What is Wire Fraud and How to Avoid It

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A fast-growing form of cybercrime, wire fraud has led to major losses for homebuyers in recent years. Get to know what it is and what steps you can take to avoid it. 

 

What is wire fraud?

Real estate wire fraud is a scam that targets buyers while making payments during the home buying process. Attackers have taken advantage of the fact that there are several people and entities involved in real estate transactions. Between real estate agents title and escrow companies, mortgage lenders and more, there are many steps, some of which involve sharing financial information and transferring money. This gives ample opportunity for scammers to slip through the cracks somewhere along the line. 

 

The timing of wire fraud is typically during closing using a sophisticated phishing scam. Attackers apply the use of fake emails, phone numbers, or websites, often posing as the buyer’s real estate agent  and directing them to allocate funds to a fraudulent account. Because the attacker will have scanned, scrubbed, and lifted your personal information in preparation for the scam, their forms of communication can often look familiar and legitimate. 

 

The mission of the cyberattack is to get your funds into an account the attacker owns. To do this, it is common for them to say that you had previously sent funds incorrectly, that they were never received, that there are new instructions for payment, or that there has been a last-minute change in the closing process. These are all major red flags. It is imperative to take  extra caution during the final steps of purchasing a home because transfers, once initiated, are difficult to remedy and can delay your closing process.

 

How can I avoid wire fraud? 
 
  • Get to know the closing process: Talk with your Windermere agent ahead of time about what to expect throughout the closing process. Discuss payment options with your lender and ask specifically about instructions for wiring funds. It is safer to share this information over the phone than through email, as scammers could accumulate this information to use against you. 

 

  • Record contact information: Keep a list of the personnel involved in your closing process. Beyond your real estate agent, keep a record of contacts at your mortgage lender, title company, and attorney’s office. In the event that someone new reaches out to you with a request, confirm their identity with one of your contacts. 

 

  • Call to confirm: Call to confirm wiring instructions before sending the transaction through. Talk to a trusted representative and ask them to repeat the information to verify its legitimacy. After sending the funds, make same-day follow-up calls to ensure they were received.

 

  • Trust your gut: If you receive an iffy email or phone call, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s the perfect time to reach out to your contacts, discuss your hesitancy, and get advice before proceeding.

 

The threat of wire fraud emphasizes the importance of working closely with everyone involved in the purchase of your home. If you believe you have been scammed, contact your bank or wire transfer company immediately and request that they issue a recall notice for your wire. Contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and report the activity with as much information as you can gather. For more information about how to protect yourself from wire fraud, visit the National Association of Realtors’ Wire Fraud resources page.

House vs. Townhouse vs. Condo

Image sources: House, Townhouse, Condo: Canva — Question marks: Shutterstock

 

Deciding between a house, townhouse, and condominium can be a difficult process. Knowing how their characteristics align with your life and goals as a homeowner will help guide you to the right choice. 

 

What differentiates houses, townhouses, and condominiums? 
 
 
House: 
 
  • Detached houses offer the most freedom and privacy of the three housing options. They provide the opportunity to personalize your home as desired, without rules from a governing body like HOA. Houses don’t share walls like townhouses or condos, and typically offer larger outdoor spaces as well. 

 

  • Situated on their own lots, owning a house leaves the responsibility of maintaining and improving the structure and accompanying land to the homeowner. Between a down payment, closing costs, and other homeowner fees, the upfront costs of owning a house can be significantly higher than a townhouse or a condominium. 
 
Townhouse: 
 
  • A townhouse is typically a narrow, multileveled structure connected to others in a row or block, typically with a small parcel of property in front of or behind the home. Somewhere between a house and condo, townhouses may be the best of both of worlds for some homeowners. 

 

  • Like a house, townhouse owners are responsible for exterior (roof and siding) maintenance and repair. Most townhouses tend to have a small footprint and modern upgrades, with lower HOA fees than condos due to a lesser focus on shared amenities.
 
