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Real Estate Law | ‘Beware the great deal’

By ERIC P. FEICHTHALER - Real Estate Law | Oct 26, 2023

Eric P. Feichthaler

Dear Mr. Feichthaler:

I stumbled upon a “For Sale by Owner” sign a few months ago for a property in a neighborhood I wanted to move to. I knocked at the door and the owner was very nice. He said he was moving out of state to take care of a family member, and needed to sell quickly. He offered me a great deal – $250,000 for a house where the cheapest house is $350,000. He signed over a quitclaim deed and gave it to me to record after I had funds wired to him. I recorded the deed the same day.

Afterwards, I noted that the property appraiser still shows the prior owners, and they have different names than the man that sold me the property. I asked for a title search and it came back showing it is owned by someone other than the man that sold it to me. I tried to reach the seller but he is not responding to calls or emails. Did I make a mistake?

Drew N.

Dear Drew:

I am incredibly hesitant to give you the bad news, but it is likely you are a victim of fraud. From your description, it sounds like you didn’t confirm the man at the house was the actual owner. He could have been a renter or squatter with no ownership rights in the property. Additionally, there are two main types of deeds that are given in a transaction: A Warranty Deed and a Quitclaim Deed. A Warranty deed contains language where the seller attests that the seller is the actual owner. In contrast, a quitclaim deed only transfers whatever rights the Grantor possesses. In other words, if the “seller” in your case had no ownership interest in the property, the quitclaim deed transferred all he had to you, which is nothing at all.

I would recommend you seek legal counsel immediately to determine the path forward. Possible actions include contacting the Cape Coral Police Department to report the fraud, or a quiet title action to take possession of the property. However, if the owners of the property had no knowledge of this deed and didn’t profit from it, they will have no obligation to you to provide anything. Your only recourse is most likely against the person pretending to be the seller, which may be a difficult task based on the facts presented. You should also advise your bank from which you sent the wire about this and ask them to recall the wire. Given the amount of time that has passed, this also has little chance of success, but you need to do anything you can to reclaim those funds.

Your situation demonstrates the importance of utilizing a firm to handle the title work and escrow funds. Having an intermediary work with buyers and sellers confirms that all parties are acting at arm’s-length and with good intentions. Plus, as buyer, you receive a Title Insurance Policy as buyer that protects you from situations just like this. Of course, the firm would quickly note the person trying to sell doesn’t own the property in this case.

As technology becomes more advanced and thieves become more emboldened, it is as important as ever to protect your hard-earned money from situations like this. Vigilance, and professional services when appropriate, can go a long way to avoid a terrible situation like this. Wishing you the best for a good outcome.

Eric P. Feichthaler has lived in Cape Coral for over 35 years and graduated from Mariner High School in Cape Coral. After completing law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he returned to Southwest Florida to practice law and raise a family. He served as mayor of Cape Coral from 2005-2008, and continues his service to the community through the Cape Coral Caring Center, Cape Coral Museum of History, and Cape Coral Kiwanis. He has been married to his wife, Mary, for over 20 years, and they have four children together. He earned his board certification in Real Estate Law from the Florida Bar. He is AV Preeminent rated by Martindale-Hubbell for professional ethics and legal ability, and is a Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator. He can be reached at eric@capecoralattorney.com, or 239-542-4733.

This article is general in nature and not intended as legal advice to anyone. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting on any matter of legal rights and obligations.