Escrow Assistant Kali Asencio, with Chicago Title in San Antonio, was working on a transaction that opened in her office for the sale of a vacant lot. The transaction opened on Monday, December 5, 2022, and was scheduled to close Friday, December 9, 2022.
Kali jumped into action and immediately looked up the address on the county’s website, to find where the property tax bill is sent. She overnighted a notice to the owner of the property at that address.
Next, Kali deposited the earnest money check so it would be collected in time for closing. When the commitment for title insurance was ready, Kali quickly reviewed it. She emailed a statement of information, along with third-party information, to the seller to complete and sign via SmartSign™ so she could order the payoff demand.
The seller returned the completed forms to Kali who noticed the seller indicated he was single. When he took title in 2017 he was a married man. Kali explained his wife needed to complete and sign the forms, too. The seller understood and soon Kali received the paperwork. Kali ordered the payoff demand.
The commitment for title insurance reflected an old lien which attached to the property long before the seller purchased the property. Kali called the seller. She explained there was an old lien in the chain of title which was not released.
Kali asked the seller if he could send over a copy of his owner’s title policy so she could confirm he did not take title subject to the lien. He said he did not have access to it because he was currently traveling for work. Kali suggested he call the title company he closed with when he purchased the property and ask them for a copy of his title policy.
The seller asked if it could wait until he was back home. He said he would provide his real estate agent with the policy in a few weeks, after the deal has closed.
Kali explained she needed the owner’s title policy prior to closing and the seller’s response became agreeable, robotic and scripted. He clearly did not want to call the prior company but kept saying, “I can try to call them but we will see.”
Kali was alarmed by the seller’s lack of urgency and disregard of the situation. He attempted to distract her explaining again he was out of town for work stating the background noise was him driving. The phone call was very strange to Kali.
Something about the sale was nagging Kali. The sales price did not seem appropriate for two (2) acres of vacant land, so she did some research online. First, she used Google Maps™ to view the property, which confirmed it was vacant.
Next, Kali looked up the appraised value which indicated the value of the property was $430,000 – nearly double the sales price of $275,000. This is part of the vacant lot scheme. The imposter lists the property below the market value, which attracts real estate investors who have cash on hand and can quickly close. The imposter hopes no one figures out the seller is not the real owner until the fraudster receives the sales proceeds and disappears!
The next day, the letter Kali sent to the owner’s address on the tax bill was returned undeliverable. That is when she escalated the file to her manager who called the seller, but he never answered her call. Her manager emailed him, but he did not reply.
Kali compared the seller’s signature on the purchase agreement to the signature on the deed of trust and they did not match. They contacted the listing agent who reached out to the real estate agent who represented the sellers when they purchased the lot.
The real estate agent put them in touch with the real owner of the property who confirmed the lot was not for sale. He indicated he would hire an attorney to investigate the matter and file a police report.
Although this sale was rushed, Kali never strayed from sound escrow practices. She worked quickly to clear title but took the time to listen to the voice in the back of her mind and put in the extra work to prevent the closing. In addition to receiving our gratitude, Kali has been rewarded $1,500.
Article provided by contributing author:
Diana Hoffman, Corporate Escrow Administrator
Fidelity National Title Group
National Escrow Administration
Original article appeared here.