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A Parking Lot: My First Deal As 16 Years Old

 

I lived in a neighborhood where it was hard to find a parking spot on the street. I had read in a get rich quick book to “Find a Need and fill it!” So I thought I’d try and see if the concept really worked. An obvious local need was for some off street parking, i.e. a parking lot.

There was a small, seemingly abandoned empty lot alongside an alley near the apartment building where I lived. It was full of chin high weeds. I took possession knowing that under adverse possession law, unclaimed property could be claimed by anyone. But with adverse possession also known as squatter’s rights, you don’t get clear title for 21 years. I cut the weeds, marked off 15 parking spots, and rented them out by putting mimeographed notices on all the cars parked on nearby streets. (No Xerox in those days!) Then I went to the town hall records to find the name & address of the owner. He was long dead. As it turned out, his heirs in Argentina didn’t even know that they owned the lot. I played detective & contacted the heirs by snail mail (no internet back then!) I offered to buy from them an “undisclosed asset.” The details of how I did the same thing over and over on many abandoned property deals is set out in detail in my book “Tracing Missing Heirs.” In my research I had found out that the lot was too narrow for the deceased owner to get a permit to build his dream house on it. Ten years earlier, he had tried and failed to get a permit. I suppose he then decided the lot was a worthless investment for his purposes. He forgot about it. Then he died. The heirs never knew about it until I contacted them. I knew it was going to be great for a 15-car parking lot because I was already operating it and collecting rents . . .I forgot my total cost, but it was peanuts. I will guesstimate it in today’s dollars. Let’s say my total investment was $1,000 for what others on my street saw only as an eyesore--a worthless lot full of weeds.

Trick? Look for opportunities that others don’t see. To make a long story short, I was only 16 years old and in high school. I got the lot originally for nothing by simply claiming it under adverse possession (squatter’s rights). Out of the rents I paid out around $1000 for “improvements.” That is today’s money –Add a zero. I borrowed a used scythe, cut down the weeds, and put a little mimeographed notice (made free at my school’s print shop) on several hundred cars parked on the nearby streets. The notice place under their windshields said that they could rent a private parking spot from me on my convenient “watched” parking lot for $100 per month. That is today’s money – as I said, to make sense to modern folks, I have had to add a zero to all the figures in this story! In 2 months, I was grossing $1,500 per month in rent. Then it was only $150! I paid off the lot’s paving right away and got it legally conveyed to me by the heirs even though I was still a minor. I learned a kid could buy or own property in his own name but just couldn’t sell it without parental consent...The next thing was I got a notice from some city inspector that parking lots had to be paved and “embellished” with landscaping. It cost me a month’s rent (That’s how I spent $1000) to get it paved. I did the "embellishing" personally with some tree branches I got out of the garbage and “planted.” No plastic flowers in those days. In fact, no plastic anything. Plastics hadn’t been invented yet! My "landscaping" looked good enough to pass on the building inspector’s next visit. The nice inspector walked away with a small bottle of German Schnapps.

Guest post by W.G. Hill author of P.T.O.O. 2020 - Portable Trades & Offshore Opportunities