Seventy-year-old Mary Ann Welch had always wanted to pass down the two-bedroom Sunnyvale home she inherited from her mother to her seven grandchildren.
So she was astonished when she found a letter in her mailbox in 2016.
“It said we’d like to buy your house, and I was surprised because I had not put it up for rent or for sale or anything,” she said.
The letter offered to pay Welch $750,000 for a house that is a young techie’s dream. It’s a house that is within walking distance of Apple, Google and LinkedIn offices. And it’s a house that currently is worth more than $1.5 million. The letter even came ready with paperwork, complete with directions on where the sender hoped Welch would sign her consent to sell.
“I saw the contract for me to sign and I was furious,” Welch said. “If I had Alzheimer’s or if I was demented at all, I would have signed it thinking I would get all this money. I wrote a letter to the (district attorney.) If they’re doing it to me they’re going to be doing it to others.”
“We’ve been seeing an uptick in cases that involve direct solicitations to elderly homeowners potentially well below market value,” said Cherie Bourlard, Santa Clara County deputy district attorney.
No official statewide stats exist on real estate fraud against seniors, but Bourlard said it’s enough of a problem to merit warning the elderly. She believes California’s super-heated housing market is driving scammers, and so is the age of their targets.
“They have no idea of the value of the homes they’re sitting on,” Bourlard said. “They remember buying their home for $40,000 but in these crazy upswings of market value, they have no idea their property might be worth $800,000, $1 million, $2 million.”