They see a lot of documents at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office, a veritable avalanche of paperwork on some days.
“We do a lot, especially at the end of the month,” said June Ingle, a deputy register of deeds who’s been with the office three years. “On Friday (a week ago) — now this was not specifically just deeds — we did over 350 pages in hour and a half time.”
That was Ingle and one other deputy handling those documents.
In 2017, the Register of Deeds Office recorded 45,918 documents, ranging from death certificates to land transactions.
So, you could understand if Ingle got covered up in paperwork and didn’t pay particularly close attention to one of the dozens of deeds that can come across her desk every day. But one warranty deed for a vacant lot transfer that came in a few weeks back looked just a little, well, off.
It lacked an excise tax, the fee usually paid when property is transferred, and the money order that accompanied the paperwork was left blank and didn’t have the buyer’s name on it. The Register of Deeds office doesn’t accept blank checks or money orders.
The property in question was small, just 0.19 of an acre, but it’s in Montford and has an assessed value of $207,000. Yet the deed, typed and formatted like many other regular deeds, indicated no transfer of funds.
Also, the money order and package had come from a “Larry Stephens” in Stockbridge, Georgia, the person receiving the property was supposedly in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and the alleged seller was in Boston.
In short, red flags were flying for Ingle, who has her degree in criminal justice.
So, she took it to her supervisor and then did some Googling of the supposed recipient of the land. She came up empty.
“I found an address of the local attorney listed (on the deed), and I said to my supervisor, ‘Will you contact the attorney?’,” Ingle recalled.
That local attorney, Joe Ferikes, is a pretty well-known guy, having been the town attorney for Woodfin for decades. He’d never heard of the people named on the deed and said his office had nothing to do with it.
Ingle then contacted the landowner, Anne Crosby, an Asheville native now living in Boston.
“The lady left me a message on phone: ‘Are you trying to sell your lot? Because I just got the paperwork to transfer the deed, and it just seems kind of fishy,'” said Crosby, a divinity student at Harvard who happened to be in Asheville on her spring break when the office called. “I knew nothing about it. I had never put it on the market.”
This being a hot real estate market, Crosby, 43, said she occasionally hears from someone interested in buying the lot, but she plans on keeping it as a possible retirement spot. She bought the property in 2009, and visits town on occasion, as her parents still live here.
When Crosby came by the register’s office to look at the paperwork, she was amazed at the lengths the crook went to.
“Somebody had forged notary papers in Boston, where I live, and they’d forged my signature and the witness’ signature, and they’d faked a letter from a local attorney in Asheville,” Crosby said. “They were paying the Register of Deeds to transfer it, and she noticed the paperwork just looked fishy. She was really amazing.”
Fake deeds aren’t common in Buncombe County
Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger said this is the first attempted land theft by fake deed he’s seen in his seven years, but he has heard of the scam taking place in other places across the country. He contacted the Asheville Police Department, and it suggested he reach out to the states’ others registers of deeds to see if they’d encountered the ruse.
“After we sent out a mass email to other registers of deeds across the state, we got immediate hits from other counties,” Reisinger said, noting that fake deeds were actually filed in Wake County and New Hanover, and Currituck County had four fake deed attempts.
Reisinger says it’s unclear if the fake deeds are the work of an individual or an organized ring. While the deeds have some holes in them, they’re pretty convincing in many ways.
“This has gotten through in most other counties,” Reisinger said. “June did a really impressive job of catching this and not letting it go on file.”
Ferikes, the local attorney, said he’s been practicing real estate law in Asheville since 1984. It’s the first time he’s personally seen this type of attempted fraud.
“I have heard of it going on in other parts of the country,” Ferikes said. “Thank goodness they’re catching these folks. I’m really glad the Register of Deeds was on top of it.”
Had the deed gone through, at a minimum Crosby would have been looking at a legal nightmare lasting months if not years. A property owner caught in this scam would have to “absolutely prove they did not initiate the original deed that went through,” Ferikes said.
“I think she dodged a bullet here because, through no fault of her own, this would have cost her a lot of money,” Ferikes said.
“What we’ve seen in North Carolina is this group or this person is consistently going after vacant lots,” Reisinger said. “Ann would have never known about this until it came time to pay taxes, and then she wouldn’t have gotten a tax bill. And would she have asked the county to send a tax bill? I’m not sure I would have.”
