1-inch lot gets miles of publicity

November 24, 2005|By P.J. HUFFSTUTTER | P.J. HUFFSTUTTER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JACKSON TOWNSHIP, IND. -- If you thought the price of real estate was out of control in California, try picking up a tiny piece of property in this rural stretch of central Indiana, where a square inch of land is being sold for $1,500.

Originally, the parcel was part of a larger tract in the oak-lined rolling hills near Cataract Lake, about 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

The main thing growing on it over the past few years has been its unpaid tax bill to Owen County.

When the bank and the county tried to sell the parcel at a tax sale last month, the minimum bid, as required by county law, was $1,500.

No one made a bid for the bite-sized parcel, though the sellers said it was small enough to have value as a curiosity if not much else. County officials said they can't prove it but that it might be the smallest deeded parcel anywhere.

"They had no vision, no sense of the true value of this gem," said Richard W. Lorenz, the county's attorney. Besides, he pointed out, "that's enough money to pay the dogcatcher's salary for more than a couple months. We need that money."

Angie Lawson, auditor for Owen County, said, "It's the most ridiculous thing, but I suppose you could plant a single dandelion on it. Maybe you could build a gym for ants?"

The property is in a remote area where Davy Crockett owned property, according to county records. Today, the federal government owns most of the nearby land.

The real estate deal that resulted in the tiny parcel dates to the 1960s, when a homeowners association decreed that only landowners could swim in Cataract Lake or fish there for bluegill. One resident decided to get around that rule by writing up a deed to his relatives, giving them ownership of a square inch of his land.

When the owner of the full parcel failed to pay the mortgage on the property, First National Bank of Cloverdale foreclosed in 2002, according to county officials. Because of the unusual deed, the bank separated the square-inch parcel from the 1.12-acre property, Lawson said.

The larger property was sold, but taxes kept piling up on the tiny parcel as if it were the larger property. The outstanding tax bill is $1,224, not much shy of the county minimum for a tax auction.

County officials aren't certain of the parcel's exact location.

"We only started doing regular surveys of that area in the last few years, and there were no platting instruments to create the specific outlines on a computer," said Peter Dorsey, who runs the county's mapping department.

Also, he said, there was no oversight on what land could be deeded.

"We have to rely on the physical description in the deeds and make a best-case guess," Dorsey said. "We've got the one inch narrowed down to within a few feet. No one's wanted to spend the $500 to figure out the exact location with a survey."

Although the tax sale drew no bids, word of the unusual offering spread on the Internet after a local newspaper wrote about it.

When dozens of would-be buyers flooded the county with offers - a dot-com company promised to provide free medical supplies to area hospitals, and a radio disc jockey in Israel offered a certified check for the full amount to set up an official state of Palestine - residents were too shocked to laugh, they said.

Lorenz said he has fielded at least 40 offers, some serious, some not. The highest was for about $4,000.

P.J. Huffstutter writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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