Hat tip to Blue Streak for sending this along – link here for full article, with excerpts here:

June 10 (Bloomberg) — Two Connecticut real estate agents found a way to profit in the U.S. housing bust: Buy low, sell fast. Their tactic was also illegal.

Sergio Natera and Anna McElaney are scheduled to be sentenced in Hartford’s federal court in August after pleading guilty to fraud. Their crime involved persuading lenders to approve the sale of homes for less than the balance owed — known as a short sale — without disclosing that there were better offers. They then flipped the houses for a profit.

“Short sales are an important tool that can help both the bank and the borrower,” said Morgan McCarty, executive vice president for mortgage servicing at Birmingham, Alabama-based Regions Bank, which lost money in the Connecticut case. “It’s just that criminals are always trying to find ways of profiting.”

A prevalent scam involves a practice called “flopping,” Barofsky said. In that scheme, investors or home buyers hire brokers to assess a home for less than its market value and convince banks to accept a sale at that level. The buyer conceals from the lender that he has lined up a higher offer and then quickly resells the property for a profit, as in the Connecticut case.

“Flopping” occurs in more than 1 percent of short sales and may cost lenders $50 million this year, according to estimates from CoreLogic Inc., a real estate data and research company in Santa Ana, California.  About 12 percent of existing home sales, or almost 622,000 houses, were short sales in the 12 months through April, data from the National Association of Realtors show.

(JtR note: We could find $50 million in flopping fraud in SD County!)

The Treasury has “put reasonable protections in place” to prevent short-sale fraud, requiring that the buyer and seller have no hidden relationship and banning most resales within 90 days, said Laurie Maggiano, policy director of the department’s Homeownership Preservation Office in Washington.

“We have language in our short sale approval letter that prohibits the flipping of a property and after closing we will audit transactions to identify ‘flips’ or ‘flops,’ ” Bauwens wrote. “It’s not in the best interest of our investors or communities at large to encourage or allow flipping.”

The company requires a full appraisal before a resale, McCarty said. It also demands short-sale buyers sign statements affirming the transactions are arms length, with no hidden buyer-seller relationships, and that there are no agreements to resell the property.

In the Connecticut case, Regions Bank in April 2008 agreed to a short sale of a Bridgeport house for $102,375, unaware that Natera and McElaney had a bidder willing to pay $132,500, according to the plea agreements. Eight weeks after the bank sold for a loss, the pair resold the house for a $30,125 gain.

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