MILLINOCKET, Maine — Like most fixer-uppers, the old two-story house at 19 Central St. came with many scary questions and costly answers for new owner Dennis Smith.
Smith knew that the building’s electrical system needed significant upgrading because the fuse box still had fuses. He said the heating system was “rumored to be defunct” and was, at least partly. Many of its radiators had been disassembled.
The roof was another mystery. He didn’t know how many leaks it had, and found that one leak was caused by a former tenant building a second-story wood porch directly onto the first-floor roof — without adequate supports. Smith also discovered an upstairs tub leaked when its water flooded part of the first floor.
But the Bermuda native still intends to turn the old house into a tea room, antique shop and apartment rental for tourists. He said he definitely does not regret buying the tax-acquired property from the town.
“It is a tremendous gamble to buy that way because you have no way of knowing what is going to work and what isn’t going to work, but you can’t beat that price anywhere in the state of Maine,” Smith said Friday.
“It is just incredible to pull off a six-unit house for $13,000,” Smith added. “The structures are sound, and they certainly were worth the investment.”
Fortunately for entrepreneurs like Smith and perhaps unfortunately for others, Millinocket has had 41 properties like that available, a record number, Town Manager Peggy Daigle said. She will seek Town Council approval on Nov. 26 to sell 20 properties the town owns by foreclosure by sealed bids gathered individually. The bid closing date on the sale is Nov. 21, she said.
The town sold 21 tax-acquired properties over the last two months, collecting $87,254 out of $215,000 of what was owed in property and sewer taxes on those structures and lots, Daigle said. Fourteen of the 21 properties were reacquired by their owners’ paying the past-due taxes.
The cheapest property sold for $1,900, she said.
Daigle said she hopes the unsold properties go to adjoining homeowners looking to expand their properties or entrepreneurs looking to do business. Millinocket needs to shrink its housing stock to reflect its approximately 4,500 instead of the approximately 9,000 of decades past, she said.
Many downtown properties are on tiny lots that could be expanded, Daigle said. The town requires homeowners to pay licensed contractors to raze the properties and to dispose of the debris at licensed sites, the nearest being in Old Town, she said. Of the foreclosed properties, the town has plans to raze only one, at 62 Katahdin Ave., this spring. Demolition costs haven’t been assessed yet.
“One issue that the town has right now is that its population is on the decline so we have more housing stock than people to live in it,” Daigle said. “It is far better to look at taking down property rather than reusing them. It is to ensure that we don’t have lot vacant properties lying around.”