How Wyoming’s Smallest Town Was Sold on eBay for $900K

Buford, Wyoming stands as a unique bit of American history, nestled in the southeastern stretch of the state between the cities of Cheyenne and Laramie. Originally established in the era of the Transcontinental Railroad, Buford once thrived with a community of approximately 2,000 individuals, primarily those who were forging the great American railways. Despite its once-bustling presence, Buford’s narrative took a different turn by the 1980s.

The year 1980 marked a new chapter for Buford when Don Sammons and his family relocated there from the bustling city of Los Angeles. Eventually, Buford’s population would dwindle, leaving Don Sammons as the sole torchbearer of the town’s legacy. He purchased the town in 1992 and maintained its operations, running a general store that also served as a hardware and liquor store, and managed the town’s gas station.

In a twist as modern as the internet itself, Don Sammons, reaching the age of 61 in April 2012, decided it was time to retire. He chose a path less traveled for his exit: listing the town of Buford on eBay. This sparked a digital frenzy, attracting global attention with prospective buyers from over 46 countries.

After an interesting 11-minute auction, Buford found its new owners, two Vietnamese investors, fulfilling their aspiration of owning a piece of America. The final sale price on eBay was an impressive $900,000, a testament to the unique value of this small parcel of the American frontier.

The Rise of Virtual Real Estate Deals

The sale of Buford, Wyoming, on eBay may seem like a novel event, but it is part of a broader trend where the lines between physical and digital ownership are blurring. With virtual real estate sales in platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox fetching millions, parallels can be drawn to Buford’s auction. In 2021, a digital real estate investment trust bought virtual property for a record $2.4 million in Decentraland. This raises questions about the future of real estate, both virtual and physical, and the implications for investors. The shift suggests a new era of property acquisition that challenges traditional notions of value and utility in real estate.

Buford’s sale is not just a quirky story but also an entry point into a niche investment strategy: purchasing entire towns. From an economic perspective, these sales are not merely transactions but potentially profitable ventures. The new owner can leverage this unique asset for tourism, branding partnerships, or experimental governance. The concept isn’t new; in 2002, the town of Bridgeville, California, was the first town sold on eBay for $1.77 million. These sales can sometimes reflect a microcosm of economic trends, with factors like local employment rates, geographic location, and historical value influencing the marketability and price of these small-town gems.

The sale of Buford on eBay opened discussions about the regulatory and legal landscape governing the sale of towns and large properties online. While eBay is traditionally thought of as a marketplace for goods, the sale of a town raises questions about jurisdictional complexities and the need for clear laws on such transactions. In Buford’s case, transferring ownership involved not just real estate, but also operational businesses, which required due diligence beyond the usual property sale. This also touches on the precedents for municipal sales and the possible need for new frameworks to address the unique challenges posed by online platforms facilitating such unusual transactions.

Micro-Municipality Management

When the town of Buford, Wyoming — population 1 — was auctioned for $900,000, it turned the spotlight on the fascinating concept of micro-municipalities and the hefty responsibilities that come with managing them. Owning a tiny town isn’t just a whimsical endeavor; it’s akin to running a scaled-down version of a larger government, with all the complexities that come with it, magnified by the need to be self-reliant.

In micro-municipalities, a single individual or a small group often acts as the mayor, town council, maintenance crew, and sometimes even the local sheriff. This consolidation of roles can make for efficient decision-making but also means that all the pressure of the town’s needs — from road repairs to ensuring clean water supply — rests on very few shoulders. For example, Buford’s sole resident, who acted as the town’s operator, was responsible for all local decisions, maintenance, and even running the town’s convenience store and gas station.

However, running a town also means dealing with the invisible infrastructure costs that are far from micro. Potential buyers must be aware of the myriad hidden expenses that go beyond the initial purchase price. Aging facilities need upgrades; local regulations and codes must be met, which may require costly adjustments. For instance, compliance with environmental standards for a clean water supply can involve significant investment in purification and distribution systems. Moreover, establishing reliable internet and maintaining roads for both accessibility and safety can quickly add up in terms of expenses.

Furthermore, any plans for modernization need to be weighed against the desire to maintain the town’s historic character. This balancing act is not just about aesthetics but also about economic viability. Prospective buyers might envision transforming these small towns into havens for specific industries or tourism, which calls for a strategic approach to investment. While it’s true that owning a small town offers a unique sense of autonomy and control, the fiscal realities tied to developing and sustaining a town’s infrastructure can be as challenging as they are rewarding.

