Predators circle bushfire victims in cheap land bid,00.html

RUTHLESS property investors are swooping on bushfire victims to buy their devastated land.

Disgusted real estate agents told the Herald Sun they were fielding calls from predators seeking cheap "scorched land for sale".

Greedy landlords also have been caught trying to rent overpriced rooms to survivors who have lost everything.

Whittlesea real estate director Lorraine Coulthard, who has unscathed homes for sale in Kinglake, Flowerdale and Wandong, said a handful of callers wanted to know why prices had not plummeted.

"I feel like slapping them. There are sharks that swarm everywhere," said Ms Coulthard, of Raine and Horne.

Colliers International in Wallan, which narrowly escaped being engulfed by flames, confirmed one person rang within days of the tragedy asking about "scorched land for sale cheap".

A real estate agent in Whittlesea hung up on one caller scouting for bargains who said: "There might be some desperate people looking to sell."

The State Government yesterday lashed out at the merchants of grief as the fire death toll rose to 208.

Minister for Consumer Affairs Tony Robinson urged desperate fire survivors not to sell in panic.

"Trying to cash in on the misery and hardships faced by country Victorians right now is insensitive and offensive," he said.

The Real Estate Institute of Victoria, mourning the loss of three agents in the infernos, said the scrounging for discount property was despicable. REIV boss Enzo Raimondo said property predators were compounding the pain of the survivors.

"Natural disasters, fortunately, bring out the best in most people, but unfortunately also bring out the worst in the minority," he said.

REIV business development manager Geoff White told the Herald Sun he was disgusted to learn of two landlords in Whittlesea and Healesville offering to rent houses for double the usual rate.

One wanted $400 a week for a house worth $200.

"Our members smelled a rat and are avoiding them like the plague," Mr White said.

The industry body's website has a dedication to missing Marysville real estate agents David and Marlene Sebald and Humevale's Allan O'Gorman, who died with his wife Carolyn and son Stuart.

Dodgy behaviour should be reported to Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 55 81 81.

Flowerdale man Trevor Nolte, who put his Riverside Crescent house up for sale before the fires struck, said the property vultures beggared belief.

"If one of those jerks come near me they'll get an earful," Mr Nolte said.

Mr Raimondo advised home owners in the fire zones to avoid hasty and emotional decisions to sell.

"It would probably be best to wait until the clean-up and plans for reconstruction are finalised," Mr Raimondo said.

Although property values around the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires dipped in the short term, prices in many areas rebounded.