This section is from the book "Practical Real Estate Methods For Broker, Operator & Owner", by Thirty Experts. Also available from Amazon: Practical Real Estate Methods for Broker, Operator, Owner.
I do not wish to give you the impression that this growth has been a constant growth. I think that is one of the mistakes the majority of people make - about the growth of vacant land. A lot sold at auction will not increase five per cent or six per cent per annum and keep that growth up steadily. Every experienced real estate operator knows that values do not grow in that way. As an example consider the piece of property lying on Crotona Avenue, running from 175th Street and Third Avenue to the Southern Boulevard, known as the George Faile estate. These lots were sold at auction November 12, 1890, and they ranged in price from $650 a lot to about $1,000 for corners. That is only about eighteen years ago, and the value of these lots to-day is about $5,000 apiece, and I doubt if any man who bought one of these lots for $600 or $700, paying thirty per cent cash down and his interest and assessments later, has not made on that original $200 investment $2,500 to $3,000 in eighteen years.
Take a lot which I myself sold at the corner of what was then known as Potter Place and Jerome Avenue, sold at auction about 1892. The value of that lot in 1892 was $750; it sold at auction for $680.
In 1893 that lot was worth about $900.
In 1894 it was worth about $950.
In 1895 it was valued at $950 - no increase.
In 1896 they were asking for that land, or for land of that same nature, $1,000; in 1897, $1,000.
In 1898 the neighborhood began to build up and the value jumped to $1,250 and remained at that figure until 1900. More improvements were made and assessments paid and lots went up in 1901 to about $1,500.
In 1902 the value jumped to $2,000, in 1904 to $2,500; in 1905 to $3,500; in 1906 to $4,500 - the present value of the lot to-day - about $4,500, although they are asking $5,000.
If you buy a lot at auction you must not consider that it increases steadily in value every year; it does not. It may run along for a series of years and you can't see any improvement. You pay assessments and interest on your mortgage, and taxes, and still you can't see any increase in the value of the lot. And you believe you are going to lose money. But there will come one year, or two years, in which the increase will be some two or three or four hundred per cent. It will run along on this level for a series of years and increase perhaps slightly, and then another year or six months and an increase of a hundred or a hundred and fifty per cent will come.
In other words, while the growth over a series of years is steady, it is very spasmodic in any one year.
But there are other sorts of property, as I have found out from experience, that cannot profitably be developed from acreage or farm property or estates into lots and sold at public auction. If you take lots that are worth more than $1,000 apiece or $12,000 an acre, you will rarely, if ever, find that they are purchased for speculation, to be resold at an auction sale. As a general rule, property that is put up at an auction sale is purchased for from $3,000 to $10,000 an acre. The general public does not, as a rule, buy high-priced lots at an auction. To meet success, when sent under the hammer, lots should be valued at from $300 to $800 apiece. At least, that is what the experience of the Bronx has shown. But any lot bought at a public auction sale from an estate that has cut it up and put it on the market, is as sure to make money for its buyer as anything on this earth is certain, provided the owner simply sits down and waits for that section to grow up. A man who buys a lot at such a sale is getting it from first hands; he is not buying it after the property has been exploited by booms or anything of that kind. My experience of the Bronx has shown that these auction sales are the best method of acquiring land to make money on.