Buy Your Way to “Mayor”
News items pop up regularly about entire towns and villages going up for sale. In April, Buford, Wyo., sold to a Vietnamese buyer for $900,000. The same month, a couple bought the tiny town of Wauconda, Wash., for $360,000. In May, the French “ghost village” of Courbefy sold to an American photographer for about $643,000.
Why buy a whole town? Many buyers see business potential, seeking to transform an abandoned burg into a tourist destination. One man used his July purchase of the town of Bankersmith to put his brand on the map of central Texas. He changed the name to Bikinis, after his “breastauraunt” chain.
Buying a tiny town or a vacant village is not a sure-fire investment. Actress Kim Basinger bought the town of Braselton, Ga., in 1989 for $20 million, then reportedly sold it in 1994 for only $1 million.
For those who might like to own a town (and perhaps give it a wacky new name) and have at least $250,000 to spend, we offer eight options, including two international villages, shown here from least to most expensive. Have your deposit ready: One of the following towns is up for auction on eBay; another hits the auction block Aug. 15.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 8 August, 2012
Garryowen , Mont.
Price: $250,000 opening bid
Garryowen is barely a blip on the road map, a 7.7 acre lot consisting of a gas station, the 15,700-square-foot town hall, a 2,900-square-foot mixed-use building, and a picnic area. So what’s the draw in this auction slated for August 15? Historic Garryowen has tourism dollars written all over it. The Battle of Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, began here. (The name Garryowen comes from the Irish marching song of Custer’s 7th Cavalry).
Garryowen is also well-placed geographically, near the Wyoming line, midway between Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone Park.
The town of Frannie, Wyo., near the Montana line, is up for auction on eBay with a starting bid of $330,000 or a “buy it now” option of $525,000. The parcel includes a 5,000-square-foot commercial building, a former restaurant, numerous rental mobile homes, a pond, an apple tree, plum trees, two gas pumps and more than 500 feet of highway frontage.
The biggest selling point in the auction listing is this claim: “The store enjoys gross sales of over $900K annually and total rental income is over $3.7K monthly.” Note that the entire town is not for sale, strictly: the bar is being sold separately.
Valle Piola, Italy
Price: approx. $800,000
Sheep farming ain’t what it used to be in Italy’s Apennine mountains, leaving the village of Valle Piola deserted for the past 30 or so years. Its new owner will get 11 semi-ruined stone buildings, including a church dating to the 13th century and a pair of shepherd’s houses, as well as lots of snow and wind in winter and heat in summers.
So what’s the appeal for this fixer-upper? The Italian Property Consultant blog suggests a possible future for Valle Piola as a resort destination, like the transformation of once-ruined Santo Stefano di Sessanio, where a similar plan has been put into action.
Henry River Mill Village, N.C.
Price: $1.4 million
The former company town of Henry River Manufacturing made it to the silver screen this Spring as the home of Katniss Everdeen in the hit film “The Hunger Games.”
Headlines followed when owner Wade Shepherd announced he would sell the 72-acre property for $1.4 million. There is no word of a buyer yet, so there's still time to make a “Hunger Games” superfan's dream come true this Christmas.
Price: $1.4 million
Pray, a 105-year-old town on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s rural Paradise Valley, has always been privately owned. It gets its unusual name from a Montana congressman, Charles N. Pray. The current owner (and mayor) is Barbara Walker. Pray has been in her family for nearly 60 years but she began trying to sell the town early in 2012.
The town consists of a general store, a post office, a four-unit trailer park, and five commercially zoned acres. Despite its big sky and views of the Absaroka Mountains and the Gallatin National Forest, Pray didn’t draw a winning bidder at its auction in June. So while Pray is not currently for sale, it’s possible it will be offered again.
Price: $2.5 million
Population: approx. 700
A Georgia developer put up for sale 28 properties in the quaintly historic hamlet of Toomsboro. The more than 50-acre parcel includes a 500-seat opera house, a barber shop, an 18-suite hotel, a bank with brass teller cages, a railroad station, about a dozen houses, a functioning grist mill, a syrup mill and a cotton warehouse.
The owner was preservationist Bill Lucado, who bought the town at auction. He told The Associated Press that the unique, almost intact early-18th-century town could be used as a set for a movie production company.
Price: approx. $3.102 million (negotiable
This medieval hilltop ghost town in Tuscany has been deserted for 50 years and is currently owned by a religious order. It’s been on the market for years, so the order has decided to try eBay.
The price includes 25 cottages on about 20 acres of land frequented by deer, wild boar and wolves. It does not, however, include electricity or a road, suggesting that the buyers will either have to make these upgrades or get medieval. The Guardian reports that ghost villages like Prattaricia and Valle Piola are two among hundreds of empty villages being eyed by developers as spas or resort towns or retirement communities.
Price: $3.9 million
Population: 2 llamas
The priciest town for sale on this list is the Wild West ghost town of Woodside, Utah. Butch Cassidy slept here, maybe — he was known to use the canyon country area as a hideout.
The nearly $4 million price tag gets the buyer 706 acres that feature a service station, a post office, a vandalized roadside geyser (once a tourist attraction in the pre-vandal days when it shot higher), and two free-range llamas.