Reisinger said they’re unsure how exactly the criminal was looking to profit in this case. In Wake County, a man who pulled a similar scheme was convicted in federal court in late March of bank fraud, engaging in monetary transactions involving criminally derived property and aggravated identity theft.
The jury in that case said the criminal, a 30-year-old Greensboro man, also had to forfeit more than $1.3 million in fraudulent proceeds, as well as $300,000 in gold bullion.
A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office detailed a convoluted scheme in which “the defendant forged a deed on a property owned by an out of state landowner, and then channeled the property ownership through fictitious individuals and a holding company before personally taking title to the property. The defendant then attempted to secure $495,000 in home equity loans using the property as collateral, becoming successful on three such attempts.”
The local police have referred the Crosby case to the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office.
Ingle, her criminal justice degree itching a bit, would like to investigate the perp herself, if she had the time and resources.
“I feel good for Anne Crosby, ’cause that’d pissed me off if I’d found out,” Ingle said with a laugh. “It made me mad to think there’s more people out there like this.”
Crosby, who used to live in Santa Clara County in California, says she was really grateful Ingle was on the job.
“Having lived in California, I don’t know if a big county like Santa Clara would catch it,” Crosby said.
Keeping your information safe
While the Register of Deeds Office gets a lot of what Ingle calls “homemade deeds,” created and written by the property owners without an attorney’s assistance, she and Reisinger, and naturally Ferikes, all recommend using an attorney who specializes in real estate.
Reisinger wants to assure people that while so many records are online these days, including property ownership and taxes, their documents are safe.
Crosby said she’ll be keeping a much closer eye on her property online. She’s taking away two lessons from the whole deal.
“One, it was creepy because this person went to all this trouble to fabricate documents,” Crosby said. “It showed a real dedication. The second thing — and I was kind of knowing this already having worked in Silicon Valley in tech — is this publicly available database. Anybody can go on and find somebody who owns vacant property and try this.”
Obviously, public documents need to be public, but Crosby wants to see more safeguards so this doesn’t happen again.
Reisinger said the Register of Deeds is doing just that. It has initiated a program called “Property Check” to provide another level of security.
The idea is that once you sign up for the program, if anything is recorded in your name, you’ll get an automatic email directing you to a page online where you can see what’s going on. For more information on Property Check, visit www.buncombecounty.org/propertycheck or call 828-250-4303.
Property owners also can monitor records online, under the county’s Esearch program.
“The difference with this Property Check is if something were to transfer, you would get an immediate notification, which is helpful,” Reisinger said.
In this case, Reisinger is just glad Ingle was on the job.
“The lengths that June went to to help this citizen not lose a valuable piece of property, or at least not get tied up in legal shenanigans and lawyer’s fees, was above and beyond,” Reisinger said.
Ingle is pretty humble about the whole deal, and she’s glad no one got swindled.
“This was like the perfect storm right here to be able to catch it and not let it get recorded,” Ingle said.
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In the red hot local real estate business, it’s a little taboo to use “the B-word.”
That’s mainly because everyone has painfully fresh memories of the last housing bubble, which burst with a near-nuclear detonation in 2008, leading to a worldwide recession with impacts that lingered for years.
So pardon professionals like Mike Figura, founder of Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty and a local market analyst, who is dancing around the B-word in light of the first quarter real estate report. It shows record sales in the city of Asheville and housing inventory levels that are so tight that everything priced under $1 million fits in the “less than six months”
The real estate market remains super hot in the Asheville area, according to two reports out that track real estate sales.The Citizen-Times
Inventory refers to the number of months it would take for all homes currently for sale to sell, based on monthly sales volume. When inventory is tight, prices just keep climbing, and that can lead to, well, let’s not say the word out loud.
“It’s getting a little frothy out there,” Figura said, noting that he opened his company in 2005. “When I started, it did feel similar to what’s going on now, in terms of bidding wars and setting new records each quarter.”
In short, the first quarter of 2017 indicates a fantastic seller’s market, with 327 homes sold in Asheville and 510 in Buncombe County. In Asheville, the median home sales price also set a record, at $275,000, and the county was close to one set last year, at $243,450.
Getting outbid is common
Asheville native Janis Turner, 40, knows exactly what that hot market means for buyers. A mental health clinician, Turner sold her West Asheville home three years ago and moved away, but she recently returned.
