Category: Resources


Business Email Compromise: The Biggest Cyber Target on a Realtor’s Back

 

How a Realtor Lost $257,000 of Their Clients’ Money

Realtor Kevin got an email from a prospective buyer who was ready to make an offer with their loan pre-approval attached. Kevin clicked the attachment to view the buyer’s documents, but there wasn’t anything there. “That’s strange,” thought Kevin, and he closed his email. What Kevin didn’t know is that spyware was just installed on his device, and now, hackers had access to everything! The hackers were able to intercept a different deal Kevin was working and re-route a $257,000 wire from a REAL buyer working with Kevin, losing his client’s hard-earned money and their home purchase.

You’ve heard it before, but we’re going to tell you again! Your email and cyber security are paramount to your business – and your clients’ money.

From wire fraud and malware to personal information loss, there are several ways cyber crooks can succeed in a heist at your loss. There was OVER $213 million reported loss from real estate fraud, just last year!

Here are just a few tips to ensure you’re not a sitting duck for scammers and hackers:

  1. Email Security! This is a BIG one! Use spam filters put in place by your organization and report any potential phishing. If using a personal email, be weary of phishing scams. Do not click or open anything from an unknown sender!
  2. Protect your connection! Use a VPN to protect your connection. Public WIFI allows hackers on the same networks you’re using and gives them full view of what is transmitted. Cellular devices are encrypted and can help protect your transmissions.
  3. UPDATE your devices! Security patches come through updates, so ensure you’re taking a few minutes to run those pesky updates and restart.
  4. Password Managers! Utilizing a password manager can help you make each password strong and different for all sites and programs you’re using.
  5. Multi-Factor Authentication! When available, ALWAYS choose two-factor authentication utilizing a code texted to you or a program like Google Authenticator.

By protecting yourself and your devices with layered security, you are decreasing your chances of a cyber-attack. At Florida Agency Network, cyber security is our top priority to ensure you and your clients have a secure transaction from start to finish.


Have You Updated Your Disaster Recovery Plan Lately? (Do You Even Have One?)

Our own Aaron Davis was approached recently by National Mortgage News for his thoughts about business disruption plans—a very timely topic. (Subscription required). It’s a great read, and you should check it out if you can. It’s a great reminder that business disasters can come in many forms. Cybersecurity is only half of the battle. Sometimes, even the most secure systems get breached by persistent and sophisticated criminals determined to get in. If you don’t have a flexible, updated, and robust business continuity/disaster plan, your cybersecurity plan could go for naught.

You may recall that, just a few years ago, our industry had a fairly robust conversation about cyber-security and business continuity planning when ALTA unveiled its Best Practices. For the title industry, SOC 2 and/or Best Practices certification became not only a security need, but a way of differentiating to lenders. Of course, not everyone went the distance with their planning, and the Best Practices, while welcome, did not get extremely specific. At the time, hacking, hurricanes, fires, and the like were considered the primary threats. Over the next few years, wire fraud became the dominant topic—something that, while definitely a threat that requires cybersecurity planning, really doesn’t dovetail with disaster planning or business continuity. And so, it’s quite possible that some of those who put together great plans then, but haven’t regularly reviewed and updated them since, have some weaknesses in their system today.

If you jump ahead of that original conversation five or six years to 2021, one pandemic and one massive ransomware attack now behind us, things have changed. Ransomware is now a widespread threat. Cybercriminals have evolved along with the systems designed to thwart them. Clearly, it’s time to revisit, dust off or, if you didn’t have one already, build a solid disaster recovery and cybersecurity plan.

You may not know this, but FAN had one of our offices damaged in a fire not long ago. You wouldn’t know it unless you were there or told by someone. That’s because we had a business continuity plan—updated regularly—in place. And our data was securely cloud based. So we followed our plan: leveraging alternate technology from an alternate location and resumed the work week seamlessly. Now, a cyberattack is a very different thing than a fire. But remember this as well: the most successful cybercriminals go for the easiest targets most of the time. Odds are, if you’re up to date with a professional security system and effective business continuity plan, you’ll be in good shape.


Good News Updates with ALANNA

We all could use a little good news now and then, and for everyone closing with a Florida Agency Network we have some… good news!

Using Alanna AI, our state-of-the-art virtual closing assistant, realtors and their customers are automatically signed up for a series of “good news updates” during the process of their closing. Below are some of the notifications you can expect, as we do our part to give you good news!

