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sion of the Miami-Dade County Chamber of Commerce), he launched into the pitch.
The tract, he said, was in eastern Collier County, "only three quarters of a mile” east of State Road S-840-A (a gravel road leading north from the Tamiami Trail) and about four miles south of the route of the proposed Everglades Parkway, the proposed Naples-to-Fort Lauderdale toll road.
“This is definitely a blue chip investment,” said Margulies, excitedly. "Prices are definitely gonna jump. We've been swamped with inquiries."
He did not, so far as I could determine, misrepresent any physical facts about the land. He made it clear right from the start that the property, though high (10 feet elevation) and dry, was inaccessible and that Webb doesn't plan to develop it.
On the other hand, Margulies neglected to mention certain information, such as the fact that the tract is in an area consisting of rockland and cypress swamps. And a few other things he deftly avoided talking about, such as the property's proximity to civilization.
I got the impression that many of his prospects are older people. At least twice he used the expression, "I've always had respect for a few gray hairs."
Margulies pitch-at times he sounded as though he were reading it—was expertly zeroed in on the human appetite for gain. While giving no positive assurance that the property would appreciate in value, he fashioned a vivid and enticing picture of profit, of a sure-fire investment. But mostly he talked in generalities.
"Chris, this whole area is going to boom,” he boomed. “It's got one helluva investment potential. You can write your own ticket, Chris” (he had put things on a first name basis from the beginning).
I said it sounded interesting, but how about a brochure and some maps? Margulies said sure, promised to reserve the tract for me, and would I please fill out and return the contract he'd send, along with the first payment of $10?
Two days later I received an agreement for deed and two copies, all filled out and ready to sign, a letter from Margulies, a folder listing Webb Realty's references and a card saying I could call collect any time I had any questions.
Stamped on the envelope in red letters were the words : "Buy Florida investment acreage for sure profit.”
The agreement called for 78 payments of $10 (there was no interest charge) and stipulated, as is customary in investment acreage promotions, that failure to make any payment could result after 30 days in forfeiture of all previous payments, and "notice of forfeiture is hereby waived” by the seller.
Call No. 2 came through the following evening. Had I received the contract? Yes. Had I returned it? No. Well—"That land will definitely jump in value. We have only 40 tracts in that area and they're half gone.” Would I please sign immediately and get in on the ground floor?
"I can't hold that tract much longer," Margulies added breathlessly. “It's much too valuable. The other salesmen here are screaming for every tract they can get."
I promised to think about it.
Two nights later Margulies called with some red hot news-a "piece of information that developed today.” The "Fort Myers Power and Light Co." he said, “will spend $250,000 on utilities.” Electric power lines will be erected on part of State Road S-840-A, he said.
“The whole area is going to go up. We've been told the price of that tract will jump in the next week. Maybe $300. I can't possibly hold it more than 24 hours longer. Do you have any questions?".
I asked how far the tract was from an established community.
"Uh-well, it is * * * say, did I mention we have 10,000 satisfied customers on our books? Workingmen like yourself” (a good guess since I hadn't mentioned my occupational status).
“We've done $4 million worth of business in the last year.”
“If you wanna make money, this is for you. If you don't wanna make money it's not for you."
When Margulies called up the following night, he didn't mention the 24 hour deadline. “Do you realize that out of your two and a half acres you can make eight lots? If you did nothing else but hold on to one or two of them and sell the rest, you could still make a profit."
He never spelled out the reasons why anyone might want the lots, or what for. but left the implication that the whole area would soon be swarming with people looking for a place to live. And he had another piece of exciting news the State Road Dept., he said, "has set aside a half million dollars” to pave State Road S-840-A.
Again I asked about the proximity of existing communities.
"Well, let me take a look on the map * * * people are moving in all around * * * three people to the mile * * * the whole area is moving * please don't delay one minute
The next time Margulies called he must have been tired. He kept calling me Ed.
He started getting a little irritable, too.
"I'm talking in terms of something you want,” he exclaimed. “This spells money in the bank. I must have a decision tonight.”
After about 10 minutes of this le bad me get out the contract and practically ordered me to sign it. "And it's imperative you mail that tonight, along with your check for $10. Any questions?".
I asked how soon he thought I could sell the land at a profit.
“I'd say within a year or two, three at the most, you should be able to see a good return on your investment, Ed."
Margulies sixth and last call--I hope it was the last-came six nights later. He remembered to call me Chris, but the voice wasn't as friendly as it once was.
"You let me down," he said in a tone that dripped with reproof and disappointment. “I trusted you like a gentleman and you let me down. You promised to send in those papers. Where are they?
"Are you interested in making money?"
Nothing was 'said about the irrevocable 24 hour deadline for signing that had been imposed two weeks before. On the contrary--Margulies was now willing to throw in a cancellation clause.
If I were afraid the land was underwater or something, he'd fix things up so I could inspect the property anytime within 90 days and, if I didn't like it, I'd get my money back. This could be stipulated on the check for the down payment, he said.
Then he told me to get the papers and we went through the signing routine again. "Now, can I depend on you to get that in the mail tonight? Do I have your word? Promise?”
"Well, probably," I replied. "How 'soon did you say that land would go up?"
"I'd say, with the way things are going, six months to a year at the most. If you did nothing more than hold on to one or two lots and sell the rest *
He served notice that this was positively my last chance. “I'm not going to call you any more,” he asserted.
To my surprise, he hasn't.
Since then, I have received replies to certain inquiries I made between phone calls.
From Margaret T. Scott, Collier County Clerk, came the information that the property offered me was in a 50 acre tract which had been purchased in December, 1963, for $5,000, or $100 an acre, by Cotton Properties, Inc., a Webb affiliate.
