Hot Steamboat real estate market is breeding ground for scammers |

Hot Steamboat real estate market is breeding ground for scammers

Renters are urged to be on the look out for scammers.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While looking for a long-term rental in Steamboat Springs, attorney Catherine Swan learned just how pervasive real estate scams are right now.

“I think altogether I corresponded with four and concluded they were trying to perpetuate scams on the community,” Swan said.

She can now laugh about the craziness she encountered, because she didn’t send the fraudsters any money. Still, she reported it to police, so they’d have a record on the activity. 

One woman posing as an owner of a home on Blue Sage told Swan to go by the house, and if it was open, take a look around. She even told Swan she could break a window to get in. She communicated by text and email.

“When I called the number, it wouldn’t go to a live person,” Swan said.

That’s just one of the signs to look for, according to Ulrich Salzgeber, CEO of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors.

“So many of them (scammers) will copy and paste pictures off the internet and then put that in their ads,” Salzgeber said. “You have to be savvy, talk to people and verify, and don’t send money too quickly. This kind of activity usually happens when we’re awfully busy or we’re in a robust (real estate) market.”

It didn’t take long for Swan to do a quick internet search on the Blue Sage house to see it was actually for sale, not for rent. Confirmation from the realtor reinforced Swan’s suspicions.

She said she found phony ads on all the major rental sites like Facebook, Craigslist, and Zillow.

“The only place I haven’t found them is the Steamboat Pilot,” Swan said.

Warning signs for real estate rental scams

• Verify owner of property through county assessors website that lists property
• Beware if person showing house claims to be middleman
• Never wire money; it’s impossible to get back
• If phone calls go unanswered and unreturned, move on
• Listing has no photos
• They want personal info upfront
• Claim owners are out of country or out of state
• Insisting they just want a good renter, money’s not the most important thing
• Is the rental cost too good to be true?
• Lessor isn’t familiar with area
• Lessor cannot give access to property
• Always request lease prior to sending money — verify ownership of lessor

Source: Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors

Swan quickly became an expert on what to look for, listing all the same warnings as the National Association of Realtors.

“They tend to lecture how important it is for them to have a good renter because they’re not local,” Swan said. “They won’t respond to specific questions like ‘Oh, did your kids go to Strawberry Park or do you like the new menu at Freshies?’ And if it sounds too good to be true, put your antenna up and start double checking.”

While Swan eventually found a home through word of mouth, she wants to use her rental search as a warning to others.

“It’s important to report these things to the police, whether you consider it something minor or a real estate scam,” Swan urged. “They may never catch these folks, but they need to know what’s happening out there.”

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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