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Dreaming Big: Can You Actually Buy a Town?

Lendstart Updated: February 14, 2024 • 8 min read
town in new york

Can you buy a town? Yes, you can buy an entire town, although it's a complex process that involves significant legal, financial, and logistical considerations. The concept might sound like something out of a storybook or a whimsical fantasy, but it has been done before, with various towns and villages around the world being put up for sale for various reasons. Here, we will take a closer look at how it's possible and what it entails.

What Does It Mean to Buy A Town?

Buying a town involves acquiring ownership of a significant portion, if not all, of the land, buildings, and potentially the governance structures within a defined area. This can include residential properties, commercial buildings, public spaces, and the infrastructure that supports the town, such as roads, utilities, and possibly even local services. Unlike purchasing a single home or commercial property, buying a town means taking on a broader responsibility and opportunity, including the stewardship of its heritage, the well-being of any existing residents, and the community's future development.

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Why Are There Towns for Sale?

A town becomes available for sale for various reasons, including economic, social, and environmental trends. These reasons include economic decline, depopulation, strategic redevelopment plans, and personal decisions. There are many reasons why towns find themselves on the market, including rural and urban development, demographic shifts, and investment opportunities.

  • Economic Decline: As industries evolve or resources deplete, many towns face economic challenges, especially those founded around mining, manufacturing, or logging. As a result, these towns may lose jobs, reduce population, and reduce tax bases, making infrastructure and services hard to sustain. Some stakeholders may decide to sell the town to manage financial liabilities or seek a new direction in the area.
  • Depopulation: Younger residents often move to urban areas for better employment opportunities, education, and amenities, leaving behind an aging population. With fewer people to support local businesses and services, these towns can struggle to maintain their vitality, leading to the decision to sell.
  • Estate Settlement or Private Ownership: Some towns, particularly smaller ones or those that have been privately developed, may be owned by a single entity or family. When the owner passes away or decides to liquidate their assets, the town might be put up for sale. This is more common in cases where a town has been developed for a specific purpose, such as a tourist attraction, a themed community, or a private retreat.
  • Strategic Redevelopment: Local governments or ownership groups may put towns on the market to attract investment and redevelopment. This can be a good way to bring new ideas, resources, and energy. Towns with special features, such as historical significance, natural beauty, or proximity to major tourist attractions, may find this appealing.
  • Natural Disasters & Environmental Challenges: Natural disasters (such as floods, wildfires, or earthquakes) may make rebuilding difficult due to high costs and logistical challenges. A managed retreat from vulnerable areas could also be facilitated by selling towns facing long-term environmental challenges, such as coastal erosion or persistent drought.
  • Lifestyle and Ideological Projects: Occasionally, towns are sold to individuals or groups looking to create communities based on specific lifestyles, ideologies, or social experiments. These buyers see the purchase of a town as an opportunity to implement their visions for sustainable living, communal living, or other alternative community models.

Town sales reflect a complex interplay of economic realities, demographic shifts, and visionary projects. Each town for sale has its own story, rooted in the challenges and opportunities of its particular context.

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Impact and Developments

One notable example of a town being sold in the United States is the sale of Buford, Wyoming. Buford, once known as the nation's smallest town with only one resident, was put up for auction in 2012. This tiny town, located between Cheyenne and Laramie in southeastern Wyoming, sits along Interstate 80 and has a rich history that dates back to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad and the Lincoln Highway.

The Sale:

  • In April 2012, Buford was auctioned off by its sole resident and owner, Don Sammons. Sammons had lived in Buford for over 30 years and decided to sell the town to move closer to his son.
  • The auction attracted global attention, and the town was eventually sold for $900,000 to a Vietnamese businessman, Pham Dinh Nguyen, who saw the purchase as an opportunity to promote his brand of coffee.
  • Nguyen renamed the town to "PhinDeli Town Buford" after his coffee company, with plans to turn the location into a distribution point and tourist attraction focusing on his coffee business.

The sale of Buford is an example of how small American towns, even those with minimal population, can capture the imagination of international investors and entrepreneurs. It highlights the diverse motivations behind purchasing towns, from personal dreams and business ventures to unique marketing strategies. The story of Buford's sale illustrates the potential for rebirth and transformation, showcasing how a single sale can infuse a tiny community with a new purpose and identity.

This example underscores the broader themes of economic change, the value of American heritage, and the globalization of real estate interests, reflecting the multifaceted reasons towns come up for sale and the varied outcomes these sales can produce.

Who Can Buy a Town?

Buying a town is not limited to any specific individual or entity. Still, it does require access to significant financial resources and a comprehensive understanding of the legal, financial, and logistical challenges involved. Here are the types of buyers who might be in a position to purchase a town:

  • Individuals: Wealthy individuals with the financial means and a personal vision for owning a town can purchase one. This might be motivated by a desire for a unique investment, a personal project, or a lifestyle choice. These buyers might seek to create a private retreat, establish a community based on specific principles, or simply take on a unique challenge.

