Elder abuse is tragic and heartbreaking. Unfortunately, Realtors can unwittingly be dragged into the middle of elder abuse situations when the abusers attempt to sell property without the elder owner knowing or fully understanding the situation. What should you do if you suspect there is a problem? How can you act in your client’s best interest and protect your business?
Before you encounter such a situation, you should educate yourself. The Senior Real Estate Specialist designation will help you gain a deeper understanding of mortgage finance and loan schemes and scams that victimize older borrowers. You can also visit a number of helpful websites for local resources that can help you learn how to spot and report abuse.
· www.ccgd.org; Community Council of Greater Dallas, Dallas Area Agency on Aging: Plans, advocates for and coordinates resources to provide services for seniors and their caregivers in Dallas County. Types of assistance include minor home repair, benefits counseling, legal assistance, rent/utility assistance, respite, homemaker services, minor outdoor chore and assistance in acquiring health maintenance supplies.
· www.nctcog.org/cs/aging/; North Central Texas Area Agency on Aging: Information & Referral, benefits counseling, Benefits Enrollment Center, care coordination, caregiver support coordination, respite, health promotion.
· www.preventelderabuse.org/; National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse: tips and resources if elder abuse is suspected.
Knowing what constitutes elder abuse will help you spot it. A common scenario is the theft of a title by forgery or coercion. Often the elder doesn’t even know what they are signing, they just sign documents because they are told to do so. This may be considered fraud and undue influence. If you suspect a senior may have a form of cognitive impairment and may not understand the significance of transferring their title, you should contact a lawyer or an ombudsman at one of the above links. Other signs of elder abuse may be in unusual financial patterns, such as a sudden interest in using the equity in a home to invest in time shares, annuities, make large contributions to charities, or to fund large and extravagant gifts.
If an elderly person wants to use your services to them sell their property, by all means you should try to help. However, if you spot any warning signs that there might be trouble, you will need to ask some questions to ensure that they are not being pressured to sell by an outside party. For instance, if the person is tells you they don’t want anyone knowing about their decision to sell, make sure to understand why they are selling. If they further express that they don’t want a particular family member or caretaker involved and that person insists on having involvement in the sale, that can be a warning sign. Have your client’s wishes in writing and firmly enforce the owner’s wishes.
If you do get the sense that your client is being pushed into a sale when there may be other options available, suggest alternatives, such as looking into whether a reverse mortgage could provide enough funds to make staying in place longer feasible.
Be sure to document your interactions with your clients and follow up at every stage of the transaction. You want to ensure that your client fully understands and consents to every bit of the negotiations. Always provide written records to confirm your conversations and any decisions made.
If there is a caregiver who has power of attorney, make sure you receive a copy of it and provide it to an independent attorney who can verify that it both legitimate and applicable to the transaction. If anything appears to favor the caregiver over your client, advise your client immediately consult with an attorney.
Find out more about the Senior Real Estate Specialist designation program offered at MetroTex here.