Prospective home buyers, described by one realtor as predators, have moved on Long Beach homes damaged by Sandy in an attempt to buy them at deeply discounted prices, according to homeowners, realtors and a local contractor.
"They're like scavengers," said Dot Richards, whose home was flooded by Sandy. "They're preying on people's misfortune."
Richards found a letter in her mailbox Friday from a stranger offering to purchase her home. Similar letters were left at several homes along Arizona Street.
"I got a call from a buyer that was looking for a steal. I said, 'You mean a deal?' And he said, 'No, a steal,'" said longtime Long Beach realtor Joe Sinnona.
Some homes in Long Beach have already been sold for half of what they are worth, Sinnona said. The realtor has urged his neighbors to seek expert advice before selling their homes.
"Don't let anybody bamboozle you or push you out of your home," Sinnona said.
But that is easier said than done, according to local business owner Deborah Turhan. The owners of some homes damaged by Sandy have grown scared, even desperate as they wait for insurance or FEMA money to rebuild.
"One man went through his retirement funds and he's still not back in his home," said Turhan. "How is he going to rebuild?"
Sometimes, any offer for a home, even a bad one, warrants consideration, she added.
One woman cleaning out her mother's storm damaged home described being approached by a stranger offering $200,000 cash for a home worth twice that much before Sandy. She rejected the offer.
According to another realtor, an elderly man fought back tears as he told of being offered $125,000 for his flood-damaged home. The realtor took the man's keys and promised to get close to double that for the home.
It's unclear how widespread the practice is. A spokesman for Long Beach's city manager said he had received no complaints about "predatory buying."
As she surveyed her home, Dot Richards vowed never to sell her home short. The Arizona street ranch was in contract before Sandy, but after the storm, the buyer dropped out.
"Don't give your home away," said Richards, who plans to use the sale money from this investment home to finance her retirement. "Stick to your guns and wait. Long Beach will come back."