(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.
This is a little better:
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…
And after… (We’re getting there…I promise.)
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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:
Here’s what happened…
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.