Couple buy town of Wauconda for $360,000

WAUCONDA - 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. 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.”

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.

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.

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.

Selling a town on eBay is not so easy. 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. There were 112 bids.

“CNN picked it up, and it went worldwide,” said Fletcher. “I had people calling me from London, and Chinese people.”

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, but Broadbent changed his mind.

Fletcher began going down the list of other bidders.

There were no replies from the top five bidders, lukewarm response from others.

Then came the call from the Loves.

When Maddie Love heard that Wauconda was up for auction, “I fell to my knees and cried,” she said.

“We’re terrified,” she said. “Neal almost puked the other night when we signed the paperwork.”

“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.