A mix of 2,545 residential and commercial properties are eligible for Luzerne County’s main annual first-stage delinquent real estate tax auction on Sept. 27, according to the county’s tax-claim office.
Properties become eligible for auction if taxes have gone unpaid for two years.
The list typically shrinks as the sale nears because property owners can prevent auctioning by paying the portion of taxes dating back two or more years — in this sale everything owed through 2016.
Owners also can avoid the sale by complying with a repayment plan, filing for bankruptcy or convincing a judge that temporary removal from the list is warranted.
Northeast Revenue Service LLC, the county’s tax-claim operator, has been strictly enforcing the legal requirements for repayment agreements — at least 25 percent of the total delinquent amount down with the remainder of the debt paid off within a year. The law also forbids new payment plans within three years if owners default on prior agreements.
Before Northeast Revenue started handling tax claims in 2010, the county had many properties kept out of sales, often for years, even though the owners were not keeping up with payment plans or paying at all.
Known as an “upset sale,” the Sept. 27 auction sets minimum bids at a dollar amount that covers all back real estate taxes, unpaid 2018 taxes and realty transfer tax. Buyers also must accept responsibility for any outstanding mortgages and liens.
Properties that don’t sell at the September auction advance to a more popular free-and-clear sale in 2019, when all liens and delinquent taxes are forgiven unless bidding competition drives up the purchase price to cover some or all of that debt.
Last year, 2,400 properties were on the initial September sale eligibility list. On auction day, the list was down to 661, records show.
The county’s most recent auction, a free-and-clear sale, was held Aug. 9.
Bidders paid a combined $642,781 to purchase 81 properties that day, records show.
While 23 properties went for the minimum bid, 58 attracted competition.
Seven properties sold for at least $20,000. The buyers and purchase amounts, along with details about their acquisitions, according to tax claim and assessment records:
• Wan C. Ho, of Queens, New York, representing Wilkeshire RE LLC —$20,000 for a 3,000-square-foot, double-block assessed at $80,300 on Hillside Avenue in Edwardsville.
• Daniel Cruz, of Wilkes-Barre — $22,000 for a 2,300-square-foot house in the 200 block of Academy Street in Wilkes-Barre assessed at $100,900.
• Michelle Hernandez, of Queens, New York — $26,000 for a 1,350-square-foot house on Spruce Street in Wilkes-Barre assessed at $60,900.
• Karina Broes, of Randolph, New Jersey — $30,000 for a 1,500-square-foot house assessed at $117,600 on Pond Hill Mountain Road in Conyngham Township.
• Antonio Mannino, of Hanover Township, representing Puma Motors Inc. — $39,000 each for a vacant 0.23-acre lot assessed at $10,000 on Buck Birch Lane in Buck Township and a 2,170-square-foot house assessed at $174,500 on Foothills Drive in Butler Township.
• George Karosa, Wyoming — $42,000 for a 1,544-square-foot house in the 100 block of Slocum Street in Forty Fort assessed at $104,000.
Seven properties in the August free-and-clear must be listed again at a future auction because the winning bidders did not pay — a problem that persists because buyers fail to fully research prospective purchases in advance, officials say.
Northeast Revenue representatives publicly highlighted the need for due diligence after the August 2016 auction, when bidders backed out on 19 properties. One of these bidders at the time said she thought she was acquiring a Wilkes-Barre house for $6,000, only to learn after the sale that the lot was empty.
Visits to the county deed, mapping and assessment offices are advised to identify what’s included in a parcel before someone bids, officials say. Each of the 167,282 parcels in the county has a unique identification number that is mapped with a description and photograph.
The property locations in assessment records — known as “situs addresses” — also are creating confusion because they are still used as location reference points but may no longer correlate to actual structures. Even if the situs addresses are accurate, they may not match those used in an array of online non-government maps on the internet that some buyers are using to research potential buys, officials say.
Bidders who refuse to pay are banned from participating in future sales.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.