Real Estate Agents – Help Your Homebuyers Avoid Being Scammed

Computer crime concept

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of REALTORS® have announced concerns over closing cost scams.

Here’s how the scam works: Hackers break into a consumer’s or real estate professional’s email account to search for upcoming real estate transactions and closing dates. Then, hackers pose as the agent or title officer and email the homebuyer with a last-minute change to the wiring instructions. Should buyers wire money to the account, they will lose the money and likely lose the home they’ve been waiting for due to a lack of funds.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your clients don’t fall victim to this scam:

Ensure you have a united effort between agents, loan officers, closing attorneys and title officers to remind buyers of the dangers of this scam. Verify that changes to wiring instructions will not be requested by email.

Remind buyers to be alert. They should not follow instructions regarding closing funds solely from an email but when instructed to do so in person or by phone.

Add a brief warning to your email signature that reminds clients to remain cautious about suspicious messages during their transaction, especially near closing.

Do not conduct business over public Wi-Fi and be cautious about links that you click on. As an agent, transaction information is a highly valuable target for scammers and hackers.

Use secure document technology sharing and signing any sensitive documents. Our ULConnect App provides a safe, secure portal for sharing information.

Remember, email is almost never a secure communication platform, so take precautions to protect your clients.

Halloween Safety Tips for Homeowners

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You’ll definitely say “boo” if you are faced with a claim to your homeowners insurance because of a Halloween accident on your property. Fortunately, there are some really easy things you can do ahead of time to make sure Halloween is a safe and fun day.

Keep your lights on. You want your visitors, including trick-or-treaters, to see clearly when they enter your property after dark to avoid injuries caused by falling. And, keeping some lights on can stop burglars, so you’ll want to do this regularly, not just on Halloween.

Create a clear path. Make sure there is nothing in the driveway or other walkways that someone may trip on. Remove lawn art and gardening equipment, and make sure all toys, flower pots/planters, etc. are put away. Little kids like to scamper. They aren’t looking for these hazards. If you have any loose steps or stones, make sure to repair those, too.

Use flameless candles. Do you like the way the dark looks with a flickering flame? Use flameless candles or battery powered lanterns. If you do use regular candles, watch them closely and keep them away from curtains that may blow into the flame. Use flameless candles in your jack-o-lanterns, too.

Put your pets in another room. Keep dogs and cats away from trick-or-treaters. They may be spooked by the extra activity, loud noises and costumes.

Set your alarm system before you leave. Halloween brings out the most mischievous so protect your home with your home alarm system. And why not use Halloween as one of the days you always check your smoke alarms, too!

Halloween’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a day that sees a lot of injuries. Don’t be caught off guard.

Button Up Your House for Early Winter Prep: Cold Weather Hacks

Kids enjoy the snowfall

October is a good time to button up your house for winter. We still have days that are nice enough to get outside and take care of business, but we know that Old Man Winter will be knocking on our doors soon enough. Here are a few hacks to make winter-proofing your house easier. 

Find all the places that cold air can leak in and warm air can leak out.
And then caulk these cracks so no more air can whisper through them. Check baseboards, windows and doors, ceiling light fixtures, electrical outlets… anywhere that the outside can meet the inside. When you block drafts, you have the potential to save between 5 and 30 percent in utility bills, according to the US Department of Energy.

Here’s your hack: At night, have a friend walk outside after you turn off your lights. Have your friend shine a flashlight along doors and windows. The light will illuminate large cracks. Those are your leaks. Here’s another hack, let your neighbors know you are doing this so they don’t call the police.

Check your heating system. You’ll save money on energy bills if your heater is running efficiently. Even if you have to call in a pro on this one, it’s a good idea to have your heater looked at. If you have gas fireplaces, get someone in to check those, too. Better safe than sorry when it comes to potential carbon monoxide leaks or other dangers.

Here’s your hack: Remove all of the vent covers and wash them in sudsy water and dust the heating returns. Let the covers dry all the way before putting them back on. This is one simple way to cut down on dust in your home.

