Elderly woman's home sold to realtor for less

May 2, 2008 11:43:34 PM PDT
Suspicions are being raised by the family of a 95-year-old Palo Alto woman about the sale of her home. The house was sold to a realtor for what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars below its market value. 7 On Your Side has been investigating the case.

Ninety-five-year-old Dorothy Anderson has lived in her home since 1945. She also suffers from Alzheimer's disease and is cared for by her 70-year-old daughter. This has been leading her family to wonder, what's going on with this sale?

Dorothy Anderson sleeps quietly in her living room, unaware of the activity around her. It isn't until her daughter, Carol Thomayer, pulls out family photos that mom wakes up and cracks a smile.

Thomayer takes care of her mother and serves as her trustee. With escrow set to close June 30th, Thomayer remains concerned.

"I just feel like I was taken advantage of," says Thomayer.

When Dorothy's family put the house for sale, everything seemed to be going well. Thomayer met with her realtor and agreed to list the two-bedroom home at $998,000.

The first offer came in the same day the home was advertised on MLS, an online listing service. The bid was for $1.1 million. Thomayer claims the realtor told her the offer was several hundred thousand dollars above the sales price of comparable homes.

"When we signed the contract that evening I felt kind of good . It was like, oh my goodness, that was easy," says Thomayer.

Perhaps too easy. The very next morning several other potential buyers made offers. Three offers came in at more than $1.5 million and one at $1.4 million. They all had to be told the home had already been sold and for much less.

The Thomayers say the comps they were shown were homes on 2,000-square-foot lots. Their home is on 7,000 square feet.

"Clearly, you can't compare a lot of 2,000 square feet with a lot that's almost 7,600 or more," says Shary Symon, one of the realtors who made an offer on the home for a client.

Here are the key players in the sale. Carol Sotille is the Prudential California realtor who listed the home. Clare Zhou bought the home. She's the Prudential California realtor who works in the same San Mateo office as Sotille. Steve Belluomini is Zhou's realtor. He also manages the Prudential California office where Sotille and Zhou work.

Disclosure papers given to the Thomayers failed to disclose that Carol Sotille and Clare Zhou were realtors in the same office.

"I had no idea she was a realtor," says Thomayer.

The California Department of Realty tells 7 On Your Side that failure to disclose the full relationship between the realtors is a violation of the state's civil code.

"Where there's an elderly person, there's always this suspicion, apparently supportable in this case, that there is some overreaching, some taking advantage. That may very well have been the case," says ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson.

Raising further suspicion is a preliminary title report dated February 21, five days before the sales contract was signed. The title report included the names of the buyers even before the offer was presented to the homeowners.

"The only explanation that pops to mind is that there was some sort of agreement under the table between the selling agent and the buyer," says Johnson.

It is possible, however, the buyers requested the title report as research to help them prepare their offer.

We tracked down the selling agent, Carol Sotille, to try to get an explanation. She said she could not speak to us and had no comment.

The agent representing the buyer says they are very close to resolving the dispute, but Steve Belluomini had no comment beyond that.

Neither the buyer, Clare Zhou, or her attorney have returned our calls.

"I felt my naivete was being played on, my gullibility. If I had not been so trusting, maybe you know, I don't know..." says Thomayer.

The Thomayers have hired an attorney and hope to take this case to mediation. If a settlement is not reached, this could end up in civil court.


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