I'd have been paying $318 an acre for it, meaning a $218 per acre markup for the sellers.
From Don Lander, Collier County Agricultural Agent, came a letter saying the land in the area where my tract was located is “composed of rockland and cypress swamp *** "In my opinion this land would have no agricultural value due to its location, soil type and inadequate water control program.”
The nearest community, he added, probably would be Copeland, a hamlet 10 miles away, or Ochopee, which is 14 miles distant.
On some maps, the area is labeled as Big Cypress Swamp.
According to Lander's best reckoning, Copeland has about 100 human inhabitants and Ochopee about 75.
I called him and asked if he's elaborate on the area's "inadequate water control program.
"In the Fall and Winter it's pretty wet down there,” he said. “Parts of the area are flooded three or four months of the year.”
Could houses be built in Section 30 (a section contains one square mile) ? “Not without extensive drainage,” the agent replied.
Margulies had mentioned plans for paving State Road S-840-A, now a graded and stablized dirt road. Clarence Davidson, of Fort Lauderdale, district engineer for the State Road Dept. district covering Collier County, said no money has been budgeted for the project. This is a secondary road and Collier County secondary road funds would have to be used to improve it.
The Collier County Commission may ask for the paving in its next priority list of road requests, in which case it would be considered by the road department, Davidson declared.
There is no such thing as the “Fort Myers Power and Light Co." The Collier County area is served by the Lee County Electric Cooperative.
Homer Welch, general manager of the co-op, confirmed that a single phase power line will be erected from the Tamiami Trail north for six and a half miles along S-840-A as soon as the required permits are obtained. The line will be extended further if there's a demand for it some time in the future, he said (the land Margulies tried to sell me is over 13 miles north of the Trail).
Welch also said the cooperative has been planning the project for over a year, and the plans are well known in the area, especially by the Webb Realty Co. which Welch said had spearheaded efforts to get the work done.
Thus, the “important piece of information which developed today," reported by Margulies on his third call, was old, old news.
COLLIER COUNTY AGRICULTURAL DEPARTMENT,
Naples, Fla., March 10, 1964. Mr. MORTON C. PAULSON, Real Estate Editor, The News Journal, Daytona Beach, Fia.
DEAR MR. PAULSON : The land in Section 30, Township 50 South, Range 31 East, is composed of rockland and cypress swamp. As to its potential for speculation I would not be in a position to answer your questions. In my opinion this land would have no agricultural value due to its location, soil type and inadequate water control program. The nearest community in all probability would be Copeland, approximately 10 miles from this location and Ochopee, approximately 14 miles to the south.
New aerial photographs are in the process of being obtained but are not available at this time. I would suggest you contact us at a later time. If I can be of any further help, please feel free to contact this office. Very truly yours,
DON LANDER, County Agent, Collier County.
Cost OF PHONE SALES ENORMOUS
John Margulies is just one of many Florida acreage salesmen who keep the long distance lines sizzling, day and night, seven days a week, all over the nation.
How many there are and how much they sell is difficult to say. But this much is known:
At least half dozen land companies in the Miami area alone subscribe to a special, relatively new, business telephone service which allows them to make unlimited long distance calls at fixed monthly rates.
It's called WATS—Wide Area Telephone Service.
WATS isn't cheap. Its cost gives some idea of the enormous markup on promotions in which undeveloped land is sold in small parcels to investors of modest means.
For a single telephone on which they can call anywhere in the continental United States as many times as they want, subscribers pay $2,250 a month plus 10 percent federal excise tax.
For a phone limited to the state of Florida, they pay $600 a month plus tax.
Also available are phones on which only certain sections of the country can be called, such as the Eastern Seaboard states. These cost proportionately less than the $2,250 charged for nationwide Service.
The Southern Bell Telephone Co. won't say how many land companies receive WATS service, which has been available since the Summer of 1961, or how much they spend on it. However, one company with extensive acreage in Volusia County is known to be using four phones, two nationwide and two limited. And back before the Cuban crisis and the land scandals of 1962 and 1963 caused acreage sales to nosedive, this firm had six WATS phones. That would have meant a phone bill of somewhere around $14,000 a month.
A few of the bigger companies are believed to spend even more than that.
Along with the staggering phone bills, they pay substantial commissions to salesmen.
A few weeks ago, the Gulf American Land Co., developer of Cape Coral and Golden Gate Estates on the lower West Coast, advertised in the Miami Herald for “Telephone Executives.”
“Long Distance Sales," said the ad. "$25,000 Potential Plus. Actual Proof.” Investment acreage does indeed have profit potential—for the sellers, at least.
ALLIGATOR ALLEY GETS BIG PLAY
“Alligator Alley,” the highly unpopular toll road planned through the South Florida swamps, is still tied up in litigation, but some land companies are already getting a lot of mileage out of it.
John Margulies mentioned it repeatedly in trying to sell this writer two and a quarter acres of undeveloped land between four and five miles south of the proposed route.
He said the project is "in the final stages of approval.” Actually it is awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court of the validation of a $17 million bond issue to finance it.
The validation has been challenged by the City of Miami and the automobile clubs of Florida, which, along with nearly every major newspaper, many community leaders and a majority of the candidates for Governor, are bitterly against the road.
They maintain, among other things, that the tollpike will be a death trap because it will be only two lanes wide, it isn't needed, it will delay long overdue free road projects and, as the St. Petersburg Times said recently, it will “benefit three major land firms at public risk.”
The western end of the road will bisect Golden Gate Estates, the vast investment acreage promotion of the Gulf American Land Co.
Officially, the road is called the Everglades Parkway. It also has inspired a number of unofficial and less flattering labels, such as "Alligator Alley,” “Bloody Lane," "Swampway" and "Bryant's Boondoggle" (after Gov. Farris Bryant).