by Aaron Velazquez
The internet has made life vastly easier for everyone, from your grandma playing games on facebook to your local high schooler looking for a job at the city golf course. However, this also means that scammers have a whole new platform to manipulate money from the pockets of innocent people, especially in the Santa Barbara real estate market where the demand for rentals greatly exceeds the supply. Since we have yet to find a solid app for listing legitimate rentals (any developers out there, hit me up for a 50/50 co-developer split), we are mostly stuck with Craigslist, Zillow, and the likes where verification is spotty at best. To attest to the extent of recent scams, here at Workzones we have heard of multiple cases where local real estate agents have seen property that they had recently sold being listed as rentals when they know that the new occupants never intended for it to be a rental. We have even heard of someone who rented out a house only to have the tenant then post it on VRBO as their own property to rent out. To prevent such mishaps, let’s go over some tips, shared with us by the CEO/President of Sierra Property Group, a local property management company, to keep in mind when searching online for a rental.
First off, always meet the landlord in person. Simply insisting on this can drive away many scammers. Further, never pay for any rental via an online platform or cashier’s checks; all payments should be done through a legitimate online portal or via a check written to a specific property management company. Just like any other time you’re shelling out large amounts of money, triple and quadruple check everything beforehand.
Secondly, do plenty of online research to see if there is any dirt on your potential landlord. Any legitimate property management company should have multiple search results to cross-check their validity. Look for reviews, other sites that list their services, or my favorite, simply run a “[insert business name] legit” google search. This last one will often pop up with instant results pointing out scammers and frauds. And if you find a company’s email or phone number online, be sure to contact them and corroborate who they say they are; often scammers will claim to be a company but list an entirely different phone number than the real one.
Additionally, ask as many questions as you want until you’re entirely comfortable. If you’re the one paying the money, you have full power to practically interrogate the seller before any deal is made. Inquire about their company, their contact info, any other units they rent out, what their rental policies are, and anything else that comes to mind. Hesitations and stumblings for the answer may indicate there is no real answer. Keep in mind there’s no harm in asking, as my many annoyed teachers from the past will begrudgingly attest to.
Lastly, on a quick administrative sidenote, make sure there is some sort of paperwork and you read through all of it. Any sort of under-the-table sketchy deals are probably under the table for a reason, especially if the price is an incredible deal. While some scammers go so far as to acquire lockbox passcodes, give full tours, and distribute fake applications, many lazier ones can be filtered before any such steps are taken. And if they do go that far, your previous research and inquiries should help see through them.
Just remember, if the deal is “too good to be true”, it probably is too good to be true. Inform yourself with plenty of research, stay vigilant, and if you’ve been scammed or fear you may be, consider skipping the whole online market and just come down to Workzones. Whether you need solid wifi for a few hours or want to move your entire small business into our space, we can accommodate your needs without the unnecessary worry of fraudulent dealings.