Dreams For Sale: Lehigh Acres

Consumerist reader Raymond Schillinger made a documentary called called Dreams For Sale: Lehigh Acres about Lehigh Acres, a town in Florida carved out of nothing, filled up with speculative houses during the boom, and now seems destined to ruin, though a contingent of hopeful/hopeless homesteaders still cling on. Through interviews with townsfolk, local business owners and politicians, Raymond captures, “both the history of deceptive real estate practices that helped build Lehigh Acres a half-century ago and the contemporary foreclosure crisis that has ravaged the area.”

The film’s total run-time is 34 minutes and is available for free to watch in full for a limited time online.

Dreams For Sale


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  1. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    My grandfather lived in Lehigh Acres until his death about 20 years ago. The last time I visited him at his home (instead of him visiting my family) was about 25 years ago. At the time I was already struck by its deterioration from the phoned-in “aesthetic” it originally had.

  2. polizzi82 says:

    This sounds like the Salton Sea Beach… The ideal resort that everyone gave up on after the Salton Sea went salty. http://www.yelp.com/biz/salton-sea-salton-city

  3. framitz says:

    I hadn’t heard of this but it reminds me of a family friend who purchased a lot in the mountains to build his retirement home.
    He had purchased the land sight unseen. He invited our family to check it out with him…

    The land was 1/2 acre on a 45 degree slope and no access by road. The terrain was very rugged and dangerous. I’m not sure what he did with the land, but I’m pretty sure it was never developed.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Who would ever buy land without at least a picture of it? Or knowing if it suited his/her needs, which in this case was to build a home.

      • framitz says:

        I guess in the late 50s a lot of people got suckered.

        There is still a huge network of streets out in the desert where nothing was ever built.

    • BettyCrocker says:

      Did he buy it from an informercial with Ponch from Chips?

    • stormbird says:

      Sounds like prime placement for a bunker after the zombie apocalypse. Just sayin.

  4. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    I just watched the first part and it is really good. I am loading up the second part.

  5. trentblase says:

    From the map, I deduce that this place is near Cougartown.

  6. IWanaGoFishing says:

    I guess he never heard of the USGS and topgraphic maps

  7. IWanaGoFishing says:

    I guess he never heard of the USGS and topographic maps

  8. ofrosepetals says:

    I was born and raised in Fort Myers. Sorry, but Lehigh Acres has always been a piece.

  9. corkdork says:

    I live fairly near to the town in question; it’s more of a suburb of Fort Myers than anything else. A fair number of retirees, although it’s more young families and immigrants living there now (the retirees tend to live in North Fort Myers, or Estero). Hit hard by foreclosure? Yeah, but so’s the rest of Lee County (in fact, Cape Coral, on the other side of Fort Myers, had the dubious distinction of having the most foreclosures per capita for quite some time).

  10. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    It looks like a pretty skeezy place. The woman in the third part who kept smiling why she was talking about the hardships she was enduring was really creepy. Who smiles like that when talking about such bad things? Also, it seems inflated home equity loans are a huge problem. They gave HE loans on inflated prices. They need to make it law that they have to average the value of the home over the last 10 years, or, do like Texas used to do (don’t know if they still do) and only allow you to take out 20% of the equity. After watching this, I am coming down against the banks on the home equity loan side of things. Shame on them.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      “Who smiles like that when talking about such bad things?: lol. WTF? Have you ever heard of trying to look on the bright side? She’s probably doing the best she can under the circumstances. Not too difficult to figure that out.

    • MrEvil says:

      Texas repealed that 20% restriction more than a decade ago. As my dad tells it “Those fucking banker crooks lobbied those gone-to-seed s.o.b’s in Austin to change the laws so they could cheat people out of their houses.” Minus the colorful language it’s mostly true. The banks saw tons of homeowners with tons of equity in their homes who were only able to borrow against 20% of it. They got the law changed so borrowers could borrow all of it and not only that use it for practically anything.

      • NeverLetMeDown says:

        Cheat people out of their houses? Really? I mean, I certainly think it was dumb to loan somebody an imprudent amount of money, but the bank’s taking the loss, not the homeowner, if the homeowner defaults on the loan, and the bank doesn’t get its money back…

      • AustinTXProgrammer says:

        I believe they capped it at 80%… But your right, housing was more stable before they did that.