  1. Upon receiving your contract, you will receive a welcome text message with a link to the welcome package where we collect your contact data and any additional information for }the lifetime of your transaction. It can all be signed and submitted right from your phone.
  2. Once the necessary title work has been completed – from lien searches to surveys – you will be updated to let you know that your title processor is reviewing all documents. Once all of the requirements have been cleared you will be update again.
  3. At this point your tile work has been cleared and your title professionals are now working up closing figures and any remaining details you will need on closing day. You will receive more information very soon regarding your final figures and a closing date and time.
  4. Your closing figures are out for your review! You will receive your preliminary figure breakdown, details on what to expect at closing, and if any remaining information needed to finalize your transaction. The link to your documents is included in this text message for your convenience.
  5. You’ve reached closing day! With this update, you know your transaction has been closed and documents are being filed. You will receive a brief survey link to share your experience with us so we can continue to improve our processes. We aim to keep your experience personal, professional, and streamlined for all of our customers.
  6. Your official documents have been filed in the appropriate county clerk’s office and we have received confirmation of recording! You will now receive a copy of your title policy.

Our goal is to keep you informed automatically about the process of your closing. This way you are ready to take the steps for you and your customer while preparing and finalizing their transaction.

Of course, this also means we get to be the bearer of GOOD NEWS!

Be sure to download the PDF chart of automated good news updates and start chatting with Alanna AI today via text at 813-710-4126, by using the chat feature on our website, or by scanning the QR code below!


Busting RON eClosing Myths

Florida Agency Network boasts its very own network of eNotaries that are all title professionals to handle your RON eClosing. With our network on your side, let’s dispel some of the common myths surrounding eClosings:

With FAN’s title professionals ensuring you have a smooth and thorough closing, you can’t beat the convenience and safety of a RON eClosing, especially when FAN agents are available to communicate and troubleshoot your closing at every step of the way.

Be sure to download the PDF dispelling the RON eClosing Myths and share them with your clients.

For questions about eClosings and requirements, please contact your title professional or visit FANeClose.com.


How to File for Florida Homestead Exemption

house graphic on green background

It’s that time of year again – homestead exemptions are due! If your clients took possession of their homes before December 31st, they are eligible for homestead exemption for this tax year.

We’ve put together a homestead guide so you can help your clients understand what homestead is, who qualifies for it, what’s required to file, and how they can file for homestead exemption.

What is Homestead Exemption?

The Florida Homestead Exemption is an exemption that reduces the taxable value of your home by as much as $50,000, within certain value limits.

Who Qualifies for Homestead Exemption?

  • The property you want to claim the exemption for must be your permanent residence OR the permanent residence of someone you can claim as a dependent on your taxes.
  • You must have lived at the property on or before a specified date of the tax year in question. To claim the homestead exemption on your 2020 taxes, you must have lived at the property in question by 12/31/2020.
  • You cannot have rented the property for more than 30 days in a given calendar year. Renting the property for more than 30 days for two consecutive years or for more than six months is considered an abandonment of the Florida homestead exemption.

What is Required When Filing for Homestead Exemption?

Each county has different required documents, but it’s safe to have the following readily available when filing for homestead exemption.

  • FL Drivers license or State issued I.D. Card
  • Vehicle Registration – at least one of your vehicles must be registered in the state of Florida at the property address in an application.
  • If registered to vote, your voter registration with Voter ID# and issue date.
  • Permanent Resident Alien Cards (if applicable)

Where Do My Clients Go to File for Homestead?

Alachua County: 352-374-5230

https://www.acpafl.org/forms/

 

Citrus County: 352-341-6600

https://www.citruspa.org/_dnn/Exemptions/Homestead-Application

 

Hardee County: 863-773-2196

https://hardeepa.com/general-info/exemptions/#general 

 

Hernando County: 352-754-4190

https://www.hernandopa-fl.us/PAHXApp/(S(noy34wieuv3qryzexzfh05b0))/default.aspx

 

Hillsborough County: 813-272-5519

https://homestead.hcpafl.org/ApplyOnline/WebForm1.aspx

 

Lee County: 239-533-6100

http://leepa.org/Exemption/hxinfo.aspx

 

Manatee County: 941-748-8208

https://ofa.manateepao.com/ApplyOnline/WebForm1.aspx

 

Marion County: 352-368-8300

http://www.pa.marion.fl.us/HXeFile.aspx

 

Pasco County: 352-521-4433

https://www.pascopa.com/exemptions/homestead/

 

Pinellas County: 727-464-3207

https://www.pcpao.org/clik.html?pg=https://www.pcpao.org/searchForHX.php

 

Polk County: 863-534-4777

https://www.polkpa.org/ 

These are the requirements: https://www.polkpa.org/Downloads/Files/HX%20Requirements.pdf

 

Sarasota County: 941-861-8200

https://www.sc-pa.com/applyonline/WebForm1.aspx

 

Sumter County: 352-569-6800

http://www.sumterpa.com/forms/SumterPA_DR-501_2017.pdf


FAN Now Offers An Electronic EMD Delivery Option

Did you know…?

