'It's desert?'

Published May 10, 2007

DELL CITY, Texas - Maxine Bryant received an ad in her mailbox last year for undeveloped land in West Texas and bought, sight unseen, 20 acres of sorry-looking desert in the middle of nowhere.

The Florida woman said the real estate company, Florida Top Land, told her a Home Depot was coming to the nearby town of Dell City and that the airport - if that's what you can call a gravel strip along a farm field - would soon be improved.

She said she was led to believe, like some of the 200 or so other customers who bought the company's pitch and paid $15, 000 to $20, 000 for a 20-acre lot, that this was a place where "things are happening."

But if things are happening around Dell City, it's news to locals. And clearly, some of the buyers didn't look very closely at a map before signing on the dotted line.

"It's desert? What we bought is desert?" said new landowner Robert Brown of Hollywood, Fla. "It's not wetland?"

Florida Top Land president and CEO Dennis Grant denies misleading anyone, and his company has not been accused of wrongdoing.

"Twenty years from now, which is not a long time, people are going to be building all over the place, " he said.

The land is a few miles outside Dell City, a spot along the Texas-New Mexico line that has 400 residents, no grocery store, no bank and no doctor's office.

Don Harrison of Home Depot said no mega hardware store is coming to Dell City, whose entire population could fit inside one. And no improvements are planned at the Dell City "airport, " which does not have a terminal building.

Grant acknowledges as much and is advertising the land as an investment today that will help the buyer "retire wealthy tomorrow."

He said anything customers were told about a Home Depot and airport improvements had to do with El Paso, which is nearly 100 miles away and is anticipating a miniboom from a planned expansion at Fort Bliss.

Bryant, a 43-year-old clinical researcher in Hollywood, Fla., said she never planned to live on her 20-acre spread, and bought it as an investment. Still, she said she was surprised to hear a description.

"So I'll be holding on to that land for a long, long time, " she said.

Grant, who runs a church ministry and sells mostly to fellow Jamaican immigrants, said he is confident buyers are pleased. He said if customers change their minds after seeing the land, he will buy it back.

Other investors said they are not worried. After all, they reasoned, the value of their holdings is bound to rise as open land becomes scarce, much the way it has in Florida.

"That's why we bought, the potential that years from know it may be worth something, " said Valda Phillips, a 50-year-old nurse from Florida. "I know that it won't be valuable right now. That doesn't bother me."