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Flippin’ Crazy

Fraudulent house flipping in Florida just became a little harder.

Chris Davis and his colleagues at the Sarasota-Herald Tribune spent the last year talking to property appraisers and collecting documents relevant to suspicious house flipping in Florida.

“We…rely almost exclusively on public records,” said Davis.

After perusing over 19 million Florida real estate transactions, searching for tell tale signs of flip fraud, the research revealed  more than 50, 000 properties flipped fraudulently.

Davis and the Tribune also compiled a list of 100 names linked to shady flipping, including each individual’s ties to other shady flippers.

In order to complete the account, Davis and the Herald-Tribune had to take the story on their backs due to the lack of libel protection at the paper.

Davis stressed that the information collected in the maps and lists was a direct result of public documents.  He insinuated that the true story would never have arisen without the aid of public records.

“You don’t have to rely on someone telling the truth,” said Davis, regarding public records as the unsung heroes in this particular story.

In order to come under suspicion for flip fraud, the property must have at least a 30 percent increase over a 90-day period.

In 2007, USA Today reported that Flip This House star Sam Leccima committed flip fraud on the popular A&E reality show.  To make matters worse for Leccima, he didn’t even have a valid real estate license while on the show – it was rejected in 2005.

And in 2008, the New York Daily News reported inflated property values in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island were direct results of fraudulent house flips.

In addition to the point made with public records and house flipping, Davis also demonstrated the impact public records can have on an audience when coupled with multimedia journalism.

The future promises that public records-based stories will become more hands-on and engaging, especially online.

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