  • Corporations & Businesses: Companies might buy towns for various strategic reasons, including expanding their business operations, creating a branded experience, or developing real estate projects. For instance, a company might purchase a town near a natural resource for mining or logging operations or to develop a tourist attraction that aligns with their brand.
  • Investment Groups: Groups of investors may pool their resources to buy a town as a collective investment. These groups might aim to develop the town for profit, turning it into a residential community, a tourist destination, or a commercial hub. Investment groups can bring together the necessary capital and diverse expertise to tackle the complexities of revitalizing a town.
  • Non-Profit Organizations and Foundations: Non-profits or foundations with specific social, environmental, or cultural missions might purchase towns to further their objectives. This could involve creating sustainable living models, preserving historical towns, or establishing educational or cultural centers.
  • International Buyers: Individuals or entities from outside the country where the town is located can also purchase towns. These international buyers might be attracted by investment opportunities, the novelty of owning a town in another country, or the potential to establish a global brand presence.
  • Communities and Cooperatives: Communities or cooperatives might buy a town to create a shared living space that reflects their values and lifestyle choices. This could include eco-villages, artist communities, or co-housing projects where ownership and decision-making are shared among the residents.

How Much Does It Cost to Buy a Town?

Buying a town can vary widely in cost, depending on several factors such as the location, size, infrastructure condition, and whether the land comes with commercial, residential, or undeveloped property. Prices can range from a few hundred thousand dollars for small, abandoned towns or villages, especially in rural or less desirable locations, to tens of millions for larger towns with more developed infrastructure and amenities.

Abandoned or unincorporated small towns in the US may be available for sale at low prices, but developing them for tourism, residential, or commercial purposes can be costly. Additional costs like restoration, maintenance, and public services should be considered. Legal and logistical challenges like zoning laws, property taxes, and environmental regulations should not be underestimated.

How do you Buy a Town?

Buying a town is a complex process that involves several steps, from initial research and due diligence to finalizing the purchase. While the specifics can vary depending on the location and the properties involved, here's a general guide on how to buy a town:

1. Research and Identify Potential Towns

  • Market Research: Begin with thorough research to identify towns for sale. This can involve online searches, contacting real estate agents specializing in unique properties, or networking with investment groups.
  • Criteria Definition: Define your criteria for a town based on your goals, budget, and preferences. Consider factors like location, size, infrastructure, and any existing community.

2. Conduct Due Diligence

  • Legal Status: Investigate the legal status of the town, including ownership details, zoning laws, and any restrictions or covenants.
  • Financial Assessment: Assess the financial aspects of the purchase, including the sale price, taxes, ongoing maintenance costs, and any required investments for infrastructure or redevelopment.
  • Infrastructure and Environmental Review: Evaluate the condition of the town's infrastructure (water, sewage, electricity, roads) and any environmental issues that may need addressing.

3. Secure Financing

  • Funding Sources: Identify and secure sources of funding for the purchase. This may include personal funds, loans, investors, or partnerships.
  • Budget Planning: Develop a comprehensive budget that includes the purchase price, renovation or development costs, and a buffer for unexpected expenses.

4. Make an Offer and Negotiate

  • Offer Preparation: Prepare an offer for the town, possibly with a real estate attorney or agent familiar with such transactions.
  • Negotiations: Enter into negotiations with the seller to agree on terms, price, and any conditions of the sale.

5. Finalize the Purchase

  • Contract Review: Review and finalize the purchase contract with legal assistance to ensure all terms are clear and your interests are protected.
  • Closing: Complete the closing process, which includes signing all necessary documents, transferring funds, and officially taking ownership of the town.

6. Plan for Development and Management

  • Development Plan: Develop a detailed plan for the town's future, including any intended redevelopment, conservation efforts, or community-building activities.
  • Management Structure: Establish a management structure for the town, considering how it will be governed, maintained, and developed over time.

7. Engage with the Community

  • Community Involvement: If the town has existing residents or stakeholders, engage with them early to understand their needs, concerns, and aspirations.
  • Transparency and Communication: Maintain transparency and open lines of communication with the community to foster goodwill and support for your plans.


Buying a town is an ambitious undertaking with unique challenges and opportunities. It requires careful planning, significant financial resources, and a commitment to the vision and values that motivated the purchase in the first place.



Can you buy a town in USA?

Yes. There are several types of government incorporations in the USA, such as a town, village, or city. Depending on how much land a family owns, they can organize it as a town, village, or city.

What makes a town in the US?

Many U.S. towns, villages, communities, and neighborhoods are just unincorporated communities without governmental powers. County governments generally provide services. There are some states with official designations of "towns" that have limited powers.

Can you buy a city?

In reality, no one owns a city. It's common for wealthy investors or corporations to own a lot of real estate in a city. But that's just a symbolic statement. You can't buy a city like you can buy an empty ghost town.

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