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Flood-damaged homes sold at Fargo auction

By Dave Kolpack

The Associated Press

FARGO -- Tim Thein drove nearly 200 miles to save thousands of dollars and dozens of trees.

The Clara City, Minn., resident landed his dream home Thursday in an auction of houses and other buildings that were bought out because of flooding issues. He paid $23,500 for the six-bedroom, 4½-bath brick home that was sold to the government for nearly $380,000. The homes will be either moved or scavenged for parts.

Thein, a fourth-generation house mover, figured it was a chance to make something good out of a disaster.

"It takes 33 mature trees to build a 2,000-square foot home. That's about 10 acres of forest," Thein said. "So it is on the recycling end of it as well."

It's the second time Thein has taken a house off the Fargo flood plain. He bought his current home in 2000, but said it can no longer hold his family of five.

"I've lived in it the last 10 years," Thein said. "I have a family now and I need a little more room."

Thein expects to move the house to Clara City in August.

The auction fetched $326,250 for Cass County to help reclaim some of the taxpayer dollars spent on the buyouts. The county has been hammered by chronic Red River flooding in recent years, including a record crest in 2009 that damaged hundreds of homes.

Irv Rustad, who heads the agency that coordinated the buyouts, said he didn't set a goal for the event, which was the first live auction for flood homes. The county sold homes by sealed bids after a flood in 1997.

"It looks good to me," Rustad said afterward. "Whatever we get is better than nothing."

Officials put 35 homes, three garages, two sheds, two outbuildings, a horse barn and a pole fence on the auction block. The high bid was $79,000, for a nearly 2,400-square feet house that was bought out for more than $368,000.

The homes that sold for the most money were those that could be moved. The others were bought for parts such as windows, cabinets, garage doors and hardwood floors.

One couple from Oxbow, south of Fargo, watched their 2,740-square-foot home, which was bought out for more than $321,000, sell for $6,500. Robert and Linda Liebelt had lived in the house four years, but it can't be moved because the nearby Oxbow Country Club clubhouse and swimming pool are in the way.

"It may be easier for us compared to other people," Robert Liebelt said. "But even four years, you get pretty attached. It was a beautiful spot."

Liebelt said it was strange watching people bid on his house.

"It's strange and it's good," he said. "You go through a flood like that once, and you don't want to do that again."

Another resident, Warren Wilson, said he checked out the auction because his house south of Fargo is set to be sold at another auction, probably in October. He said the event gave him an uneasy feeling. He lived in his house for 20 years.

"I wish it had never happened. I would have loved to stay there," Wilson said. "But I feel that we've been treated fairly."

The houses have to be moved or stripped by July 15 in Oxbow and Sept. 15 in other areas. The county will demolish the homes that aren't moved.

The price of transferring a house depends on the structure, but Thein said it can cost up to $20,000 to move a one-story house about 15 miles.