Extra lot

(You can file this under TMI.)

We bought another vacant lot… and of course there is a long, complicated back story.

First, let’s get oriented. If you haven’t heard the story about how our yard came to be on the right side of our building, check out this VERY old post. The other thing you need to know is that between our yard and the yard attached to a two family building further west was yet another vacant lot.

It’s a little hard to see in the photo below.

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This is a little better:

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Basically from our fence line to a chain link fence on the right lived an overgrown, unappreciated slice of land.

Here’s where it’s helpful to know a little bit about the process for acquiring vacant property from the city of St Louis. Property that is delinquent on taxes for three consecutive years is taken by the sheriff’s department and auctioned at one of five land tax sales each year. The details of which properties are for sale and the opening bid are posted on the city’s website two weeks before the auction. (I’m paraphrasing, of course, if you’re interested in this process, the city website has more details.) Land that is not bought during the auction is turned over to the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), which is how we purchased our yard.

Still with me? Three years + no tax payments = lot for sale!

When we moved into the firehouse and got our first taste of how inexpensive land can be in the city, we instantly wanted more information on this lot (right right lot… far right lot… still work shopping the name.) The owner was delinquent on taxes (a whopping $30/year) for two years. That left only one more year to go before we could buy it at auction (hopefully for just the taxes owed, because who wouldn’t want a plot of land for like $100??!)

So we waited and we debated trying to contact the owner directly, fearing that he would realize he owned a plot of land that would slip from his grasp for mere dollars. Eventually we tried and failed to find contact information for the owner. So we kept waiting and eyeing the lot.

Three years came and still taxes were owed. “Hooray!” we thought. Then we waited to see the property appear on the sheriff’s list. We waited… and waited… and waited. Finally, we asked our lawyer/realtor/friend/co-star on House Hunters, Ted Disabato, to see if he could find out what was going on with this piece of property. A call from him got it added to the next auction.

I feel like we need a break for more pictures, don’t you? Here’s another shot looking from the front of the property to the back before clean up…

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And after… (We’re getting there…I promise.)

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The auction process was interesting, albeit strange, because the city of St. Louis really doesn’t make anything fun or easy. In the middle of the day, Aaron headed to Civil Courts Building to register and attend the auction, which amounted to an officer in the front of the room reading lot numbers through a garbled speaker. When a property came up that someone was interested in buying, they shouted over everyone and the list price became the opening bid. Aaron saw a few bidding wars, mostly for properties that had a salvageable structure on them. When our lot was called, Aaron was the lone bidder. He headed to pay for the lot, only to discover that payments are not processed until the auction is over. When he was finally allowed to pay, we handed everything over to Ted to finalize the details.

The lot was ours! Unfortunately, as you’ve already seen the lot was horribly overgrown. The only maintenance it received was an occasional mowing by the city (usually when it became so overgrown that I submitted a complaint.) It’s hard to see, but most of the undergrowth  on the treed section of the lot was covered in poison ivy.

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So we hired a crew from Craigslist to clean it out… well, start the cleaning out process. It was money well spent considering the size of the plot, the overgrowth, the poison ivy, and our lack of available weekends. Just like with our yard, we’ll spend more hours than we’d like to document pulling all manner of trash and brick out of the ground.

SO much talking… let’s take a look at some more before/after shots.

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And (of course) there’s more to the story. If you were here two years ago, you heard about the tree that our electric company killed and then offered to “turn into firewood.” The result was less like firewood and more like a collapsed Jenga tower… if Jenga was played with massive slices of tree trunks. Thanks to other, more pressing projects and the lack of of a chainsaw AND “OMG what are we going to do with these hunks of wood??” we  ignored the problem. It sat on the other side of the fence, and we didn’t even have to drive by it on a regular basis. I’m sure our backside neighbors were really happy with that decision.

A letter from the city prompted us to tackle the weeds that sprung up. Chainsaw in hand, we went after the stumps only to discover our tiny chainsaw was not well equipped to cut down such massive hunks of wood. We opted instead to create a barrier to keep anyone from dumping trash in the yard. You learn a lot of things living in the city… so far most of them have related to the massive amounts of trash that people will dump pretty much anywhere they please.

Our “solution” quickly looked as bad as when we got the letter. BUT we were in the midst of paperwork to take ownership of the lot! So as part of the clean up effort, we also negotiated the removal of the fallen tree sections.

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It’s about 80% done and the owner keeps promising to come back and finish the job. In related news: I have less faith in the honesty of people we hire on Craigslist….

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So that’s our most recent firehouse acquisition: a lot about 2/3 the size our yard that’s has a serious poison ivy problem.

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If you’re not asleep, you’re probably asking yourself “Why? Why buy this.” And we have many reasons.

1. Property is a good investment, especially when it is purchased cheaply. We didn’t get this lot for just the taxes owed, but after the legal fees it was less than $3k.

