Fraud or human nature? They look awfully similar

crossed fingers at handshake

By Ronald Jasgur

Here’s a current-day dilemma to ponder: a listing agent lands a new bank-owned listing. Before marketing, the property needs an occupancy check, a clean-out, some minor repairs, and a few other maintenance items. Agent hurries to get the sign in the yard. A week or two passes before the bank approves expenses and determines list price based on BPO and appraisal.

Meanwhile, people are calling. They want this house. They want to know when they can see it.

The agent keeps them at arm’s length, waiting.

Then he dangles a carrot: you can look at the property before it’s listed…if you agree to purchase via me.

When the property finally shows up in the MLS, it’s too late. The listing agent is double-dipping and no one has a chance.

Frustration hits the fan. Other agents eagerly submit offers and place calls, but the listing agent says, sorry, already found a buyer.

And it doesn’t matter that several of the interested parties are willing to pay more than list price. Significantly more. It doesn’t matter because in these lean times, some agents would rather claim both commissions than be fair about selling a property.

There’s storytelling going on here. The agent tells himself a story that it’s ok to do this because the bank has determined the price, and the purchaser is paying it. The house sold. The property is off the books.

Rationalizations, these stories, but they sound good and keep him from feeling bad about not showing the bank all the information. A lie by omission? The bank’s too busy and too big to know the difference.

Everyone involved knows that this happens daily. But who is going to do anything after the ink dries?

Real estate laws in each state require listing brokers to deliver all offers to the seller. Article 1 of the Realtor Code of Ethics states, as a primary duty to clients and customers: “Realtors protect and promote their clients’ interests while treating all parties honestly.”

The agent’s fiduciary duty is to the bank when selling a foreclosure. Agents helping homeowners get through short sales have an obligation to not only treat the bank honestly but to minimize any possible deficiency balance that may be left when the sale is completed.

What if the seller weren’t a big bad bank? What if it were you or me?

Unfortunately, human nature, a.k.a. survival of the fittest, can make it really hard to follow any moral codes. But that doesn’t make it right or even justifiable.

The only solution is to ensure that every seller (read: bank) gets every offer. It takes technology to make that happen, and every bank or servicer should install software that diminishes fraud and increases transparency.

There is a housing recovery waiting to happen…but until the market closes the gaps that allow scammers and fraudsters to purposely depress values for personal gain, it won’t come soon enough.