The auction, which will be done online via the website Bid4Assets.com, is scheduled to run from Saturday, March 29 through Tuesday, April 1.
According to Treasurer and Tax Collector Fred Keeley, in order for a parcel to appear in the auction, it must default on its taxes — meaning that the owner has not paid property taxes in at least 5 years.
Once the owner defaults, he said, the county then will auction off the property for a starting bid of whatever the unpaid tax amount was.
“We do this every other year,” he said, adding that the only money that the county makes off property sales go to covering the taxes owed on the parcel — anything more the sales makes is returned to the now-former property owner.
“We can’t sell it for less than the taxes,” Keeley said. “But the government isn’t making money off selling tax-defaulted properties.”
He said that, with the advent of the Internet, property auctions could be accessed by bidders from far-ranging places, using a system to place bids on properties that works in much the same manner as an eBay auction.
“The advantage to the county is that you have a much bigger bidding pool,” Keeley said. “It used to literally be an old-school auction — you used to have to show up to the courthouse.”
Although Keeley's office announced on Monday, March 3, that 186 parcels of land were headed for auction, he anticipated that fewer than a dozen of those properties would ever actually go up for bidding.
“Almost everybody comes in and redeems the property and we don’t sell it,” Keeley said.
To “redeem” the property, he said, the owner must either pay the owed taxes, or arrange a payment plan with the county.
Keeley said that the county is pretty flexible about working out an arrangement that allows people to keep their homes and “almost everyone figures out a way to do that.”
“There's lots of stuff that happens in people's lives,” he said. “While I can’t waive taxes, let's try and tailor something to your circumstance — the last thing I want to do is sell people's properties for taxes.”
By the time the auction actually arrives, Keeley said, the only properties left to bid are typically abandoned properties that either hold very little value or are undevelopable.
“When we get right down to it,” he said. “Only one or two (parcels) will have a structure on it — it's almost never the case that a widow and orphans are thrown out into the snow.”
Keeley also said that none of the properties up for auction have bank liens or mortgages against them, and noted that when the county sends out tax default notices, the owner and any banks holding mortgages are notified.
In every instance, Keeley said, the bank holding the mortgage will pay the tax bill itself and immediately foreclose on the property.
He urged property owners in danger of default to come to his office and work out a plan.
“I think this is one case where you'd rather deal with the tax collector than with a bank,” he said.
For more information on the auction, visit www.bid4assets.com.