animal photography eyes fur

Of Bobcats and Gopher Tortoises

It goes without saying that living in a great neighborhood and getting along with your neighbors go hand in hand. I was mowing the lawn the other day, when I stopped to greet my neighbor, whose mom had just passed away.

During our conversation, he mentioned that the lot behind him was going to auction at a county sale the following week. He had always wanted to buy a piece of that land but had never been able to connect with the owner.

The lot is enormous, with 5-1/2 acres of land! For my Dominican people who measure land in tareas, that’s about 36 tareas de tierra.

county auction
Picture of lot up for sale at auction

From a financial standpoint, the lot is very appealing. It’s also a lovely forest with plenty of wildlife.

The county was holding a tax deed sale to recoup approximately $6,000 in back taxes and land maintenance fees.

Would this be a worthwhile sale for us to pursue?

Given that we have funds to invest in land and real estate, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to evaluate. I immediately stopped mowing the lawn and went on to tell the wifey the news. We became interested and decided to investigate.

This was on a Wednesday, and the auction was scheduled for the following Thursday, giving us just over a week to do our homework and line up our ducks!

We’d never bid in an auction before, let alone an online auction. Oh my goodness, what would that entail?

brown wooden tube on white printer paper, county auction
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on

To make matters more interesting, we had family visiting the next evening and we’d be hosting until Sunday, so we needed to get a lot of work done on this investment opportunity before they arrived.

So I cleared my calendar for the time before their arrival to research the lot and how the online auction works.

Price speculation

In terms of determining the sale price and value of the land, my neighbor informed me that his brother-in-law, a real estate agent, believes the auction will settle at around $18,000 per acre for a total of $100,000.

Given that a quarter acre with infrastructure sells for around $30k-$35k in the same area, $18,000 per acre would be a steal.

So this was the first speculative assumption I considered.

Hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth

I contacted the city to obtain additional information. They provided me with links to the auction website as well as additional information about the lot.

They pointed out how many lots we could divide it into right now without much difficulty in getting approval and whether we could build roads to add more lots.

Roads to accommodate more lots?

low angle photography of orange excavator under white clouds, county auction
Photo by Anamul Rezwan on

That sounds expensive, but let’s not dismiss any ideas just yet and concentrate on the potential of this lot. We’re better off thinking about what the best and worst-case scenarios are if we buy this lot.

Is there something wrong with the lot?

Once I had enough information to seek professional advice, I contacted our friend Jason, a real estate agent.

“J, what are your thoughts on this lot that will be auctioned off next week? We’re thinking about buying it, and another real estate agent says it’ll go for $100,000 at auction.” I asked.

“I’ll look into it and get back to you.” He responded.

Jason replies with a previous $250,000 listing from about a year ago. He doesn’t think it’ll sell for $100,000 at auction unless something is wrong with it.

Taking his words into account, we proceed with more caution at this point…

What could we be overlooking?

The lot is not in a flood zone.

We are surrounded by protected species

As I previously stated, the land is rich in wildlife. We only need to be wary of gopher turtles and blue jays. Although those are protected species in our county, that should not deter anyone from purchasing land at a major discount. We also knew there were gopher tortoises on the property because we’d seen them.

It turns out that all you have to do is move the turtles to a different part of the lot, as I discovered during a previous lot purchase inspection. You may also be unable to do it during the nesting period, though. It could be a slow, turtle-pace, process then. 🤣

turtle on green grass, county auction
Photo by I_Babina Photography Wildlife on

So, if there is something wrong with the lot, what could it be?

Are there any skeletons in the closet?

My next thought was about any debt or liens on the property other than the city’s tax and maintenance fee liens.

Is there a mortgage on the property? I pondered.

Can you even get a mortgage on land? I’m not familiar with all of the nuances of owning vacant land.

But, if it had a mortgage, I’m sure they’d have paid the back taxes and avoided a tax deed sale. So this can’t be it; but why not run a title search instead?

All of these thoughts wildly ran through my mind.

What an initial title search revealed

By Wednesday afternoon, I had contacted the title company with whom we had worked to purchase our current home.

“Could you please conduct a title search for us? We need it by next Wednesday.” So I asked.

“Hmmm, I don’t think I’ll be able to get it to you by then. I may need until Thursday to get you an official report. However, before lunch, I can conduct preliminary research and see what I can find.” The title agent stated.

“That’d be fantastic,” I said.

