Week of January 13, 2003
  Snapshot from the Field
$1.8M eBay Sale of Tiny Calif. Town Underscores Net's Real Estate Clout

Bridgeville Post Office
Bridgetown's buyer will own his or her own zip code – 95526 – as well as the building (pictured) that the U.S. Postal Service leases in the town. Photo: bvsales.com
by JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing

"You get an entire working town, with shops, woodworking, plumbing, glass and electrical. . . . With the proper development, Bridgeville can become an economic powerhouse with the potential for generating a large cash flow." - eBay ad to sell the city of Bridgeville, Calif.

BRIDGEVILLE, Calif. – Talk about adaptive reuse – not to mention Internet clout in real estate:
        After long languishing unwanted on the traditional market, the tiny northern California town of Bridgeville has been sold by online auctioneer eBay (www.ebay.com) for a cool $1.78 million.
        And this wasn't some major metro that was plucked off the cyberspace auction block. Located roughly 260 miles (416 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, Bridgeville has only about 25 residents – at least in the 82-acre (33-hectare) section that was sold. The hamlet's total inhabitants have steadily dwindled since its economy took a sharp turn south some 20 years ago, victim of another real estate vagary – the evaporation of the lone industry that supplied its lifeblood.
        Now, Bridgeville will apparently become another kind of one-company town - owned by a company of one, a still-anonymous Los Angeles businessman.
Bridgeville rental house
LITTLE PINK HOUSES: Only a few of the
"10 houses and four cabins" that are part of the online buy (one of which is pictured above) are occupied by some 25 renters. Humboldt County has declared some others uninhabitable.
Photo: bvsales.com

        The salient point with this deal, though, is the Internet's power, which was dramatically underscored by the seemingly well-heeled gent's willingness to bid $1.78 million online. The Lapple family, which has owned Bridgeville since 1972, had made numerous attempts to sell the town through traditional brokerage channels. All had failed.
        So this time the Lapples took the online route, listing Bridgeville's asking price on eBay as $750,000. And they ended up getting more than $1 million more than that.

Broker-Speak? 'Entire Working
Town' Not Quite Entirely Working

Why that faceless-for-now SoCal businessman thought Bridgeville was worth $1.78 million may be the biggest head-scratcher here. For sure, he isn't offering any clues. Showing property-buying savvy, he's quietly staying out of the public eye.
        His identity may not even surface with the sale's scheduled late-February finalization. (And whether that happens is another major question here.) The deal was an eBay "private auction," with buyers' identities – even their online handles – protected.
Bridgeville's long-closed restaurant
THERE'S A RED RESTAURANT OVER YONDER: Ebay's sale includes a long-closed restaurant (pictured). In its faded, early-1900s heyday, Bridgeville also had a two-story, 24-room hotel, a large stable for pack-train and stage-coach remounts, and a blacksmith shop.
Photo: bvsales.com

        And there were lots of aspiring buyers. Some 250 bids on Bridgeville were made during the month-long sale – 113 in the three final, frenzied days.
        Perhaps that finish-line feeding frenzy had something to do with a wee bit of inflationary broker-speak. Mind you, the eBay ad – from Arcata, Calif.-based Sunset Real Estate – was true. But the ad left voluminous room for entrepreneurial imagination, a fact growing clearer as the shock fades over the final bid.
        Take, for example, the ad's description of "an entire working town."
        Well, not quite entire. Some 650 Bridgetown residents don't live in the 82 acres sold. The buyer also won't get the 120-student local school or the state-owned main roads.
        As for whether it's working . . . well, OK, the post office is working (the U.S. Postal Service leases the building, part of the eBay sale). And the advertised "store building, restaurant building and machine shop" are, indeed, in place. Only no one's in them. They closed two decades ago after the local timber industry dried up. "Many structures," says the online ad, "could be described as fixer-uppers, so be prepared to do a lot of work to get the town into sparkling condition."
        An iffy strategy, perhaps, to buy empty, run-down commercial properties with nary a tenant prospect in sight. At least if it's commercial development that the buyer has in mind.

Does 'Private Retreat' Loom
In 'Mature' Town's Future?

On the other hand, that mercantile inertia seems a dead-on validation of the ad's description of a city with "a rich past and a mature present" - with that perhaps too-mature present including "potential for future development in about any direction that you can imagine."
        Indeed, Bridgeville could be a handsome catch if the buyer's eyeing another of the "opportunities" in the online ad – turning the place into "a private retreat . . . with enough acreage and control to maintain your privacy."
        Privacy, you've got. Bridgeville's entire population of 670 residents has a density of 2.9 residents per sq. mile; the U.S. average is 1,161.6 per sq. mile.
        And the handful of folks living on the sold acreage will become the buyer's tenants. They're living in the "10 houses and four cabins" that are part of the online buy.
        Only . . . not all are quite up to stuff. A few houses are rented out, but Humboldt County has already declared some others uninhabitable. That set-up, though, certainly does offer "potential for future development in about any direction."

Cautionary Tale: $12 Million Bid for
Eminem's Boyhood Digs Proved Bogus

But there's another significant possibility here: no sale. Online real estate bids on eBay aren't binding. Sellers and high bidders have to privately reach their own final deals.
        Then there's the cautionary tale of the online sale of rap star Eminem's boyhood digs. Investors put the childhood home of a young lad answering to the name of Marshall Mathers up for sale on eBay in December. The modest (at best), 1,500-sq.-ft. (135-sq.-m.) Warren, Mich., house drew bids peaking at $12 million - meaning zip, since all top bidders turned out to be bogus pranksters.
        The highest valid bid was $75,000, well below the seller's listed minimum of $120,000. So the owners are considering more traditional sales methods, as well as soliciting renters.

Online Link for Sale –
Even Though Link is Still Online

Regardless, Bridgeville's sale does rank as some sort of slice of real estate cyberspace history. It's the first time a town has been sold on eBay, say officials with the online auctioneer. And, if it reaches finalization, it will be eBay's third-largest sale ever, trailing only the $4.9-million sale of a Gulfstream jet and the $2.1-million sale of a high-end home (a converted missile silo, no less).
        But Bridgeville's selling owners – brother and sister Ed and Elizabeth Lapple – aren't exactly walking advertisements for the joys of living in Bridgeville. They are, however, walking – right out of town.
        Ed and Elizabeth's parents bought the city in 1972 for $150,000. Elizabeth still lives in Bridgeville, but she's selling her house (which wasn't part of the eBay buy) and moving to Fortuna, 25 miles (40 kilometers) away. Ed Lapple left years ago, and is now living in Fillmore, Calif.
        As for Bridgeville, there's a final weird note in the bucolic burg's online buy:
        Some enterprising soul is selling the original link to eBay's sale. And he's selling it on eBay - even though the material still remains on eBay. As of this writing, bidding had reached $200.
        If you're curious, though – and have some wild, inexplicable craving not to throw $200 down a hole – here's a suggestion. Just go to eBay's home-page search box and type in the number 1791801094, the sale property number.
        That brings up the original sale site. There's not much to see there, mind you. But it's always nice to know that you're $200 smarter than somebody.

sf0113bsf0113b ©2003 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.