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As a general rule, I tend to worry way too much about seemingly small things—and buying my first house was no different. As my closing date drew near, the title company began sending me instructions about how to wire over my down payment, which was tens of thousands of dollars.

Included in their instructions? Big, bold warnings about wire fraud. I was seriously freaked out. When it came time for me to transfer my down payment, I called the title company a half-dozen times to verify their account information, double-check the wiring instructions, and, finally, to confirm that they received my payment. 

When all was said and done, my money made it to the right people at the right time—and I was able to buy my house (and take a deep breath of relief!). But things don’t always go so smoothly. There’s a reason why your title company, lender, and real estate agent will make sure you’re hyper-aware of the potential risks of wiring huge sums of money: Wire fraud.

What is wire fraud? This cybercrime is not just limited to real estate—it can occur anytime someone is “wiring” money, aka transferring it electronically to another person or entity. In real estate, it can occur when a fraudster poses as your real estate agent, lawyer, or title company representative, then convinces you to wire your down payment to their account, never to be seen again.

It’s a scary thing to think about, and it’s very real. In 2019, the FBI received 23,775 complaints for business email compromise, which includes wire fraud, with losses topping $1.7 billion.

So, what can you do to make sure you don’t fall victim to this scam? For starters, read everything your real estate agent or lender sends you about wire fraud. Read it twice. Know that this scam exists and keep it top of mind.

The title company should send over specific wiring instructions for your down payment via some form of secure, encrypted communication platform. If you get an unsolicited email or phone call about wiring instructions, be skeptical. Never give out your financial information over email or to someone who contacted you—if they’re already involved in the transaction, they should have this information already.

Once you get the wiring instructions and have read through them thoroughly, look up your title company’s phone number online, call the public number directly, and ask them to go over the instructions with you over the phone. Do not assume that a phone number you received via email is accurate—remember, it could be a scammer posing as your title company. 

“I always instruct my clients to call and verify before sending any funds via wire,” says David Dye, a real estate agent and mortgage broker in Los Angeles. 

Even better? Stop by the title company’s office in person—they should be able to independently tell you the account number, transfer amount, date, and other relevant details.

Before you get anywhere close to wiring money, learn as much as you can about your specific closing process, including a detailed timeline. Scammers often call or email you with an urgent request or a sudden change of plans—this is a surefire sign that you’re being defrauded. If you understand the timeline and due dates ahead of time, you won’t be so easily fooled if someone tries to make an unexpected change to the plan.

“Most phishing emails will say that there have been some last-minute changes about closing, and they’ll ask you to send money to a different account, which belongs to the scammer,” says Andrina Valdes, chief operating officer of Cornerstone Home Lending. “Do not do this under any circumstance. If anything seems strange or ‘phishy,’ call your lender or realtor directly.”

Unfortunately, if you become the victim of one of these scams, it’s difficult to get your money back, as wire transfers can’t be refunded or reversed. Even so, you should reach out to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center ASAP, as well as report the fraud to your bank and file a police report. The main thing to keep in mind? Taking precautions ahead of time is the best way to avoid wire fraud.

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If there is a home that you would like more information about, if you are considering selling a property, or if you have questions about the housing market in your neighborhood, please reach out. We’re here to help.

Home prices have been on a tear lately, rising 18% in just the last year.

It has homeowners sitting on unprecedented amounts of equity — about $8.1 trillion of it, in fact. According to Black Knight, the average homeowner gained 11% in tappable equity during just the first quarter of this year.

Though homeowners of all ages can leverage this equity and sell for big profits, it’s baby boomers like Patti and Mike who are uniquely poised for gains. These homeowners have often lived in their homes for decades and, in many cases, paid off their mortgages completely.

“Every single friend of mine, all of their parents are calling me, asking ‘Dana, what should we do?’” says Dana Bull, a real estate agent with Sagan Harborside Sotheby’s International Realty in Marblehead, Massachusetts. “They know they’ve got a unique opportunity where their properties have appreciated so much to a point that they never even thought possible in their lifetime.”

Are you a baby boomer wondering how to best use your rising home equity? Here are your options.

Selling is likely first to mind for many older homeowners. According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the average home seller makes a whopping $94,500 in profits these days — up more than $34,000 since just last year.

Those profits can help boomers achieve any number of financial goals, from padding their nest eggs or making investments to buying a new house or even retiring early.

“This age is a sweet spot because they’re starting to think about retirement and getting a certain dollar amount in the sale of their home can expedite their retirement,” Bull says. “It can bring them to that next chapter in life and give them financial cushioning that they never thought possible.”

