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Queens Chronicle

Unsolicited realty offers irk Queens

Tony Avella continues his fight to get cease-and-desist zone established

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2017 10:30 am

Longtime Woodhaven resident Joy Freiberger didn’t notice the unsolicited realty offers coming to her home that much when she was working — but in retirement, it’s hard not to notice the constant pitches made by real estate agents.

“Their calls are nonstop and the pitching is nonstop,” Freiberger told the Queens Chronicle. “It just doesn’t feel real. You don’t know who’s coming to your home.”

Freiberger is not alone in experiencing this.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association receives numerous complaints of offers landing in homeowners’ mailboxes and some getting an agent walking straight up to their door.

“You can have some that are as often as four, five times a day,” said Martin Colberg, president of the WRBA.

The offers all have the same theme — agents can sell your home for cash, a lot of it. Some of the pamphlets, copies of which were provided to the Chronicle, show comparative sales in the neighborhood.

One such ad, given to the WRBA on Jan. 18, said the realtor had closed 15 deals in five months in Woodhaven and surrounding neighborhoods.

It also reads, “Your house will be next,” seemingly assuming the sale.

Another was simply a white piece of paper with the words “I am interested in buying your house ALL CASH,” with the agent’s name and phone number on it.

Colberg said nobody that he’s heard of has decided to sell a house because of a pamphlet found in the mailbox.

“Not a single one,” he said.

It’s unclear how many offers come to Woodhaven residents’ doorsteps every day — the WRBA depends on residents’ sending them copies to keep track of it, but not everyone does so.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) said he only hears of the issue at the civic’s meetings.

“I don’t really hear about it anywhere else,” he said, adding no other parts of the district seem to be having problems with it.

The issue is nothing new and goes back to at least the 1970’s when realtors would engage in blockbusting — persuading homeowners to sell property for little money and reselling it at a higher price.

Many would prey on people’s racial fears, telling them another race or social class was moving into the neighborhood.

While race may not be the driving factor for realtors these days, many believe they’re still trying to make a quick buck off the backs of homeowners.

“It’s people looking to make a quick buck,” said civic activist Vance Barbour, a member of the WRBA’s executive board. “They’re trying to push people out of their homes to make a quick buck.”

Such unsolicited offers were once barred in Queens, as homeowners could list their homes as properties where solicitation was not allowed.

That ended in 2014 and realtors were once again free to solicit whomever they wanted.

Now, such cease-and-desist zones can only be established for certain neighborhoods that show it’s a prevalent issue.

Miller said Woodhaven residents would have to provide his office with “thousands” of pieces of mail to get that done.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has been pushing for his district to become such a zone and held hearings on the matter last year.

He’s awaiting word from the New York Department of State on whether it will be granted and he encouraged Woodhaven to take similar action.

“I’m hoping the state will make a decision in the next month or so,” Avella said.

The senator called the offers “a serious issue,” saying he was once approached by an agent offering to sell his house while he was taking out the garbage.

“One agent admitted she does 20,000 mailings a month every month and basically to the same people,” he added.

According to Avella, there are more than 11,000 real estate agents in Queens.

Richard Hellenbrecht, executive vice president of the Queens Civic Congress and Land Use Committee Chairman of Community Board 13, said while such solicitation was most prevalent in the ’70s, “it continues to be a problem in terms of the mailings and the postings.”

“It’s really scary for some people,” he later added. “It really makes you wonder ‘Is this the kind of place I’d like to stay in?’”

Within CB 13’s jurisdiction, the issue is present in Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks and parts of Queens Village.

“That’s where I’ve heard most people talk about it,” Hellenbrecht said.

He called the cease-and-desist zone, “something that was certainly helpful and it worked.”

But for Barbour, it shouldn’t take official action to get realtors off people’s backs.

“A piece of mail is not going to be the one thing to make people say ‘Oh I’m going to sell my home,’” he said. “They should respect whether or not a person needs to sell the house.”

Barbour and Freiberger accused realtors of specifically targeting longtime residents of the neighborhood.

“It’s very disturbing that residents are harassed to sell their homes,” Barbour said.

“You need to make sure that there are longtime residents in a community,” Freiberger said. “It can’t just be all new people.”

The Chronicle reached out to the Long Island Board of Realtors — which represents agents in Queens — for comment on this story but a spokeswoman did not return phone messages and emails.

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