All of your Florida Agency Network brands and locations now offer electronic EMD delivery services! It’s as easy as click-and-send; No downloads, no logins, no account creation.

Have you ever found yourself in the 11th hour with a client needing to deliver their earnest money deposit? We want to provide you and your client with an easy, after-hours, open 24/7/365 solution that will prevent you from running all over town, missing wire cutoffs at the bank, or – worst case scenario – having a contract fall through.

Check out our latest information on the new feature!


Florida Agency Network Introduces Electronic EMD Delivery

Florida Agency Network (FAN), announces the release of a new Electronic Earnest Money Deposit (“EMD”) program. This program is part of FAN’s continued effort to keep everyone safe and secure, streamline the closing process, and move that much closer to a true paperless closing.

Customers buying homes are now able to send their EMD electronically, allowing for a fully-digital transfer of funds, and eliminating the need to visit any of FAN’s multiple office locations throughout the state. In addition, it allows for the added benefits of protecting sensitive information, enabling out-of-town closings, and it allows customers to receive a verified and automated receipt for their records.  The service does NOT require the client to create an account, or download an app, to send the EMD electronically.  It simply requires the click of a button from any of FAN’s websites where homebuyers are directed to Earnestly, Payload’s platform for secure electronic real estate payments.  “We’re excited to partner with FAN to enhance the home buying experience across the state of Florida,” said Ryan Rybolt, CEO of Payload.

“One of the items that is a consistent burden to our clients is the handling of EMDs. We live in a world of technological innovation, digital movement of funds, and less dependency on checks and paper currency. This new service offers convenience to our clients, and a more efficient solution for receiving funds. The days of racing to the title office within 72 hours of signing a contract, mailing or overnighting funds, or waiting hours for wiring instructions are history,” said Aaron M. Davis, CEO of Florida Agency Network.

 

About Florida Agency Network

The Florida Agency Network (FAN) is a statewide alliance of title agencies that share services, resources, and technology. FAN has formed a strategic alliance amongst members and vendors, in addition to creating proprietary technologies, to better serve its clients, allowing it to provide customized solutions to protect and streamline the closing experience. Members share back-office services, pooled resources, access to industry-leading technology, improved efficiencies, and the ability to offer their clients greater geographic coverage throughout Florida with SOC 1 Type 2 and SOC 2 Type 2 security compliance solutions available.

For more information, please visit www.FLAgency.net

About Payload

Payload is a powerfully simple, yet robust, financial technology (fintech) platform to securely process credit card and ACH payments. The platform was built for developers, software platforms, and merchants who want to accept secure payments without the burdens often associated with card acquiring.

Earnestly is Payload’s solution for processing secure, electronic real estate payment transactions.  Earnestly replaces manual check payments or costly wire transfers associated with Earnest Money, Agent Fees, Commissions, and other Real Estate transactions.

For more information, please visit www.payload.co  or https://payload.co/earnestly


Are Appraisals a Deal Killer? Know How to Avoid or Handle a Low Appraisal?

Bye, 2020! There are certainly things we won’t miss about this past year. Looking back, however, one of the things we are thankful for is the real estate boom. In many parts of Florida and throughout the country, the real estate market has been hot!

That’s been due to record low mortgage rates, but inventory is lower than what is needed to keep up with demand. This means prices are moving up sharply, and many buyers are willing to offer more than the asking price.

This sounds like a great thing for sellers, but there’s a step that can be forgotten until it’s too late – *dun dun dun* – the appraisal.

Unless you’re paying in cash, the bank needs to ensure that they’re not giving too high of a loan for the property. Just because a buyer really wants to buy it for $15,000 more than asking doesn’t mean the bank does.

Ways to Avoid a Low Appraisal

1. Don’t Be Zillowed – Price the home correctly. Avoid the urge to overprice because of the market. Find a comfortable price that has some room for negotiation – up or down.

