Sunday, August 31, 2014

So…You Want To Own An Entire Town?

Have you ever been fascinated with the idea of buying a town?  Owning the entire thing—land, buildings, streets—along with the perks such as being the mayor and chief of police, being able to set down the rules and institute local laws.  However, along with that also comes the responsibilities and obligations to the town and the residents.

Owning a town is not such a far-fetched idea.  From time to time small towns and villages will come on the market for sale.  There are, of course, exceptions but the desire to buy a small town generally falls into three categories:

1)  Someone with a lot of money who's looking for a hobby, usually an ego thing of being able to claim ownership of a town and a personal zip code.

2)  Someone who is trying to create a 'green community', usually a commune type settlement or an artist's colony.

3)  A family project where they want a place to live away from the confines of the city where they can ranch or farm but also have already established businesses and rentals as a source of income.

The biggest problem is funding.  Banks do not look at generally run-down isolated villages as good collateral.

Here's an example of some small towns and villages recently on the market for sale.

Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina:
On sale for $1.4 million, this was the location used as the downtrodden community of District 12 in the film The Hunger Games.  The property covers 72 acres and has over 20 buildings.  The town's current owner says he's had several interested potential buyers since the release of the movie…and lots of tourists with cameras at all hours of the day and night.

Pray, Montana:
Also on sale for $1.4 million, this 5 acre town is located 30 miles from Yellowstone National Park and has been privately owned since it was founded in 1909.

Buford, Wyoming:
Auctioned off on April 5, 2012, for $900,000, this approximately 10 acre town is reportedly the second oldest town in Wyoming, located 28 miles west of Cheyenne and just north of the Colorado border.  It was built in 1866 for railroad workers.  Businesses included in the sale were the Buford Trading Post consisting of a convenience store and gas station, U.S. Post Office boxes, a cellular tower with lease, and five other buildings.

Monse, Washington:
Originally put up for sale in 2003 with an asking price of $575,000, this 60 acre town about halfway between Seattle and Spokane included an old schoolhouse, 7 houses, a general store and post office.  In spite of that, it remained unsold for several years until the owners split up the land into parcels.

Courbefy, France:
This French village was put up for auction in February 2012 for an asking price of euro 300,000 (approx. $400,000 U.S. dollars at that time), but no one bid on it.  The owners had run it as a luxury hotel and restaurant, but abandoned it in 2008.  The property, located 280 miles southwest of Paris, also includes a tennis court, horse stable, swimming pool, and more than a dozen buildings.  The deserted French village was finally sold at a follow up auction to a U.S.-based Korean photographer for euro520,000 ($663,000 at the time of sale).

Scenic, South Dakota:
Originally put on the market for $3 million, the 12 acre town plus surrounding land for a total of 46 acres remained unsold for 2 years until the price dropped to $799,000 in July 2011.  The property was purchased by a church which was established in the Philippines in 1914.  Someone from the church is living in the town and working on repairs, but the group's plans are still unknown.  There is a post office in the town and, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, no decision has been made about whether it will be closed as part of the moratorium on post office closings.

Garryowen, Montana:
Put on the market in 2008 for $6.5 million, this property is near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where, in 1876, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors defeated Custer's 7th Cavalry.  The property includes a trading post, museum, office complex, bed and breakfast, post office, gas station, restaurant, and a 4000 sq. ft. residence.

The Grove, Texas:
Purchased in 2008 for $200,000, The Grove was founded in 1859 as a farming community and eventually turned into a ghost town in the 1930s when the highway was rerouted away from the town.  The woman who purchased the town was the granddaughter of the former owner of the town's general store.

Rocky Bar, Idaho:
In June 2007, 9.8 acres comprising about half the ghost town of Rocky Bar sold for $250,000 giving the new owner a hotel, mine, wading pool, town jail, plus timber and mineral rights.  He plans to restore the old buildings to their original 1800s.

Palisade, Nevada:
The 160 acre town was purchased at auction in 2005 for $150,000.  Located halfway between Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah, the 135 year old town was once a railroad connection for nearby mines and included a cemetery.  According to local legend, an assassination attempt on President Herbert Hoover was thwarted in 1932 when dynamite was found on a railroad trestle minutes before his train was scheduled to pass through there on the way to Palo Alto, California.

Bridgeville, California:
Is currently on the market (2012) for the third time in four years, the 64 acre riverfront town has an asking price of $1.35 million which includes riverfront lots, 10 rental houses, and a building leased by the post office.

Swett, South Dakota:
The town's current population consists of two (the owner) and includes 6 acres of prairie, a house, three trailers, and its own bar.  The current owner bought the town in 1998 and now has it on the market for $400,000 (July 2014).

Harmony, California:
A small, unincorporated town that recently sold for an undisclosed amount, located on scenic Highway 1 on the California coast approximately 15 miles south of Hearst Castle.  The one block, 2.5 acre town has a consistent population of 18 and is an artists' community. Of the towns listed here, this is the only one I've visited.

Have you ever had a desire to own a town with your personal zip code?  You may find that the economic inconveniences far outweigh the prestige perks.  Prospective owners quickly realize that owning a town, handling the responsibilities and obligations to the residents, is a bigger job than they thought and a lot more costly.  They need to maintain the public areas including streets and sidewalks, keeping the all important infrastructure in good repair such as clean water and power and sewer, and keeping the rental properties in good repair.

Buying your town is a step that should not be taken without researching all the aspects of ownership—good and bad.


Louise Lyndon said...

Aside from the lack of funds, I could never own my own town. The power would go to my head. Me and perceived power do not mix! ��

Ashantay said...

Didn't Kim Basinger buy the Georgia town in which she grew up? Don't think that lasted long - I once worked for a small city & wouldn't want the headaches again!

Samantha Gentry said...

Louise: I noticed on several of those towns for sale, that the population consisted of the owner(s) and no one else. That way, there aren't any disagreements between the city commissioners and the mayor. :)

Thanks for your comment.

Samantha Gentry said...

Ashantay: Yes, she did purchase a town (don't recall where). However, when the producers of Boxing Helena sued her for breach of contract when she pulled out of the movie after committing to it leaving them in limbo with tons of debt because of it, she ended up having to file bankruptcy when she lost the lawsuit. So, she had to sell the town. At least that's the way I remember it, hope that's accurate.

Thanks for your comment.