Bidding for Bridgeville

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"Imagine Owning Your Own Town and Zip Code!" the eBay ad screams. "The starting bid will be $1,750,000. Enjoy eighty-three acres of lush, green hillsides, a roaring river, swimming holes, sweeping mountain views, warm sunshine and riverfront acreage. Property includes houses, cabins and commercial buildings with rental income."

In a state where one of every 13 homes sold costs more than a $1 million, an offer to buy an entire town for less than double that price would seem to be irresistible. But if the recent history of Bridgeville, California, is any indication, zip code 95526 likely won't be an easy sell when bidding begins on April 4.

Bridgeville won fame as the first town to be auctioned on eBay in 2002, with a winning bid of $1.77 million. The sellers turned to the Internet auction site after real estate agents couldn't unload the unincorporated town — with no grocery store, gas station or restaurant — that's accessible only from a two-lane highway. But the eBay buyer vanished after discovering during a visit that the spot 260 miles north of San Francisco was teaming with abandoned shacks, garbage and decrepit buildings. After a succession of spooked online buyers also backed away, Bruce Krall, a commercial mortgage banker from the southern California enclave of Laguna Hills, paid a real estate agent $700,000 for it, with the intent of one day living there and making it an educational institute, vacation spot and retreat center, akin to Esalen in Big Sur. But because "personal family concerns" make it difficult for Krall and his family to move north now, Bridgeville is back on the market.

Krall says he has spent "several" hundred thousand dollars making improvements, including designing a new septic system, renovating some of the dilapidated housing stock, trashing the shacks and cleaning up the debris and weeds. He also says he obtained a permit for resort development along the river that borders the town, which he says the new owner will be able to use. "It's a wonderful place,' says Krall. "I don't think I'll have trouble selling it."

The locals aren't so sure. County officials say any landowner attempting to develop the remote area will have difficulty because of the limited infrastructure and public services. While Krall's improvements have helped, Robyn Samuelson, who was born and raised there, notes, "It's in the middle of nowhere and the nearest city is 45 minutes away." And one more note of caution for any potential bidder: even Samuelson is planning to move soon.