Check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors. You and your family are at greater risk when batteries aren’t working in your alarms. You should check these batteries twice a year, so now is a good time.

Here’s your hack: Make it a habit to check your batteries when we move our clocks forward or backward. This weekend’s your big day, and you’ll have time as we fall back on Saturday and gain in hour!

Clean your patio furniture. Rats! It’s that time of the year. You’re not going to be lounging lawn-side for a few months. When it’s clean, find a good place in the garage or basement to store it to keep it clean.

Here’s your hack: You can scrub your plastic furniture to a pristine clean with a Brillo pad and then give it a final rinse. Not up for that? You also can power wash your furniture.

Get your home ready now so you’re not scrambling in the cold to get ready later.

What to Expect from a Home Inspection

Hands with house and magnifying glass, search home concept
Hands with house and magnifying glass, search home concept

Even in today’s hot housing market, you don’t want to skip the home inspection. The home inspection is a standard practice when buying a home. No one wants to make the biggest purchase of their lives, only to discover a weak foundation, shoddy electricity and plumbing that will cost $10,000 to repair. A good home inspection can protect buyers from major expenses when buying their homes.

What does a typical home inspection include?

Generally, a home inspector will look at:

The Foundation: Is there evidence of settlement and/or seepage in the basement or lowest level of the home? Is the settlement uneven or are there cracks? What is the structural integrity of the home? What is supporting the home?

Heating and Air Conditioning: What is the insulation like in the home? Is there enough heating and air for the home? How do the systems operate and are they operating properly? What can the inspector see in the way of potential problems in these systems?

Electrical: What does your electric system look like? Is it safe? Are there potential hazards? Is everything properly grounded and bonded? Are all the outlets working?

Roof: What’s happening on top of the house? Are there any general maintenance issues you should know about? What type of roof is it? Are there skylights that need repair? Are there places that are leaking?

Your home inspector should also check out your:
Lot and landscaping
Plumbing
Hot water supply
Chimney and fireplace(s)
Termite damage/wood damage
Attic
Exterior
Garage

There is a lot of ground for your home inspector to cover, so you want to hire one who will take his time and do a thorough job on your behalf. How do you pick a home inspector? Here are some tips:

1. Don’t trust an inspector simply because the inspector has a state license.

2. Look for an inspector who is associated with a professional inspection organization such as the National Institute of Building Inspectors, the National Association of Home Inspectors or the American Association of Home Inspectors.

3. Don’t only take your agent’s recommendation; ask for three recommendations and then really grill the inspectors.

Remember, no matter how anxious you are to get into your home, a home inspection is not something you want to skimp on. 

Protect Your Family and Yourself from the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

cat and dog by the fireplace

Autumn is almost here and that means it’s time to check your fireplaces to make sure they are safe for this winter. One of the biggest dangers of in-home fireplaces is the risk of carbon monoxide leaks. Be sure to have a professional check your fireplace for safety and learn more here about the dangers of carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. However, protecting yourself and your family from its dangers is easy, if you take a few precautions and follow some simple safety rules.

The following information about carbon monoxide comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

About Carbon Monoxide

You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide.

At high levels, carbon monoxide can be deadly.

CO is produced whenever a fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. If the appliance producing the CO is maintained, it is generally harmless. However, if appliances are not maintained or not used correctly, the gas is hazardous.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

At moderate levels: severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea or faintness.

At low levels: shortness of breath, mild nausea, mild headaches. These low level symptoms may have long-term effects on your health.

If You Think You May Have CO Poisoning

Get to fresh air immediately.

Go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Have your fuel-burning appliances, including oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, and wood stoves, inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season.

Make sure flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition and not blocked.

Choose appliances that vent to the outside when possible. Ensure they are installed correctly and maintained.

Read and follow all instructions that accompany fuel-burning devices. If you cannot avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater, carefully follow the cautions that come with the device. Use proper fuel and keep doors to the rest of the house open and crack windows to ensure ventilation.

