COLUMBUS (WCMH) — When searching for a new home to rent, Thomas Woods and Catherine Krack took their search to Craigslist. There, they found a listing for a 1,200 square foot home near Upper Arlington, for just $850 a month.
Thinking the low price was related to the coronavirus pandemic, the couple reached out to who they thought was the property owner.
“He did call me,” said Woods. “We did talk. And wanted to know, could we get together… And walk through the house.”
Which was possible, because the couple used Rently, an online tool that allows potential renters to take self-guided tours through vacant properties.
“Put in my information, I had to take a picture of my ID. And it gave me the code to the access box.”
Inside that access box was the key to the home, which the property owner told the couple to keep.
“He said, ‘Hold onto the key, and you guys can start moving in immediately,'” said Krack.
With a key in hand, and more than $2,100 paid to cover the deposit and other expenses, Thomas, Catherine, and her three teenage children did move in, and lived in the home for 10 days… until the real owners of the property, a local real estate company, came knocking.
“We actually hung pictures on the wall, that day before they actually made that call,” said Woods.
I reached out to the real estate company, who said they receive notifications from Rently, any time someone tours the property.
And while Thomas and Catherine were moving in, another prospective renter tried to tour the home, and notified them about the empty lockbox.
“Unfortunately, there are just too many scammers that can put the consumer into a bad position,” said local realtor Matthew Long, with HER Realtors.
When asked about his experience with Rently, Long said the site does warn customers about the possibility of fake advertisements.
“This is very convenient, but again, this is exactly the gamble that people take when they’re going through and doing a self-showing. “
His advice if you’re planning to rent or buy:
Use an established property manager or a broker. They have rules and regulations to follow, that will protect you and your money.
“The Ohio Division of Real Estate mandates that any real estate professional, anyone licensed must be present for any showing or any tour,” said Long. “If you don’t have someone meeting you there, do not give anybody money.”
The real estate company said they stopped using Rently, shortly after Thomas and Catherine’s incident, because of several issues they experienced with it.
Thomas and Catherine are staying with friends and family while they get back on their feet and find a new place.
They’ve filed a police report, but weren’t able to get their money back.