BONITA SPRINGS — Predatory businesses are successful because they’re able to take advantage of confusing situations, a lack of educational resources and the desperation of consumers.
Like any other new wave of change, the housing and foreclosure crisis has spurred many new enterprises. Granted, there are many successful housing industry businesses that run on the up-and-up, but mixed in with every honest business out there are more than a few unscrupulous organizations whose primary goal is to rip people off.
Here are a few panic-based housing industry businesses that have been touring Florida:
** The easy business of foreclosure clean-outs is all the rage these days. Any Tom, Dick or Harry with a pickup truck, a shovel and a dream is now a foreclosure clean-out entrepreneur. They’re even on Craigslist and Trulia asking consumers — not banks — how to bust into the REO (real estate owned) foreclosure clean-out industry.
“Harry” from Fort Myers just broke in and padlocked a door for a bank two weeks ago in Estero. Good job, Harry, it was only pre-foreclosure; the paperwork hadn’t finished bouncing around the court system. The owners came home from work and were padlocked out without due notice.
It looks like there is no longer a defined line between breaking and entering and securing a foreclosure.
** Loan modification businesses are popping up like dollarweed on a freshly mowed lawn. This is the latest way to take advantage of scared and confused consumers trying to save their own homes. Homeowners need to be cautious and should know that Florida law prohibits any company, attorney or individual from charging up-front fees for foreclosure rescue or loan modification services.
When regulation closes one door, another opens. When the state cracked down on up-front fees charged for loan modifications, this racket was simply re-purposed. Consumers also should avoid any business that seeks to charge for services related to the new Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan initiated by the president.
** The Chinese drywall situation has become another exploitable predicament in which homeowners can find themselves. Most homes affected in Southwest Florida were built during the building boom from 2004-06. The fear mongers advertise that it started as early as 2002.
First they scare and then they ask to charge you. These same so-called experts now are sending out advertisements explaining why you should have your home inspected for Chinese drywall — right away — and pay them $200 or more to do so. Is their motivation to help or get a remodeling job out of it?
Two hundred dollars isn’t far off from the price of a complete home inspection. Just about any reputable home inspector can examine your copper wiring or air conditioner coil for signs of corrosion, which is a major sign that your home has faulty drywall. Even easier, they can roll back the ceiling insulation in the attic to see who the manufacturer of the drywall was. The company name is stamped on the back.
So watch your back, and watch your wallet. There is always somebody looking to make a quick buck off the misfortune of others in chaotic situations. The foreclosure crisis is now a breeding ground for it.
Chris Griffith is a real estate agent at Keller Williams Elite Realty in Bonita Springs. If you have a question about local real estate or Bonita Springs e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org