from us. I'm not sure if it's a scam, but it's certainly annoying. I block at least three new phone numbers every week.
posted by emelenjr at 9:52 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Very often, the city tax assessor will have a publicly searchable database.

Even if it's not "publicly searchable" as in anyone can go to your Tax Assessor website and search, it's public enough that someone can pay for a copy.

If you've ever received "Refinance your home now!" junk mail, it came from this database. Hell, a local HVAC guy sends us a hand signed letter every month ($89 HVAC Refresh Special!) based on this database.

But, this is nothing out of the ordinary. My grandmother lived in a part of Los Angeles where a combo of location a recent zoning change made homes on her street worth twice as much as part of the lot of a future apartment building as even identical homes a couple blocks a way, and besides these calls/letters she had people ringing her doorbell offering large sums of money a couple times a month.
posted by sideshow at 9:53 AM on April 14

Echoing others - this is common in hot markets. I've seen real estate agents walking door to door to ask the same question. By phone is probably easier, but in the summer in a nice neighborhood, it's not a horrible way to spend a day. Think of it from the agent's perspective: They make money based on houses they've listed selling, and so if they're not selling houses, they aren't getting paid. The question is, why aren't they selling? It's either lack of supply or lack of demand. Lack of demand is harder to fix, but lack of supply is easy. You just convince someone to sell their house, with you as the listing agent. Instead of sweet-talking a potential buyer into buying a house they don't want, they're sweeting talking the seller. And, in hot markets, they know there'll be a buyer pretty soon, so it's a quick hit of cash. For someone who hasn't made a sale in a while, or a new agent (that's who I saw walking door to door), it can be the difference between making a living and having to find a new job. Honestly, I'm a little surprised it doesn't happen more.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:54 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Sometimes it’s predatory flippers, sometimes it’s real buyers, but in both cases if you really want to sell, do your own research or work with a real estate agent you can trust, instead of some enterprising stranger.
posted by matildaben at 9:54 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]

Reiterating that these are just cold calls from flippers, real estate investors, or even real estate agents. Cold calling is a very low-yield marketing technique, but if you make enough calls, you'll eventually get a hit.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:01 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I have a much older colleague who bought a two bedroom home with a nice backyard garden in an extremely hot Bay Area market before everyone knew the term ‘Silicon Valley’ (late 1970s). She’s now in her late 70s and she told me that someone came to her door last year and told her they had a cash buyer who would write her a check for 5 million if she would move out in the next 30 days.

The American Dream.
posted by baptismal at 10:03 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]

We're in Colorado, which has a red-hot sellers market right now. Across our family, we own properties at different price points/neighborhoods and we get several such calls a week. So I bet there are scams out there -- there are always scams -- but the ones here are real.

Why is this happening? In my particular city, our housing availability is sitting at .33, some 70% below last year's number. Estimates for my sweet but hilariously creaky little granny house downtown have increased some 60%+ over the selling price since just four years ago. There's so much growth and so little inventory that houses are getting snapped up unseen, cash deals, no contingencies, over asking. Realtors are desperate and scrambling to stay ahead, so they are using these calls and letters to seek out any possible interest.
posted by mochapickle at 10:04 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Anecdata, but I read this post less than an hour ago, and just now got the same spam text wanting to know "Hi [name], r u moving anytime soon. I'll make u a deal on [address]?" so they are obviously out in force.

Agree that this is probably more of a scam on the would-be-flippers making the calls than on the homeowner, unless the homeowner jumps in at the first low-bid offer...
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 10:36 AM on April 14

I own a house in a hot market and get a letter a week attempting to lowball me with a cash purchase on it. There's a bit of negging going on ("I'm looking to buy a fixer upper and drove by and saw your house") along with probing for people that are economically vulnerable ("We'll even pay off tax debt/liens"). It's not a scam but it's also not someone with your best interests at heart. They basically want to find someone that will sell under market value out of need and not realizing how valuable the property is (even if it is a fixer upper), slap $10K of work into it, and try to clear $50-100K.