2. Consider Upgrades – According to a local appraiser, the usual upgrades are always great ways to increase your appraisal value:

  • Upgraded Kitchens
  • Renovated Bathrooms
  • New Windows

3. Prepare the Home for Occupancy – A home that’s ready to live in will likely earn a higher appraisal. Touch up walls and base boards with paint, pressure wash the exterior of the home and driveway, declutter every room, mow the lawn, and finish any incomplete projects.

 

“I Did All That, but My Appraisal Was Still Low! What Now?!”

Receiving a low appraisal can be stressful for the seller and buyer. The buyer thinks they are going to get a better deal, but they might actually lose the deal by staying with the original appraisal. The seller is not happy since they believe their property is worth more. So, how do you save the sale?

  • Negotiate a Lower Sales Price
  • Dispute the Appraisal with the Original Lender
  • Request a New Appraisal from a New Lender

Our final piece of advice when dealing with an appraisal is to relax and let the system work. It’s in place to make sure everyone has a safe transaction.

For any additional questions about appraisals and staging, please call any of our offices to speak to our team.


Giving Thanks in a Digital World


Halloween is over, and Thanksgiving is around the corner. That means it’s a perfect time to tell the people you appreciate the most those two simple words – thank you.

Gratitude is a powerful message to send your customers, co-workers, and friends to show how much they mean to you. Not only is it the right thing to do, but studies show that recognition can lead to more customer retention!

Here are four effective ways to be thankful:

  1. Write a physical thank you note. This timeless, yet nearly forgotten, art form has the bonus of being 100% customized per person. You’ll be remembered in 2021 if you take this route.
  2. Shoot a quick video. Everyone has the technology in their pocket to take a quick video to send to your customer to show some well-earned gratitude.
  3. Write on their wall. Find their social media profiles and send them a quick public message that tells them how appreciated they are. This has the added benefit of being easy to share on social media.
  4. Give thanks in your head. This one may seem to have no effect on your future business prospects, but evidence exists that merely thanking someone in your mind can bring you some of the mental benefits of gratitude, like increased happiness.

At FAN, we also want to give gratitude to every customer of ours for all that you do to make the FAN community what it is and to all those who have given us invaluable feedback on our newest programs, such as Remote Online Notarization, our Fan Agent One App, and Alanna – your new virtual assistant.

And, since we’re in the thanking mood, we have a special thank you to everyone that reads our blogs, too, so if you’re reading this message, simply put – thank YOU.

We’ve created a downloadable PDF version of our list of ways to show your gratitude.

 


Top 4 Real Estate Deal Killers

It’s October, season of carving pumpkins and munching on candy corn. However, there’s something lurking just around the corner or hiding in the front yard creeping up on your customer, and if your customers are not careful – these monsters can jump out and KILL YOUR NEXT DEAL!

To help ensure your customers don’t unwittingly cast themselves as the victims in their own horror movie this season, check out the tips below on some of the biggest KILLERS of a real estate transaction!

Don’t Spend Like a PSYCHO!

After signing the contract for their new home, but before closing, some customers just get into a spending mood! It may be tempting to use a new line of credit to fill the new house with furniture or purchase a shiny new SUV for the driveway, but these transactions can QUICKLY change your lender’s opinion about your credit-worthiness and cause your deal to go down the drain!

Avoid the Home of FRANKENSTEIN.

Some homes look great on the outside and even through the buying process, only for the future homeowners to find out the home has not been properly upgraded throughout the years and is, instead, a mishmash of a lot of parts like Frankenstein’s monster. That home may not pass inspection, and when that happens, the sale is gone. Don’t let your buyers be sad. It’s a good thing to keep their family safe from plumbing, foundation, or electrical issues… as Frankie says – FIRE BAD.

Steer Clear of the INVISIBLE ZOMBIE.

A surprisingly common issue when someone is selling their home is that their legal spouse has gone as invisible as Claude Raine. When people move away from each other without filing the correct legal documents, they may forget that technically BOTH parties still own the home, and there’s been instances where the former spouse cannot be found in time – bringing the closing to a screeching halt.

Don’t Let Liens Drain You Like DRACULA.

Imagine getting excited about your new home, only to find the solar panels that you thought were a nice addition come with a $20,000 lien on the property. Just like Dracula – that sucks! Make sure you ask your title company for a comprehensive title search so that these kinds of liens don’t suck the life out of your customers’ bank accounts!

As you can see, it may seem like there’s danger lurking around every corner, but with a little bit of preparation – and choosing a title company backed with the power of Florida Agency Network – you can help your customers avoid turning their experience into a horror film!

To share this information with others, we have a downloadable PDF.

Happy Halloween!