Condominium:
 
  • Condominiums are divided, individually owned units of a larger structure. Due to their smaller size and because they come with no land, condos are typically less expensive than a townhouse or a house. However, HOA fees combined with a monthly mortgage payment can increase the cost of condominium living, depending on the amenities offered in a building. Unique to condo ownership, the exterior of the units is considered a common area with ownership shared among the condo owners in the building. 

 

  • As a condo owner, you are only responsible for the inside of your unit. With this decreased maintenance comes less exclusivity and privacy. Condo owners live in close proximity and typically share amenities like gym and pool access, laundry, and other facilities. 

 

How does your home align with your life?
 
 
House: 
 
  • For homeowners looking at their property as an investment in their financial future, houses are a strong choice. Houses allow homeowners to plan long-term with the knowledge that their home will build equity over time.

 

  • If you are planning on putting down roots and starting a family, houses provide the best opportunity to grow into your future and are better suited to handle significant life changes. 
 
Townhouse: 
 
  • For people looking for more space than a condo but are not quite ready to make the jump to a single-family home, townhouses are the perfect fit. They present a great steppingstone for first time home buyers or buyers who simply don’t want the responsibility of taking care of a larger, standalone home and yard. 

 

  • Townhouses are often located in residential neighborhoods. They are fitting for those looking to graduate from rented dwellings in city centers or metropolitan areas yet maintain greater ownership flexibility than a single-family house. 
 
Condominium:
 
  • Condominiums appeal strongly to homeowners looking for a low-maintenance residence, with access to shared amenities amongst a community. Condos are usually found in denser areas closer to downtown centers, shopping, and entertainment. 

 

  • They are a better fit for buyers seeking metropolitan surroundings than a detached home, which is typically found in a more suburban or rural environment. Given their proximity to city/town centers and mass transit, condos present the opportunity of a shorter commute for those who work in downtown areas. 

 

After all the research, do what feels right. Whether it’s a house, townhouse, or a condo, work with your Windermere agent to find the best option for you and your future.

The Remote Worker’s Home Buying Process

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The pandemic’s influences on home life are far-ranging, prompting buyers to look at home ownership through a new lens. Remote work has created a paradigm shift in the wants and needs of homebuyers. Here’s what the remote worker should keep in mind when looking to buy.

Location

The location, location, location cliché has taken on new meaning for homebuyers who work from home. Because remote work gives us the opportunity to work from anywhere, home searches are expanding. Work commute times typically play a significant role in the home buying process; however, many buyers now have the option to view homes further away from their places of work.

 

Those who previously dreamed of the quiet life, but didn’t want the commute that came with it, are now able to make a move toward a more suburban environment. If you prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of a downtown area but don’t want to feel isolated, search for properties in the suburbs with active town centers. 

The proper space

When COVID-19 began sending workers home in the early months of 2020, homeowners worldwide discovered their varied level of preparedness for remote work. Some had spacious home offices and were able to make the transition easily. Others had to create makeshift workspaces out of living rooms or bedrooms. What we have learned is that a dedicated workspace is paramount to productive remote work, its importance emphasized by the unknown timeline of a return to working in-person in many parts of the country.  

 
Before you buy: 
 
  • When searching for homes, understand that a home office situated in an open floor plan is more prone to distraction. 
  • Look for features such as an additional bedroom, finished basement, or bonus room that offer ample space to create your remote work environment. 
  • Having a designated space you can associate solely with work will not only drive your focus but helps to balance your home and work life. It allows you to wrap up the workday, leave your home office, and easily transition back into the goings on of your household.

 

After you buy: 
 
  • Light it up: You’ll want plenty of light in your home office to stay fresh throughout the work week. If you are next to a window, let in as much natural light as possible. Add in desk and floor lamps to brighten your space. 
  • Work comfortably: While working at home, it’s easy to sit in one place for hours on end. Shop for comfortable desk chairs that provide proper lumbar support. Explore alternatives to desk chairs like yoga balls and standing desks. 
  • Personalize: Adding personal touches will help to make your home office feel comfortable. Inspirational quotes, your favorite artwork, and pictures of loved ones are all types of décor that will keep you inspired in your remote work. 

