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Resident looks to buy next-door lot from unknown owner

By ERIC FEICHTHALER - Real Estate Law | Sep 23, 2021

Eric Feichthaler

Dear Mr. Feichthaler:

I have lived in my home in Northeast Cape Coral for six years now, and I have always been interested in purchasing the lot next to me for additional room. I have no idea who owns it or how to contact them. Do I need to contact a Realtor or an attorney?

– Sarah T.

Dear Sarah:

I have both friends and clients that have purchased adjoining property to provide additional room, particularly when they have kids or pets that like to run around. The typical Cape Coral home doesn’t have a significant yard, so the ability to acquire the lot next door can be highly desirable. For some of my clients, they may intend to build an additional home someday for family members. Plus, the additional lot can also qualify for homestead protections.

The best place to start is at the county property appraiser’s site, www. leepa.org. This website has always been at the forefront in Florida to obtain a wide range of information on property. Typically, the name and address of the owner will appear by searching the address. If you don’t know the exact number of the address, it will typically be 4 more, or 4 less, than your address. You can also use the tools on the site to click on a map, which will also show the name and address of the owner.

In addition to potentially writing the owner a letter, I know of several clients who have searched social media, like Facebook, for the name and have communicated via electronic means. While you can utilize a lawyer to open communications and negotiations, typically an interested buyer would reach out to the owner directly to see if they have any interest in selling first.

Once you do make contact and reach agreement, I highly recommend the agreement be reduced to a written contract. It is important to have a written contract because verbal agreements to buy and sell real estate are not enforceable in Florida. Also, it is vital that all parties know what their rights and responsibilities are under a contract. The last thing you would want is to get to closing and have an argument who is paying for back property taxes (buyer would, normally). Good contracts help avoid legal disputes.

As noted in my prior submissions, the seller typically pays for the title work, title policy and documentary stamps in real estate transactions in Lee County. However, all points of a contract are always negotiable. Some of my clients offer a “net price,” with the buyer paying all costs of the transaction (with the exception of property taxes and other liens due).

Especially when dealing with an owner that is not an experienced seller, having that guarantee of a net amount can be very comforting to the owner, and can get the deal done.

Finally, a buyer in your situation should never accept a simple quitclaim deed without a formal title transaction. Even owners with the best of intentions may think they have clear title, they may not. All funds and documents should be handled through a law firm or title company to make sure you receive what you bargain for. Good luck!

Eric P. Feichthaler has lived in Cape Coral for over 33 years and graduated from Mariner High School in Cape Coral. After completing law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he returned to Southwest Florida to practice law and raise a family. He served as mayor of Cape Coral from 2005-2008, and continues his service to the community through the Cape Coral Caring Center, Cape Coral Historical Museum, and Cape Coral Kiwanis. He has been married to his wife, Mary, for over 20 years, and they have four children together. He earned his board certification in Real Estate Law from the Florida Bar. He is AV Preeminent rated by Martindale-Hubbell for professional ethics and legal ability, and is a Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator.

Mr. Feichthaler can be reached at eric@capecoralattorney.com, or (239) 542-4733.

This article is general in nature and not intended as legal advice to anyone. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting on any matter of legal rights and obligations.