    • mr cloudy says:

      I would be doing the same as her, since the other choice would be to cry and to make people feel pity. Also, crying wouldn’t magically cause everything to start over.

  11. cspschofield says:

    And so we continue Florida’s long and colorful history of dealing in unreal-estate. For some history on the subject, it’s worth looking up Eric Frank Russell’s THE RABLE ROUSERS, with its chapter on the Florida Land Boom of the 1920’s.

  12. Charmander says:

    There was an article in Harper’s Magazine about a year ago about Lehigh Acres. I wonder if the maker of the documentary is the author of that article? I think the title of the article was the same: Dreams for Sale….anyhow it was very interesting.

  13. evilpete says:

    well done, documentary.. nothing new in it but it is well done..

  14. Jane_Gage says:

    They ploughed this huge tract of saw palmettos in Delray and ran out of money, and now there’s just one of these concrete vacant shells. It makes me sick to see it. There’s also a vacant strip mall shell on Sample in Coral Springs.

  15. yessongs says:

    Thnks bm, ‘m sr w wll rmmbr ll f ths nxt yr. Gld ddn’t vt fr y!

  16. thewriteguy says:

    1. Those are some damn ugly houses, even when they were in new condition. And sellers were asking for $200K during the height of the boom? For reals?

    2. That CPA woman definitely didn’t know how to balance her own books.

    • Charmander says:

      You can’t even buy a shack for $200K where I live, so that sounds pretty reasonable to me.

      • thewriteguy says:

        But do you live in a city that is more popular (such as San Francisco, Chicago, DC, NYC)? Look at that city in the documentary. At least based on what we see of it in the documentary, the city looks like a dump.

  17. mandy_Reeves says:

    Winter of 2006 I went down to Florida for a month due to hearing what a boom was going on.
    I almost rented a house near that area. Glad I got sick of Florida and came back to NJ

  18. rpm773 says:

    Doesn’t look too bad. I thought South Florida was predominantly a salt marsh or mangrove forest, with fire ants and killer bees.

    Where do I sign?

    • White Scorpion says:

      No kidding! I’m going to check it out. I lived in Miami for 34 years and now stuck in North Carolina in the cold and hate it. I think I can even get a friend to split the cost.

      • kc2idf says:

        What cold? You call that cold? I’ll bet you never even see it as low as 0F.

        • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

          They get snow there, plenty of snow. Once it gets below the temperature where you’d be comfortable in your day clothes, it’s cold enough, everything colder is just unnecessary gilding of the lily. (Says the woman from Houston.)

        • White Scorpion says:

          I didn’t know we were having a contest, but you’re right, I haven’t experienced 0 degrees. The lowest I remember was 12 degrees. Is it ok with you if I happen to like warm weather and would like to return to Florida?

  19. JManBrody says:

    I used to live in Western North Dakota and by the looks of this Lehigh place I would much rather live in ND than an ugly place like this.

  20. DeadFlorist says:

    Interesting piece. I think they wanted to end on a high note and kind of forced the issue, though. How’s that recovery going, guys?


    Oh. I see.

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

      If I could find a job there, I would totally buy this house and move in. 1/2 acre, 2 br 1ba for $12000.

      But where would I work?

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        From home, of course. Telecommute. I know, it’s not that easy, but it’s possible. If I had a job where I didn’t actually have to be on site several days a month, I could do it. I wouldn’t though; I hate the place.

    • NashuaConsumerist says:

      Someone here will end up buying this is they can telecommute to work…. You should ask for a commission when it does sell!

  21. physics2010 says:

    So in the second video, about midway through you have a renter who is living in a forceclosed house. She is worried because she won’t be able to find a place to live, because everything for rent is either the cost of a mortgage payment (original price), or is already in foreclosure. She states there are hundreds of people in the same situation. um….since these houses are now at 1/4 of their original value why not buy them? You are willing to buy a house at $320,000, but not at $80,000? You’re already living in the area so you’re already putting up with whatever inconvience there is. Stop being sheep. Go buy a house for $40,000 or less. It’s a buyers market….if you’re a smart buyer.

