In my job as a real estate agent I am always asked by clients why do we need title insurance ?
In spring 2013, the Virginia Beach real estate market was up, and Guy Gugliotta was thinking about selling.
For decades, the New York writer had owned two vacant lots on the seaside in Sandbridge – investment properties surrounded by vacation homes. With thoughts toward buying in another part of the country, he contacted Siebert Realty in Virginia Beach to talk about options.
The call seemed to surprise the agency, and the agents’ response surprised Gugliotta even more. He couldn’t sell the properties, they said, because he had already sold them. Didn’t he remember? The deal had closed the previous August.
Gugliotta was floored. He hadn’t sold his properties, so who did? And in the world of real estate, so full of documents, signatures and attorneys, how could someone do that?
Those questions have dogged Gugliotta through court proceedings in which he fought to reclaim his property and through calls to law enforcement agencies he hopes will catch the thief. The same questions have haunted the two buyers who thought they made above-board purchases and the agencies and banks who thought they were conducting a standard real estate transaction.
The truth bewildered them all. But the most startling discovery may be that while this exact crime is rare nationally and in Virginia Beach, some who work in real estate say it’s surprisingly easy to commit.
"It’s mind-blowing how vulnerable our system is," said Billy Joe McFarland, a Florida attorney who works in real estate law. He said he’s seen fraudsters fake deeds and pretend to be owners, but Gugliotta’s case seems to be the most brazen yet.