Land-fraud experts say that the business makes a big comeback whenever the economy perks up or the real estate market sizzles.
"We've seen a resurgence in land sales in Colorado in the last two years." said William Finger, the state's assistant attorney general. "The law protects consumers only to a certain extent, but potential buyers have a responsibility to prepare themselves. We have trouble controlling a salesman's pitch."
Last year, the research organization INFORM charged the Federal Trade Commision and several state governments with failing to adquately regulate land sales and subdivisions. Colorado was singled out for giving consumers the least protection.
But according to Chris Peterson of the Housing and Urban Development Department, the real problem "is that consumers continue to buy land sight unseen." He notes that the average complaint filed with his agency occurs four years after the purchase date.
Finger and other consumer protectors suggest that before buying you ask these questions:
Is there a strong chance the land may not appreciate in value?
Are there certain restrictions placed on the resale of the land?
What about open spaces? Enlightened planners attempt to leave 25 percent of land for parks and recreastional facilities.
What happens if you default? Some developers will guarantee a refund minus a reasonable penalty. Others confiscate both your land and money.
Are you guaranteed clear title to your deed once payments are completed? The answer may be no unless the contract is recorded with the county in your name or the developer takes other steps to ensure you get the title.
Is there enough water to supply the development once it is completed? Ask state and local planners, water companies and engineers whether the developer has clear legal rights to enough water -- minimum of 150 gallons per person each day.
Is your lot served by paved roads, central water and sewer systems and other utilities? The contract and property report should spell out what services already are in place. Find out the exact cost of these items.