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Unsolicited offers for homes on Mercer Island raise red flags
It started with a letter. Earlier in July, several Mercer Island homeowners got a letter in the mail — an unsolicited offer on their home.
At least six letters went out to residents on the Island, including to Peni Schwartz, a managing broker with Windermere Real Estate on Mercer Island.
“My husband opened the letter and it was an ‘oh my gosh, this is an offer on the house’ moment,” said Schwartz. The problem – the couple isn’t interested in selling their home, and upon further inspection, the contract included with the letter featured what some agents have deemed scary language.
The letters, all from Jim Thorpe, explain that he is looking for a home in the area and would like to make the homeowners an offer. The packet includes a purchase/sale agreement that simply needed the homeowners' signature.
The letter states that Thorpe is a real estate investor and builder who is looking for a new property for his family, along with a rental
property. He explains that he likes to make the process easy.
“I determine the highest and best price I can, move quickly to do my homework, and close when I say I will,” the letter stated. “This offer is our ‘best guess’ derived solely from the tax records and an exterior drive by. This offer price might be too high or too low. It is meant to be the start of a conversation to show you that I am serious about purchasing your property. I have written the enclosed offer as an owner financed offer, but would certainly consider a cash offer option if that is more beneficial to you.”
Coincidental or not, said Schwartz, is that most of the letters went to homes that have been owned by the same people for decades.
“We’re longtime owners, and most of the people I’ve talked to who have received them are also, coincidentally, longtime owners,” she said. “It might seem like a good deal, especially if you haven’t talked with an agent in a long time.”
The homes that received letters are scattered around the Island, from a few on the North end to the South end of the Island, as well as along the waterfront. But Schwartz said she and other agents on the Island are concerned and have heard from clients who were upset at receiving
the letters. Many wondered if they had been singled out.
“What concerned me the most, is that when you haven’t been in or around
the market in a while, this looks OK. But when you take a closer look, you see it isn’t a standard contract,” she said.
Several of the Islanders who received the letters from Thorpe were concerned at how he received the information used in the contracts, which includes value of the home, tax and other seemingly private information; however, all the information is available online to the public.
Julie Barrows, the owner, designated broker and manager at Windermere on the Island, said letters like this have circulated on Mercer Island before, but not as many.
“Some clients are fearful that somehow he’s gotten private information,” said Barrows. “They don’t understand it’s part of the public record.” Thorpe is the owner of Northlake Group LLC, a real estate company in Seattle. Calls to him were not returned as of press time.
While the sale agreements sent to the homeowners are valid, both Barrows and Schwartz said anyone with real estate knowledge will take one look at them and notice a few things.
Earnest money from the sale comes in the form of a promissory note, and any failure to close the deal breaks the contract.
There is also a portion of the contract that explains Thorpe, as the buyer, can resell the property for a fee to another buyer, without notifying the homeowners.
“It’s got a lot of really scary provisions,” said Barrow. She added that she knows of a few agents who have tried to work with Thorpe, countering on some of the contract language or provisions, but counteroffers were quickly rejected.
“There are a lot of different parts that anyone in real estate takes a quick glance can see that it’s not in the best interest of the homeowner,” said Schwartz. “I had several clients who were worried or frightened. They thought that it seemed like an invasion.”
Yet, Schwartz said most people she has talked to who received the offer weren’t taking it too seriously.
“Most people I talked to said they were going to toss it in the garbage,” she said.
Information about the value of your home, property taxes and other real estate data is public and is kept by the King County Assessor’s office.
Learn more at www.kingcounty.gov/Assessor or call (206) 296-7300.