According to a survey from Realtor.com, around 12% of baby boomers plan to sell their homes in the next year — a larger share than any other generation surveyed. Many of those sellers will choose to rent, opting for lower-maintenance apartments or townhomes. Others will buy but downsize, like Patti and Mike, or use the funds to move closer to grandkids or to sunnier locales.

If you choose to buy, agents say proceed with caution: By going this route, you’ll face the same high prices you just capitalized on. Supply is also limited in most housing markets, so you may find yourself with few homes to choose from — not to mention some stiff competition.

“This is a smart time for older homeowners to sell their home — but only if they have a clear plan of where they are going,” says Glenn Phillips, CEO at Lake Homes Realty in Hoover, Alabama. “The challenge is that, while they may get a premium for their current home, they will also pay a premium for their next home while also facing very limited choices. To sell fast without a clear plan could end up being costly over the long term.”

Another option is to rent in a 55-and-up, senior or independent living community. For those not wanting a long-term commitment, options like Brightview — a resort-style senior living community with locations across the East Coast — allow you to stay on a month-by-month basis.

“We know life can change in an instant,” says Denise Manifold, vice president of sales at the company.

Turn your equity into cash — without selling

Selling your house isn’t the only way to capitalize on the hot housing market. You can also tap your equity using financial products like home equity loans, home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) or a cash-out refinance.

These allow you to turn a portion of your equity into cash, which you can then use for virtually anything — medical bills, paying off debts or even aging-in-place renovations on your property.

Going this route also allows you to avoid the potential taxes you’d face on your home sale. For married couples, you’ll pay capital gains taxes on any profits over $500,000. For single homeowners, the threshold is just $250,000.

“Tapping into your home equity for necessary or unexpected expenses can be a great way to create short-term liquidity without having to sell your investments and realize a capital gain or loss,” says Gabrielle Clemens, an accredited estate planner and managing director at Clemens Private Wealth Management in Boston.

“You can use the funds to pay off high-interest credit card debt, remodel your home with features to help you age in place, delay filing for Social Security until you qualify for a higher benefit, buy long-term care insurance, help grandchildren with college tuition or pay the tax bill,” she says.

Still, while useful, home equity loans, HELOCs and refinances all require a monthly payment, something retirees — or anyone on a limited income, for that matter — might be hesitant to take on. If a payment sounds unappealing in your case, you can also look at options like a reverse mortgage or equity-sharing agreement.

With equity sharing, you essentially sell off a portion of your home’s equity, getting a lump sum in return. According to Rachel Keohan, head of marketing at equity-sharing company Hometap, it’s “a great option for accessing their home equity for a variety of uses without taking on debt.” Companies like Hometap gets paid a percentage of profits when the home eventually sells.

Consider a reverse mortgage — but take care

Reverse mortgages may be another route to consider — at least if you’re 62 or older. These work like a mortgage loan, only backward. With these loans, the lender pays you — often monthly, and then collects the total balance plus interest once you die or sell the house.

According to Steve Resch, vice president of retirement strategies at Finance America Reverse, now is a particularly good time to get a reverse mortgage if it suits your goals.

“The proceeds that you can get from a reverse mortgage is determined by the homeowner’s age, the value of the property and the interest rates,” Resch says. “So, we’ve got record-high home values and record-low interest rates, which means a borrower can really get a tremendous amount of money — much more so than they could just a couple of years ago.”

You can also use a reverse mortgage to buy a new house entirely, something Joshua Ezell, a real estate broker with Breakthrough Real Estate & Property Management in Phoenix, often recommends to his clients.

“Utilizing a reverse mortgage allows a buyer to purchase a nicer or larger home and keep more money in the bank,” Ezell says. “It also has the added benefit of also not having a house payment.”

If you do opt for a reverse mortgage, be careful about how you structure your payments, as there are many choices. You want to avoid running out of proceeds too early. You’ll also need to continue covering property taxes, insurance and other costs, or risk losing the home to foreclosure. Talk to a financial advisor if you’re considering a reverse mortgage of any kind. They can walk you through the full implications and risks of these products, as well as how one may impact your retirement goals.

The time is now

Whatever you decide to do, experts say you should make your move fast. Recent data shows for-sale inventory is rising (at least slightly), and when you throw in slowing demand from burned-out buyers, it seems the red-hot market may soon be cooling off.

“We are seeing people accelerate their plans to take advantage of the market,” says Rick Ruvin, a partner at Falk Ruvin Gallagher Real Estate in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. “In many markets, sanity is returning, and the level of competition is softening. Prices tend to rise, plateau and then fall. Many are sensing we are headed into a plateau phase.”

Keep reading.