2. We’ve seen so much property get sucked up around us and watched helplessly at the turn of events. The guy who owns the building next to ours (who basically bought our intended yard out from under us) has since bought the property east of his building and then promptly CUT DOWN ALL THE TREES. Why? We have no idea. Without the shade his lot has exploded into a gnarl of weeds and grasshoppers. Also the church behind us bought the lots next to the alley and fenced them in to create a larger parking lot (a lot I’ve never seen more than 1/3 full), severely limiting the space we have to pull out of our garage. (Whenever I have to take the Ford Flex out it’s like the scene from Austin Powers where he does a 32-point turn….)

3. The lot gives us additional places to park things, like maybe the trailer.

Directly after posting the 2015 garden update, things took a sharp turn for the worse. The ipe planter now looks like this:

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Here’s what happened…

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The herbs flourished in this spot. The oregano is doing so well it took over the thyme and killed it. We always called this an experiment, and now we know this is a great spot for herbs.

So reason 4. The chance to build and plant some raised garden beds.

That’s the (long) story on our expanding footprint. We obviously have intentions for this space, but we’re trying to be reasonable about the timeframe… as in there isn’t one. Right now we’re pulling junk out a little at a time, spraying the poison ivy, and considering what kind of bush would make the best living fence in the front of the property. All of this is with an eye to setting up some garden beds in the spring. We’ll see how things play out. Honestly, it’s just nice to finally own this piece of land that clearly no one else wanted and have one less question mark on our master plan.

 

15 comments
  1. Congratulations! It’s lol a game of Monopoly – you just keep amassing property and then one day you’ll own the whole block! At the very least now you can address showcasing your hard-earned fencing. And abating the spread of poison ivy is always a good thing.

    1. Ha! I’m not sure we could handle the whole block, but it was definitely nice to lock down this piece 🙂

  2. It honestly sounds like a really good investment and something you’ll have a lot of flexibility to do what you want with as you go along. I’m impressed by your patience! Hopefully a living fence will keep people from throwing trash in the lot, and I can’t wait to see what you do with some garden beds. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Laura. It seems like it was well worth the wait. We’ll definitely keep you posted on the garden beds and trash situation 😉

  3. The photo of poison ivy made my skin crawl. That’s the stuff of my nightmares! HA! That extra space is going to open so many opportunities. There’s a house for sale in our neighborhood currently that has a similar vacant lot. It’s killing me that we aren’t ready to buy just yet. Here’s hoping it’s still available next Spring/Summer!

    1. Ugh! Right? I don’t think I’m allergic to it, but I haven’t exactly grabbed some to make sure. I’m allergic to just about every grass so it makes me nervous to try.

      That sounds exciting! I hope it stays on the market for you 🙂

  4. I have a plant suggestion for your living fence: holly. It should do well in your climate as it is a native. It also has great berries, is a pollinator for honey bees (for your future garden) and…acts as a prickly discouragement to unwanted humans (wildlife loves it though).

    http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ILOP

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Mary! We definitely don’t know our way around a nursery and are looking for some guidance.

  5. We had a vacant lot next to our house where the owner never cut the weeds and only cleared the rubbish from after a complaint through the city. We decided to claim it a few years after moving in while I watched the taxes go unpaid for 2 years, then be paid up at the third year. Finally a for sale sign was put up and we called right away to make an offer. We paid more than I would have liked, but a reasonable amount for a buildable lot in a “trendy” neighborhood.

    We’ve had two neighborhood women growing food in the lot for the last 4 years and they give us free vegetables. We put up a temp fence to keep dogs from roaming but it’s been hit by a car at least once (as has the telephone pole in front of the fence and my parked car in front of our house). Eventually I’ll build a more permanent fence when we put in a retaining wall (our house is 4 feet higher than the lot next door) and build a garage.

    Sometimes you want to buy the land around out just so someone else can’t come in and build something useless or annoying right next to you, like a parking lot.

    1. Oh man! I kept waiting to see the taxes get paid in the third year! I’m sure that was a super frustrating day.

      I’m glad you were able to snag your lot, albeit not at the auction price. You’re right, sometimes it’s just worth it to control what goes on around you.

  6. I just discovered a season of House Hunters on Netflix (not sure if that’s new or if I’ve been missing out for awhile), and I LOVED your episode. It was the first time I ever went and googled people after watching an episode since I was dying to see what you had done with the place! Needless to say, I’m incredibly excited that you have a blog 🙂
    I’m so impressed with what you’ve done so far! You guys have killer style. And that’s so awesome you’ve been able to expand your lot and add more outdoor space. Looking forward to following along with all your progress!

    1. Welcome, Julia! The House Hunters episodes went up a few months ago. We only know because we’ve had several people, like yourself, seek us out after seeing the episode 🙂 Thanks for your kind words! We’re so glad you’re along for the ride with us!

  7. […] talked about it briefly when we bought the extra, extra lot, but property in the city is weird. In the suburbs you have a yard and your neighbor has a yard, […]

  8. […] a few days on Bourbon Trail in late May. But when we came back, he promptly got poison ivy from the extra lot. Two things you should know: 1. Aaron is highly allergic to poison ivy. 2. Urban poison ivy is a […]

  9. […] and we hadn’t even finished the garage. Since then we’ve picked up even more land (thanks to buying the extra lot) and another list of […]

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