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  • Writer's picturePaul Brewer

10 Ways to Spot a Real Estate Scam on Social Media



“Hey, honey! We’re out of toilet paper!”


“Ok, dear, I’ll hop online and order some more.”


Gone are the days of needing to go to a store to buy what you need. With the advent of amazon.com, Walmart.com, target.com, and many more, you can buy anything and everything without leaving your home.


Buying land is no different. With Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist.com, and sites like Land.com, Landmodo.com, Zillow.com, Redfin.com, and a host of others, you can buy land with a few simple clicks. Add to the equation Google Earth, and you can buy land in your underwear without even getting out of bed.


I remember when I first heard about the business of buying and selling land. It was late 2017 or early 2018, and I had been looking for a side gig for a while.


My day job is as a firefighter. We work an interesting schedule; I work for two days straight then I get four days off. This type of schedule allows me to live in a California area with a slightly lower cost of living. The price I pay for this, however, is a 3 Hour's drive to work.


I have three passions in life, family, land, and personal finances. While listening to one of my favorite personal-finance podcasts at 3:30 AM on a cold and rainy drive to work, I heard an interview with a very interesting fellow. The gent, who deems himself the Land Geek, was sharing his business model. Buying and selling raw vacant land.


As he explained the ins and outs of his business, I at once became intrigued yet skeptical. According to the Land Geek, buying and selling land is as easy as two people agreeing to a price than signing a new deed and filing it with the county.


If all I need is a single piece of paper, the deed, to buy or sell a piece of land, how do I keep from getting screwed?


Well, after 4+ years in the business, let me run you through a couple of things to watch out for.


But first, let’s cover a few of the places to find good land deals.


Sites with Land for Sale


There are a ton of websites where you can find land for sale. My favorite three, and the ones I sell the majority of land on, are Facebook marketplace, craigslist, and land.com.


The first two will require you to do a bit of extra due diligence when investigating a piece of land you are looking to purchase.


However, those selling on land.com are nine times out of ten, others in the land investment business. There is also a level of regulation on that site, so it is relatively safe to assume that if you are purchasing from one of the listings there, you have little to worry about.


As with any Internet transaction, you must do your Due diligence. As they say, trust but verify.


Now let’s chat about what to look for to identify a potential scam.


First up…


Facebook Marketplace & Craigslist:


It is unfortunate that we have to protect ourselves against these types of scams. Both of these selling platforms are similar in many ways, so all the following tips for spotting shysters can apply to both sites.


Ok, let’s dive in. Here are the top 10 (+1) tell tail signs of a scam.


1: Only one or two pictures. Legitimate land investors and owners will put lots of pictures of the lot and surrounding area into their ads. They are proud of what they are selling and want to see the value in the land. Be wary of only one or two pictures. Ask the seller for more pictures. If they cannot provide them, your index of suspicion should go up.


2: Look for terms like seller financing available, easy financing available, and low down payment. While getting a quick cash sale is nice, the ultimate goal for those who are legitimately buying and selling land is to create passive income via notes. Many legitimate land investors offer 0% financing for 2 to 5 years. Scammers want cash now, so they never have to see you again. NOTE: This is not a hard and fast rule. It is, however one to be aware of to help you ferret out the scammers.


3: Ask for their phone number. Get the phone number and give them a call. If you truly are serious about the land they are offering, call us. We love to talk on the phone and tell you about our land. It won’t take long to get a general feeling about whether the seller is genuine or a screamer. I am much more ready to make a good deal or offer a little extra off to a customer who calls me than one who sends me a message, email, or text.


4: Look at their profile(Facebook). This is one time that stalking is okay. Get onto their profile and look through it. See if they have a business page linked to their personal page and look through some of the posts. I’ll be honest, every time someone messages me about wanting to buy a piece of land, I check out their profile. I can tell relatively quickly if they are going to be promising lead or just kicking tires.


5: Go to their website: Not all land investors have a website. However, with the advent of WordPress.com, Wix.com, and a host of No-Code website options, nearly all land investors have a site. When you inquire about a listing on FB, ask if they have a website. If they’ve gone through the trouble of setting up a website, there is a better chance that you will avoid any type of scam.


6: If you need an extra measure of security, asked to see a copy of the deed with the seller's name on it. They may or may not be willing to provide this, but those that do are most likely legitimate sellers.


7: Ask them if they have a land sale contract. If they do, ask to see a blank copy. If they don’t know what this is, they are either a private seller or a scammer. Not having a land sale contract is by no means a deal-breaker; it just means you should do a bit more investigation.


8: As To See The Land: Always ask to see the land. Request the address and/or GPS coordinates if not listed in the ad. A genuine seller will be happy to send you out to the land. Some of my colleagues that sell land in rural areas even loan their customers a handheld GPS with the coordinates to the land per-programmed in so that they can find the lot. I encourage each of my customers to go view the land. I even offer to hold the land for 7 (with a down payment) so that they can go out and see that land. It is far easier to refund a down payment than a full payment if the land is not what they are looking for.


9: Leverage Google: Before you go out to view the land, or if you are unable to view it in person, hop onto Google Earth and put in the address or GPS Coordinates and take a look. Google Earth has advanced to a level where you can get some pretty good photos to match up to the ones that the seller posted.


10: Ask for the assessor's parcel number (APN): Ask for the APN and look the property up on the county assessor's website. There, you will be able to verify the owner's info. NOTE: Take this with a grain of salt; however, some county systems are slow to update. If the seller bought the land a short time ago, the website may not have been updated yet. If there is a discrepancy, give the county assessor a quick call. They are more than happy to help you verify ownership.


11: Trust Your Gut!!!: If you have any index of suspicion that you are walking into a scam, just walk away. Your gut is an amazing resource that should not be ignored. Remember, there are millions of acres of land for you to buy. If not this lot, another one will be there waiting for you.


Final Thoughts


Buying land is one of the best investments you can make into your family legacy. The advent of the internet has made the process 100x easier than in the past. No more flights halfway across the country to view a plot of land just to find out it really isn't what you were looking for.


It is sad that we have to be so careful when using the world wide web to purchase a property. While owning land is a great investment, you must do your due diligence when researching who you are buying from.


If you have any questions, feel free to shoot us a message or comment on this post. We'll do all we can to help you avoid a land scam.


Cheers!

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