American homeownership levels are at a 15-year low as many people are renting instead of buying. But perhaps the opportunity to own your town could stir some potential homeowners out of their caves.
It stirred coffee entrepreneur Pham Dinh Nguyen out of his in Vietnam. When he heard the town of Buford, Wyo. -- population 1 -- was up for sale, he made a winning bid of $900,000.
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You're too late to make yourself mayor of Buford, but other towns are still on the market, including Toomsboro, Ga., for $2.5 million. It sits about halfway between Atlanta and Savannah.
Here are some towns still for sale, others that have recently changed hands, and an update on what Buford's new owner plans to do with it.
Until last year, Buford, Wyo. -- 28 miles west of Cheyenne -- was the plaything of owner Don Sammons, who made it famous among Highway 80 drivers by posting signs announcing it had the smallest population of any town in the U.S. -- one person, Sammons himself. The curious bought gas and sundries from the town store. In April, though, Sammons decided he'd had enough fun, and put Buford up for auction.
The winning bid of $900,000 came from a coffee entrepreneur in Vietnam who had read about Buford on the Internet. Pham Dinh Nguyen was so eager to own it that he traveled from Asia to Wyoming to participate in the bidding.
He told local reporters he had long dreamed of expanding his coffee exporting business to the United States (Vietnam is the world's second-biggest coffee exporter) but had never imagined buying a town to do so. He said he hopes drivers who pass through Buford will buy his PhinDeli coffee from its store. He said he plans to turn Buford into the nerve center of a coffee importing operation that might some day reach every corner of the U.S.
"Everybody has a dream," Buford's new owner says in a video promoting PhinDeli coffee. "So do I. I have an American dream." But he adds, referring to the town, "This is more than that -- this the most famous town in the world: the smallest U.S. town."
Sammons, who paid $155,000 for Buford back in 1992, told ABC News he has written a book about his adventure as well as the town's. "Buford One: The True Story of How One Man Built a Town and Sold it to the World" is being printed now, he said, and should be available from Amazon.com next month.
David Bumgardner, a developer in south Georgia, is trying to sell 28 properties in the town of Toomsboro, which has 700 residents. Bumgardner purchased over 50 acres from preservationist Bill Lucado and through an auction about a decade ago, the Associated Press reported.
About 119 miles southwest of Atlanta and 137 miles northeast of Savannah, Toomsboro may be ideal for a movie production company that needs a set, Lucado told the AP. Lucado said he is now working for Bumgardner to help sell the properties.
Lucado calls it an "almost complete town from the early 19th century" in "amazing" condition.
The town has an old opera house that seats 500 people, a barber shop, and a hotel with 18 bedrooms and baths built in the 1880s. Lucado said it is in "immaculate, A-1 condition," with over $1 million in restoration work. The town also has an old bank with brass teller cages that is "off the charts."
The town also includes an operating grist mill, syrup mill, cotton warehouse, railroad station and about a dozen houses.
|Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina|
Henry River Mill Village, N.C., is on sale for $1.4 million after being used as the set of the downtrodden community of District 12 in the film "The Hunger Games." Wade Shepherd, 83, is selling the 72-acre property, which has more than 20 buildings. The mill burned down in 1977, but no matter to die-hard fans of the book by Suzanne Collins and the film, which topped the box office for three straight weeks.
"Day and night, they're driving through, taking pictures, getting out and walking," Shepherd told the Associated Press. "I'm just bombarded with people."
Shepherd told ABC News he has had about eight interested parties.
The village is about 70 miles east of Asheville and south of the town of Hildebran and Interstate 40.
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Located 22 miles from Livingston, Mont., and 30 miles from Yellowstone National Park, the town of Pray is on sale for $1.4 million. Sitting on five acres, the town is named after Rep. Charles M. Pray, who helped officially incorporate the town, which has been privately owned since it was founded in 1909. The current owner and mayor since 2007, Barbara Walker, is a professional photographer whose business has become more mobile, reported the Aspen Business Journal. Mason and Morse Ranch Company has the listing.
Set between Seattle and Spokane, the small mountain town of Monse, Wash., was on sale for $575,000 in 2003. The town had an old schoolhouse, seven houses, a general store and a post office. But even with views of the Okanogan River and several serious offers, it remained unsold for years until the town's owners split up the 60 acres of land it into parcels.
