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Suspiscious real estate deals in Ohio raise concern

Geoff Dutton of The Columbus Dispatch dissected unusual property deals worth more than $11 million involving Middle Eastern buyers who paid far above the list price on expensive houses. The catch: "the sellers must agree to immediately refund the difference between the asking price and the sale price". Neighbors and real-estate experts fear that the deals, in some of the most affluent subdivisions outside Columbus, are fraudulent. With few people talking, and a limited public paper trail, key details remain a mystery. But some observers fear the worst - that dealmakers might abandon the houses and disappear with the mortgage money, leaving neighbors and lenders to sort out the mess. A lawyer for the central Ohio chapter of the Building Industry Association warned group members in October to steer clear of such deals. Even sellers could be held liable if deals turn out to be fraudulent, he said, reminding builders of the danger of lawsuits or criminal racketeering charges. "This has been a really recent phenomenon," said David Martin, chief executive of Stewart Title, which refused some of the deals. "It's like a whole new industry has formed overnight."

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