Schuyler County officials want landowners to know their rights when eying cash offers
BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—The housing market in Schuyler County is hot. County clerk Theresa Philbin has seen a significant increase in deeds filed with her office this year, as well as a jump in property values.
“People are paying well over the assessed value for their homes at this point, and sales are happening in a matter of days," Philbin said. "Houses go on the market and they're sold within days.”
The county clerk said she gets why people would want to move to or vacation in Schuyler County—it’s in the Finger Lakes, near state parks and a national forest.
Land investment firms are interested in the area for all the same reasons. Many of these companies pay cash for land in mostly rural places.
“Any areas that are sort of like a secondary vacation destination for people,” said Tyler Culvahouse, owner of Vacant Land Now. The company is one of many that sells plots throughout the United States for people to build or camp on.
Cash offers are increasingly common in the real estate market. According to a report from the National Association of Realtors, nearly a quarter of all home sales are cash offers.
WSKG obtained a letter Culvahouse sent to a landowner in Schuyler County and it was brief, with just two pages including a purchase agreement. It touts a quick and easy process, stressed in all caps, and says the process allows landowners to avoid "annoyances" that typically come with selling, like "working with an attorney" or realtor.
It adds that Vacant Land Now would cover the cost of closing, and that the whole process could take less than two weeks. Sellers are to send back the purchase agreement via post or email.
Culvahouse said his company makes offers based on the number of acres. That could result in offers below the county’s assessed value. While it is not explicitly written in either the offer letter or purchase agreement, Culvahouse affirmed that offers are negotiable.
Still, Schuyler County attorney Steven Getman is worried residents could be taken advantage of. The purchase does not include a space to be notarized, which would make it challenging to prove the signatures of either party in the event of litigation.
“Many of these buyers are basically throwing out nets to see if they can find an owner who doesn't understand the real value of their property, or an owner that wants to sell quickly at almost any cost," Getman said.
He added that cash offers for land are typically 15% to 25% under the assessed value, which could cost landowners thousands.
Terms of the agreement also require the landowner to clear all liens before selling. Getman said that may put people already strapped for cash into debt.
While unsolicited offers like this are legal, Getman warned they shouldn’t be signed without consulting a lawyer.
“The goal here is to understand your rights,” he said. “Talk to an attorney before you sign anything.”
Getman suggested people go to the county clerk to learn the fair market value of their property.