September 30, 2010
Henry Preslaw was exhilarated and nervous after he bought a property at Wednesday’s Luzerne County back-tax sale.
“This is all new to me. I’ve been up for five days doing research, and I haven’t eaten in three days,” said the Kingston man, who purchased a partially burned cabin on 1 acre in Ross Township for a lone bid of $3,466.
Forty-six of the 800 available properties were purchased at Wednesday's Luzerne County back-tax sale in the courthouse rotunda in Wilkes-Barre.
CLARK VAN ORDEN/THE TIMES LEADER
Preslaw was among 19 bidders who purchased 46 of the 800 properties up for auction at the sale. Bidding started at the amount of back taxes and penalties owed on each property, and buyers take on the risk of non-tax debts attached to a property, such as outstanding mortgages, utility and credit card bills.
“I don’t know whether I hung myself,” said Preslaw, who learned a few days ago that the property would be available for sale. He researched liens on his own by visiting various county offices.
Preslaw said the property he purchased had been owned by his grandfather in the past, and the structure has become an eyesore. He plans to demolish it and is unsure what he will do with the land.
“It’s more for sentimental reasons that I wanted this property,” said Preslaw, who doesn’t plan to become a regular back-tax sale bidder.
A total $400,739 was collected in Wednesday’s sale, according to Northeast Revenue. That money will be distributed to applicable taxing bodies and government offices.
Glenn Joseph Keller is a frequent tax-sale bidder, and he purchased 25 properties Wednesday for a combined $178,744, not including realty transfer taxes tacked on later.
Keller, of Allstate Assett Management Inc., has been buying properties at back-tax sales for about two decades. He also walked away from three other properties Wednesday after bidding against others.
He said he and a team of people have been researching the properties he purchased for several weeks. It should take several months to get the deeds recorded and file and process court action to clear the property titles, he said.
Keller said he tries to sell the properties once he has cleaned up the titles, often remodeling them before they are put on the market.
Among the properties he purchased was a mixed commercial/residential building on East Broad Street in Hazleton assessed at $193,200. He paid $15,405.31.
He successfully bid $18,243 on a Hughestown home assessed at $170,100.
Properties that didn’t sell will be listed in a future sale unless the property owners pay the entire outstanding debt in the meantime. The next auction stage, known as a judicial sale, allows bidders to acquire properties free of any taxes, liens and mortgages. A firm date for that sale has not been set.
Eight properties owned by Pittston businessman Barton Weidlich and county probation officer John Altobelli did not sell Wednesday. Weidlich pleaded guilty as part of the federal corruption probe. A total $17,270 in taxes and penalties are owed on the eight properties, according to the starting bids.
A Wright Township property owned by W-Cat Inc. also did not sell Wednesday at the starting bid of $35,953. W-Cat is a townhouse development that was backed by several people charged in the corruption probe.
A West Hazleton property owned by former county court administrator William Sharkey was removed from the sale because outstanding 2008 taxes were paid, according to county records.
Unless the delinquent taxes dating back two years are paid, properties may be removed from a sale only if the property is tied up in an active bankruptcy proceeding, a judge removes it from the sale or the owner sticks to a repayment agreement.
Several properties owned by Wilkes-Barre businessman Thom Greco were also removed from the sale because Greco paid the 2008 taxes, according to Northeast Revenue Service LLC, which has been operating the county tax claim office since May.
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