After living in an apartment “for the first time in forever,” she started looking for a house about a month ago.
“In that month, I put in three offers on three different homes,” Turner said. “Within 24 hours of my offer, I would get a call from my real estate agent saying they had numerous offers and they were calling for ‘first and best.’ Two times I got outbid, in less than a month.”
The third time was the charm, and Turner is closing on a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home in Candler. She’ll pay about $200,000 for the 1,800-square-foot home, which dates to 1920 but has been completely renovated, and she feels like she’s getting a good deal.
“The housing prices are significantly higher than when I moved from the area three years ago,” Turner said. “I sold my home in West Asheville right off Haywood Road three years ago for $155,000. It was a two-bedroom, two bath. I kick myself.”
Kent Wolff, senior loan officer at Mountain Lifestyles Mortgage, is handling the mortgage for Turner. Her story has become commonplace.
“We consistently have clients who make full-price or over full-price offers on one, two or in some examples, even a third home, only to lose to people bidding even higher,” Wolff said. “Many home buyers are understandably becoming more frustrated or increasingly discouraged with the limited level of inventory available in the Asheville. It’s really a challenge for everyone, minus the sellers.”
Don Davies, whose firm RealSearch conducts market studies, traced several records in the first quarter for Buncombe County, all related to that seller’s market:
Median asking price of all homes for sale, at $399,995.
Average selling price of all homes (including single-family, condos, town homes and mobile homes), at $314,172.
Average selling price of all homes in the last 12 months, at $315,163.
“The inventory is low, and that drives prices up, and the number of sales is very strong,” Davies said. “They have not slowed — they’re actually about 1 percent higher for this time of year, and last year was a record-setting year.”
So, dare he utter the B-word?
“I don’t know if we’re in a situation where we’re creating bubbles, but we are seeing appreciation in selling prices of about 10-12 percent (a year), and I’m not sure if that’s sustainable,” Davies said.
Lack of speculation
He and Figura temper their comments by noting that one key element of the previous bubble is absent today: speculative buying, in which investors were snapping up properties strictly to flip them for a profit.
“What’s different in this case is there is real demand,” Figura said. “People are actually buying homes for themselves.”
For homebuilders, times are good, but they too are treading lightly, the specter of 2008 always hovering over the job site.
“Growth wise, our business has just exploded since the downturn,” said Jody Guokos, founder and president of JAG Construction, a green home building company. “Last year, we grew more than we had grown in any of our previous years. We’re seeing year over year growth that continues to beat the previous year — 40 percent in the case of last year.”
So, he should be happy, right? The B-word should not be a factor in his life.
And yet, he thinks about the painful image of a market bubble bursting “every day of my life.”
“When every story you see is about the inventory is even lower and the median home price is up, you just start to get nervous,” Guokos said. “Just when you think things can’t get worse again, they can. I’m starting to feel like we’re at the point. The bottom is going to drop one of these days.”
He quickly walks that back a bit, though, noting that if a correction comes, he suspects it will be nothing like the last one, mainly because the speculation element is missing. For the most part, he’s building homes in the $400,000-$500,000 range, whereas three or four years ago that figure was about $100,000 lower.
“It’s not so much people building bigger homes, it’s that they want more bells and whistles,” Guokos said. “What we’re seeing is people are feeling the last eight years they had decent income, and they’ve started to look at their mortgage payments, saying, ‘I can afford a little more, I can afford an extra $600 a month to add that $80,000 to the value.'”
Another issue driving the tightness of the market inventory and ensuing rising prices is the lack of spec homes on the market. During the previous boom, builders and investors would build subdivisions or homes before they had a seller locked in, or on speculation.
And they were selling the homes pretty quickly. But after the bust, banks tightened lending on such projects, and wary home builders stopped building unless they had a buyer locked in.
Davies said one developer he knows who’s building a small subdivision told him point blank, “I’m going to build one at a time, instead of 10 at a time, so I can make sure it sells.”
Figura and his business partners are building a 45-home development in West Asheville called Craggy Park, and they are building all spec homes, in part because of the high demand for homes in that area and the shortage of buildable land. The homes will range from 1,600-2,400-square feet and likely sell in the mid-$300,000 range to the high $400,000’s, Figura said.
He’s seen personally how tight the market is for buyers.
