Editor’s note: The Internet has been a partner in the home ownership explosion of the last decade, prompting anyone with a computer to find his or her perfect home. In this special three-part series, we explored some of the more unique homes people have found online. These are homes that, pre-Internet, would’ve been difficult, if not impossible to find. (See Part 2: Historic home travels from Michigan to California and Part 3: Buyers trade city digs for slice of rural paradise.)
Suzanne “Mercedes” Hayes sells a lot of stuff on eBay. Just this week, the eBay merchant’s list of for-sale items included a “Star Wars” chess set, the Jay Jay plush rocker by Toy Island, two mint-condition porcelain harlequin clowns with brown feathers, a Lite Brite Cube, a Caterpillar toy plastic wheelbarrow with jackhammer, a Hummer Pedal Car by Velocity Toys, a Playmobil Jungle Skeleton Dinosaur Cave toy and a Lou Rankin plush Charlie Chow stuffed animal.
That list also includes a multimillion-dollar home. No, not a Barbie Dream Home. This is the real thing: Bowman’s Farm Estate in Bucks County, Penn. It’s a 16,600-square-foot Georgian-style home on the Delaware River, with access to a 25-acre private island. The home carries a $3.99 million price tag.
Bowman’s Farm is an example of the many real estate gems hidden on the Web. The Internet has become a venue where people go to seek out their wildest, most unique housing dreams.
Hayes is also a Realtor with Weidel Realtors in Flemington, N.J., and she’s got enough eBay experience so she decided to try her hand at selling the high-end home on the popular Web site. The estate is listed for sale on eBay but, unlike many items, is not going to be auctioned.
“My client was pretty excited about it,” said Hayes, who posted the home on eBay last month. “I have been an eBay merchant for five years; I have a very good comfort level with eBay. Most of our marketing has been traditional, through the (multiple listing service).” The seller, she said, has had a lot of local exposure for the property but not a lot of showings.
There is a glut of about 28 homes for sale in Bucks County that are listed between $2 million and $6 million, Hayes said, so she decided to try something different to spread the word about the Bowman’s estate. “Most of the Realtors in my office didn’t know there was an eBay real estate category. The prevailing opinion in the industry is that eBay is a waste of time (for home sales). At this point I think it’s strictly a tool for advertising.” Hayes said. “I feel like I’m kind of a ground-breaker.”
But she expects home sales through sites like eBay to catch on. “My gut feeling is it’s only a matter of time. What better way to get exposure, right?” she said. And the cost of a 30-day listing on the site was $150, which is cheaper than a lot of other advertising options, she added.
More than 10,000 people viewed the eBay home posting, but Hayes suspects that the vast majority “were just being nosy.” So far she’s had just a handful of calls related to the posting, and most of those have been from people who work at owner-financing companies, she said. “So far eBay has not been a very good tool.” But who knows, she said, the Internet was what led her to become the home’s listing agent. “If I got my buyer through eBay that would be real kudos.”
EBay promotes a potential audience of 70 million people for real estate listings at the site, and its fees range from $150 for a 30-day ad or auction listing to $300 for a 90-day ad listing. There are no final value fees or commissions charged for real estate sales. More than 2,200 real estate properties sell on eBay each month, on average, and the site is particularly popular for posting unique homes, vacation homes and investment properties.
Hayes has seen a lot of for-sale-by-owner home listings on eBay. One sign vendor in Albuquerque, N.M., capitalized on this trend by offering customized eBay real estate signs that can be personalized with the home’s eBay item number and the homeowner’s phone number.
While luxury-home postings are popular on eBay, the site also features some real fixer-uppers. This week, a Kentucky Lake Weekend Cabin was posted for bid with a starting price of $30,000, for example. “It’s not fancy, but it’s a good place to stay while your (sic) hunting or fishing for crappie on the weekend. Also, I am haveing (sic) a new driveway put in this week (paved) at the cabin,” according to the online description of the cabin. The ad also states the cabin “is in a cozey (sic) setting.”
Another property for sale on eBay, a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home in Cherokee, Ala., has “a terrible smell from all the dogs that used to live there,” “a big hole where the dryer blows straight through the wall,” and, “is infested with fleas and it’s almost impossible to walk through the house without them getting all over you.” But “other than the smell and the fleas, the rotten wood on the outside of the house and the broken windows, it’s a pretty good house,” the item description states. The purchase price was listed at $14,500, and bidding on the down payment started at $1.
Homes aren’t the only real estate for sale on eBay. Timeshares, vacation rentals, land and commercial properties have also been posted on the site. A few entrepreneurs have even attempted to sell entire towns through eBay.
Tortilla Flats, Ariz.; Minkler, Calif.; and Bridgeville, Calif., were all put up for sale on eBay in the past couple of years.
Owner Sylvia Ashcraft put Minkler up for sale in January. The asking price was $600,000 for a general store, a mobile home and two other buildings in Minkler, which is about 230 miles north of Los Angeles, but the town did not have a buyer after generating about 39,000 hits during the three months it was on eBay.
Bridgeville, in Mendocino County, generated nationwide attention when it was listed on eBay in December 2002. After much media hype, the price jetted from a minimum price of $775,000 to about $1.78 million at the time the auction closed. But that deal fell through, and even the lower bidders fell away, one by one, until the eBay auction was a total bust. In May of this year the town, which included 10 homes, four cabins, a post office and a cemetery, sold for $700,000 to an investor in Southern California, but this time through traditional methods.
Denise Stuart, a real estate agent for California Real Estate in Eureka, said the overwhelming publicity from the attempted sale of Bridgeville on eBay was great, but she would never again attempt to sell a property on eBay. “It ate up six months of my life,” she said. “It was just kind of a fiasco–too much too fast.” She fielded calls from prospective buyers in the Ukraine and England. Media from around the globe called her for interviews. She referred some business to other agents in her office because the town sale was gobbling up too much of her time.
“I had my hands full,” she said. But, she added, the Bridgeville sale did generate a lot of leads for her and her company. “It was a really positive thing for my office.”
The eBay auction fell apart because there weren’t any real legal teeth to the auction that bound the sale, she said. The highest bidder “got buyer’s remorse,” she said, and quickly stepped away from the table.
Tortilla Flats, a remote Old West-era town along the Apache Trail in Arizona, was for sale this year on eBay with an opening bid of $5.5 million. In 2003, acreage on a private, uninhabited island in Whitefish Bay was for sale for about $700,000.
Tomorrow: We follow a couple who bought an 1831 Greek revival house online, disassembled it, moved it halfway across the country and now are putting it back together, piece by piece.
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