Town 'sold' last year on eBay back on the block

Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO A year after the rural town of Bridgeville was apparently snapped up in a frenzied online auction for nearly $2 million, the town is up for bid again this time at half the price.

The supposed buyer, who was only ever identified as a nameless West Coast developer, disappeared soon after making the winning offer on eBay. No check ever arrived. That prompted real estate broker Denise Stuart to offer the property to another bidder. And another. And another.

After a dozen potential deals fell through, including one negotiation with a would-be buyer from Arizona that lasted five months, Stuart posted the property last week on the more standard listings that brokers routinely share.

The asking price for the 82-acre property, set among redwoods about 270 miles northwest of San Francisco and about 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean: $850,000.

Stuart, who owns California Real Estate in Eureka, said she expects the bidding to be less of an ordeal this time.

''It was crazy,'' she said of the online auction, which generated national attention. ''It was such a fiasco last time and ate up so much of our time.''

Stuart said neither she nor the town's owner, Elizabeth Lapple, were surprised when the deal never happened.

Bidding opened just before Christmas last year at $775,000 and catapulted to $1.78 million on Dec. 27 after 249 buyers decided Bridgeville was the latest must-have item.

''Both Elizabeth and I looked at each other and said, 'No way. It's not going to go for that. Neither of us expected it to sell for $1.7 million unless they just have money to burn,'' Stuart said.

Impulse buying and the power of the online image added to the intrigue and apparently led the winning bidder to wake up under a cloud of buyer's remorse. Still, Stuart said other bidders from the eBay auction seriously considered buying the property but didn't have the funds to close the deal and make immediate improvements the town could use.

''There's a lot of work to owning a town and running it, and I don't think people anticipated that,'' Stuart said.

The town, which dates to the early 1900s, includes a post office, a mile and a half of river bank, a cemetery and more than a dozen cabins and houses. It needs a new well, which would set a new owner back about $20,000, and several buildings need to be renovated.

In retrospect, Stuart said, selling over the Internet has its drawbacks.

''You have no idea who (buyers) are, if they're for real or they're bogus,'' she said.

That hasn't stopped other property owners and real estate agents from listing their properties on eBay.

Since Bridgeville's listing, at least eight other towns have been offered on the Web site. They include the town of Carlotta just down the road from Bridgeville and Platina in Shasta County. Neither of those digital listings ever transformed into cash. In Nevada, the ghost towns of Danville and Deeth passed through the eBay engine.

One of the newest listings Monse, Wash. is a 60-acre ghost town with a railroad and boat launch next to the Okanogan River.

Juli Doty, the real estate broker who posted the eBay listing for Monse, said she hadn't heard that Bridgeville was never actually sold but that fact doesn't make her any warier of online bidding.

''It's another avenue,'' she said. ''It takes one person to sell.''

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