Paradise lost: Homeowners reject SpaceX buyout offer - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Paradise lost: Homeowners reject SpaceX buyout offer

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Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2019 8:30 pm

Some homeowners at Boca Chica Village insist they have no intention of accepting a recent offer from SpaceX to purchase their properties.

Unlike most of their neighbors, Terry and Bonnie Heaton, originally from Michigan, live year-round in the unincorporated hamlet with about 35 houses near Boca Chica Beach. They’ve lived there 18 years. During the winter when the neighborhood fills up, it’s a real community where everyone helps each other, Terry said.

“It’s almost like we’ve got an extended family here, because of the closeness of this neighborhood,” he said. “We’ve got a tight bond.”

Although the Hawthorne, Calif.-based rocket company, in a letter dated Sept. 12 and sent via FedEx, is offering the Heatons three times the appraised value of their home, they say the offer isn’t close to what they’d need to sell. The appraisal conducted by SpaceX is several thousand dollars less than an appraisal the Heatons got through their bank five years ago, Terry said.

“I sent them an email the day after we got this letter, not being sarcastic or anything else,” he said. “I just told them the facts, that (their) appraisal is extremely low.”

SpaceX said the offers are not negotiable and gave the homeowners two weeks from the date of the letter to respond.

“It’s just big money bullying little people,” Terry said. “That’s really what it is.”

The couple said they have no idea where they would relocate, that Boca Chica is unique in the United States and that finding a suitable similar setup would be impossible with what SpaceX is offering. Terry said he’d take $1 million for the property, though Bonnie isn’t sure she’d be willing to leave even then.

“It’s been so beautiful out here all these years,” she said. “It’s been so peaceful, and when the kids come down from up north they just love it here. ... It’s just so sad, because this is where we wanted to be until we die. This is our home, you know?”

Celia Johnson bought her house next door to the Heatons in 1992. She was born and raised in Brownsville and has gone to Boca Chica Beach since she was a kid. Now she lives in Lansing, Mich., during the summer. Johnson said she’s rejecting SpaceX’s offer because it’s too low.

Home appraisals are based in part on the selling prices of similar properties in the area, but SpaceX’s recent appraisals are based on a handful of sales — to SpaceX — that were well below market value and as a result skew the new appraisals downward, she said.

Johnson cited the example of a neighbor who bought a house in Boca Chica Village for well over $100,000 but ended up selling it to the company for $50,000.

“I know he took a huge loss,” Johnson said.

She said she’s spoken with other neighbors who felt intimidated and sold their homes far below market value only to regret it later.

“They got ripped off and I know they did,” Johnson said.

The amount of money SpaceX is offering her isn’t enough to find a new house somewhere like Boca Chica. Johnson said she’d planned to retire there to be near family in Brownsville, but doesn’t want to live in the city herself. Johnson said she isn’t contemplating the possibility that she may have to leave some day.

“I guess I’m just going to take it on a daily basis and see what happens,” she said.

Terry Heaton admitted to worrying that he and his wife will be forced to leave someday after all, as SpaceX’s operation grows and the rockets become bigger and more powerful. To him, it’s not fair that after being there so many years and only wanting to live in peace, “all of a sudden somebody’s trying to kick you out,” he said.

“Does that make us happy? No. It scares us, really,” Heaton said. “We can talk tough all we want, but the reality is the time will come.”

Obviously, they couldn’t have guessed in a million years that a rocket company would move in next door, he said.

“If that would have been so, we never would have bought here,” Heaton said.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

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