DO NOT idle your car in the garage, even if the garage door is open. Fumes can build up quickly in the garage and home.

DO NOT use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.

DO NOT ever use a charcoal grill indoors, even in the fireplace.

Purchasing Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Before purchasing a CO detector it is important to note that they are not a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. According to the EPA, they are still being developed and not considered as reliable as smoke detectors. Do not let your CO detector lull you into a false sense of security and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for its placement, use and maintenance. Do some research before buying a CO detector. Read more at Protect Yourself and Your Family with a CO Detector.

Learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning and keeping your family and yourself safe.

Childproofing Your Home

child playing behind safety gates in front of stairs at home

You want your home to be a safe place for your kids whether they are crawling, toddling or walking. You may not be thinking of all of the new ways kids can find to hurt themselves, but your kids are! Here are just a few tips for childproofing your home.

For a longer checklist, be sure to read: Tips for Childproofing Your Home.

15 Quick Childproofing Tips

  1. Cover all electrical outlets with child-resistant covers.
  2. Keep chemicals out of reach and in locked cabinets.
  3. Use the safety belts that your baby’s swings and bouncy seats come with.
  4. Shorten curtain and blind cords. These present a choking hazard.
  5. Remove the plastic tips from door stops or replace the door stops with one-piece door stops.
  6. Secure unsteady furnishings.
  7. Make sure hallways and stairs are well lit at all times.
  8. Put a gate at the top and bottom of stairs to keep babies and toddlers from going up or down.
  9. Put the baby’s crib away from all drapery, electrical cords and windows.
  10. Move mobiles and other hanging toys away from the crib before your baby is able to reach them.
  11. Use hand railings for children getting their first “big kid” bed.
  12. Lock the medicine cabinets, and keep all vitamins and medicine locked away.
  13. Lower your household water temperature.
  14. Keep knives, plastic bags and cleaning supplies used in the kitchen out of children’s reach.
  15. Add protective covering to stove and oven knobs.

This is just a start on the things you can do to keep your kids safe in your home. Learn more by clicking here. You’ll see there are lots of things to do to keep your kids safe!

Protect Your Family, Yourself and Your Home from Would-Be Burglars

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Do the commercials on TV keep you up at night because you know you can’t always be at your phone and ready to tell them to get off your porch? You can’t be at your computer or on your phone all day every day telling burglars to go away. You can take some steps to make your home less inviting for a would-be burglar. Check out some home safety tips! 

Pretend you are a burglar. Case your own home. Walk around and look at your home like a burglar would. Are windows frequently left open and on the ground level? Is there a sliding glass door that could stand a little extra protection? Are expensive items easy to see from the outside? A few simple adjustments like moving a computer and closing windows may make your house less tempting.

Lock your doors. Although we know we need to lock our doors when we go out, a lot of times we simply don’t. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that 40 percent of burglaries don’t include forced entry. Thieves literally are just walking in and taking what they want. A locked door is a deterrent.

Don’t label your keys or mailbox. If your key chain has your name on it and you lose your keys, it won’t take long for a thief to get your address and walk in. In addition, putting your name on your mailbox helps a thief find out information about you and track your moves. He’ll know when you’re not home.

And don’t hide a key. A thief knows where to look for hidden keys. Leave a key with a neighbor, but don’t leave one under a mat, in a light fixture or in a flower pot.

Create the illusion of being home. Leave on lights, the radio or television. If you are going on vacation, use light timers and have someone pick up your mail, newspapers, flyers and packages. Have someone mow your lawn in the summer and shovel your walkways and driveway in the winter. An un-shoveled driveway with no tire tracks is an obvious sign that no one is home.

Get to know your neighbors. It’s nice if someone nearby notices if something unusual is happening. You can also tell your neighbors when you’re going to be gone so they can watch for unusual activity. And studies show that neighborhood crime watches do deter against criminal activity. If there’s not one in your neighborhood, start one.

Don’t be a target for a home invasion. Taking steps to protect yourself and even your neighbors is easy. Better safe than sorry. Get more tips here