    • DeadFlorist says:

      Houses CAN actually go lower than that, and when it happens, watch out. At some point, the area passes a tipping point into total shithole, with the attendant high crime, no jobs, and poor schools. That’s when a cyclical downturn turns into structural blight. This is a real risk in these places. Earlier this year, I was myself looking into buying a house at similar prices in northwest Indiana. I loved the house and the price, but in the end, I opted not to because I was afraid that the area was teetering on exactly this sort of brink (rising crime, increased gang activity), such that my residence would become both unliveable and unsellable. Not exactly the position you want to be in with a house.

      I’m glad I didn’t buy. Prices in that area have since dropped even more.

      • rpm773 says:

        Where in NWI? I spent part of my childhood there…but left there 15 years ago.

        • DeadFlorist says:

          Beautiful Hammond, specifically north Hammond. I’m from the Chicago area and I actually like Hammond. I think its hugely underrated and you can get a lot of house CHEAP relative to your commute time into the City. But a house was shot up in a gang-related drive by a few blocks away from the place I was looking at in 2009 (I was looking in March of ’10) and while the neighbors of my prospective house were nice and said the area was “fine”, people in other nearby neighborhoods said their posessions tended to disappear if not well-secured. All-in-all, tolerable risks for a city boy like myself IF I knew things weren’t going to get any worse. But things can get worse (i.e. the couple of blocks next to downtown Hammond that were demolished by the city to prevent all the abandoned houses from turning into drug dens).

    • scgirl_212 says:

      I think it was in the third video the same women tells us that she put an offer on the house as it went to short sale. It was still pending though.

  22. rambo76098 says:

    I love how the clerk of courts says no one saw the bubble bursting or that everything was overheated. I’m pretty sure I heard things were not going to last for years before it finally burst.

  23. techstar25 says:

    There are 100 towns in Florida exactly like that one. In fact I live in one, Palm Bay. Our only saving grace was the proximity to Cape Canaveral and solid base of high tech companies that provided decent middle class jobs, so for the most part, people could afford to stay and ride out the recession.

  24. snackattack says:

    Does the documentary talk about how the government tore down the public housing on Michigan Ave. in next door Fort Myers a couple of years ago and moved those tenants to houses they bought up or rented in Lehigh Acres? and how the violent crime rate in that area skyrocketed shortly after? or about all the marijuana growhouses run by Miami drug cartels they’ve shut down in the past 3 years? Lehigh has far more problems than just the housing market crashing.

  25. sgtyukon says:

    Lehigh Acres is in worse shape than the rest of Lee County because when it was begun, in the 50’s, it was started with no thought but to sell residential lots. The builders didn’t make many if any provisions for the things a community needs like commercial and industrial areas, parks, schools, hospitals, etc. People have created some infrastructure after the fact, but it isn’t always located in the places it should be and there isn’t as much as there might be either.

  26. ultmontra08 says:

    This place was a wasteland way before the current recession. I mean waaayyy before this. My parents were looking at land there in the late 80’s.

  27. Browncoat says:

    Wow, the number of houses in Lehigh Acres for sale for less than $25,000 is amazing.

  28. Ratran says:

    I had the unfortunate experience of living in Lehigh Acres for two long months. There is a non existent sewer system. The area smells bad. The bugs there are biblical. You can’t escape the suffocating humidity.

    The major shopping center is a Hell-mart in the middle of town. The whole area is depressing. Dozens and dozens of empty abandoned homes. Every other block has some church of varying denominations.

    My stupid SIL bought a 4000 sq ft house a year after the collapse for $350,000. You can get the same house for $100,000 – $150,000 now. She still thinks she got a bargain.

  29. cinloua says:

    My father was one of those that fell for the sales pitch at Lehigh Acres back in the 70’s. He purchased land there but my mother would never move! She didn’t mind visiting Florida but loved where she grew up and also raised her family. After dad died in 1993 mom sold the property. Don’t know who bought it and cannot remember where it was located in Lehigh. Mom died in 2002 in her hometown…she was happy.