If my phone number was public record, I'm sure they'd be calling too.
posted by Candleman at 11:07 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]

I get those texts all the time. They reference properties in states I have never lived in. I do not now and have never owned any real estate. I’ve always assumed scam.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:13 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Not a scam if you want to sell and they'll offer the price you want... they're just chancing their arm. I live in a hot market and have my eye on two particular streets I'd potentially like to move to. I'm tempted to print flyers asking if anyone is planning to sell, and then post them through doors. I wouldn't call people, even if I had their number, because I doubt it would be productive.
posted by altolinguistic at 11:52 AM on April 14

I get one or two of these a week. I block the number and move on.
posted by Splunge at 1:18 PM on April 14

I live in an area prone to house flipping and I get these calls (and stuff in the mail) all the time. I sometimes even chat with them and give the price I want but they never call me back because my place is already nicely renovated and there's no upside for them.
posted by zdravo at 2:32 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

nthing that this is not a scam, in the sense of someone making overtures about buying your house for some other motive than buying your house. It's not even necessarily going to be a bad offer.

The more scammy ones I get are mortgage lenders that claim or imply they have some relationship with a current mortgage holder, and/or need me to contact them to avoid some vaguely worrying event. They're using the same data--publicly available home ownership records--and then making crap up. If you aren't getting 3 of these a week, congrats!
posted by mark k at 2:58 PM on April 14

One group I haven't seen mentioned above is wholesalers. Wholesalers find properties owned by "motivated" sellers, meaning they are desperate to sell quickly for whatever reason, and offer them cash to buy their house. These cash offers always undervalue the property, as wholesalers make their money when they sell the contract to a flipper. Generally, flippers aim to buy properties at ~70% of the market value so they can fix them up and make a profit; wholesalers offer less than that so they can make a margin (usually at least $5k per property; some really unconscionable ones make $100k+ on just assigning a contract).

These days, many house flippers aren't scouting out lower-priced properties on their own and are buying from wholesalers instead. It saves them time, and their margins are the same. The person who gets the short end of the stick is the seller, who often isn't aware that the person they've signed a contract with is a wholesaler trying to make some quick cash off of whatever difficult situation the seller is in. Who ultimately pays the wholesaler? The seller, who usually needs to sell their house quickly because they're in a financial bind.

I don't know if I'd call it a scam, but wholesaling is in my eyes a deceptive practice that thrives in legal gray areas and takes advantage of vulnerable people. Real estate gurus on social media have popularized the practice, which I imagine has led to an increase in the number of wholesalers in hot markets. Regulators in western states seem to be circling the issue and figuring out ways to reign wholesalers in, but it will be a while before the practice gets curtailed in any meaningful way across the States. Until then, you'll have to keep telling those callers to buzz off.
posted by saltypup at 3:48 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Oh I hope someone calls me. I'm not interested in moving, but I do have a "fuck off" number that would, in fact, get me to sell my house. Got it by browsing Zillow for listings that make me say "Wow, I wish I could afford that", then adding 20%. (It is not a reasonable number for my house, but hey, someone might be an idiot.)

Instead I almost need a separate trash can for all the refinancing offers I get in my postal mail, and I'm even less interested in that.
posted by ctmf at 6:12 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Yes, this practice is called wholesaling. Here's an article from a Canadian newspaper about it:
posted by Pademelon at 7:48 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

If you were in Sydney, it would be very legitimate. People get cash in suitcase offers here, if it is the right neighborhood. The real estate market here is insane so straight cash offers and people calling to ask if your house would be available given a certain price point is not unusual.

When I lived in the US I got offers in the mail for my mother-in-law/granny flat. None of them were house flippers or scammers just people who fell in love with a two-bedroom house.
posted by jadepearl at 3:43 AM on April 15

Some homeowners who are really in a financial bind are willing to sell at a price that will get them out of their mortgage, plus some extra to tide them over until they can get out of the bind. This can be a lot lower than the house's fair market value, but these sellers are more interested in how quickly they can sell, and whether they'll get enough for their immediate needs, than in maximizing the value they receive.

In many cases the house would need a lot of work before anyone would want to buy it, and the seller either doesn't want to put in the time, isn't physically capable of doing it (e.g. elderly), or can't afford to hire someone else to do it. These sellers often don't even put their house on the market, or have tried and failed to sell in the past, hence buyers need to seek them out.

It's not really a scam. Selling your house for less than it's worth is not an objectively great deal, but once a bargain is struck, the buyer will get the agreed-upon price in exchange for the house, and it will be someone else's problem at that point. If that was the goal, which for some people it is, then mission accomplished.
posted by kindall at 9:16 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

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