The End of the $16 House?

It’s starting to look like those $16 houses aren’t going to be available much longer. The “adverse possession” scam – and that’s what it has turned out to be – is now under the microscope, with several counties in north Texas putting a halt to the specious claims.

We wrote about this a few months ago, in a post about how a man claimed ownership of a $330,000 Flower Mound home by paying $16 to file an adverse possession form under a little-known Texas law. His action spurred a number of copycats, people who continue to amaze us by their brazen efforts to get something for nothing.

We aren’t that familiar with the history of the adverse possession law, but we suspect it was meant to enable claims when properties had been vacant and abandoned for extended periods. Some of the people making these claims appeared to be picking random empty homes and insisting that they “bought” the place for $16.

News reports indicate Tarrant County is cracking down on these questionable claims, and going so far as to evict what amounts to squatters in and on someone else’s property – and file criminal charges. One such claimant was discovered by real estate agents who were preparing to list a home for the owner, who now lives overseas. Even if the property was empty, it sure doesn’t sound like it could even begin to qualify as abandoned.

What’s next? You go to work at 8 and come home at 6 to find someone has moved into your house and says it’s theirs? “Hey, there was no one here for several hours, so I figured it was abandoned”?

There is an almost endless list of ways that scammers and con artists try to cheat people when it comes to homes and property. This problem has always been with us, but it has gotten worse in the past few years, for obvious reasons. People who are in financial distress, behind in their mortgages, are more vulnerable to smooth-talking charmers. These guys convince the homeowner they can get their loan modified or help them avoid foreclosure, if only they’ll sign over the deed to the house.

That’s why our advice is always the same: Before you ever sign any form or pay anyone money to do something with your home, ask someone you can trust. Call a lawyer. Ask a real estate agent if you know one, or ask a friend to recommend someone trustworthy. Call me or our agency.

Never trust a person who makes it all sound easy, or someone who says they’re sharing with you some “secret” technique. Whether you opt for a short sale or pursue a loan modification or just hang on until foreclosure, the legitimate alternatives are not easy ones. They take time and effort. But they’ll leave you in much better shape than those supposedly easy and secret techniques that result in financial ruin.

WFAA has run a series of news stories related to adverse possession. Watch these clips and let me know your thoughts about adverse possession.

Mansfield constables evict adverse possessor
Uncut: Adverse possession may be legal, but it’s not right
Mansfield minister previously arrested for moving into neighbor’s home
Adverse possession claims more widespread than initially thought
Obscure law used to claim homes in Mansfield

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