“It takes a lot of planning and patience, depending on the price range your’e in, especially homes in the lower price ranges and on up to $600,000,” Figura said. “You’ve got inventory of less than three months in some of those case, so you’re competing with a lot of other buyers.”
A little relief may be coming, as Figura points out in his report that the average “days on market” for homes in Asheville increased from 55 days in 2016 to 68 in the first quarter. In Buncombe it rose from 77 to 82 days.
That, Figura says in his report, “is likely due to more sellers pricing their homes higher than market value, causing the homes to take longer to sell.”
In-migration a driver
But, the buyers keep coming, drawn by what has brought them here for decades — beautiful scenery, a vibrant city and prices that may seem high to locals but are way cheaper than northern states, Florida, Texas or California.
Tom Tveidt, founder of Syneva Economics in Asheville, looked at Census data covering 2010-2016, and it shows that for the four metro counties — Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood and Madison — “essentially all of the net population change is due to new people moving in.” Of that influx, 95 percent of the newcomers are from the U.S., the rest international.
Buncombe did have a gain of 884 people from births outpacing deaths, but the other three counties had negative numbers in the “natural gain” department.
“So only about 3 percent of the net population growth in the metro was due to the local population increasing; the remaining 97 percent are newcomers,” Tveidt said. “This has been the case for at least the last decade.”
That comes as no surprise to Turner.
“I think my fear is that people with money are moving in and pushing out local people who may not have the money,” Turner said. “I feel like it’s definitely going to change the culture in the area.”
By the numbers:
Total number of residential homes, condos, townhouses, mobile homes available as of April 5: 1,134.
Number of homes put on the market since Jan. 1: 1,260.
Median asking price: $399,995 (new record high).
Number of homes sold Jan. 1-March 31, 2017: 837.
Median selling price: $255,000 (new record).
Average selling price of all homes sold in the last 12 months: $315,163 (new record).
Source: RealSearch, Don Davies. Number derived from MLS data and may not reflect all real estate activity in the market.
The following transfers were filed in the Register of Deeds office Feb. 20-24:
• 3 Glenview Road (Lot 1), $135,500, James D. and Bobbie Lynn Wooten to Eugene L. Phillips
• 20 Plemmons St. (Lot 52), $32,500, Real Trust IRA Alternatives LLC FBO James Bash IRA #20711-TR07 & FBO Kathryn Bash IRA #20709-TR07 to Blue Horizon Inc.
• Lot 1 West Chapel Road (0.499), $48,000, Bruce B. and Laynene T. Gaskins to JCS III LLC
• Lot 28 Thoms Estate, $305,000, Gated Communities of Asheville LLC to Bruce A. and Marjorie A. Newman
• Lot 13 section 5 Woodland Hills, $275,000, The Michael J. and Martin and Marcelle L. Martin Living Trust to Robert A. Pligge, Sarah Heiden
• 7 Alta Ave., $169,000, The Smith Family Trust to Tyra L. Goodman, Robert M. Jackson
• 26 N. Liberty St., $530,000, Blossman Real Estate Holdings LLC to 26 Liberty LLC
• Lot 26B of the Wildes At Chunns Cove, $385,000, Robert and Rosina Bremner (Trading as 2 Farley 2 Partners) to Ion and Olesea Ermurache
• Unit E-6 Woodfield Condominiums section 3, $178,000, Theresa N. Wilmerding to Kitty Marston Hoover
• Lot 3 Morgan Hill Road, $110,000, Linda and Ernest Russell to Michael A. and Regina Gilliam Knipp
• 22 Moore Circle (Lot 22 Buckners Knob), $65,000, Water’s Edge Properties LLC to Hultman Properties LLC
• 128 Broadway St., $483,000, Ice House Creations LLC to Joseph E. Cordell
• Lot 21 Living Waters, $350,000, John V. and Linda D. Burris to Rebecca Meredith, Janet L. Conrad
• 1502 Hyde Park Drive (Biltmore Commons phase V) $145,000, the Jan Walter Bordewick Revocable Trust (a. k. a. Polynesia Island Resorts Trust) to Marsha M. Henson
