Marnae Ballantyne, Escrow Manager, Fidelity National Title Agency of Utah in American Fork, Utah, opened a sale of a vacant lot for $385,000. The buyer was a real estate investor paying cash. He never met the seller in person.
All communications were done via text or email. The seller signed the purchase agreement electronically. The buyer admitted he believed the deal was too good to be true. Unfortunately, he was right.
Marnae ordered the title report and, in accordance with Company policy, looked up the seller's tax bill mailing address on the county website. The seller's address was in Georgia. Knowing the buyer wanted to close quickly, Marnae decided to learn more about the owner, so she searched the owner's name in Google™.
The search revealed where the seller worked. Marnae picked up the phone and tracked him down. She asked him if he owned a lot in Utah. He said, "Yes." She asked him if it was for sale. He said, "No." She asked him to confirm his mailing address, the approximate amount of the property taxes and when he purchased the lot. He knew all the correct answers, so she knew he was the true owner.
Marnae explained the situation to the owner. He was upset to learn what was going on, but very grateful she tracked him down and went the extra mile to make him aware of the situation. She applauded him for having his current mailing address on file with the county, so she knew how to reach him.
The owner asked Marnae what he could do to protect himself. She informed him about a property watch notification system available through the county. Property owners can sign up to be notified if anything affecting their property is recorded. She urged him to sign up for the service. She also encouraged him to contact the local police department.
In addition to tracking down the real property owner, Marnae talked to the thief who fraudulently listed the lot for sale. She knew almost immediately he was an imposter since he knew nothing about the property history or facts about the true owner, including where he lived. Way to go Marnae! She has received a $1,500 reward for not closing this sale.
Article provided by contributing author:
Diana Hoffman, Corporate Escrow Administrator
Fidelity National Title Group
National Escrow Administration