A Chat with the devil

I’ve never had much fondness for real estate speculators and developers. This comes from exposure to far too many young aggressive-sorts, more interested in how much money could be milked out of one parcel of land than in thoughtful, creative, appropriate housing. They’re still around. An encounter with one of this ilk provided a bit of entertainment, having thwarted one speculator’s desires, but left me with concerns.

Let me set the stage. My family is moving from an inner southeast neighborhood to a place further out, on the east side of 39th Avenue. Because it’s a neighborhood of oversized lots, there’s been a batch of flag lot development (houses built on an oversized lot that has been divided, with a small driveway back to the new house). Our new house neighbors a brand new street which leads to a three-house development on one side and a flag lot on the other.

So here I was, sitting in the Saturday afternoon sun in my new backyard, chatting with a friend who was helping us paint. We were in redneck hicksville painting clothes. This fellow in wraparound sunglasses and a distressed-leather bomber jacket cruised up in his sleek black Jeep Cherokee, with a sleek, neatly dressed, trophy brunette woman sitting in the passenger side.

“Know anything about that development?” he asked.

“Not really. It’s new. We just bought this place, so I don’t know much about the history.”

A feral grin twisted his lips. He hitched himself around and squinted down the lot, muttering dimensions to himself.

“Wanna sell your lot?”

Damn, he didn’t waste any time getting to the point. I’d expected a bit more small talk before he put the bite on me. He must have thought I was really some hick.

“No,” I said. “We don’t know if the lot’s dividable. City’s gonna make us put in sidewalks and do a buncha other stuff too if we do. I’m not real keen on sidewalks right under my windows, seeing as the street’s just five feet off the house.”

His lips twisted in a pitying sneer at my backwardsness. “No one’s gonna use them anyway. It’s big enough to be dividable. City’s difficult to deal with, but you can do it.” The sneer turned to a lecherous grin as he surveyed the lot again. “How much you pay for this place?”

Talk about sheer nerve. I told him a figure about 20k over the real price. He hitched himself forward and studied the house, muttering features and figures. It was gratifying to see a sickish look replace the smugness as the data sunk in.

“That’s a really good price,” he groaned, looking back at the lot. “Sure you don’t want to sell the lot?”

“Nope,” I said. “Gonna put in some fruit trees and a garden. Ought to be pretty good for that, don’tcha think?”

The greenish pallor on his face at the thought of all the cash we were throwing away on a garden was priceless. But he recovered, waved a two-finger peace sign at us, and drove on. Meanwhile, Friend and I giggled at how sick he looked at the thought of missing out on a good land deal.

Yeah, it was an amusing experience to add to anecdotes my father and brother collected when they got hit up in the same way by speculators eyeballing the little farm where I grew up. Unfortunately, while I got a nice little native Oregonian joke to share with my friends, guys like this are out and about looking for the quick turnaround profit. This was the first guy I’ve talked to, but he won’t be the last. And while I strongly support urban growth boundaries, infill, and land use planning, I still wish that there were a bit more thought and planning going into the process instead of far too many get-rich-quick sorts out there gaming the system to do the bare minimum. That wasn’t the intent of land-use and urban planning-but it seems to be the ugly reality.