If there is a home that you would like more information about, if you are considering selling a property, or if you have questions about the housing market in your neighborhood, please reach out. We’re here to help.

From the Donut Fest to Wonderball, Columbus kicks off the year with an eclectic assortment of events.

Conservatory Aglow

January 1-4, 5:00 pm-9:00 pm

Light artist and sculptor Jen Lewin conceived ‘The Pool’ as a huge puddle of light that would invite viewers to jump in—literally—and create their own art together. The concentric circles of 100 glowing computerized pads light up when you step on them, sending ripples of light and color throughout the installation as you move. https://www.columbusmakesart.com/event/31919-conservatory-aglow

January 4th, 10:00 am-1:00 pm

Come out to Mayor Ginther’s Community Day at the Franklin Park Adventure Center – a free, fun-filled family event with activities, food and music. https://www.columbus.gov

Wild Ohio Weekend

January 4-5, 10:00 am-5:00 pm

Join the Ohio History Center for a weekend of natural history programming and learn more about the plants and animals that call Ohio home. https://www.ohiohistory.org/participate/event-calendar/ohio-history-center/wild-ohio

COSI After Dark: Fun for Adults

January 9, 5:30 pm-10:00 pm

COSI isn’t just for kids!  COSI hosts monthly COSI After Dark, adult-only, after-hours events to let the adults have the run of the place.  This event will feature exhibits, concessions and cash bar, and fun! https://cosi.org/adults/cosi-after-dark

The Ohio Home and Remodeling Show

January 10-12, 10:00 am-6:00 pm

Planning a home renovation project for the new year or looking for tips on how to finish those last few to-dos on your list? The second annual Ohio Home + Remodeling Show is here to help!  https://ohiohomeandremodelingshow.com/

Powell Winter Market

January 11, 9:00 am-12:00 pm

The Powell Winter Market is teaming up with the stunning, new Swan Lake Event Center to bring you some of your favorite makers and growers from the Powell Farmers Market. https://www.facebook.com/events/1409472735884513/

Columbus Winter Beer Fest

January 17-18, 7:00 pm-11:30 pm

Columbus’s Biggest Party Of Winter Returns for the 10th Anniversary at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Party for a cause! All proceeds of Columbus Winter Beerfest benefit Animal Rescue Partners, Inc., I Have A Dream Pet Rescue as well as numerous other local non-profit organizations that volunteer at the event. http://columbusbeerfest.com/

Wonderball 2020

January 25, 8:00 pm-12:00 am

Show us what you’re made of! Get dressed up in your favorite black & white attire and celebrate the creative spirit of Columbus at Wonderball. This fashionable evening of local food, music, performance, and interactive, unexpected experiences supports a vibrant arts community at the Museum and throughout Central Ohio. http://www.columbusmuseum.org/wonderball/

Columbus Donut Fest

January 26, 11:00 am-4:00 pm

Get ready for Columbus’s Biggest Donut Celebration on January 26th at Strongwater Food & Spirits. We’re bringing together Donut Makers, Donut Enthusiasts, Coffee Shops and a Craft Bar Menu for a food lovers’ dream event. https://www.columbusdonutfest.com

614 Restaurant Week

January 20-25, 4:00 pm 11:00 pm

Discover the booming restaurant scene of Columbus with the annual Restaurant Week. Over 120 Columbus eateries offer special discounted prices on three-course meals. https://www.experiencecolumbus.com/event/(614)-restaurant-week/66327/

Being self-employed comes with many benefits. Buying a home isn’t one of them. When you work for yourself, the home buying process will be a little different than people who have jobs that provide them with W2’s at the end of the year. What’s the difference? You will need to provide a lot more documentation.

Because your income is structured differently you typically need to show at least two years of tax returns, which includes your 1040 tax returns, and all schedules. Why? Your bank is looking for consistencies in your income that show you are making enough money to get approved for the loan amount you want.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Individuals that are self-employed (yours truly included), tend to want to write off EVERYTHING we can! When you do this, you reduce your overall net income. This makes getting a mortgage harder because it reduces your debt-to-income ratio. If you plan on buying a home in the near future hold back on many deductions as possible. This may hurt you come tax time but it will help you in the long run to get the mortgage you want (and it’s only temporary, after you get the house you can go back to taking those deductions).

Make sure you register and license your business. This will show the bank you have a legitimate business.

Consider paying yourself as an employee so you can give yourself a W2 at the end of the year.

And of course, if possible lower your debt. Banks will see you as less of a risk if you don’t carry a lot of debt.

It’s not impossible to buy a home if you are self-employed. You just need to come up with a game plan so you’re not shocked when it comes time to chat with a lender!