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Maui residents "disturbed" by outside realtors offering quick cash for land

Hawaii vows to protect Maui from developers
Real estate developers try to capitalize off Maui wildfires 06:23

In the aftermath of the lethal wildfires that destroyed the town of Lahaina on Maui in Hawaii, residents whose homes burned to the ground are receiving solicitations from off-island real estate investors to scoop up their land. 

The unsolicited purchase offers, which experts characterize as predatory given their proximity to the devastation caused by the fires, have spurred local authorities to take action to protect residents grappling with the death of loved ones, as well as the loss of their homes and livelihoods. 

The August 8 fires killed at least 115 people, making them the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century, and officials have said the toll is likely to rise. Maui County officials on Thursday released the names of 388 people who remain unaccounted for.

"Ready to abandon your community?"

Maui resident Goldean Lowe, who owns a home in Napili just north of Lahaina, told CBS MoneyWatch she has been solicited by five separate entities offering to buy her house, which was not affected by the wildfires. She operates a clinic serving youth with autism spectrum disorders in Lahaina. That building also survived. 

Lowe said she was "dismayed and disturbed" by the tone of the emails that arrived in her inbox shortly after the fires had scorched the area. One offer came from an individual identifying himself as "part of a small group of real estate Investors who buy homes in and around Lahaina."

"We've identified your home at 6 Kili Nahe St as one that we'd potentially like to invest in," the email, which addressed Goldean by name, stated. "It's always a good idea to see what your home might be currently worth. We've done an evaluation on your home and you may be eligible for a cash offer."

Lowe wasn't sure why she'd been approached. 

"It sounded like an automated email, and the fact of the matter is they obviously hadn't even researched that our house is not within the fire zone," she said. "So they're just randomly saying, 'Are you ready to abandon your community and get cash for your home?' In the midst of a tragedy, it feels affronting and lacking of empathy or compassion."

Search for victims in Maui wildfire extends to ocean waters 02:04

Another pitch she received, which came from an unidentified "team of real estate investors" based in Amarillo, Texas, informed her that "the real estate market is extremely hot right now, especially in Lahaina." 

In an email to Lowe, the group said it had "pinpointed your home as one that we'd potentially like to purchase in all cash, to make this as easy and beneficial to you as possible."

Troy J.H. Andrade, a law professor and director of the Ulu Lehua Scholars Program at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law, is providing on-the-ground relief and education for Mauians he is working to shield from predatory realtors he said are inundating the community. 

"We are trying to help this community at least take a breather while outside pressures are trying to come in and capitalize on this really horrific situation," he told CBS MoneyWatch. "A lot of folks are still trying to grieve and trying to get necessities. Some are still without power and water, while at same time the community has been inundated with a lot of overreach by outside pressures." 

The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) has issued two separate warnings about predatory real estate pitches targeting local residents. In an August 14 notice, the department urged Mauians to be alert to unsolicited offers to buy their property.

Dozens Killed In Maui Wildfire Leaving The Town Of Lahaina Devastated
Burned cars and homes are seen in a neighborhood that was destroyed by an August 8 wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii.  Getty Images

"While property owners have the right to sell their properties, unsolicited offers from buyers may result in owners receiving less than they otherwise would," the agency stated. "The appeal of an all-cash offer, a quick closing, a hassle-free transaction, a pre-closing cash advance, the payment of liens, avoiding commissions, avoiding attorneys' fees, and avoiding foreclosure, are all things owners may be told to induce them to sign a contract under a time deadline that does not allow for the consumer to make a sound decision or consult with others."

A follow-up notice said that "people have been cold-calling landowners in an attempt to purchase properties from those injured and to take advantage of their vulnerable situation."

In a move to prevent a land grab by predatory speculators, Hawaii Governor Josh Green signed an emergency proclamation making it illegal to solicit Maiuans to buy their land. 

How a nearly 100-year-old "miracle house" survived the Lahaina wildfire 01:15

"In Governor Josh Green's Sixth Emergency Proclamation, the making of an unsolicited offer to an owner of real property located in three East Maui zip codes to purchase that property is a crime punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $5,000," the State of Hawaii Department of the Attorney General said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. "The Department of the Attorney General is committed to holding those accountable who seek to prey on people at their weakest point during this tragedy."

"I pray people know better"

Maui resident Deborah Loeffler, whose Lahaina home was destroyed by wildfires, has found temporary housing at a hotel. In the meantime, she said she received an email from one Oklahoma-based outfit claiming to represent local real estate buyers and investors.

"I received some and I deleted the emails. They said they represent local realtors, but at the bottom of the email it said it comes from Oklahoma," Loeffler told CBS MoneyWatch. 

"They started out by apologizing for your loss or something and then saying if I am interested in selling my home, they have a cash offer," she said. "I deleted it and cleaned out the trash can, too. It's very predatory."

Loeffler also said she has no interest in selling her land and doesn't want to leave Lahaina. Rather, she wants the community to have a say in how it's rebuilt.

"I pray people know better than to accept those kinds of offers," she said. 

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