Tales From the Closing Table
Florida Land Scams aren’t ancient history… they are still very much with us (and for sale!) today.
For this Tale From the Closing Table, I show you a historic land scam in Polk County, Florida that is similar to many others found in the Sunshine State.
The 1900s were a heyday of conmen, opportunists, and outright fraud and deception when it comes to real estate in Florida. “Selling swampland in Florida” isn’t just a myth, it’s something that actually happened, by design, and continues to happen to this day!
You will learn some of the key identifiers of these sorts of vacant land lots, as well as typical outcomes and how best to dispose of them.
These can be summed up by the words of the developers themselves:
WATCH THE EPISODE!
Florida Land Scams
Swampland scams involved subdividing vast, seemingly worthless swamp lands into smaller lots.
These parcels were aggressively marketed to unsuspecting buyers, primarily from the northeast and midwest but many were in different countries.
In an era without modern online tools, the allure of a retirement or vacation destination in Florida proved irresistible.
However, the reality on the ground was vastly different.
Many of these lots were completely inaccessible due to the absence of any sort of roads or access easements!
To add insult to injury, many of these lots were also was low-lying swamp or wetlands, making it unsuitable for building.
Unfortunately, these developers didn’t let these problems get in the way of what they saw as a great opportunity.
This can be summed up with one quote from a developer to the county commission when they were called to task for selling lots in a community in an area that wasn’t able to support one:
“We aren’t selling the people a subdivision…
We are selling them the *dream* of a subdivision. “
These paper plots or paper subdivision can usually be identified by their extremely grid like lot lines, with absolutely 0 accommodation for roads, utilities, ponds, waterways, or anything else that makes a neighborhood actually liveable and useful.
They differ somewhat from failed subdivisions, which do at least have easements or accommodations for roads even if they are not cut. However utilities in these failed subdivisions can be problematic if they are not already in place.
Some of these paper / scam subdivisions do have some utility. River Ranch, for example is a bit of a hunting / camping retreat. But they are a bit unique with their setup. More common is for thousands of useless and valueless parcels to be gridded out next to each other, to sit that way for eternity.
So why not put these parcels back together?
Once subdivided, land is extremely hard to reassemble into one larger piece. These types of lots are so common they even have their own DOR Code! Inaccessible Parcel.
So these lots remain, passed down through generations or entangled in probate processes. Many get siezed for unpaid taxes when owners decide after 20 years they are tired of paying property taxes on land they will never be able to use.
The county then seizes the land, auctions off the Tax Deed, and the cycle continues.
Owners trying to sell these problematic lots face a significant uphill battle. ACTUAL completed sales are usually in the $500 – $1,200 range, which sounds great for worthless land until you realize closing costs will likely be $750 – $1,500.
If you can sell these and pocket any money you are doing phenomenally well. If you break even or have no money out of pocket at closing that is usually the best case scenario. More typical though is owners just paying the low amount of property taxes for decades, and then these ending up in probate and handed down to heirs who then are also now very much in this same cycle.
Yes, I do realize people attempt to sell these for $7,000 – $20,000 on Zillow and Realtor.com, but people list things at absolutely crazy never going to get it prices all the time… just check out ebay and Facebook Marketplace!
If you look through actual completed sales you will see a grim picture indeed.
The swampland scams of Florida’s past serve as a cautionary tale for prospective land buyers. Do not take anything a seller says at face value and do your due dilligence.
What once seemed like a dream investment has turned into a headache for many. Today, these subdivided lots stand as a testament to the loose ethics of both the past and today. For those who find themselves tangled in this web of deception, the best course of action may be to cut their losses and seek a way out.
If you suspect you may own a piece of Florida’s swampland history, it’s crucial to consult with experts in the field.
While it usually doesn’t usually make a lot of financial sense for me to sell these for you from a sheer numbers and commission perspective, I am always happy to take a look at your land and give you my honest assessment and give you some options.
Ready to get started?
If you have questions not answered here, or any concerns about the process of buying or selling your home, feel free to contact me via this contact for or schedule a phone call for a time that works for you.
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