She gets back to me before lunch with more details about the lots. She discovered a few liens, mostly tax and maintenance liens from the city. I was aware of these, and they will be paid and cleared at the auction.

The shocking news was that a local bank held an outstanding mortgage for $190,000! 😳

two dinosaur statues, county auction
Photo by Mike B on

An outstanding mortgage?

Yes, once these hurdles are cleared, the title agent confirms that we are ready to pursue title insurance.

In other words, once there are no more risks, we will insure your risky asset. 😏

More history on the outstanding mortgage:

The man who purchased this lot in 2003 for $75,000 obtained a mortgage on it in the summer of 2006 for more than $190,000. That summer, if you recall, was when the real estate market began to decline.

It was a small local bank that we had never heard of and had never seen a branch in the area and we’ve been visiting this county for more than 10 years.

By 2011, the owner had passed away, and the bank had gone bankrupt as a result of the 2008 financial collapse. Taxes were not paid, so the city sold the land to the current owners via tax deed for $21,000.

Since the defunct bank never claimed the mortgage, it is now only visible in title searches. It’s similar to a bad debt from a defunct lender on a credit report that was never pursued and should simply be removed, if settlement is not even a possibility.

Is this a hurdle that we could overcome?

My next questions were, “How can we get rid of this outstanding mortgage if we buy this land? Is it even possible?”

I’d need to contact some lawyers, but first we needed to educate ourselves on what the process might entail. A quick internet search yields the words: quiet title action lawsuit.

Aha! So there is a way to get rid of this outstanding mortgage after all.

I contacted a few law firms, but I already knew the answers to most of my questions and what the law in Florida is regarding a quiet title action.

The tax deed sale eliminates previous ownership. Outstanding taxes and, I believe, HOA fees are the only things that could withstand a quiet title action lawsuit. We didn’t have to be concerned about these. The cost of having this done by a lawyer is about $2,000-$3,000, which includes approximately $500 in filing and court fees.

The quiet title action effectively removes a mortgage unless the mortgage holder contests it, which delays the process. With a defunct bank and an unclaimed mortgage dating back more than 12 years, we have a good chance of clearing the title without any hurdles.

If we didn’t want to pursue quieting the title, we could wait four years under one ownership and then get title insurance. This is not a good option because the clock resets every time a new owner takes over. Furthermore, if we rezone the lot into several lots at a cost of $5,180, the clock would reset.

I’m curious if the mortgage inquiry would go away if the lots get new parcel IDs. I’m not sure, but we’d be better off doing it right, which means using the legal system to clear the title and eliminate any chance of that mortgage coming back to bite us later.

So, knowing our risks, cost analysis and the actions we’d have to take if we got this lot, we decided to pursue it and bid on it.

What’s the lot really worth?

The next puzzle to solve was determining the true value of the lot and how much we were willing to pay based on current market value.

close up photo of people holding puzzle pieces, county auction
Photo by Diva Plavalaguna on

According to our neighbor, when the current owners, who operate under a limited liability company, attempted to sell for $250,000, they were unresponsive to buyer inquiries. Also, the for sale signs were removed prior to the sale, so we’re not sure what happened there.

Assessed vs. current value

Based on my research on North Port land prices, I can conclude that the assessed value of land doubled between 2021 and 2022!

Sarasota County, get ready to pay more in property taxes!

This property’s county assessed value is $149,200. According to current selling prices, lots are selling for roughly twice their assessed value.

If you were to buy separate quarter lots today, $250,000 would get you about 8 lots. This lot currently has only one road access, see picture below.

county auction
The lot that is for sale is surrounded by quarter lots. Each lot surrounding it has a home.

Due to road constraints, the land could be divided into 8 long lots, unless more roads are built, in which case there could be around 24 lots available for homes.

I’m going to make some conservative assumptions here. If we spent $10,000 on legal fees to clear the title and replot the land into 8 separate lots, then we could sell them for $65,000 each, bringing the future land value to $520,000. Those are nearly 3/4-acre lots for $65,000, as opposed to someone purchasing three separate lots to build a home for around $30,000 each.

That’s future value, which is great to calculate to see what the potential profits are, but what’s the current value?

Based on my research, I determined that the land could sell for a conservative $250,000 price. That’s what they were attempting to get for it about a year ago, and I believe it’s still worth at least that much today.

