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Dirty Deeds Not So Cheap

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

You call the seller and he’s nowhere to be found. A few days later, your deed is returned to you by the deed recording office having been rejected as defective. You find out that the so-called new owner bought the property about a week after yours for a fraction of the cost that you paid. That’s when you start to realize that you were scammed. Can’t believe it? I talked to a potential client this week with this problem.

Many of us visit the internet for help doing a project on our own. There are tutorials on almost every topic. How to make sausage, to fix your dishwasher and even real estate investing. These work, right? In many cases, yes. The sausage turns out great, the dishwasher works like new and we close on that investment property all on our own saving big bucks. What happens, though, if something goes wrong?

Even professionals make mistakes once and a while, so it’s reasonable to think that a DIY real estate investor might as well. The difference between lousy sausage and a problematic real estate deal is the repercussions. Mistakes in real estate deals may result in complicated problems that take a great deal of time and money to resolve, if they are resolvable at all.

My recent caller’s problem was that his deed lacked a proper acknowledgement (seller signature). That can be an honest DIY mistake although in his case, I think he was the victim of a scam. Thousands of people buy blank deed forms every day. It’s the user’s responsibility to complete them correctly. The forms often include brief notes to help complete the task but even the most comprehensive instructions can’t address every potential situation. Each state and county sets out specific, and sometimes unique, requirements for a deed’s content and form. These requirements can vary widely. Here are the deed requirements in Pittsburgh as an example. Non-compliance can lead to additional fees or outright rejection by the recording office.

Some deed transfers are simple. DIY investors can execute deeds with no problems but why take the risk? A deed can be defective in so many ways of which the vast majority of people would never be aware. Fixing the problem deed – sometimes years later – can be very expensive and can even prevent you from selling the property when you need to sell it. Why risk it to save a few dollars?

Involving an attorney to review the deed and the deal reduces the likelihood of unforeseen consequences. Even though this will add a few dollars the acquisition cost, it’s worth the peace of mind from knowing that you’re getting what you paid for.

As for that investor I talked to this week? The price of the fix could be half or more than he invested in the property. The new owner filed suit against his tenant for unpaid rent and the investor is paying his tenant’s legal fees in order to keep him in the property. In short, it’s a mess but one that could have been easily avoided.

Fiffik Law Group’s real estate attorneys have years of experience representing purchasers and sellers, equity investors and developers, landlords and tenants involving residential and commercial properties.  Please contact Michael E. Fiffik, Esquire for help with your situation.


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