Why Buy a House When You Can Own the Whole Town?

Just downstream from Bridgeville on Highway 36 is the tiny hamlet of Carlotta, which was also for sale on eBay in 2003. And east of Bridgeville on Highway 36 is Platina, a former platinum mining town, which eBay posted for sale that same year.

These three for-sale towns are forever joined in eBay notoriety with Langtry, Texas -- former home of Judge Roy Bean -- the dusty outposts of Amboy and Minkler, Calif.; historic Rocky Ford, Ga.; Monse, Wash.; and the ghost town of Palisade, Nev.

Besides being offered for sale on eBay, what do these towns have in common?

All are located in isolated rural areas; none has a population over a few hundred. "Fixer-upper" would be a generous way to describe the buildings still standing; in Bridgeville, several of the houses and buildings were deemed by the county to be uninhabitable.

The towns are generally owned by older individuals or couples who are no longer interested in the expense and upkeep required to keep the towns operating. And none has what could be called a dominant industry or viable economic engine.

There are exceptions: "The bad thing about a lot of them is, they don't generate any revenue -- this one does," said David Levi, owner of Tortilla Flat. The town, originally a way station for water and horses, still retains some vitality because of its operating restaurant and shops.

"We got a lot of free advertising," Levi said of his eBay listing. "We had a big response. It went around the world -- England, France, and there was even a Russian film crew over here."

But Levi, who says he is not aggressively looking to sell, has yet to find a serious buyer, something he also has in common with most other eBay sellers of towns.

It's a Pop Culture Thing

EBay operates the real estate section of its online marketplace in much the same way it operates all other sections: strictly hands-off.

"Whether you're selling a postcard from a town or the town itself, we really don't get involved," said Hani Durzy, spokesman for eBay. "We're merely a marketplace or a venue for these kinds of transactions."

But not all eBay transactions are the same, Durzy explains. "There's a format that exists in real estate that doesn't exist in any other section -- the advertising format." Unlike sellers of World War II submarines or human kidneys (both have been offered), real estate sellers can use eBay to announce the availability of their property without accepting any bids.

"Sellers can use eBay to connect with potential buyers or to find the fair market value of their property," explains Durzy. And especially when an entire town goes up for sale, "it becomes a pop culture thing."

Sellers also have the option of screening potential bidders or buyers. "We don't pre-qualify, but sellers have the ability to do a vetting or a bidder pre-approval," said Durzy. Sellers can require that all interested parties provide a credit check, a deposit or simply talk on the telephone before proceeding.

Durzy recommends that buyers and sellers proceed with caution. "In real estate, it's important for both the buyer and the seller to remember that the laws governing real estate transactions in this country still apply. It doesn't excuse you from doing the same due diligence you'd have to do in any other real estate transaction."

And, in case your enthusiasm for buying a town exceeds your common sense, Durzy has one final bit of advice: "Go visit it."

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