• Lot 56 section 1-A of High Meadows, $225,000, Ann G. Touzinsky to Mark and Betty-Sue Crossley
• 41 Hamilton St. (Lot 19), $70,000, Julia G. Ray Revocable Living Trust to Palas/Paly LLC
• 26 Canterbury Road (Lot D block F Beverly Hills), $300,000, PGD Real Estate LLC to Jason and Laura Gulley
• LUnit BBB-2 Beaverdam Run Condominiums, $538,000, John William and Valerie L. Thomas to The Sarah Reaney Bevington Revocable Living Trust
• Lot 8 High Valley Forest section 1, $264,000, McMaster Real Estate Group LLC to David Eshan
• Lot 12 and a portion of lot 13 at Beaver Point Park, $502,500, John C. and Terri C. Frue to Gretchen Ian and Matthew Thomas Charles Brown
• Lot 6 Anna Glenn, $125,000, Gregory Lawrence and Angela Anders Mace to Russell G. and Meghan L. Cooper
• Lot 4 Woodridge Place, $52,000, Susan C. and Gorden F. Duckett Jr., Pamela D. and Spergion Lee Henry to James Michael and Holly Ann Jordan
• 98 Stewart St. (0.16 acre), $225,000, Joseph Chennault to Ella Pavlyuk
• Lot 27 Reynolds Mountain phase 1, $850,000, Kevin and Nancy Leaderer to Bradley W. and Laurie K. O’Halla
• Lot 12 Clovernook, $185,000, Lynda G. Carroll to Anita Beth Westmoreland, Mary Elizabeth Hickling-Suggs (a. k. a. Hickling Suggs)
• Lot 4 Serenity phase 1A, $158,000, Michael Lloyd Parrish (a. k. a. Parish) to Melissa Leigh and Frithjof Hoegener
• 672 Monta Vista Road, $94,000, New Residential Mortgage Loan Trust to KT Enterprises Inc.
• Lot 8 Ledgstone (Lot 8), $25,000, WETA LLC to Anne Marie and Gregory R. Costanzo Sr.
• Lot 24 Moores Valley phase II, $6,000, Bayview Loan Servicing LLC to Vladimir Grebenyuk
• Lot 20 Farmstead Subdivision, $97,000, Paul Thomas Salos to James J. and Mary Craig Goure
• Lot 22 Meadow View Estates, $6,000, Rodney M. and Betty H. Sparkman to Judith M. Baker, Anne Dumont Cooke
• Lot 40 section I St. Andrews Brookwood Community, $221,000, Jennifer Brooks and Thomas Dalton to Alison Ann and John Brennan Norvell II
• Lots 184 & 184 A of Beacon Manufacturing, $80,000, Michael D. and Melissa K. Harrin to Henry C. McGuire
• 6 Wise Road, $26,000, Kevin Brooks to Joffrey W. and Della J. Brooks
• Lot 13 Reems Creek Town Homes phase 2A, $210,000, Erin M. and Paul J. Lusignan to Frederick M. and Elizabeth H. Bracklein
Compiled by Citizen-Times News Correspondent Bonnie Black
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — The real estate market in Asheville and Buncombe County is setting records with home prices and sales.
RealSearch, a market analysis firm run by Don Davies, closely tracks area real estate. Data shows 2016 was a record-breaking year for real estate in Asheville. The average asking price for a home was $591,207. The old record high was in 2015 with $524,015. And 2016 also saw a record high for the number of homes sold with 4,234. The previous record was set was in 2006 with 4,120 homes sold.
Davies also reports 2016 saw a record for average home sale price at $309,443. The old record, set in 2007, was $293,508.
Beverly Hanks agent Tara Irby sold a Haw Creek home in two days after listing it for $299,000. The price for the four-bed three-bath home resonated with a market that has a tight inventory for homes that size and in that price range. Last Thursday, calls immediately came in to see the home.
“Between 4 and 5 p.m., the house hit the Multiple Listing Service. And immediately I started receiving calls to show it the next day,” Irby said. “On Friday, this house showed six times, and out of those six showings we received two offers.”
“The market’s incredibly hot,” Laura Dyer, with Dwell Realty/Keller Williams, said.
Dyer said she has been extremely busy for months, and showings did not slow down during the holidays.
“We’re thrilled in the real estate market to see prices rise. People are having to compromise where they’re looking just to get into the area because they know they want to be here.”
via http://wlos.com/news/local/buncombe-county-breaking-homes-sales-price-records by Kimberly King