 

For all these considerations and more, talk with your Windermere agent about how your remote work is shifting where you’re looking for a home and what you’re looking for when it’s time to move there. 

Modern Design Trends

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Modern design can tie your home together while making a statement. Getting to know the modern farmhouse, mid-century modern, and industrial design trends will help to determine which is best for your home.

Modern Farmhouse 

Bringing country living to wherever you call home, modern farmhouse is a style marked by sleek lines, vintage touches, and natural textures that still delivers a comfortable feel. Widespread use of the term “modern farmhouse” did not pick up steam until the mid-2010s, only gaining in popularity since. 

 
In your home: 
 
  • Color: A defining characteristic of the modern farmhouse is a whitewashed palette, which offers a satisfying contrast to the use of natural wood. Cream is also a popular choice. Floral accents are typically used to add depth to the whitewashed backdrop.  

 

  • Features: Exposed beams, antique items, and rustic décor form the makeup of a modern farmhouse-inspired dwelling. Barn lighting and gooseneck lamps are the most fitting lighting choices. Round out your modern farmhouse look with shiplap wherever you see fit, board-and-batten siding, and Shaker cabinets for your kitchen. 

 

Mid-Century Modern 

A movement begun in—you guessed it—the middle of the twentieth century, mid-century modern (MCM) took shape in a post-war America that saw a migration to urban areas, thus influencing design of the era to be more mindful of smaller living spaces. 

 
In your home: 
 
  • Philosophy: Mid-century modern is as much an artistic movement as a design trend. MCM designs are simple in form, emphasizing function and organic influences, and are meant for everyone to use. Consider these characteristics when planning your décor. 

 

  • Color: The color palette most commonly associate with MCM is earthy tones. If you’re looking to add more pop but want to stay true to the earthy palette, experiment with pastels. 
 
  • Furniture: Typical MCM design features in furniture include juxtaposing larger pieces with skinny legs, peg legs, the use of lighter-colored woods such as teak, and fun geometric shapes. Beloved favorites include credenzas, dressers, and egg chairs.

 

Industrial 

Inspired by warehouses, factories and unexpected materials such as shipping containers, Industrial design brings home the raw, hardwearing aesthetic typically associated with spaces like reclaimed yards, hangars, and ports. Customization is popular in Industrial design, and like mid-century modern, simplicity is emphasized.

 
In your home:
 
  • Color: The Industrial color palette is predominantly neutral. Texture is a more defining feature than color, which gives you flexibility when it comes to decorating. With neutral colors, it is easier to keep your home’s color palette aligned and complimentary. 
 
  • Materials: How do you make your home feel like a warehouse? Materials go a long way in accomplishing this. Industrial go-to materials for furniture and beyond include wood, aluminum, copper, steel, stone, and tin. Avoid soft materials like plush that would take away from the hardworking feel inherent in Industrial. 
 
  • A touch of nature: Due to its emphasis on recycled and reused materials, plant life and nature-centric accents are fitting compliments to Industrial design. Indoor plants, cactus, and flowers are popular items for sprucing up an Industrial space while adding an appropriately placed touch of color.

 

Although these trends vary in style and application, they all share a statement-making capability. When incorporating them into your home, know that any of these features will definitively shape the look and feel of your home.  

Windermere Offices Continue to Give Back Through COVID-19

Pictured L to R: Hoku Beebe, Samantha Dallas, Emma Reeves of Windermere Spokane

 

Through the challenges and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Windermere offices have stepped up to support their local communities.

 

Windermere Utah

In an effort organized by Windermere agent Lisa Jungemann, the Utah office donated $5,000 through the Windermere Foundation to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an organization dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. Jungemann also hosted a fundraiser and short walk for AFSP’s Walk Out of Darkness Day on September 12, bringing the total amount raised to $22,300. Walk Out of Darkness is a part of the organization’s signature fundraising series of community, campus, and overnight walks.

