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U.S. builders hoard mineral rights under new homes

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Mineral rightsRobert and Julie Davidson fell hard for the gleaming new house at the Valencia Golf and Country Club in Naples, Florida. They loved the way the palm-fringed, Spanish-style home backed up to the fifth-hole fairway. And they were taken with the three-bedroom's high ceilings and open plan. Plus the neighborhood - with its power-washed driveways, blooming hibiscus and guarded gatehouse - seemed all "dressed up."

But when the Davidsons paid $255,385 in 2011 for the house on Birdie Drive, they didn't know that they had, in essence, bought only from the ground up, and that their homebuilder, D.R. Horton, had kept everything underneath.

"Wait a second, wait a second," Robert Davidson said after a reporter told him that a search of county records showed that D.R. Horton still owned the oil, natural gas, water and other natural resources beneath his and his neighbors' homes. "Let me sit down a minute here. They have the mineral rights to the land I'm on?"

In golf clubs, gated communities and other housing developments across the United States, tens of thousands of families like the Davidsons have in recent years moved into new homes where their developers or homebuilders, with little or no prior disclosure, kept all the underlying mineral rights for themselves, a Reuters review of county property records in 25 states shows. In dozens of cases, the buyers were in the dark.

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