A reader sent The Lewisville Texan Journal copies this week of two recent solicitation letters that she received that were designed to deceive the recipient into sending money for “services” related to her home’s deed and homestead designation.
The official-looking documents are designed to look like bills, and are mailed from companies and addresses that look like governmental agencies.
The first letter, titled “DEED PROCESSING SERVICE NOTICE” is designed to look like an invoice, listing a due date and amount due of $89, which the recipient is asked to return to “Asset Document Services” in Washington, D.C. For that fee, the form says the company will provide the recipient with a copy of the deed for the property within 30 days.
That fee is not a bargain, considering that property deeds can be freely downloaded from the county clerk’s website at dentoncounty.com. For $8 a homeowner can get a certified copy of their deed direct from the county.
Buried at the bottom of the notice is a disclosure that the notice is a solicitation and not a bill, and that the company is not a government agency. A toll-free number on the solicitation goes to an answering machine that lists an email address for information and asks the caller not to leave a message.
A second letter from Homestead Designation Services on Congress Avenue in Austin tells the recipient, “You must submit a $52 recording fee in order for us to record your document.” For that fee plus a signature on a prepared form the company included that must be taken and notarized, the company will file it for the record at the county clerk’s office.
Not to be confused with a homestead exemption form that homeowners can fill out and mail to the appraisal district to get a break on property taxes for their residence, the homestead designation affidavit is a form that is purportedly protect a homeowner’s personal residence from forced sale by creditors.
Denton County Clerk Juli Luke explained Thursday that although her office will accept these filings, they are not necessary. Luke said other laws, including the Texas Constitution, Article 16, Section 50 provide protection. Federal bankruptcy law also offers some protection of a debtor’s homestead.
Luke’s office charges $30 to file a one–page document and $4 per additional page.
Like the other letter, the homestead letter contains language buried near the bottom within other legal language that notes the letter comes from a private company not affiliated with the government. It also says the use of the form or service are not required by law.
The letter also hints that the recipient had previously paid $45 for the company to prepare the one–page designation. The homeowner admitted that she thinks she may have accidentally sent them money in the past.
Homestead Designation Services stands to earn $22 to mail the unnecessary document to the county clerk on behalf of the recipient. If the homeowner did pay them $45, then their profit on the solicitation would be $67.
Luke said that these solicitations had been seen before but tend to come in waves. She said she did not think the mailings violated any laws.
Luckily for our reader, she contacted Luke’s office and was told that the filing was unnecessary. That is when she contacted The Lewisville Texan Journal to let us know that she thought the letters were a scam.
“I do encourage the public to call us with any questions regarding fees to record documents or how to obtain certified copies of any documents in our public record,” wrote Luke. She said that as always, plain copies of documents are available online and can be printed from home for free.
Luke said that readers can call her office at 940-349-2010 for assistance in these matters. She said her office is prohibited from giving legal advice but that they are happy to assist however possible.
To get information about filing real-estate-related documents, visit dentoncounty.com and search for the county clerk’s office. For property tax homestead exemption forms, visit dentoncad.com/exemptions.