Donna and Fritz Van Doren decided to sell the land when they moved out of Monse, according to the Associated Press. One family bought six acres of land in 2006 "for peace and quiet and to get out of the rat race."
The French village of Courbefy was up for auction in Feb. 2012 for an asking price of $400,000, or 300,000 euros, but no one bid on the village, which is 280 miles southwest of Paris.
The bank, Credit Agricole, held the mortgage to this French hamlet after its owners, who had run a luxury hotel and restaurant, stopped making payments and abandoned it around 2008. It finally sold in May 2012 for about $663,000 to a U.S.-based Korean photographer.
The property has a tennis court, horse stable, more than a dozen buildings and a swimming pool. The village's 12th century chapel, however, is not for sale.
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|Scenic, South Dakota|
The 46 acres around Scenic, S.D., were on sale for two years with an asking price of $3 million until the price dropped to $799,000 in July 2011. The owner, rodeo legend Twila Merrill, had bought the land slowly over several decades but she and her family decided to sell because of her declining health.
In August 2011, the Iglesia ni Cristo church, established in the Philippines in 1914, bought the 12-acre town and surrounding land.
David Olsen, the Coldwell Banker real estate selling agent in Rapid City for Merrill, said there was someone from the church living in the town and making basic repairs. Though Scenic has had a relatively mild winter without much snow, it is still difficult to move dirt because the ground is frozen.
In January 2008, Chris Kortlander, owner of Garryowen, near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, announced plans to sell the town and the Elizabeth Bacon Custer Manuscript Archive for $6.5 million.
Garryowen was part of Sitting Bull's camp in 1876 when the Battle of the Little Bighorn began. Sioux and Cheyenne Indians defeated five companies of the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Custer.
The property includes a trading post, museum, office complex, bed and breakfast, post office, gas station, restaurant and a 4,000-square-foot residence, according to the Associated Press.
Kortlander has been in a protracted legal battle with the government, which has raided his memorabilia for alleged dealings in fraudulent artifacts. No charges were filed and the government dropped its investigation in 2009.
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|The Grove, Texas|
Founded in 1859, The Grove was a farming community until it became a ghost town after a highway was re-routed away from it in the 1930s because some residents wanted less traffic. An antiques collector, Moody Anderson, bought the old buildings in 1972 and opened the Country Life Museum there. Anderson attracted tourists but failed to attract eBay bidders in 2008. Instead, he held a sale through the Burley Auction Group and a woman from San Jose, Calif., whose grandfather formerly owned the town's general store, bought it for $200,000, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
It may not be an entire town, but the Orlando Sentinel reported in October 2008, that downtown Eustis, Fla., was on sale for $7.8 million on eBay in October 2008.
The Lake Community Foundation listed the 11-acre property in the lakefront city but there were no serious offers. The foundation received the property in 2003 after the previous owner, a hospital, moved to a neighboring town. Soon, the collapse of the real estate market led to difficulties in developing the land.
Virginia Barker, executive director of the charitable foundation, told ABC News that four city blocks are still for sale, three of which cost around $1 million each.
|Rocky Bar, Idaho|
In June 2007, half of the ghost town of Rocky Bar, Idaho, sold for $250,000. The buyer was Michael Ciluaga, a construction company owner from Boise. He got 8.9 acres of land, a hotel, mine, wading pool, town jail plus timber and mineral rights, the Associated Press reported.
Ciluaga told the AP he wanted to restore the old buildings, which date back to the 19th century, with the help of preservationists.
"I'm a third-generation Boisean," Ciluaga said. "When I read the story about it being for sale, I knew immediately that I wanted it."
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An unnamed buyer bought Palisade, Nev., in an auction for $150,000 in 2005. The 160-acre town was once a railroad connection for nearby mines and included a cemetery, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Located halfway between Reno and Salt Lake City, the town is 135 years old. The town emptied out after activity at the nearby mines ceased.
Local legend has it that the biggest event that may have happened in the town was the attempted assassination of President Herbert Hoover in 1932, according to The Chronicle.
The local Gazette paper reported that as Hoover was making his way to Palo Alto, Calif.: "On the way, three miles west of Palisade, Nevada, a watchman found 22 sticks of dynamite near the trestle the train would pass over a few minutes before Hoover's arrival. Two men skirmished with the watchman and fled, and the plot to kill the president was foiled."