A gravely ill pensioner is scrambling to save her house after signing it away in under three hours to a no-commission home buying company without receiving advice from her family or lawyer.
Sarah Ewe, 72, was nearing the end of 12 rounds of chemotherapy when Auckland House Buyers salesman Peter Lee visited her Mangere property in November.
The elderly widow, who has stomach and lung cancer, said she did not realise she was selling her family home of 52 years when she initialled a sale contract for $560,000, a claim denied by Lee.
"That's how friggin dumb I am," Ewe said through tears.
"I'm so embarrassed by what I've done."
Quotable Value estimates Ewe's house is currently worth $660,000. Three separate computer-based valuations viewed by the Weekend Herald this week put the home's worth at between $600,000 and $715,000.
Her family are furious after learning of the private sale. They believe the company took advantage of the widowed great-grandmother to secure a cheap deal and there is no way she gave informed consent.
Consumer NZ said the case "smacks" of unfairness and Ewe may have grounds to overturn the contract if she can prove unconscionable conduct or breach of the Fair Trading Act.
"Her best advice is talk to a lawyer," Consumer NZ chief Sue Chetwin said.
"She may well have grounds to stop this sale going ahead because she hasn't been properly advised."
Auckland House Buyers declined to comment, referring the matter to its lawyers.
"I don't want to say anything that can jeopardise my position," Lee told the Weekend Herald.
But in a text message to Ewe last month, Lee defended the sale process.
"At the time of the meeting we were both very clear and i invited all your family members to sit in on our meeting as well. Given property needs to be modernized (sic) and there are not agent fees involved the price is a very fair offer."
In a letter last month, Ewe's GP Mike Lovell-Smith said she was vulnerable at the time, having undergone chemo and stomach cancer surgery, and a recent CT scan identifying lung cancer.
"It would be easy for people to take advantage of her in her current poor health. I hope she will be offered all the help available in dealing with the matters related to her house."
But pleas to have the sale contract voided appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Ewe is due to vacate the humble three bedroom home next week and may have to move in with grandchildren.
Lee, the company's head buyer, turned up on Ewe's doorstep with a basket of food treats after she responded to a flyer advert delivered into her mail box earlier that day.
The flyer, endorsed by ex-Warriors league star Wairangi Koopu, promised: "For a fair offer & no agent fees, call today."
The company and its offshoot Property Wise buy homes in private sales. Its salespeople are not subject to real estate industry code of conduct rules or regulations under the Real Estate Agents Act.
Ewe told the Weekend Herald she still owed $90,000 on her mortgage and did not want to burden her children with debt, so responded to the ad in "panic" after learning of the lung cancer diagnosis.
"I was thinking, 'I'm going to die because I have lung cancer' and I thought, 'I ain't going to leave any bills behind'."
The Te Puea Marae volunteer said Lee initially offered just $500,000, before upping the offer to $560,000 when she told him another realty firm had earlier appraised the property at considerably more.
Ewe claimed she queried whether her lawyer should be present and believed she was signing some sort of agency agreement.
She is unsure where she will go and the family are seeking urgent legal advice in a bid to halt the sale.
A family friend and industry insider, who the Weekend Herald has agreed not name, said Ewe would have been under immense "emotional duress and stress" at the time.
The friend contacted Lee in February asking him to void the contract, but had not heard back.
"The price is well below the market value, she's got nowhere to go, she's a sick woman and these people have taken advantage of her."
The friend believed a law change was needed to give people greater protection when entering into private treaty sales.
The Real Estate Agents Authority said homeowners did not have to sell through licensed real estate agents, but had less access to redress if something went wrong in a private sale through an unlicensed salesperson.