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The blistering housing market has investors calling homeowners with uninvited offers

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It is a hot housing market, and lots of homeowners are getting texts, calls, even hand-delivered postcards from people offering to buy their house. Some homeowners say it's a nuisance. Others say it's worse. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Jennifer Folden-Nissen lives in Duluth, Ga. She has a three-bedroom, Victorian-style house with a gazebo nestled in among some trees. It is not for sale, in case you were wondering. But that has not stopped a guy who says his name is Henry (ph) from calling her at least once a week.

JENNIFER FOLDEN-NISSEN: Once a week - I want to buy your house. I'm willing to pay cash today. No.

ARNOLD: I guess when you go to buy a used car or something, like, the guys are like, yeah, you're going to buy it today, you know? Like - but it was kind of like that sort of thing or?

FOLDEN-NISSEN: Yeah, pretty much, but it was extremely pushy. I just let him leave voicemails. It was always, call me back, call me back, call me back, call me right now. I'm out front of your house.

ARNOLD: Wait. Out in front of her house? Folden-Nissen works at the local fire department, and she'd call home and ask her husband to see, like, hey, is the guy outside? But nobody ever was. Then, she says, whoever this was started pushing postcards through the mail slot - no stamps, so apparently hand-delivered - with photos of her own home on them saying, I want to buy your house.

FOLDEN-NISSEN: It was a little freaky because some of it was just like, OK, is the guy really outside? And why is he taking pictures of my house if I haven't given him the time of day?

ARNOLD: Part of the reason is that the market is hot, and there just aren't even enough homes for regular people looking to buy and live in houses. And on top of that, there's just this maelstrom of all sorts of investors who want to get in on the action. Big companies, little-guy speculators, realtors and some more predatory outfits are sending postcards and calling homeowners just on the very slim chance that you might be willing to sell your home to some random person calling on the phone.

LAUREN BARBER: They have just gotten increasingly worse in the past six months; six or seven calls every day.

ARNOLD: Lauren Barber lives in Columbus, Ohio.

BARBER: And if you know anything about Columbus, it's growing and it's hot. People want to live here.

ARNOLD: Barber bought her house 10 years ago for $155,000. She says now, it's worth more than twice that. Investors can go on the internet and buy lists of phone numbers for people whose homes have risen a lot in value, maybe more than they even realize; thus, the barrage of texts, postcards, letters and calls. Barbara works in human resources, so...

BARBER: I can't not answer my phone working from home because it could be one of our employees calling me with a question.

ARNOLD: She says she tries to block the calls, but then they always seem to somehow call from a different local-looking number. She says one of them even called her mother's house on purpose to ask if Barber wants to sell.

BARBER: Like, really? You're going to call my mom and ask her if I'm going to sell my house to you? Like, it was just the most absurd and amazing thing. But I told you no. Stop calling me. Don't bother my mom.

ARNOLD: So is this even legal? That's complicated. But Philadelphia recently passed a law to crack down on the sketchier homebuyers, and other cities may do the same. Gabriela Raimander is a homeowner and a realtor in St. Petersburg, Fla. She's been getting those homemade postcards with pictures of her own house on them, too.

GABRIELA RAIMANDER: I live on my own. That's just creepy as all get out. I don't want to have some stalkers stalking my property or, you know, essentially me. It just - ugh.

ARNOLD: Raimander also got a postcard that says in all capital letters, third notice, I hope I can reach you in time that, she says, looks designed to scare maybe an elderly person into calling the number back.

RAIMANDER: For whoever is going to fall for it, I guess.

ARNOLD: Legal aid lawyers say some of these guys trick people into signing away their home for half of what it's worth. They say, look, you're almost always better off selling your house the normal way, where you list it for sale, get a bunch of offers and you can pick the best one.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE SONG, "PASSPORT RADIO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.