Would you rather have $10 land in rural Canada or houses for under $100 in Detroit?

I saw a story about a small rural town in Canada trying to lure in new residents by offering land for $10:

In an effort to jump on the oil boom in that part of the country, officials are once again selling undeveloped land for a mere $10, an initiative they first started in 2010. Back then they had 14 lots for sale, 11 of which have houses built on them today, economic development officer Tanis Chalmers told ABC News .

That plan was so successful that in September the Rural Municipality of Pipestone, of which Reston is the biggest town (population: 550), decided to put up an additional 10 lots for sale, along with the three left from 2010. Nine remain, “But I’ve had offers on them already from both Canada and the U.S,” said Chalmers, adding that the initiative has been so effective that the local school finally “has a standalone kindergarten class.”…

The plan is pretty straightforward: To purchase a property, wannabe homeowners have to sign an agreement and put down a $1,000 deposit. Once a lot is purchased, owners have 90 days to begin construction, and 12 months to complete it. As soon as the town receives your occupancy permit, they will refund $990 of the original down payment…

As further incentive, the town is offering a $6,000 grant to people who’ve built a new house or purchased an existing home in the rural municipality. The grant, mind you, can be used for anything from home upgrades to a new car. Chalmers says taxes hover around $1,500 to $2,500 per year.

This reminded me of stories in recent years about cheap houses in Detroit. Here is one example:

“I was living in Chicago and a friend told me that houses in Detroit could be had for $500,” said Brumit, a financially strapped artist who thought he had little prospect of owning his own property. “I said if you hear of anything just a little cheaper let me know. Within a week he emails me a photo of a house for $100. I thought that’s just crazy. Why not? It’s a way to cut our expenses way down and kind of open up a lot of time for creative projects because we’re not working to pay the rent.”…A third of the population are unemployed. Property prices have fallen 80% or more in large parts of Detroit over the last three years. The average price of a home sold in the city last year has been put at $7,500 (£4,900)…

Banks are selling off properties in the worst neighbourhoods, which are usually surrounded by empty and wrecked housing, for a few dollars each. But even better houses can be had at a fraction of their former value.

Technically, Brumit paid $95 for the land and $5 for the house on Lawley Street – which fitted what estate agents euphemistically call an opportunity.

I suspect more people would jump at the rural opportunity. While there might be more amenities nearby in Detroit (you mean those winning Tigers can’t boost home prices like winning NFLteams  supposedly can?), the idea of living in Detroit itself would scare a lot of people. What might happen in the neighborhood? Can the city provide basic services? On the other hand, the rural property might be a long way from anything worthwhile but it could offer some access to nature, there probably aren’t as many worries about neighbors, and there is some appeal to starting from scratch. If we wanted to stretch this explanation out even further, this could be a sign of the urban/rural divide in the United States; economically similar opportunities in the big city and the country don’t attract the same level of cultural and residential interest.

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