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This is how to protect yourself from real estate title fraud, experts say

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There have been two incidents this month of homeowners coming back from a trip to find their house has been sold or listed on the market without their consent.

Earlier this month, Toronto police warned the public of two people who impersonated the owners of an Etobicoke-area home, allegedly hired a real estate agent, and listed the house for sale.

Police say the two unidentified individuals were able to sell the property, and new homeowners took possession of it.

Toronto police said they are now investigating a second, similar incident. This time, police say the house was listed, but the fraudulent owners were not able to complete the sale. Investigators believe both cases are connected.

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There are limited details about what happened this time, but Royal LePage agents fell victim to the latest scam.

“This very unfortunate incident was clearly a coordinated scheme aiming to take advantage of real estate professionals and an innocent family,” Anne-Elise Cugliari Allegritti, spokesperson for Royal LePage, told CTV News Toronto in a statement Thursday.

So, what can prospective homebuyers and homeowners do to protect themselves against title fraud?

TITLE FRAUD AND TITLE INSURANCE

The word “title” is used to describe someone’s right of ownership to land. Title fraud is when the tile of someone’s home is stolen.

According to the federal government, the fraudster will either sell the home or re-mortgage the house.

“Title fraud usually starts with identity theft, which can happen if somebody steals your personal information,” the federal government said.

FCT, a residential insurance company, notes it’s up to the true homeowner to prove they’ve been scammed; if they don’t have title insurance, it can take “considerable time, money, and effort” to get everything back.

Title insurance can protect property owners against any losses related to the property. While it is not a requirement to have it in Ontario, Osman Omaid, a realtor with Strata.ca, “strongly” advises getting it.

“I think the best thing people can do is get title insurance,” Omaid told CTV News Toronto Friday. “Real estate professionals [should] always advise to get title insurance.”

Omaid says this kind of insurance can protect homeowners in many ways, not only during fraudulent sales, but also when previous owners haven’t paid off their property taxes, condominium fees, or utility bills prior to the sale.

“Title insurance is basically there to take care of you in any gray-scale areas where it’s sort of like, ‘Okay, I should have done my due diligence, but at the same time, it’s not really my fault that this happened [because] someone should have checked this,’” he said.

WHAT REALTORS AND AGENTS DO TO VERIFY PARTIES IN HOME SALES

Paul Baron, president of the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB), told CTV News Toronto real estate brokerages have an obligation to perform their due diligence when taking on clients, as required by the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).

“By law, registrants who trade in real estate are required to use their best efforts to prevent error, misrepresentation, fraud or any unethical practice in respect of a trade in real estate,” Baron said in a written statement.

Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) Registrar Joseph Richer told CTV News Toronto in a statement the most common way for agents to verify parties in a sale would be to rely on government-issued photo identification to verify the identity of the person they are dealing with.

“Resources are available to those who trade in real estate to assist with making their best efforts to verify the identity of homeowners, including use of the land registry service to verify the owner of the property and verifying the identities of individuals they are dealing with,” Baron said.

Outside of checking someone’s photo ID during a sale, Omaid says he can verify a seller’s background through a program called GeoWarehouse, which can give him more detailed information about the property in question.

“We are able to see whose name is legally registered under the property,” he said. “There’s a lot of steps we take as realtors to make sure that we are speaking with the correct person.”

In the event that a realtor or agent falls victim to fraud, Baron says it’s up to law enforcement or police to get involved. Baron adds RECO can get involved in cases where due diligence was not performed by agents.

HOW TO PREVENT REAL ESTATE FRAUD

The federal government has a few tips online for what Canadians can do to protect themselves against real estate fraud, including keeping your mortgage information in a safe spot, speaking with your lawyer before giving someone else the right to your home, and researching anyone who tries to offer you a loan.

If you think you have fallen victim to title fraud, the federal government recommends contacting the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, reaching out to your provincial land registry’s office, and filing a police report.

– With files from CTV Toronto’s Beth Macdonell and Phil Tsekouras  

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Irish Real Estate Returns Drop Amid Higher Interest Rates – Bloomberg

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Irish Real Estate Returns Drop Amid Higher Interest Rates  Bloomberg

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Bank of Canada comments offer light at the end of the tunnel for real estate, mortgage markets, experts say

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Canada’s struggling real estate sector is breathing a sigh of relief, but it wasn’t so much the size of the Bank of Canada’s Jan. 25 rate hike as the language that came with it that was cause for optimism.  

That’s because while the central bank boosted its benchmark overnight interest rate by 0.25 basis points to 4.5 per cent, its eighth consecutive increase, it also signalled it would put the hiking cycle on pause — at least for now.  