For those intrigued by the romanticism of owning a town like Buford, the real work begins after the gavel falls at the auction. It’s a venture that demands a blend of vision, pragmatism, and a willingness to dive into the minutiae of everyday town management. Successful ownership and operation will hinge on the ability to manage the present complexities while strategically investing in a sustainable and prosperous future for the town’s infrastructure and, potentially, its expanding community.

The transition of ownership to two Vietnamese investors is a fascinating highlight of globalization. Buford’s story shows how even the smallest piece of America can become a cross-cultural bridge. This sale was not just a transaction but a form of international diplomacy, bringing together disparate parts of the world through the common ground of commerce and shared aspirations.

The fact that Buford was sold on eBay is significant of how the internet has revolutionized what we think of as a marketplace. This sale signals a shift in how properties, even entire towns, can be presented to a global audience, democratizing the process and widening the pool of potential investors. It’s a practical example of how digital platforms can influence and transform traditional practices such as real estate transactions.

Quick Facts About Buford, Wyoming

  1. What is Buford, Wyoming known for?
    • Buford gained notoriety for being one of the smallest towns in the United States, with a population of just one person prior to its sale. This unique status turned Buford into a curiosity and symbol of the American frontier spirit.
  2. Where is Buford located?
    • Buford is situated in the southeastern part of Wyoming, standing at an elevation of 8,000 feet, making it one of the highest communities on the Interstate 80 corridor. It’s about halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie.
  3. How many people live in Buford?
    • Before its sale in 2012, Buford was famous for having a single resident, Don Sammons. After the sale, the population count can vary depending on the presence of the owners and any staff they may employ for the operations of the town’s facilities.
  4. Who owned Buford before it was sold?
    • The last private owner was Don Sammons, who lived there with his family before they moved away. After being the only resident for years, he served as the town operator and ran the local business establishments.
  5. When was Buford established?
    • Buford was established in the 1860s, which was a significant period due to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The town played a role as a supply post and had a thriving community thanks to the railroad.
  6. How much did Buford sell for on eBay?
    • The town of Buford was auctioned on eBay for $900,000, a figure that reflects its unique status and potential for commercial opportunity given its location on a major highway.
  7. Why was Buford sold?
    • Don Sammons decided to retire and chose to sell the town. His decision was motivated by a desire for a change in lifestyle and the recognition that the town needed fresh energy and resources to continue.
  8. Who bought Buford, Wyoming?
    • Buford was purchased by two Vietnamese businessmen, Pham Dinh Nguyen and his partner. Nguyen notably renamed the town “PhinDeli Town Buford” after the Vietnamese coffee brand he intended to promote through the town.
  9. Can you visit Buford, Wyoming?
    • Yes, Buford remains accessible to the public. Its convenience store and gas station have historically served travelers on Interstate 80, though the availability of services depends on the current operations by the new owners.
  10. What businesses were included in the sale of Buford?
    • The sale included the iconic Buford Trading Post, which encompassed a convenience store, gas station, and various other amenities that served not only residents but also interstate travelers.
  11. How does the ownership of a town like Buford work?
    • The owner of a town like Buford is responsible for all aspects of its maintenance and operation. This encompasses infrastructure management, utility services, and adherence to local and federal laws relevant to the businesses and land use.
  12. What were some challenges facing Buford before its sale?
    • Before the sale, Buford faced the challenges of isolation, maintaining infrastructure for both the local business and the few residents, and the economic pressures of keeping a small community viable.
  13. What is the historical significance of Buford?
    • Buford has historical significance as part of the westward expansion narrative in the United States. Its establishment during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad marks it as a site of pioneering significance.
  14. How has Buford changed since its sale?
    • After its sale, Buford experienced a rebranding effort by the new owners, with an emphasis on promoting Vietnamese coffee. The extent of other changes would be specific to the operations and developments undertaken by the new owners since their acquisition.

Buford’s sale could have a broader impact beyond its borders, influencing real estate trends and town management strategies. It raises essential questions about the scalability of micro-municipalities and their potential role in the modern economic and social landscape. Additionally, it sets a precedent for the sale and management of small towns, potentially sparking interest in similar properties across the country and leading to a new niche market in real estate.

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