City moves to protect homeowners from predatory home flipping

Austin

Offers on the table, but the home isn’t for sale. Families are feeling the pressure with flyers flooding their mailbox, begging to buy their homes, with the goal of flipping it. 

Thursday, the Austin City Council took steps to educate homeowners who could get taken advantage of by low offers, with the promise of quick turnarounds.

The resolution will provide resources for homeowners, many elderly and low-income families, who the city says investors prey upon to sell their homes, “through high pressure, deceptive, and/or exploitative tactics.” The same people who may be struggling to stay in their homes to begin with. 

The resolution calls on the city manager to put together a strategy to create and launch an educational empowerment campaign that will include: 

  • Best practices regarding educational and marketing campaign strategies
  • Outreach activities in areas where populations at risk are being targeted
  • Potentially include a hotline to refer homeowners to a “Real Estate Agent List” and a list of legal resources
  • A campaign work plan that includes a timeline for implementation and identification of both public and private funding options and potential partnerships

“I’ll get probably one a week or at least,” homeowner Judy Julian said of the flyers put in her mailbox, expressing an urgent interest to buy her home. 

But talking with Julian, it’s very clear: her home is not for sale. 

“Oh no, oh no,” she said with a laugh, “Not now… I keep saying that when I leave this house, they’re going to have to carry me out feet first.”

All of the offers, Julian says, end up in the recycling bin. 

“I feel like half the time, sending the card back with a note on it that says, ‘Yeah, I’ll sell you my house for a million dollars.’ If that’s how desperate you are to buy it.” 

Julian lives off South First and Stassney, what used to be considered the outskirts. 

“Now it’s south central Austin, because we’re only 5 miles away from downtown.” 

And the city says it’s prime territory for quick house flipping, increasing home prices in areas that used to be considered affordable. 

“We paid $47,000 when we bought this house in 1983,” Julian said. “And you could buy homes back then for that much money!”

Because of that, people who aren’t tapped into the market may consider what’s really a low offer, pretty much anything under $200,000 in Austin, a good deal. 

“It makes me feel like they’re taking advantage of people who might not know,” Julian said. 

Council Member Delia Garza is leading the council effort to empower homeowners and help families avoid fraud and advocate for themselves in the home-buying and selling process. 

She showed KXAN just one of the mailers she’s received herself. 

“It says, ‘I would appreciate you keep this matter private.’ Why would they ask you to keep this matter private?” Garza said. “I remember getting offers when I was in law school but they’ve just increased and they’ve gotten, frankly more predatory. You know, ‘You need to call us,’ ‘I’ve been trying to reach you,’ sending text messages.”

KXAN asked if there’s anything preventing this type of activity. 

“Maybe our state legislature could take this up and really define it as predatory. But right now I don’t think there’s anything that prevents people from doing this,” Garza said. 

So homeowners like Julian have to protect themselves, now with some help from the city. 

“You have to be your own best advocate,” Julian said. 

KXAN spoke with a realtor, Ashley Jackson, who says going the route of hiring a realtor or real estate agent will ultimately provide protection because professionals use the Austin MLS, or Multiple Listing Service. The idea being, the MLS increases a home’s exposure. 

“It gives every buyer an opportunity to see the house and make an offer on the house. And through that process, if a home is accidentally under-priced, or for whatever reason, the market will drive the price up through bids,” Jackson explained. “When you use a realtor, you do end up having to pay commissions but generally you sell it for so much more, that you realize that profit – that more than covers the commission.” 

Jackson said realtors are also bound by a code of ethics to present the market value of the home to the seller. 

Council members directed the city manager to come back with an estimated budget for the educational campaign no later than June 28. 

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