Urban markets in everything

The French village of Courbefy, in Limousin, a region in central France, has been put up for sale for the seemingly low asking price of $436,370, according to the Telegraph. The village, which includes 19 buildings and a swimming pool, was once home to about 200 people. But after the town failed to transform itself into a tourist destination, local residents say it’s now filled mostly with “thieves, drunks and squatters.”

But Courbefy isn’t the only town to go up for sale recently. Last April, a medieval village in the central Italian region of Abruzzo was put up for sale for about $770,000, according to a separate Telegraph report. The village, which is largely uninhabitable, includes 11 “crumbling stone buildings” and a half-ruined 13th century church. More recently, the British village of Askham Richard near York, went up for sale with a price tag of more than $10 million.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank the excellent Daniel Lippman.


In the U.S., one reason to buy a defunct village in its entirety is that the subdivision planning, street naming, etc. is often already of record, speeding up the development process and reducing costs, and that urban creep and subsequent transportation infrastructure has often made the former ghost towns more accessable as exurban communities than they used to be. It is a bit like buying a pre-existing publicly traded shell company rather than doing the work from scatch.

It is also worth noting that in France, like most civil law jurisdictions, the semi-public office of notary public (for which a fixed number of commissions are available in any given notary district) which is something between a British solicitor's office and a clerk and recorder/Secretary of State's office and a title company office, are solid on a similar basis to stock exchange seats on the NYSE. Thus, the notion of literally buying a governmental office is not entirely foreign.

Finally, it is worth noting that there is at least one municipality in the Denver metropolitian area (the muncipality of Lakeside), which is basically entirely owned by a single individual who owns all or all but one or two small parcels of land in the municipality, with all or almost all of the dozen or two residents being her tenants. Thus, she has, for example, her own personal police force, although IIRC, the owner (an older woman who inherited it from her father - it is mostly an amusement park with a strip mall and a private religious college) has never held elected office there, so the power is exercised indirectly. This is probably one of the most extreme examples in the nation, but some of the resorts (e.g. one of the dual municipalities of Telluride) come pretty close.

Who exactly does one buy a village from? i.e. Who owns the village before it gets bought?

It's being put up for sale by the local authorities - I suspect they have bought or 'inherited' the derelict buildings from their original owners. They strike a deal with a local bank, presumably because the bank has information about how to best sell the plots.

Often investors will buy complete villages, convert them into holiday villages or sell them on to developers who want to do this. A lot of the demand in this market comes from foreigners (upper middle class Europeans) with a taste for real estate development (fuelled by capital gains on their own house in more densely populated parts of Europe) and good food/weather. As you can imagine, this market has dried up a bit recently.

Most of the lots are usually owned by successors to the original developer. Imagine somebody planning to build a huge subdivision and running out of money after selling five out of five hundred lots.

The Italian village does seem like a bargain.

Scenic, South Dakota, was recently bought by a church.


Town purchase can be a good investment. The town of Otira in New Zealand was sold to a private buyer in 1998 for NZ$80,000 in 1998 and put on the market by its owners last year for NZ$1m. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otira.

Wouldn't you rather buy an island?

If you excluded Paris, the Cote d'Azure, some prime vineyards, how much would France cost you? I don't mean as a Sovereign State, but as Real Estate? Could you hoover up La France Profonde for a few billion dollars? A few tens of billions?

What about Greece? What would be a fair real estate valuation of Greece? Or maybe just Crete or Mykanos?

Forget about cities,

How much does it cost to buy an Econ department.

B-schools have naming rights sold. [Kellogg, Booth, Wharton, etc.] Why not econ depts?

I bet Tyler Cowen just singlehandedly raised the asking price at least 30%.

it’s now filled mostly with “thieves, drunks and squatters.”

Can we sell D.C. too?

Some years ago I stayed in a vacation resort (owned and operated by the Swiss firm, Hapimag) in Tuscany. The resort was built on an abandoned hill-top village, and the old stone farm houses had been converted into vacation apartments. I don't know why something like this couldn't be repeated elsewhere.

Actress Kim Basinger bought a village in suburban Atlanta, albeit in partnership with a REIT, I think.

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