Beware of Deed and Home Warranty Scams

When you purchase real estate or take out a mortgage, the vesting deed and security deed are recorded in the county’s real estate records, which are open to the public. The information made public is the purchase price, loan amount, and names on title.  The real estate documents do not disclose the terms of your mortgage, like interest rate or monthly payment amounts, however. 

A few bad actors use this public information to generate misleading letters and fake invoices to the homeowners. This has been going on for years. 

These letters are usually marked as “Urgent” or “Final Notice” to incite panic in the homeowner to get them to act without thinking. The most common scam is a letter charging you to get a certified copy of your deed for $80 to over $100.  Only the fine print will state that the company selling the certified copy is NOT affiliated with any government agency, and it is not an invoice. Yet the notice is formatted to look exactly like an invoice, even including a payment coupon. 

Do not pay $80 or more to any company to get a certified copy of your deed.  As a buyer, you will receive the original recorded deed, (and title insurance policy if you purchased title insurance), shortly after closing without any additional costs.  If you ever need a certified copy, clerks usually charge less than $5 to provide one. 

A newer scam is to find people who have owned their home for about a year and send out a “Final Renewal Notice” for a home warranty.  It is not a renewal at all, but an offer to enroll in a home warranty program.  The mailing hopes to get people who had a home warranty to enroll with this new company.  The notice will have “Immediate Response Requested”, or “Please Call Immediately”, and other statements on the document to put as much pressure as possible on the homeowner to just sign and send in the voucher. The voucher requires a signature, which enrolls the person in a new home warranty program.

The whole point of these notices is to get people to sign up without providing the coverage information of the home warranty.  The mailing about the “Home Warranty” does not even provide the name of the home warranty company or the cost of the warranty. 

Do not sign any notices or forms without reading them carefully and knowing who sent the document.  


John C. Bennett is a real estate closing attorney and owner of Origin Title and Escrow, Inc.. Since 2003, Origin Title has handled real estate transactions – purchases, refinances, reverse mortgages – quickly and professionally. There will be no surprises, nothing misunderstood. Title searches are thorough and well-reasoned, to avoid unpleasant surprises later down the road. Calculate your closing costs in Georgia or Florida using our calculator or contact Origin Title using this form.       

Junk Fees Revisited

One of the many ways closing attorneys increase their fees is by passing costs on to buyers and sellers for incidental costs of doing business, such as copying, recording, overnight mailing, or banking services.  When quoting their closing costs, many attorneys omit these items, so they come as a surprise right before closing.

Some added costs are reasonable if needed to accommodate a buyer or seller, depending on the situation. Drafting and recording a Power of Attorney will be an extra cost, for example.  Overnighting lien payoff checks or tax payments due the next day will incur extra costs. Some attorneys need to collect money to cover the fees they pay to their bank.    

Banks do charge for wires, but usually no more than $30.  Attorneys pass this cost on to buyers and sellers. Some attorneys increase the fee to $50 or $75 to collect extra money from the closing.  Wires are quicker and safer than handing out large checks to sellers or sending payoffs.    

The same thing happens for e-recording services, scanning services, wire confirmation, reconciliation services, and so on.  These services are very helpful and they save the attorneys a lot of time. In addition to saving time, many attorneys use these fee charges to increase their own revenue.  Charging a client $75 for a wire is not ethical when the bank charge is $25. Disbursing funds to the seller is part of the settlement fee and should not have an additional cost. 

Make sure any quote you get from a closing attorney includes everything.  It’s not  less expensive if the settlement fee is $300, but you have to pay to use the pens, receive funds, for the attorney’s reconciliation services or wire verifications, or to receive copies of anything.   


John C. Bennett is a real estate closing attorney and owner of Origin Title and Escrow, Inc.. Since 2003, Origin Title has handled real estate transactions – purchases, refinances, reverse mortgages – quickly and professionally. There will be no surprises, nothing misunderstood. Title searches are thorough and well-reasoned, to avoid unpleasant surprises later down the road. Calculate your closing costs in Georgia or Florida using our calculator or contact Origin Title using this form.

