Because land scams are such a pronounced part of Florida’s history, the state really should be better at preventing them by now. Yet here we are again, with overpriced land and hapless buyers back in the headlines. It’s an outrage — one that Florida shouldn’t tolerate anymore. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, two men linked to the General Development Corp. land-sale case are again selling overhyped, undeveloped lots to eager buyers — buyers who don’t realize that they are likely paying far, far too much for the properties. The paper reported that hundreds of undeveloped lots are being sold in Citrus County, Charlotte County and the city of North Port at inflated prices. One former employee charged that the company, New Vista Properties, deliberately targeted minorities and new immigrants unfamiliar with the area.
To be sure, consumers form the first line of defense against exploitative land-sale practices. People need to take better care of their own money, wising up to come-ons that overpromise and under-deliver. Real estate is a major purchase; consult a lawyer. But government has a role to play, too. It has an obligation to post regulatory lifeguards where land sharks are known to bite — a description that definitely fits Florida. The state, however, should do more than offer “buyer beware” platitudes. Also, with the growing sophistication of data mining, state regulators should explore whether this tool could be used for auditing purposes, to spot large-scale, exploitative sales prices before too many people are gouged. In the meantime, individuals considering a land buy should avail themselves of advice the Florida Attorney General’s Office provides in its document “How to Protect Yourself: Land Sales Scams”: “Be wary of the hard sell.”