Paul Gibbons, my personal and highly paid attorney, was against it from the start.
He stood on Camden Street and said, “Emmet. Let me get this straight. You are going to buy land, sight unseen, in Florida?”
Poor Paul had not been in the Sunshine State to witness the blazing, red-hot real estate market, like I had. This was about 10 years ago, and I had made my annual pilgrimage to watch the Red Sox in Ft. Myers. I had no intention of buying anything since I was poor as a church mouse.
At every ballgame, at every hamburger joint, at every restaurant, they talked about it. They doubled their money in the last two years on a condo, or a house, or just land. I didn’t ask them. They couldn’t wait to brag. I started looking into an investment with Florida Mark, a recent graduate of the Cobb Manor School of Finance, who relocated to the Sunshine State. The Florida market got even hotter. He would get advance listings on houses and apartment houses. They would be sold by the time he arrived to check them out. Honest to God.
I believe it was the Tampa Bay Times that ran the headline “Buy a house. Buy a condo. Buy an apartment house. But buy something!”
I didn’t need to make a fortune. I just wanted enough to pay off that Cobb Manor mortgage and live in peace.
We were in a panic. We finally found house lots for sale in a section called Royal Highlands, just north of Weeki Wachee, where the mermaids lived. That should have been a tip-off.
I was so hot that I went to my Maine bank to get a home equity loan on Cobb Manor. Let me tell you, in those days, a bank would welcome you in, offer you a seat and ask, “How much do you need?” With a gun in my mouth, I would never tell how much I paid for that damn house lot. I will tell you that it could have purchased a brand new Porsche.
There now have been 10 years of taxes, 10 years of finance charges on that equity loan. I would hate to add it all up.
At one point, the Florida power company was going to build a new plant. Did I tell you the land sits in the shadow of power lines? The company actually sent notices that they needed to buy that damned land at 2.5 times the assessed value. Honest to God. Then they rechecked the map and discovered my land was outside the power corridor … by about six feet.
That fiery Florida development had raced up Route 19 from Tampa to Weeki Wachee. There it stopped at the intersection with Cortez Boulevard. Dead. Everyone expected the development to continue north. It was Florida, after all, only a mile or two from the coast. They built a big new high school to handle all those families that would move in. They built a giant Publix food store to feed all those families. It wasn’t just us expecting all that new development.
I paid my Florida property tax bill last week and confessed to the clerk that buying that land was the “dumbest thing I ever did.” I am sure she hears this every year. But she smiled and said, “Oh, they are building up there. You could sell that land.” Sure, I could. For 10 percent of what I paid for it.
I drove along Scaup Duck Drive last week. I found the land rather easily. Nobody is building anything, anywhere in Royal Highlands. I am doomed.
When I see my highly-paid attorney on Camden’s Main Street now, I duck into a store so I don’t hear the cruelest words of all.
I told you so.
Emmet Meara lives in Camden in blissful retirement after working as a reporter for the BDN in Rockland for 30 years.