CHICAGO – Joanne Smith normally uses the online auction site eBay to fish for bargains on used purses and shoes.

But when Smith checked her e-mail last Wednesday, she found out that an impulse bid made earlier that day had netted her a much bigger prize: a house in Michigan, for the price of a small coffee.

A bid of $1.75 had won Smith, a 30-year-old hairstylist and finance student, a small home in Saginaw, nearly 300 miles from the apartment she rents in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.

Smith said Tuesday that she had expected the small, dilapidated house to go for a much higher price – say $20 or $30 – but was taking the unexpected purchase in stride.

“My mom said, ‘You’re going to pay for this?'” Smith said. “The house is totally run-down, but it’s real land. I don’t care what people say, land always gains in value over the years.”

Listed on eBay under the description “FREE HOUSE – no joke you can have this house,” the property was sold by an Arizona couple who were willing to take a significant loss. Sales records show they paid $26 for the home in January.

But behind the pocket-change price tag looms a more imposing cost, as Smith is now on the hook for more than $1,000 in owed taxes and maintenance costs, Saginaw County Treasurer Marvin Hare said.

Smith shrugged off that figure Tuesday, saying she will have an appraiser look at the house before deciding whether to keep, tear down or resell it. Though she has no plans to move to Saginaw, she said she might visit the house, if her calendar allows.

“I don’t really want to stay on the road for five hours,” Smith said. “Do flights even go there?”


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