Do-It-Yourself Real Estate

What are some things you regret trying to do yourself? Do you change your own oil? Fill your own cavities? Prepare your own will? or draft your own property deed?

Sometimes when you do things yourself, if you do it wrong, the worst is that you’ll need to fix your mistakes. If you don’t replace the air filter correctly, your AC won’t be as efficient.

The risk of doing these things, and what you might have to fix, varies. If you fail to give the executor of your will the power to sell real estate, it will take extra time and money to get permission from the court to sell any real estate.

If you prepare your own deed, your notary may not execute the official witness section properly and the deed will fail, and then you don’t own the house.

You may notice that every form or article about real estate law online will include a disclaimer to check with your local real estate attorney.

If your neighbor is buying a house without an agent, suggest a call to Origin Title. Our attorneys will prepare the contract and make sure the sale is completed correctly.


John C. Bennett is a real estate closing attorney and owner of Origin Title and Escrow, Inc.. Since 2003, Origin Title has handled real estate transactions – purchases, refinances, reverse mortgages – quickly and professionally. There will be no surprises, nothing misunderstood. Title searches are thorough and well-reasoned, to avoid unpleasant surprises later down the road. Calculate your closing costs in Georgia or Florida using our calculator or contact Origin Title using this form.

Fixtures as Collateral?

You can borrow against almost anything. Sandwiched in the gray area between “real estate” and “personal property” is something called a fixture. A fixture is something you can buy and attach to real estate or a house, like an air conditioner. 

Origin Title sees a few cases like this every year:  the homeowner had a Uniform Commercial Code filing, or UCC Fixture filed against them for an air conditioner. This means the homeowner used the air conditioner as collateral for the loan. If they default on the loan, the company can come and essentially repossess the air conditioner. It’s a pain, but it can be removed from the house. 

UCC filings have to be paid in full when refinancing or selling the house, just like a mortgage. 

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John C. Bennett is a real estate closing attorney and owner of Origin Title and Escrow, Inc.. Since 2003, Origin Title has handled real estate transactions – purchases, refinances, reverse mortgages – quickly and professionally. There will be no surprises, nothing misunderstood. Title searches are thorough and well-reasoned, to avoid unpleasant surprises later down the road. Calculate your closing costs in Georgia or Florida using our calculator or contact Origin Title using this form.

Can You Purchase Property With a Lien Filed Against You?

The answer most of the time is yes, even if it is an IRS lien. A buyer with a lien is not a deal-killer.

Purchase money mortgages take priority over judgment liens and state income tax liens. The Federal tax code even puts the IRS behind a purchase money mortgage.  

Some attorneys would not close the sale with an IRS lien filed against the buyer. To keep them on schedule to close the next day, we explained how we could insure title to the lender and buyer, even with an IRS lien, and they closed as scheduled.   

Buyers still must be searched for liens, because we don’t want to surprise them if they ever go to refinance or sell their property.  Those liens then would have to be paid in full at or before closing.


John C. Bennett is a real estate closing attorney and owner of Origin Title and Escrow, Inc.. Since 2003, Origin Title has handled real estate transactions – purchases, refinances, reverse mortgages – quickly and professionally. There will be no surprises, nothing misunderstood. Title searches are thorough and well-reasoned, to avoid unpleasant surprises later down the road. Calculate your closing costs in Georgia or Florida using our calculator or contact Origin Title using this form.

Are Title Monitoring Services Worth It?

Deeds often get filed without the benefit of a title search or a real estate attorney, such as a quit claim that shares or gifts all of the property to a trusted friend or family member.  

Thieves can take advantage of this to forge the owner’s name on a deed, gifting the property to themselves, and then filing it with the county. Then they take out a loan to drain the equity, or perhaps sell the property. 

