HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Henrico County residents are calling out an apparent housing scam that has been making the rounds on social media, as the homeownership and rental markets in the greater Richmond area remain competitive.
Shared in a residential group on Facebook, this particular post advertised a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a garden that was pet-friendly and would cost $600 per month to rent-to-own. However, residents in the group seemed to recognize that the post wasn’t legitimate, and Leslie Blackwell with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) agreed.
“Six hundred dollars a month to rent and to own? I don’t think so,” she said. “A lot of them are borrowing images, housing images, even descriptions from real estate sites. They’re taking that information and just fraudulently starting their own websites.”
In the Facebook post, there was a link included, which directed users to a website made to look like a page associated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But Blackwell noted that there were clues pointing to the site’s illegitimacy at the bottom of the page.
“Copyright 2022,” she said. “That’s a brand new website.”
A reverse image search revealed the photos that were used in the Facebook post could be found elsewhere online. One image of a bathroom at the supposed rent-to-own property was able to be traced back to a small business owner in Wisconsin, who told 8News that this was not the first time images of his work had been used for a property he never actually worked on.
“When I did this job, I was working for a company, and we did that here in Lake Geneva,” Richard Ruacho of Planet Vision said. “But about a week ago, some guy contacted me and said the same thing.”
Ruacho said he was notified that a photo he had taken of work he did on a home was being used on social media to promote a rental property.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there that have nothing else better to do.”
8News reached out to the user who shared the post about the three-bedroom rent-to-own property in Henrico County, but has yet to hear back.
“Any time that the market gets hot, you’re going to see the fraudsters come out,” Blackwell said. “There are so few houses on the market today that when you see one, you want to act quickly. People know that. Well, so do the con artists. They want you to make those hasty, quick decisions, and when you do, oftentimes, you’re regretful that you did.”
The post advertising the $600/month rental stated that a woman was “urgently looking for a family that can occupy her vacant home this month before she moves to a nursing home.”
Laura Lafayette with the Richmond Association of Realtors confirmed that although the urgency in the current housing and rental market is legitimate, low pricing is not.
“Rents are going up. Sale prices are going up,” she said. “Typically, when you see rent prices go up the way they have in the last few years, you would think a lot of folks want to exit the rental market for the homeownership market, and I think we have a lot of renters who would like to exit rental and become homeowners. But they just can’t find that house.”
Lafayette noted that housing and rental scams are present in markets across the country, especially as supply outweighs demand.
“If you think this is your one and only chance — you’ve been looking, looking, looking — this is your one and only chance to secure a unit, then you might take a chance that you wouldn’t normally take,” she said. “I think this demand outstripping supply is a phenomenon that’s going to be with us for the foreseeable future.”