WHITTIER — Just before Christmas last year, Helen and Tobias Casey decided to sell their earthquake-damaged house.
The elderly couple thought it would be too difficult to repair the 2-story, 1913 home on Greenleaf Avenue, and called a local real estate broker to handle the deal. Five days after being placed on the market, the house sold for $120,000.
Looking back, Helen Casey said agreeing to the sale was "just foolishness, I guess."
But the Caseys' daughter, Coral Casey, believes that decision was more than foolish. She believes the broker, Christmas Realty, overstated the earthquake damage and pressured her anxious parents into selling the house at below market value. She also believes it was a conflict of interest for Christmas Realty to represent both the Caseys and the people who ended up buying the home.
Last month, the Caseys filed a fraud and conspiracy lawsuit against Christmas Realty and the buyers, seeking to reverse the sale of the house, and $2.7 million in damages.
"It was a senior citizen rip-off, plain and simple," Coral Casey said. Helen Casey declined to disclose her age, but the lawsuit said she and her husband are older than 70.
Robert Sandberg, lawyer for home buyers Leroy Silvio and Pete Costruba, called the lawsuit "completely phony." Silvio and Costruba planned to demolish the house and build apartments on the property, which is zoned R-4, or high density, Sandberg said.
They Wanted the Land
"Obviously, my clients simply bought a piece of property at full list value. There is no conspiracy," Sandberg said. Real estate brokers commonly represent both a buyer and seller in property sales, he added.
Ed Christmas, owner of Christmas Realty, did not return calls seeking comment.
Sandberg said $120,000 was a fair price, since the buyers wanted the property and not the house, which he described as insect-infested and uninhabitable. The Caseys lived in the house from 1972 until February. Local developers say the going rate for Whittier high-density property is $35,000 for each apartment that can be built on the lot--which would make the Casey lot worth about $140,000.
Moreover, the Casey home is just north of the Uptown Village on Greenleaf Avenue, the business district's main street. In the lawsuit, the Caseys claim the property is worth $200,000.
Sandberg also questioned the credibility of Coral Casey, who had lived with her parents and refused to move out of the house until September--five months after escrow closed and her parents had rented another house.
Coral Casey, who left her parents' old house a few weeks before the lawsuit was filed, said she was afraid the house would be razed once she moved out. The house remains vacant pending resolution of the lawsuit.
Helen Casey admits that she had to be talked into the lawsuit. But after reviewing property appraisals in the area around her old house, which the Caseys bought for $24,000 in 1972, she said her daughter is correct. "They told us ($120,000) was all it was worth--that's all the buyer would pay," she said.