An Australian woman has had to rebuild her life after she and her partner were scammed out of $134,000 and then had to lose an additional $94,000 of their house deposit due to a property deal gone terribly wrong.
Then, in another tragic twist, her long-term partner died just a month later from cancer.
Emma Lees, from northern New South Wales, Australia, has had the worst year imaginable.
“It’s crazy,” Lees told news.com.au. “Never in a million years would I have thought she would be in a situation like this.”
Lees, 46, and his late partner Geoff Shearman signed a contract for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house in New Brighton, near Byron Bay, in October last year.
They expected a large sum of money to come from a $134,000 mining investment Shearman had made in 2016.
Meanwhile, to get by, they borrowed money from friends and family to pay the deposit.
However, the investment turned out to be a scam and they had to renege on the deal because they did not have the funds to complete the transaction.
As a result, the seller was legally entitled to keep the deposit on the couple’s home and walked away with his $94,000 down payment while also reselling the property within two weeks for an additional $47,000.
The ordeal began in July last year when the couple learned that their rental property in New Brighton was to be sold and that they had three months to find a new place to live.
As the beach region was experiencing a real estate boom and a huge influx of newcomers thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, Lees and Shearman struggled to secure another rental.
“We couldn’t find a place to go, we searched within a 60-kilometer radius for the whole three months,” Ms. Lees recalled.
The couple was unwilling to move from the Byron area because Shearman was battling his third year with cancer and had built a network of friends and doctors there.
Shearman was in the hospital from August to October while the couple looked for a new rental.
They then received a call from a so-called old friend.
“We thought some kind of miracle had happened,” Lees said.
Years earlier, her partner had invested $134,000 with this friend, who now promised them a substantial return.
With the significant payment looming, it seemed possible that they could purchase their own property in the area rather than rent or be forced to leave the area.
“We had two weeks of rent left, we were totally freaked out, he (my partner) could not walk more than 50 meters [164 feet] because he had just had brain surgery,” Lees added.
With time ticking by, the couple made a hasty financial decision that would ultimately ruin them: sign the contract without a finance clause.
“My partner assumed that he was receiving the money from this investment, he signed an unconditional contract,” he said. “That’s why the offer was accepted.”
The price of the house, $1.8 million, was also well above the “level” they were willing to spend, but faced with homelessness and believing more funds were coming soon, they decided to sign on.
As they signed the deal, Shearman’s friend told him that the investment money had been delayed due to a backlog with the tax department, but would be coming soon.
So the couple decided to borrow the agreed-upon deposit price, $107,116, from friends and family in the belief that they would pay it all back in due time.
“We moved in on October 29,” Lees said.
That was the same day Shearman was released from the hospital and there were only two days left on his previous lease.
“We had a month to sort out the money, it never came,” Lees continued.
“The man that my partner had invested with, who had been posing as a friend, must have actually been a con man.”
To date, the money has yet to materialize nearly a year later.
At the time, Lees and Shearman did not realize this and convinced the seller to extend the liquidation deadline while they waited for the investment and reached an agreement in which they rented the property until they could buy it.
“When we couldn’t raise the rest of the money, they sent us a notice that the contract had been terminated,” he said.
“We get an email every day notifying us that we would be evicted.”
The New Brighton home was then purchased by a Melbourne buyer for $1.85 million, an additional $50,000, in December.
Fortunately, the new owner allowed Lees and Shearman to continue as tenants, albeit for $670 a week, which depleted their savings.
However, it was not the end of the debacle. They soon learned that they were going to have to forfeit their entire $94,000 deposit and that they had no legal basis to stand on.
On Christmas Eve, Shearman was given one to four weeks to live after discovering he had six more tumors in his leg.
By January 12, he had tragically died of cancer.
He died believing his friend was going to get away with his investment money, according to Lees.
“Obviously I’ve gone over it in my mind 1000 times, I honestly don’t know, the blessing I see in all of this is that we had a roof over our heads (for his final weeks),” he added.
While grieving, Ms. Lees realized that she was going to lose the $107,116 she owed to her friends and family.
He sent a desperate letter to the seller explaining his situation and asking that all of the seller’s costs, such as real estate and legal fees, be paid, but that leftovers be returned to him. The reason was rejected, to which the seller was legally entitled.
After six months of mediation, the seller agreed to return $13,389 that was deposited in July of this year.
In a statement to news.com.au, the seller defended her actions.
“I gave Mr. Shearman every consideration, including allowing him to live on the property prior to settlement and granting him several extensions that delayed the settlement date in hopes that he would receive the proceeds of a mining lease sale he disclosed,” he wrote. the seller.
“While I was made aware of and understood Mr. Shearman and Ms. Lee’s personal plight, I had already received substantially less under the failed contract than I was legally entitled to receive.”