Entire towns for sale

Today, we’re exploring an uncommon alternative real estate strategy — buying an entire town.

That’s right: Some people purchase entire streets, suburbs, and abandoned villages. Some have fashioned them into tourist attractions. Others just want to create affordable housing and artist meccas.

Who are the people actually buying up entire towns? And what does the market look like?

Let’s find out 👇

Towns for sale around the world

When I think about the concept of town ownership, the first place my mind goes is to The Simpsons. Specifically, to Hank Scorpio (one of the best animated characters of all time.)

His town, ​Cypress Creek​, was a “company town” created to house employees for his Globex Corporation. His master plan was to overthrow the US government.

In reality, very few people that buy towns turn them into war zones. In fact, these places usually look like war zones to begin with. Think ghost towns, abandoned mining villages, and ​old-timey frontier towns​.

Basically, places that look like another “creek”: ​Schitt’s Creek​.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0uWS6CnC2o

It’s extremely rare for a functioning village with actual residents to pop up for sale on Zillow.

This isn’t a world of hidden paradises waiting to be discovered; it’s a world of gold-rush ghost towns and ​dead California dreams​. The booms ended, the populations dried up, and everything fell into disarray.

These towns are usually sold through private handshake deals. You fly out to the location, tour what remains of the infrastructure, and make a deal with the owner (often the local government).

Bombay Beach on California’s Salton Sea isn’t for sale, but it’s a fascinating story. It was once billed as “the next Palm Springs,” but the increasing salinity of the Salton Sea destroyed the lake’s ecosystem, turning the area into a total wasteland. It now has a population of 210. Image courtesy of ​​Epolk​​ via ​​Wikipedia​​.

Lobo, Texas 🇺🇸

The arid ghost town of Lobo, TX, doesn’t inspire much in its current state. It sits in the middle of nowhere and has been abandoned for 30+ years.

And yet, 70 people have flown in from thousands of miles away to ​buy the ghost town​.

Lobo is a desolate, isolated place, even for Texas. The closest town is Van Horn, 40 miles to the north, home to Jeff Bezos’ space company, ​​Blue Origin​​.

Lobo’s entire history is rooted in con men. At the turn of the century, “promoters” (basically nomad con men) lured residents to the town under the false pretense that a shiny new hotel had just been built.

As it turns out, the hotel, among other promised amenities, never existed. The promoters were sued by the land buyers they tricked, and were forced to actually build the hotel.

This turned out to be a colossal waste of time and money. In 1929, just a few years after being built, the ​hotel was destroyed by an earthquake​.

A crumbling gas station greets those cruising down Highway 80 through Lobo. Like so many places, Lobo lived and died on the ​availability of water​. Image courtesy of ​Blaine Hicks​ via Instagram.

Lobo was originally ​purchased​ by a German artist named Alexander Bardorff in the early 2000s. He picked it up for just $20,000 and used it to host film festivals.

But in 2023, Bardorff decided he had enough. Now, he is ​selling the town​ for $100,000 — less than the average ​down payment​ on a house in California, and less than the average price of a ​regular home​ in nearby Van Horn, TX.

To some, this dilapidated little town is a historic site best left undisturbed. To others, it’s a blank canvas. The only limitation is the buyer’s imagination.

Pitches for what to do with this deserted city are rolling in from prospective buyers. Some are normal. Campgrounds, farms, etc.

But a surprisingly high number of pitches have come from artists and musicians. One guy wants to turn Lobo into a modern nudist colony. Another wants to ​cultivate kangaroos​. (Texas is one of ten states where it’s ​legal to own kangaroos​ with a permit.)

My personal favorite pitch was for an escape room-type of attraction. Instead of clearing a single room or house, the players must find a way out of the actual ghost town.

(Perhaps we could combine ideas and turn Lobo into an escape room where naked participants have to duck and weave aggressive kangaroos?)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lC1q9gfrBB4

Bidding ends today, so what becomes of Lobo will be revealed in the next few months.

Bardorff has one condition: “Don’t turn it into a Jonestown.”

Presidio Terrace, San Francisco 🇺🇸

San Francisco is absurdly expensive. With a median home price of $1.2 million, you could buy 12 Lobos.

So buying the entire city is out of the question. But how about just a street?

That’s exactly what savvy investors Michael Cheng and Tina Lam did with Presidio Terrace.

Presidio Terrace is a private cul de sac in one of the city’s most prestigious locations. It contains 35 mansions whose ​past residents​ include former Speaker of the House and ​accused inside trader​ Nancy Pelosi, former SF mayor Joseph Alioto, and famous investor ​Richard Blum​.

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Picture of Stefan von Imhof

Stefan von Imhof

As the CEO of Alts, Stefan lives and breathes alternative asset analysis and valuations. His alternative investing newsletter has grown into Alts.co — the world's largest alt investing community, with over 200,000 investors. His favorite alternative investments are holiday rentals, cash-flowing websites, and especially his collection of 300 vinyl records. Originally from Boston and Santa Barbara, CA, he now lives with his wife in Australia.

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