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An entire California town is for sale — again. This time for $6.6M

Aerial view of Campo in2024. It is for sale for $6.6 million. (Michael Noriega/HMBD Marketing)


By Phillip Molnar

May 9, 2024

6 AM PT


Unincorporated Campo has been for sale since 2019 with no buyer. A new real estate team hopes to get the job done


Nearly all of Campo has been for sale since 2019 — without a buyer in sight.


Now, a new real estate team has taken over the task of selling almost the entire unincorporated community, which is a little more than an hour from San Diego. The sale would include 28 buildings, a mix of former Army barracks turned into apartments and single-family homes, as well as commercial properties.


The price has increased to $6.6 million, up from $5.5 million five years ago. Rents have increased across more than 20 residential units and seven commercial buildings in the time since, which the seller says increases the value.


“The biggest change is the net operating income,” said listing agent Nick Hernandez of Top Gun CRE. “Also, this time there is more motivation on (the seller’s side) to get it sold.”


His Mission Valley-based firm got the listing about three weeks ago and has started contacting potential buyers, creating marketing materials and producing a


Roughly 100 people live in the town, considered an example of California’s Old West. Dirt roads, sun-baked signposts and buildings that look like they could use a lot more than a coat of paint might convince a weary traveler they stepped back in time.


Most of Campo has been owned by Las Vegas investor John Ray since the early 2000s.To entice buyers this time around, Ray is willing to offer financing himself to whoever is willing to put 50 percent down.


Ray, a man of few words, said this week that there was nothing in particular that drew him to Campo.


“Why do I buy anything? I don’t know,” he said. “To make a profit, I guess.”


Ray wants to sell because he is tired of being a landlord and having to employ workers to oversee everything. In addition to Campo, he also is trying to sell the ghost town of Bankhead Springs, which is about 3.5 miles northwest of Jacumba. Ray said he is asking $2 million for the tiny hamlet, which he bought in 2000.


Ray also bought properties in El Centro, Yuma, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights over the years, all of which he’s sold.


Top Gun CRE said the Campo properties bring in $331,521 a year in net operating income, which subtracts expenses for repairs, property taxes, water, sewer and other costs. The firm estimates that after renovations, the buildings could bring that closer to$415,000.


Top Gun CRE also estimates renovations could be somewhere in the neighborhood of$1.1 million, but acknowledges it is hard to say without knowing exactly what a buyer would want to do with the properties.


Most of the buildings were built in the 1940s and very little has been done to them since. This creates a lot of deferred maintenance but also means Campo is sort of frozen in time. The previous real estate group imagined a Hollywood producer would be interested in the land, which covers nearly 16 acres, as a ghost town movie set.


Robert Marks, co-owner of East County Lumber and Ranch Supply store on Forrest Gate Rd., in 2019 (Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union Tribune)


Bob Marks, co-owner of Campo’s East County Lumber and Ranch Supply (which rents from Ray), said this week that he would like to see a new owner put some money into fixing up the dilapidated buildings. In addition to the buildings for sale, there are several unused structures that have been boarded up for decades. He said the price was too high for a local group to purchase, despite a lot of people really loving their small town.


“It’s backcountry and a tight-knit community,” Marks said. “I like it being quiet and it is nice.”


East County Lumber and Ranch Supply is a bit like the town square of Campo. It is more than a hardware shop, selling pet supplies, cowboy hats and knickknacks.


Residents often catch up on the latest town news as country music plays over speakers. Marks said they still talk about how the shop was swarmed by TV news crews after The San Diego Union-Tribune first wrote about the potential sale in 2019.


He said that despite most residents liking the small-town feel, that doesn’t stop them from wanting Campo to be a better destination for San Diego visitors. The town still gets busy during the annual two-day Campo Days celebration that highlights its history and features train rides at the nearby Pacific Southwest Railway Museum.


In addition to the residences, Ray’s commercial buildings in Campo are rented to the U.S. Post Office, a church, metal shop, a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, the border patrol, Marks’ lumber shop and a cabinet shop.


Campo has a history of being bought and sold without much change to its look and feel. Real estate groups, including Top Gun CRE, have touted the area as a place for redevelopment, and there is some evidence it could be an enticing place for homebuyers.


KB Home constructed more than 200 single-family homes in the early 2000s close to downtown Campo. Homes in the community are selling in the $500,000 range, up from $300,000 to $350,000 five years ago.


Gary London, a San Diego housing analyst, said a downside for a developer considering Campo is its distance from major job centers — and the heat. The average high temperature in Campo is 94 degrees in July, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, compared to 77 degrees in San Diego.


London said the ideal buyer for Campo — which he admits would be a diamond in the rough — would be a manufacturer that could turn it into a company town. That way residents wouldn’t face long commutes, and it wouldn’t add extensive stress and traffic

to current infrastructure — and likely go a long way in appeasing county planners and long-time residents.


“The manufacturer could utilize current buildings,” he said, “maybe build something else and get permission from the county by limiting VMT (vehicle miles traveled).”


There are a few other things that might dissuade a potential buyer. Campo is only accessed by one major road, State Route 94, a winding road that can be frustrating to drive if you’re stuck behind a slower-moving vehicle or being tailgated. It also is close to the U.S.-Mexico border, not unlike much of San Diego, but has a heavy Customs and Border Protection presence. Border patrol often stop cars in this area if it suspects a vehicle is illegally carrying migrants.


Campo’s claim to fame is it was once home to the Buffalo Soldiers, the Army’s African American Cavalry unit. The soldiers patrolled the area on horseback until 1944. During World War II, the base there, called Camp Lockett, was also used to house German and Italian prisoners of war.


A major reason Camp Lockett grew to 3,000 soldiers, and 5,000 horses, was a fear that the Japanese would use Mexico as a base to attack the United States.


Before that, it was an outpost for Texans making a new life for themselves after the Civil War. The town was once called “Little Texas” and was the site of an attempted bandit raid in 1875.






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