So we had a price in mind at this point, and we needed to figure out how much we were willing to pay for it. This land is valuable to us for another very important reason, which we will discuss later. So we’re very excited about the prospect of owning this lot.

How does the online auction work?

If you’ve never participated in an online auction before, here’s how it works with the online auction company we used. For any property you want to bid on, you must put down $200, or 5% of your maximum bid price.

Once the auction starts, you can raise your maximum bid as long as you have enough money in your account to cover 5% of your bid. If you win the bid, you must wire the remaining funds within 24 hours. So it’s a lightning-fast process. 🐢

It’s critical to know ahead of time how much you’re willing to pay. If you change your mind too close to or during the auction and want to increase your bid and do not have a larger deposit in your account, you will not be able to bid more than your initial maximum bid price.

Another restriction is that you cannot lower your maximum bid amouunt once the auction has begun.

Another advantage of online bidding is that you can set your maximum bid and let the computer bid for you, in $100 increments. This way, you don’t have to be present online to bid.

Welcome to online proxy bidding

What is proxy bidding?

“Proxy bidding occurs when bidders have the option to set a maximum price that they would be willing to pay for an item and then allow the computer system to bid for them by the bid increment until someone places a higher bid than their maximum.”

Autioneer Software

I’m not an expert, but this is how I understood the procedure. Assume you have three bidders. Bidder 1’s maximum bid is $20,000. Bidder 2 has a limit of $35,000 and Bidder 3 has a limit of $75,000.

Assume Bidder 3 wants to set his bid to autobid so that the computer can bid for him or her. The auction begins with the opening bid price and progresses to the second-to-highest bidder limit. In this case, the sum is $35,000. With an autobid, the computer places a bid of $35,100 after the opening bid price on behalf of Bidder 3.

Bidder 2 has one minute to place a new bid if they want to continue. They simply need to ensure that they have enough funds in their account to cover the new bid. The same is true for bidder 1. If bidders 1 or 2 place a new bid, the computer automatically places a bid for an additional $100 for bidder 3. The process is repeated until the auction is won.

men on horses
Photo by Absolute Charm on

I considered the process and whether doing the autobid would be advantageous. People usually come in with a price in mind for how much they’d pay for a property. In the preceding example, it would be a waste of time to begin the bidding war at $4k, only to find two bidders minutes later bidding it out at around $35,000.

The computer expedites to the fun part of the online bidding process by skipping all of the preliminary bidding that would happen in a real in-person auction.

You can check out this link for more information on how proxy bidding works.

The day of the auction

The auction was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. We were prepared and in front of our computer at that point to see if we’d be the owners of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. Our bidding property was number two on the list, and the bidding began at 9:12 a.m.

To make matters worse, we couldn’t find the page on the auction site where the live bids were displayed for the first 10 minutes or so! Finally, we discovered it under the misleading page title “Calendar.” Whew… just in time for the start of our lot auction.

Here’s how the bidding went from the opening bid to $150,000:

Opening bid$6,641.12

The property was bid on by four people. The opening bid was $6,641.12, followed by bidder A with a $71,000 bid.

Bidder B withdrew at $97,400.

Bidder D backed out at $133,000.

At this point, the battle was between bidders A and C.

These two bidders quickly pushed the property price above $150,000.

Is it now on its way to $200,000? It had to have been terrifying for those two!

The most important question you must be asking yourself is whether we are still in the race at this point.

Are we brave enough to bid at an auction on a lot priced over $150,000 that requires quiet title action? With that kind of money, we could buy at least 40 acres of mountain land in the middle of nowhere.

hitchhiking astronaut
Photo by A Koolshooter on

Are you ready to see the final results? How about a little wait?

Oh no, how could we do such a thing to you? You’ll have to wait and see!

Tune in next week for part two to find out. Until next time, financial freedom lovers.

Have you ever participated in an auction? How was your experience?


After dedicating 13 years of his career to Vanguard, José retired from the corporate world at the young age of 44. During his tenure at Vanguard, he expertly coordinated the production of both electronic and print educational materials for 401(k) participants. Now, he relishes in his early retirement, cherishing time spent with his family, indulging in his favorite hobbies, seeking out new experiences, and savoring meals in the comfort of his own backyard.

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Louis Bautista
Louis Bautista
1 year ago

You are a mean one, Mr. Grinch. Can’t wait to see the results! This post had me on my toes, I felt like I was the one bidding lol.

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