SOLD: 1 tiny town, to Bothell couple, for $360,000
The town of Wauconda finally sold for $360,000 to a Bothell couple after a month of bidding on eBay produced no winners. For Daphne Fletcher, the owner, and for Maddie and Neal Love, the new owners, it means new dreams.
Seattle Times staff reporter
WAUCONDA, Okanogan County —
This town has a gas pump, a restaurant, a small store, a four-bedroom house and its own ZIP code, 98859.
And in a few weeks — after being listed for sale on eBay — it'll have new owners. It's a story of the travails of selling property on the site, the winning bidder backing out and finally a couple stepping up who had previously fallen in love with the town.
It takes an unusual person to try to flip a town on an auction Web site. It takes unusual people, too, to buy this isolated place that's surrounded by cattle ranches, vast stretches of evergreens, grazing land and the occasional sagebrush rolling along Highway 20.
On this highway, Wauconda is a pit stop at elevation 3,600 feet, a windy 25 miles east of Tonasket, and 12 miles west of Republic, the nearest towns with actual city streets.
But sell it did on April 12.
Daphne Fletcher, 42 — who once was homeless — sold the place for $360,000. She bought the 4-acre property in 2007 for $180,810.
Maddie and Neal Love, respectively 48 and 50, of Bothell, put down 5 percent earnest money last Monday. The Loves are both unemployed and are selling their home and all their possessions to buy the town and move there. The deal is expected to close in six weeks.
It's not like Fletcher will walk away with a huge profit. After all the improvements to the property, paid for in part by a loan from her mom, Fletcher figures she'll walk away with about $40,000 for all those hours of labor.
Still, the sale will enable Fletcher to pursue her latest dream, and for the Loves, as they explain, "to come off one mountain, cross the bridge and walk up that other mountain."
Average, these people are not.
"It takes an adventurous spirit," Fletcher said of buying Wauconda.
Said Maddie Love, "My husband and I are very unique."
Fletcher says maybe 100 families live within 10 miles of Wauconda. That's a long way from Wauconda's peak population.
This is the third location of the town in Wauconda Pass, established in 1898, as it followed the fortunes of silver and gold miners. According to the Okanogan County Historical Society, Wauconda in 1900 had 335 residents, three hotels, a store, boardinghouse and four saloons.
Busy in summer
These days, in the busy summer months with tourists driving by, the restaurant employs maybe five people; in the winter, it's a couple.
Locals stop by to pick up mail — the post office leases space and has one full-time employee — and to gas up, shop at the small store, maybe have coffee or on Fridays the all-you-can-eat $9.99 spaghetti and meatballs.
This is a place where one regular calls himself "Prospector Paul" and, when finding out you're from the big city, has plenty to say about Big Government.
The store's biggest-selling items, by the way, are beer (Busch is preferred, with 12-packs stacked beside the register), cigarettes, candy and pop.
Fletcher says she grossed $300,000 a year, with about $100,000 each coming from the gas pump, grocery and restaurant, and that she netted $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
When she bought Wauconda, she worked for a distributing company and delivered candy and tobacco to stores throughout the county, including the small town.
Fletcher, who had saved up money selling items on eBay — often clothing she had bought at thrift stores — owned a cabin in the area.
The previous owners of Wauconda, ready to retire, urged her to buy the place. She sold her cabin and plunged in.
She ended up running the restaurant herself and becoming a stress case.
"What do you do when 50 motorcycles show up all at once and order food?" Fletcher said. "People were very patient, but ... "
Putting it on eBay
Selling a town on eBay is not so easy.
Bids for property on the Web site are nonbinding, meaning any joker can submit an offer.
On March 3, after Fletcher paid a $200 fee, the listing went up:
"Why buy a house when you can OWN YOUR OWN TOWN! Own the Post Office, OWN YOUR OWN ZIP CODE ... Single owner is tired and ready to retire ... VERY LOW RESERVE PRICE OF $359,000 ... Please bid only if you will honor it. ... "
The bidding closed April 2.
In between, 112 bids came, with some individuals putting in offers many times.
Sure, Fletcher was nervous.
"I was logging in three or four times a day," she said. "I spent days answering questions."
Fletcher got used to fielding all kinds of phone calls, like the apologetic one from the parents of a young boy.
"The little kid had placed a bid, trying to surprise his parents by buying a town."
Then there was the guy who flew in from New York, looked around, said he'd get back to Fletcher, and never did.
The auction caught the attention of media outlets.
Story goes global
"CNN picked it up, and it went worldwide," she said. "I had people calling me from London, and Chinese people."
With the initial news stories, people from the Northwest stopped by, like the two women from Spokane.
"They wanted to turn it into a happening night club," Fletcher said. The women never got back to her.
But serious or not, the bidding continued.
The high bid of $370,601 was from David Broadbent, of Melbourne, Australia.
Fletcher waited expectantly for a wire transfer for the 5 percent down payment.
Broadbent sent his regrets.
Contacted by phone, he said that during the time he was bidding, Maria, his longtime companion, had ended up in the hospital with some kind of illness.
And, he said, "I can't find mainstream financing in Australia for anything that's offshore."
Fletcher began going down the list of other bidders.
There were no replies from the top five bidders, lukewarm response from others.
Fletcher made contingency plans. Maybe she'd stay, but lease the restaurant.
Then came the call from the Loves.
They are enthusiastic riders of Harley-Davidsons, had ridden by the town in previous years, and loved its charm.
Atop a Pepsi cooler in the store, for example, Wauconda's first TV set, a boxy Capehart brand from the early 1950s, is displayed. A sign explains that the antenna consisted of "2x4s and chicken wire on top of the warehouse."
"You can look up and see the Milky Way. It's God's country," Maddie Love said. "You can hear the coyotes and wolves."
By the time the Loves first stopped by the town, the price for Wauconda had come down drastically.
In 2008, Fletcher had listed the town with a real-estate agent — asking price, $1.1 million.
Well, you can dream about really flipping a town, can't you?
Not surprisingly, there were no takers.
By 2009, the asking price was $495,000. The Loves were interested, kind of.
Maddie Love lost her job in late 2008 after more than two decades as a trade-show coordinator. Neal Love, who worked in telecommunications, lost his job in 2009.
Maybe it was time to make a big change.
When Maddie heard that Wauconda was up for auction, "I fell to my knees and cried," she said. "Why didn't we jump on it when we could have?"
When the eBay bids never came to fruition, the Loves decided it was time to climb that next mountain.
"We're terrified. Neal almost puked the other night when we signed the paperwork," Maddie said.
"Honest to God's truth, we're selling everything we own. We're coming here with just the clothes on our backs."
As for Fletcher, she's staying on for a while to show the Loves the ropes.
Then, well, Fletcher likely will buy an RV.
You see, she has traveling to do, and it has to do with a past chapter in her life.
That chapter so traumatized her that Fletcher hesitated when talking about it.
Then she blurted it out.
She was raped when in high school on the East Coast, she said, and at age 16 gave birth to twin boys, whom she gave up for adoption.
"My life spun out of control," Fletcher said. "I was emotionally unstable. I started getting into drugs."
She ended up homeless in San Diego. Fletcher showed an article from 12 years ago in The San Diego Union-Tribune, in which she was profiled in a story about a YWCA shelter for women.
It's been quite a journey from that point in her life.
She also found that one of her sons had been looking for her, posting on a Web site. She said she wants to contact the boys, now young men, but is still trying to figure out, well, all kinds of things.
Now, Fletcher said, she will have the money and freedom to leave Wauconda and meet them.
And that's the story of the town for sale on eBay.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org