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One taxpayer's loss is another's gain

June 08, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

A different breed of real estate investor congregated Tuesday morning by the loading dock at the rear of the Washington County Office Building at 33 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown.

On the auction block were 49 pieces of Washington County land owned by delinquent taxpayers. Floor bids were set below assessed value and well below market value for the properties.

"The opportunity to invest in real estate by going through tax sale ... it's pretty straightforward," said East End resident Tom Sterrett, who noted he was not bothered by the circumstances that led to the properties being put up for auction. "Not at all. If they can't afford it, they shouldn't own it."

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County real estate taxes are due July 1 every year. With debts ranging from $450.02 to $4,810.09, the land owners who have not paid their taxes are declared delinquent Oct. 1. On the first Tuesday in June of the following year, the properties are put up for auction.

Combined, the properties for sale Tuesday carried an assessed value of $4,067,519. One of the listed items, a quarter-acre piece of land on the north side of Foxville Road, was assessed at $2,720, carried $450.02 in real estate debt and sold at auction for $1,100. Another, a 52-acre tract of land on the west side of Whitetail Road, was assessed at $287,416, carried $3,801.46 in back taxes and sold for $310,000.

"We've tried to notify them and they've failed to respond. We've advertised, and they've failed to respond. So we've sold them," said county Treasurer Todd L. Hershey, who oversees the auctions and seeks only to clear the outstanding debt from the county's financial records. "My job is collections. I don't really study these properties. You could easily become involved with people calling in desperation."

Hershey said the delinquent homeowners have six months following Tuesday's auction to pay their back taxes, plus Tuesday's auction fees. After that time, Tuesday's successful bidders have the right to initiate foreclosure proceedings on the land, a process that takes about three months. On average, only about 10 percent of the delinquent taxpayers, or about five from Tuesday's list of 49, will fail to pay.

The remaining 90 percent will pay their back taxes, Hershey said.

If Tuesday's successful bidders don't acquire the property, they will collect 6 percent of the back taxes on the homes upon which they bid.

Keedysville resident David Lidz said the auctions present a far less-expensive buy-in than do mortgage foreclosure sales.

"You're taking a risk," Lidz said.

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