 

Windermere RE/Maple Valley

The Storehouse Covington Food Bank is an organization near and dear to Windermere agent Diana Patterson of the Maple Valley office. Since 1999, The Storehouse’s vision for the Covington community has been to empower their neighbors to reach their full potential by reducing food insecurity. Once on the receiving end of their services, Patterson now serves as a volunteer in an effort to give back to her community. Noticing the strain the COVID-19 pandemic placed on The Storehouse’s ability to serve its community, Patterson partnered with the organization in April for a two-day drive through donation event to replenish their shelves. The effort yielded 1,227 pounds of food and raised over $2,000 in donations. 

 

Diana Patterson with some of the donations for The Storehouse Covington Food Bank

 

 

Windermere Spokane

The Windermere Spokane team partnered with their local Big 5 Sporting Goods store to support Family Promise of Spokane, purchasing roughly 90 pairs of shoes and socks for children in the community to start their new school year off on the right foot. Family Promise specializes in connecting homeless families to their neighborhoods, increasing support networks and re-enforcing the skills needed to maintain housing. 

 

Pictured L to R: Laura Zahn, Barb Pielli, and Wendy Shiley handing out socks at the Spokane Big 5 Sporting Goods

 

 

Windermere Homes & Estates

Windermere Homes & Estates and Feeding San Diego have made a significant impact for the those in need in their community. Feeding San Diego, a member of Feeding America, envisions a hunger-free and healthy San Diego by connecting every person facing hunger with nutritious meals by maximizing food rescue. Including donations made during our Neighbors in Need campaign this year and a canned food drive during the holidays last year, the Homes & Estates team’s efforts have provided 665,000 meals to the San Diego community.  

 

These are just some examples of the commitment to serve that offices throughout our network have shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to showcase these stories as we persist in our support of those in need throughout our local communities. 

 

To find out more about the Windermere Foundation or to make a donation, please visit windermerefoundation.com

10 Steps to Selling Your Home

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Navigating everything involved with selling your home can seem intimidating. Breaking the process down step by step will keep you organized and ready to work with your agent toward a successful home sale.

 

1. Choose an agent

A lot goes into choosing the right agent. If you’re unsure where to start, get referrals from trusted friends, family, and neighbors. Although the ultimate goal is the sale, think about your compatibility outside of the transaction. Their ability to connect with you on a human level through the ups and downs of a home sale is just as important as their expertise and knowledge of the market. 
 
 
2. Set a timeline 
 
Depending on your local housing market conditions, your timeline for selling your home may vary. However, a timeline is valuable in that it will keep you organized throughout the selling process and allows you to adjust if circumstances change. Your agent will work with you to build the ideal timeline.  
 
 
3. What is your home worth? 
 
The key to selling quickly is correctly pricing your home from the first day it hits the market. In particular, overpricing can lead to serious complications in the selling process. Your agent can provide you with a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) to better determine the best price of your home. CMAs provide information on comparable home sales in your area, both pending and sold, within the past six months. 
 
While an agent will always have the best information, you can also try our automated value estimate tool as a starting point. Our seller page features home values and market information about what buyers are looking for in your area.
 
 
4. Repair & upgrade
 
Now it’s time to get to work on the house! This is the perfect time to tackle any and all outstanding projects or repairs. Create a list separating which repairs can be done yourself and which need professional attention. This is the time to consider a pre-sale home inspection to identify structural and mechanical problems before your home is on the market. 
 
 
5. Make the best first impression
 
Making an impactful first impression goes a long way in the minds of buyers, so roll up your sleeves and prepare to check off that to-do-list. Start by cleaning up the garden and lawn, clearing out gutters, and adding color to your flower beds. Apply a fresh coat of paint anywhere you spot peeling or cracked paint. A great way to make an impact is by staging your home, with the goal of making each room feel as spacious and welcoming as possible. 
 
 
6. Show your home 
 
Your local pandemic-era regulations will dictate the ability for agents to conduct in-person showings and open houses. Discuss virtual home tour options with your agent and other ways to generate maximum buyer interest. For in-person showings, it’s best that you leave the premises so the buyer can freely ask their agent questions and visualize the home as their own. 
 