“A 25-basis-point increase or no increase was what we needed, along with the kind of language … that indicated we were essentially where we needed to be” Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper said in an interview. “What’s important at this stage is that we’ve clearly come to a point where interest rates aren’t going to be in the news.” 

Soper said the realization that rate hikes will be stopping or slowing should draw what he called the “missing transactions” — those with the capacity to buy but who have remained on the sidelines — back into the market, though it may take some time. 

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Those buyers, he said, have been reluctant because they understand the link between rising rates and prices, and “they don’t want to buy a house today that will be worth less tomorrow.” 

Having some price certainty will make it easier for them to enter the market, but they’ll still need to be comfortable knowing they are paying five or six per cent on their mortgages while others are locked in at two per cent.  

“There’s still many, many people out there with two per cent mortgage rates. Your sister or your cousin might have a two per cent mortgage rate but you’re going to have to pay five,” Soper said. “This will harm consumer confidence until the market has more time to adjust to it.” 

As a result, he said he saw a “muted recovery” in the cards for the spring. 

The pause also signals a light at the end of the tunnel for variable-rate holders, according to James Laird, Co-CEO of Ratehub.ca and president of mortgage lender CanWise, even if it means another dose of short-term pain. 

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Clearview Commercial Realty’s investment funds help expand portfolio

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After 22 years in the Calgary office of a global commercial real estate firm, Steve Vesuwalla started his own company, Clearview Commercial Realty, in 2019. A year ago, he established Clearview Industrial Fund, with all capital raised though Alberta investors.

Its success has been remarkable, with the closing of the first three funds that brought Clearview a portfolio of 300,000 square feet, comprising a 260,000-square-foot building anchored by the north campus of CDI College and a 35,000-square-foot industrial building in South Foothills

The third fund launched in 2022 resulted in a residential project in partnership with NAI Advent.

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Mission 19 is a luxury 67-unit apartment block that will welcome tenants this fall, designed by Gravity Architect and being built by Triumph Construction in the trendy Mission District at 320 19th Avenue S.W.

Last month, Vesuwalla embarked on a fourth — the Clearview Alberta Opportunity Fund — with a goal of raising a pool of equity that will allow his company to act quickly when commercial real estate opportunities arise.

“Successful real estate ventures result from being able to find appropriate investments and having the ability to purchase right away,” says Vesuwalla. “And cash is still king.”

Acumen Capital Partners handled the equity raise and the first round of financing closed last month. A second round is scheduled to close at the end of this month.

The first purchase — in cash — by the new fund is the former Economy Glass building at the corner of 17th Avenue and Centre Street S.W. in the Beltline district.

The 11,500-square-foot building on a .33-acre site has drive-in overhead/roll-up doors, existing office and retail showroom improvements, and highly usable and accessible lower level space.

Vesuwalla is working with a restaurant group and fitness operator to take over the spaces, but the location is ideal for future development as a multi-storey commercial-residential building. That will be planned on the completion of the extension of 17th Avenue across Macleod Trail, giving direct pedestrian and vehicular link access into the Stampede grounds, the BMO Convention Centre expansion and the Victoria Park/Stampede LRT station redevelopment.

No doubt that connectivity will invite further commercial, retail and entertainment-oriented development along 17th Avenue and in the immediate area.

Doug Johannson, executive vice-president at Clearview who joined the company in 2021, has also been busy completing some commercial real estate deals.

Explosive growth in development of commercial real estate in the Balzac area has continued with the sale of 33.85 acres on the south side of Highway 566.

Located between the successful developments of High Plains and Wagon Wheel industrial parks, it was sold by Johannson on behalf of the Abbotsford, B.C., owner to a local developer for $8.8 million.

He was also the broker for the sale of a 17-acre parcel in Frontier Park to Remington Development, and has an unconditional contract to close on the sale of a 43,500-square-foot building on Enterprise Way, between Stoney Trail and the eastern city limits.

Last year was a good one for Clearview and it has started 2023 full of confidence for even better results from commercial real estate transactions, as well as opportunities the new fund will bring.

Vesuwalla and Johannson continue to look for interesting value-added opportunities to increase Clearview’s rewarding portfolio.

Notes:

President and CEO of Bow Valley College, Dr. Misheck Mwaba, has been appointed to the board of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce for a three-year term. “I look forward to working closely with the board on strategic initiatives to address the evolving needs of the Calgary business community,” says Mwaba. “I am acutely aware of the urgent need to develop and retain a world-class talented workforce, nurture a diversified economy and grow our digital ecosystem. Mwaba is a champion of Workforce Integrated Learning (WIL), re-skilling and up-skilling, and takes pride in liaising with Calgary businesses to understand their labour demands.

David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at info@davidparker.ca.

 

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