The buyer agreed to purchase the property “as-is,” which indicated the property needed an update. The cash sale was scheduled to close in 10 days. The buyer, a real estate investor, offered a purchase price of $175,000 – far below fair market value – to perform needed repairs.

The property was in Arizona, but the seller’s “agent” was from Illinois. To find out which real estate brokerage he worked for, Stacy (the Escrow Officer) searched his name on the internet. She found nothing.

Apparently, the seller’s “agent” was not a real estate agent – just an “agent.” He also waited until three days prior to closing to provide Stacy with an email address and cell phone number for the seller.

Stacy called the seller several times; he never answered or returned her calls. He finally replied to one of her texts. The seller claimed he contracted COVID–19 and, therefore, was not ready to close. He wanted Stacy to just send the closing documents and he would sign them alone.

Stacy explained the Company requires an approved notary to acknowledge his signature. He replied with this text: “I am in no rush to put myself or anyone else in harm’s way due to this virus. It will just have to wait until I’m available but that gives me time to review the documents so can you please email me everything I’ll be signing so I’m not just signing a bunch of papers I haven’t read?”

The closing date came and went, and the seller did not close. The buyer patiently waited. Nearly a month later, the seller called to say he was ready to sign his closing documents. Oddly enough, he called from a new cell phone number.

The phone number the seller originally provided Stacy began with a Florida area code. The new number had a Massachusetts area code.

Stacy asked the seller where he would like to meet the notary for the signing appointment. He told her he needed to call her back. Another week went by before he returned the call. He set up a time and location that afternoon in Florida.

The next morning, the notary contacted Stacy since the middle name of the grantor on the deed did not match the middle name on the seller’s identification. Stacy asked the notary to provide the social security number from the Substitute 1099-S.

The notary said the seller could not remember his social security number and had left that line blank. He also entered the property address as his forwarding address, with instructions for Stacy to mail his proceeds to that location. Her gut told her something was wrong.

First, what 44–year old man does not know his social security number from memory? Second, if he is in Florida – why would he want his proceeds check mailed to the property he was selling in Arizona?

Additionally, the U.S. Postal Service will not deliver mail to a vacant property. Stacy checked the tax bill, which indicated the taxes were paid, and found an address in California.

None of the signatures on the documents matched. The signature on the purchase agreement was different than the signature on the Seller’s Information and Authorization to Escrow form. Neither of those signatures matched the signatures found on documents in the chain of title.

When Stacy received the second set of closing documents, NOT ONE of the signatures matched, including the seller’s signature on both his driver’s license and the deed. Stacy alerted the buyer regarding her concerns and escalated the file for review by National Escrow Administration and her local escrow administrator. An internet search of the phone number for the seller’s “agent” revealed the number was for a massage parlor in Illinois.

Although the buyer wanted the property, he realized the value an escrow officer and title insurance brought to his investment. The buyer appreciated Stacy’s caution and patiently waited.

The buyer also had some suspicions since his dealings with the seller’s “agent” were never in person — only by text message. The “agent” even instructed the buyer to let himself into the property and change the locks; the “agent” told the buyer to take the cost out of his proceeds at closing. Very cavalier!

National Escrow Administration instructed Stacy to send a letter via overnight delivery to the address on the tax bill, asking the owner to contact her regarding the sale of the property. While waiting for a response, Stacy’s manager asked her to order an inspection on the property. The inspector found a construction crew already working on the remodel.

The next day, Stacy received a call from the real property owner. The real owner thanked her for contacting him and confirmed his property was not for sale. Stacy resigned from the transaction. The buyer was certainly disappointed, but relieved that Stacy had saved him from buying a property from someone who did not really own it.

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by Jill Bright, AVP/Sr. Sales Executive, Chicago Title

As the largest title company in the nation and a Fortune 500 company, Chicago Title is committed to protecting you and bringing you the resources needed to navigate our changing market. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you, please do not hesitate to reach out!