 
7. Offers & negotiation 
 
If you are in a seller’s market—defined by low inventory and high buyer competition—it is likely that you will receive offers at – or above – asking price. You can respond to an offer by a) accepting the offer, b) making a counteroffer, or c) rejecting the offer. Counteroffers should always be made in writing and provide a short window of time for the potential buyer to respond. If you are selling in a buyer’s market, you may have to be more open to negotiation. Discuss negotiation strategies with your agent to work toward a satisfying final price.
 
 
8. Prepare for closing costs
 
There are costs throughout the selling process, and as the close date approaches, that remains true. Be sure to budget for your real estate agent’s commission, and other common seller’s costs like title insurance, recording fees, and government transfer tax, among others.
 
 
9. Home inspection
 
Buyer offers are usually contingent upon a professional home inspection. Ask your agent for a home inspection checklist, so you know what the inspector is looking for ahead of time. They typically inspect the home’s foundation, structure, roof, plumbing and electrical systems, floors, windows, doors, and more for signs of damage and weathering.  
 
 
10. Closing time
 
Congratulations! Your home is sold, but there are still some final steps before the deal is done. This is the time to ask the buyer to release any contingencies, sign the title, and close escrow before handing over the keys. Consult your real estate agent for any questions about legal documentation and settlement costs. 
 
 
If you’d like more information about selling your home, an experienced Windermere Real Estate agent is ready to help. Click here to connect. 

Our Commitment to Change: A Message to Our Community

 
For nearly 50 years Windermere has been deeply rooted in the communities where we do business. However, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has made us realize that our roots don’t extend as deep as we thought. It also made us realize that over the decades, the real estate industry has played a significant role in exacerbating systemic racism through redlining and steering, which has prevented many members of historically marginalized communities from building wealth through homeownership.  
 
 
This summer, we began a robust diversity, equity, and inclusion journey supported by an organization called Moving Beyond that specializes in helping companies integrate and operationalize DEI. Next, we formed two internal workgroups, with a diverse makeup of Windermere franchise owners, managers, agents, and staff to guide and implement DEI efforts across our 10-state organization. 
 
 
Following three months of collective conversations, we have identified several short- and long-term initiatives on which to focus – all with the aim of building a diverse organization that fosters a sense of belonging and provides equal opportunity across all aspects of homeownership for people of color. Some of these activities can be acted upon right away, as we develop a long-term strategic direction for our DEI efforts. 
 
 
We’re committed and in it for the long haul, and believe transparency is a critical part of this journey, so here is an update about our goals and progress thus far:
 
 
In August, we conducted an internal survey among our owners, managers, and staff, to create a benchmark of where we are as a company and help guide the direction that we need to take to advance our DEI initiatives. An agent survey is forthcoming in 2021.
 
We are producing informational content related to CC&Rs to educate homeowners on how to remove racially restrictive language from their title reports in the 10 states where Windermere operates. 
 
We are working with an advertising agency that specializes in inclusive and future-forward marketing to evaluate our digital marketing products through a DEI lens. 
 
We have designated funds for a scholarship program that invests in people of color who want to work in real estate, and are designing training and mentoring programs to aid in their success. 
 
We are building internal DEI training and development programs, starting with franchise owners, managers, and staff, with plans to expand to agents in 2021. 
 
We are analyzing our hiring processes to ensure broader representation by people of color.
 
We’re generating insights from all these efforts to help us develop a set of thematic pillars to guide our DEI goals and strategy over the long term. 
 
We’re planning on listening sessions this fall for the Windermere community to continue to have input in this process.     
 
 
This is just the beginning of what we know will be a long-term journey of awareness and accountability. We are focused and determined to do our part to address discrimination, racism, and inequity within Windermere and the real estate industry. Our efforts stem from the recognition that there is a long history of housing discrimination in the United States and that the inequality in homeownership has deepened the racial divide. Through our work we hope to play a role in finding ways to correct these inequalities. We realize we were late to this movement and should’ve spoken up sooner, but our eyes are open, and we are committed to leading the way towards positive change from here on out.