The county clerk is not expected to verify the authenticity of these deed filings. The property owner won’t learn about it until the loan has defaulted, the money is gone, and their home is being foreclosed upon, or the sheriff is telling them to move out because there are new owners.

The easiest targets are homes belonging to the elderly because they usually have a lot of equity in their home. Another easy target is investment property that may not be closely watched, especially if it is vacant land, or no one is living there.

All the information a scammer needs is right there on the internet – the tax assessors list the names of the owners and real estate deed records are public records for anyone to search.  

Home title monitoring companies also use the internet to check for unauthorized activity regarding your title. Understand that they don’t check for identity theft, only deed action. They will send an alert if they spot any activity with the deed. 

Protecting Yourself from Wire Fraud

Wire fraud is an increasing problem when it comes to real estate transactions. Cyber criminals are experts at hacking email accounts and sending emails with fake wiring instructions. These emails can be convincing and sophisticated. Once funds are wired to a fraudulent account, the money is gone and there is no recourse unless something is done immediately. 

You should never send personal information, such as financial information, via email (that is not encrypted) or any other unsecured electronic communication.  Different e-mail provides have different security protocols.  A popular e-mail security protocol is Transport Layer Security (TLS), which encrypts e-mail.  If both sender and receiver use TLS, then the e-mail is encrypted.  Ecrypted e-mails do not always require a log-in and password.   

It’s also important to always confirm wiring instructions with your real estate agent in person or by phone using a recognized phone number that is not found in the potentially fraudulent email. Origin Title works closely with agents to correctly clarify wiring instructions and any other potential issues that could arise. 

If you think you’ve been targeted in a wire fraud scam, notify law enforcement, your lender, the title company and your agent as soon as possible. 

Wire Transfer Warning

The average home buyer or seller likely does not know about scams in the real estate world. The most common scam in real estate is wire fraud during closing. On instances of wire fraud i poses as an agent in order to divert closing funds to a fraudulent account. The Buyer would receive an e-mail from the fraudster claiming to provide the closing attorney’s wire instructions.  The wire instructions are to the criminal’s account and the closing attorney never receives the buyer’s funds.  Surprisingly, these scams are very common. Communication from a hacker can look authentic and even contain personal information. 

Once a wire transfer is initiated, itis very difficult to cancel and get your money back. Wire fraud will not only delay the closing, but can force you to lose all of your closing costs. 

Origin Title and Escrow is on your side to protect you from scams like this one. We send most all emails with encryption, protecting the content from being read by another other than the intended recipient. 

Refinancing and Intangible Tax

Most people buy a house two or three times in their lifetime, and perhaps refinance another couple of times. When refinancing, you may have the best loan in the world, but if it’s not closed or reviewed properly, you could lose hundreds or thousands of dollars.  

One area where borrowers can lose money is with intangible tax.  Borrowers are often surprised when refinancing that they are charged intangible taxes again! The State of Georgia charges $1.50 for every $500 of the loan amount.  But there is a  way that can save you hundreds. If your previous loan has not been sold, you can refinance with the same lender and only pay the intangible tax on the difference between the current principal balance of your loan and the new loan amount.  This is a small detail that could  be missed, but it is one of many things on the Origin Title checklist, to be sure the borrower receives every available advantage.

Choose a reputable and detailed closing attorney when refinancing to make sure you get every discount possible. 

Property Records Are Public in Georgia

In Georgia, all property records are public. Deeds, liens, mortgages and tax information are available to anyone who wants to pull them. With records being public, purchasers will know they are getting full ownership of the purchased property, and public records also let potential buyers know any restrictions that might be on the land. 

But we must be reminded that the county clerks do not review documents to make sure they are valid or legal. Clerks simply record anything that has a notary and a witness. It is the attorney’s job to review those documents to make sure they are legal and binding. 

There are plenty of fraudulent deeds and liens on record, so having title insurance is your best protection against issues that can remain concealed even after a thorough public record search.