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Open Lot Party an ‘outside the box’ idea for property owners

By Staff | Apr 8, 2009

When Martina Wald and her husband, Roland Grasshoff, purchased a modestly-sized parcel of land in the Little Lake Murex subdivision of Sanibel 10 years ago, they had initially intended to build upon that lot their dream home.

Both hailing from Germany, the couple had visited the island about four times per year and desired to create a comfortable “home away from home.”

But after years of not being able to find an affordable home builder for their Twin Lakes Lane lot – “Without even asking what we wanted, everyone was telling us they started at $1 million,” Wald stated – the couple eventually found a house they could afford, just around the corner on Lake Murex Drive.

Once they became Sanibel homeowners, Wald and Grasshoff decided to put their open lot back on the market, hoping that the 125-foot-by-150-foot lakefront land would be snatched up by another aspiring couple searching for a place to build their “dream home,” real estate investor or home construction company looking for an island lot.

That was two years ago. And today, the lot remains for sale.

After dropping the price of the parcel several times and exhausting every real estate method they had heard of, Wald and Grasshoff decided to begin hosting an “Open Lot Party” at the site.

“I said to myself that it was time to think ‘outside the box,'” said Wald. “We not only want to get the attention of prospective buyers, we also want with this kind of event to reach out to other lot owners to encourage them to do more for their own interest.”

During February and March, the couple staged a three-hour party, which included free hot dogs and sodas to everyone who attended, at their lot. Wald reported following the most recent “party,” held on March 28, that about 25 people – including three realtors – attended. Of the entire group, two showed “a genuine interest” in the property.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Jeff Carroll of Tradewinds Custom Homes, based in Cape Coral. “Empty lots aren’t as marketable as they used to be. In this tough economy, you’ve got to step back, re-evaluate the market and get creative.”

Carroll, who provided plans for a 2,800 to 3,000 square foot residence on the site for prospective buyers, said that only a few years ago his business was approximately 70 percent new home construction and 30 percent custom remodeling work. Today, those figures are reversed.

“It’s a buyers market,” he added. “People can hand-pick the contractors they want to work with. There’s not shortage of contractors available these days and materials are plentiful, too.”

Meanwhile, Wald and Grasshoff remain hopeful that their picturesque lot on Little Lake Murex will find a new owner soon.

“Builders and lot sellers are in the same boat,” said Wald. “Realtors are always telling us, ‘If you want your lot sold, you have to go down with the price.’ But we think that there must be more marketing tools than only lowering the prices. Perhaps the lot sellers themselves can put their heads and efforts together and come up with new ideas.”