St. Louis has launched a pilot program to sell some 500 city-owned homes for just $1 a pop.
But that low cost comes with strings attached. Purchasers will have to invest in extensive renovations before they can move in to the homes, which have sat vacant for at least five years.
Here’s what you need to know about how to buy those homes, where they are located and what it takes to rehabilitate a property that has spent years deteriorating.
Not all city-owned homes are eligible
The city has placed 522 homes owned by its Land Reutilization Authority on its Dollar House program list. They’re all single-family homes smaller than 1,500 square feet. And they’ve all been owned by the LRA for at least five years.
Most of the properties are in north St. Louis — but for a handful in south St. Louis
How to buy one of the 'Dollar Homes'
Buyers must inspect the property, make a renovation plan and budget, then apply to purchase it.
Here's the page on the city's website where you can schedule an appointment to purchase an LRA home: How To Purchase LRA Property.
An authority board reviews and approves applications. Within 120 days of buying the property, owners must stabilize the structure and improve its facade to meet city building codes. Buyers must renovate the property to a livable condition within 18 months, then live there for at least three years.
The authority holds a quitclaim deed — which allows it to reclaim the property — if the buyer fails to fulfill all requirements of the Dollar House program.
A spokesman for St. Louis Development Corporation, which oversees the Land Reutilization Authority, said that city officials will consider offering extensions for any rehabs that take longer than 18 months “case by case.”
Don’t expect a pristine house
These homes have sat vacant for years.
LRA-owned homes’ conditions range “from bad to worse,” said preservation expert Andrew Weil, executive director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis. The organization advocates for the preservation of historic buildings in the region.
Prospective buyers will see bad roofs, broken windows, rotten timbers, water damage and mold. Thieves may have scavenged metal like copper piping, gutters and roof flashing, Weil said. He recommends taking an architect or engineer to the inspections.
The LRA requires purchasers to hire licensed professionals to install electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.
Do your research, secure funding for renovations
Janet Sanders purchased two “gut rehab” homes from the LRA in 2007 and spent around a year renovating them in the Hyde Park neighborhood of north St. Louis.
Sanders’ own experience taught her the importance of preparation in a renovation project.
“It’s great that you would get a building for a dollar, but you can do some damage to the building or yourself if you’re not careful about what you know and what you don’t know,” she said.
Sanders spent months inspecting and photographing homes all over her neighborhood before she made a decision. A rehabbers club also helped her.
Despite her preparation, Sanders still encountered surprises. Some contractors were difficult, and the project cost more than expected. Her renovation loan amounted to $180,000 for both houses combined, Sanders said.
The LRA does not connect prospective Dollar House buyers to lenders, but some mortgage programs are designed to include home repairs in the total loan amount.
It’s hard work — that could be worth the effort
Sanders said she has considered rehabbing historic homes again.
“When you see things go from all falling apart to, ‘Ooh, lovely,’ that’s very enjoyable,” she said. “If you like that kind of process where you’re bringing something back from the edge of expiring, then it’s exciting.”
With everything that buyers need to know, Weil said he’s concerned that some might overextend themselves. But he hopes the program will save some of St. Louis’ characteristic homes.
“Even if this program results in one house being rehabilitated and occupied, and going from a zombie house on the LRA inventory to an occupied home again, it will have been a success,” he said.
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