Proof positive that there just aren

Editor’s note: The Real Estate Roundabout features the latest roundup of news and notes from the very broad real estate landscape. Got an item you’d like us to consider? Send us a note.

Barbie’s next Dream House

Proof positive that there just aren’t enough real homes to be designed in this economy: The American Institute of Architects has partnered with Mattel Inc. to sponsor a contest for AIA members: Design Barbie’s next Dream House.

She has rather specific requests for her toy home, according to design guidelines put out by the AIA that are written in Barbie’s “voice." Here’s what Barbie wants: “A sleek, smart home office is important for any doll. The kitchen should be functional and fabulous with top-of-the-line appliances. As the original ‘fashionista,’ you can imagine how large my closet needs to be! I have unlimited fashions and accessories, so I need lots of shelving, shoe racks and a closet that can be easily organized."

Oh, and one more thing, Barbie noted: “I love animals and I have as many as five pets (including a giraffe). A big backyard is very important so they can roam and play."

The public will be invited to vote on the winning design; the winner will be announced in August.

Real estate agents, attorneys targeted in counterfeit scheme

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, have issued an advisory that real estate agents and real estate attorneys recently have been the targets of a type of counterfeit check scam.

It’s a long-running fraud scheme in which scammers attempt to convince unwitting victims to cash checks or money orders and wire a portion of the funds back overseas.

Lately, according to the organization, con artists in other countries have been contacting real estate agents and real estate attorneys in the U.S., claiming to be interested in purchasing property. The would-be clients request information on a listing from an agent, indicating their intent to pay cash.

They then ask the agent to provide a local attorney to handle the purchase and conduct the closing. Upon negotiating the price, the attorneys receive checks written for hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the sale.

Once the check has been deposited, but before it clears, the scammer provides a reason for a portion of the funds to be wired to his account.

Often in these scams the checks are from legitimate businesses’ accounts, though fraudulently obtained.

Real estate is on the table in Cuba

The Communist Party in Cuba wants to allow the purchase and sale of real estate by its citizens, according the CubaStandard.com, an English-language business journal.

The real estate change is within the party’s recently announced 311-point reform package; the change awaits approval by Cuba’s national assembly, in addition to considerable elaboration on legal details.

Though Cubans can hold title to their homes, they’re currently not allowed to buy or sell property, the website reported. Instead, Cubans who want to move must rely on a complex barter system that may involve three or more parties and cash or other compensation.

Last fall, the government began to allow buying and selling of “tourism-related" real estate between foreigners at such places as golf courses and marinas.

A 600-pound ‘for sale’ sign

An Edmunds, Wash., real estate agent aims to take “for sale" signage to a new level: He’s designed a 600-pound, portable outdoor kiosk intended to be installed in front of high-end homes.

The Edmonds Beacon said Jack Perrault’s kiosk features a 42-inch flat-screen monitor that provides a virtual tour of the home and displays promotional material on his preferred lender.

Perrault told the paper he has a patent pending on the kiosk, which he hopes to market: it has a built-in security system and customizable decor on the outside to suit the exterior of the house being sold.

No property taxes in North Dakota?

A proposed constitutional amendment to abolish property taxes in North Dakota has been approved for the ballot, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said the initiative had enough petition signatures to qualify for the June, 2012, primary election. Supporters of the proposal needed almost 27,000 petition signatures.

The amendment says the Legislature will have to figure out a way to provide replacement revenue to cities, counties and other local governments.

Colorado to ban real estate transfer fees

Colorado is about to join 27 other states that have banned so-called “private transfer fees" on home sales, according to the Denver Post.

Such covenants typically require that for a period of 99 years, whenever a home sells, the seller must pay 1 percent of the price to a designated payee, often a developer or a corporation that has purchased the covenants from the developer.

The bill passed the state Legislature and awaits the governor’s signing, probably in June, the newspaper said.

Homebuying help in South Carolina

The South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority has announced a program to help emergency medical services providers, firefighters, police personnel, nurses, teachers and veterans to buy homes.

The Palmetto Heroes Homeownership Program will provide low-interest loans to people in those professions who meet specific qualifications, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

Eligible buyers in the program can get a fixed interest rate of 4.6 percent on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages and up to $5,000 in down payment assistance.

‘Test drive’ a home

Retirement communities around the country that are trying to move unsold units are frequently offering “test drives" for would-be buyers these days.

According to SmartMoney.com, these communities — designed for residents 55 and up — are offering packages of accommodations that include several nights in a model home, usually for a few hundred dollars but sometimes for free.

Potential buyers can expect to sit through a session with a sales associate, the website reported.

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