Wash. Town Put Itself Up for Sale 5 Years Ago, Still Hasn't Found Buyer

Juli Doty had big plans for the little ghost town of Monse, just north of Brewster.

A Wenatchee Realtor, Doty listed the entire town for sale five years ago.

She knew the town's owners Donna and Fritz Van Doren and they asked her to sell it for them when they moved from Monse to East Wenatchee.

It was a sweet deal: $575,000 for 60 acres that included seven houses, an old schoolhouse, a general store and post office, all platted into 100 parcels for anyone who wanted to remake their own little town.

And Doty was the perfect person to sell it. She grew up in Brewster, but often visited Monse as a child, and remembered it as a bustling farm community.

"I was here a lot. We'd go swimming in the river, and we'd ride our bikes right here, and play," she said. Her father would socialize on the front porch of the general store while her mother went fishing in the nearby Okanogan River.

Indeed, the offer was so unusual, KPQ Radio's Steve Hair interviewed Doty about it shortly after she listed it, and the day before she left for Hawaii on a three-week vacation.

Two days into her vacation, her son called and told her to come home.

"The story hit the wire and it went everywhere," Doty said. "It got all this incredible national press. It was just amazing. ... It was on Fox. It went across the nation. My nephew heard it in Worcester, Mass."

The press compared this tiny North Central Washington town with Bridgeville, Calif., which had recently sold on eBay for $1.8 million, and other towns that had been for sale in their entirety.

But despite the widespread publicity, Monse never sold.

Doty said it wasn't for lack of interest. And she certainly tried hard enough.

She had several serious offers that could have rejuvenated the town: Two were from nonprofit groups; one wanted to build a center for domestic violence victims, the other was looking for a place for underprivileged children.

There were also individual buyers and developers who wanted to build a summer camp, an executive retreat, and a community for senior citizens.

The deals including one that fell through on closing day just didn't quite work out for a variety of reasons. "The money wasn't there. The bank said, 'No.' They couldn't negotiate the right price," Doty said.

So eventually, the Van Dorens opted to split up the land and sell parcels separately.

Doty said she's sold a handful of lots, including two larger pieces.

A Brewster insurance agent bought the old schoolhouse, with its wooden plank floors and a leaky roof, and hopes to restore the old building one day. She keeps her horse on the land.

Paul Hammons, a Seattle truck driver, moved his family here two years ago, after buying six acres on the Okanogan River, with a house and orchard.

When the Hammonses moved in, the town's population jumped by 50 percent from eight to 12 residents.

Hammons said he didn't consider buying the whole town, and he's not really surprised that no one else has.

"First impression is the most important thing, and the first impression when you come here is, the place needs a match," he said.

He said he and his wife had always planned to move east when he retired, but got priced out of Chelan, so they went north.

"I came over here for peace and quiet and to get out of the rat race, and that's exactly what I got," he said. Plus, it's a good investment.

"The parcel I bought, you can divide into one-acre lots. Someday, it'll be worth a lot of money," he added.

Doty said the publicity from Monse didn't sell the town. But it did launch her career in real estate.

"It was the basis of everything good that's happened in my life for the last five years," she said.

She still sells some property. But she spends most of her time putting on seminars on topics such as how to buy property for investment, how to sell for the top dollar, how to buy rental property, and how to buy property in foreclosure. She just published her first book, "The Secrets of Exactly How to FOR SALE BY OWNER."

Doty said she really hoped to sell Monse as one piece, and watch a ghost town become rejuvenated, and wasn't happy that it's been split up.

"It was incredibly embarrassing. You feel like you should be able to sell anything," she said.

But Monse was not an easy sell.

Flanked by orchards and in the shadow of a hillside of Comcast satellites, the town itself could use some fixing up.

The buildings, though steeped in local history and charming to some, are old and dilapidated. The single-pane windows in the general store are broken out, and boarded up with siding from old apple boxes. Saplings have taken over a fenced-in yard, and are nearly as tall as the store roof.

Weeds litter the 30 acres across the road that once teemed with fruit trees.

To top it off, the asking price went up over the years, from $575,000 to $675,000, she said.

"I think, honestly, this town would have sold best if it were just bulldozed," she admitted. But that was difficult to suggest to owners who had inherited part of the land, and worked hard to combine the rest of the property into one piece.

Standing in the middle of the town's only intersection of Monse River Road and Monse Bridge Road, Doty still has a vision of how this town could develop, with the right owner.

"Get rid of this stuff," she says, "except for the general store; we're going to rebuild that. Behind it, you have a nice subdivision for senior housing. Over here, a meeting house or club house. You get to this quadrant and you can have a nice little RV park for people who just want to visit in the summer. It's a perfect smooth slope where every house has a view of the Okanogan River a slow, and lazy, warm-water river."

Doty talks as if Monse is still for sale. And basically, she said, it is. Even though the land is now split up and ready to sell off in parcels. "They could buy a good share of it," Doty said, adding, "I know the right buyer is still out there."