An unusually high number of bidding wars jacked up prices at Thursday’s popular Luzerne County back-tax auction.
“We never did this kind of business. I think it’s unbelievable,” said John Rodgers, head of the county’s tax claim operator, Northeast Revenue Service LLC.
Bidders snatched up 120 of the 223 listed properties, paying a combined $998,980.
In comparison, 109 properties out of 260 properties were purchased in last August’s free-and-clear auction for $854,533.
Unlike Thursday’s sale, the 2012 auction included a big-ticket property — the former Dominic’s on the Lake restaurant at Harveys Lake, which sold for $220,000.
The highest valued property in Thursday’s sale — the Keystone Garden Estates assisted-living facility in Larksville — was removed because the property owner paid $288,189 in taxes owed from 2007 through 2011.
Rodgers wasn’t sure why bidding was livelier than usual Thursday but said more people seem interested in landing deals. A total 253 bidders registered.
“We attracted bidders from all over,” he said.
Regulars put off
The higher prices turned off some of the regular bidders.
Veteran tax sale bidder Antonio Mannino yelled to Rodgers in the middle of the auction, asking if he could try to unload some of his own non-delinquent properties to the crowd of hungry buyers.
“I can’t sell stuff at these prices,” Mannino said.
While they walked out empty-handed, some of the regular bidders speculated their competition will regret paying so much, particularly when they face building code requirements to repair their new holdings. One pointed to a rundown single family home on New Alexander Street in Wilkes-Barre auctioned for $27,000 after a bidding war.
Bids started at under $1,000 for most properties because back taxes and other liens were cleared at the final-stage sale.
Harrisburg area bidder Jeremy Hunter, a newcomer to Luzerne County auctions, purchased 18 properties for a total of $211,572.
His acquisitions included nine single-family homes, several duplexes, a commercial building on East Columbus Avenue in Pittston, an apartment and former tavern property in Hazleton, 4 acres with a barn in Union Township, a smaller commercial structure on Ridge Street in Hanover Township and an antenna tower atop a building on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre.
Hunter, of Hunter Property Services LLC, said his company buys tax-delinquent properties throughout the state to renovate and sell them. The company isn’t in the rental business, he said.
“We bring home ownership back to towns,” he said.
House for $5,500
Eileen McMullen, a Newport Township native who now lives in Phoenix, bid $5,500 after competition to secure a house in the Glen Lyon section of the township near the homes of her mother and sister.
“It will be my summer home. It has a great yard,” she said of the property, which is assessed around $45,000.
Multiple bid cards sprung in the air when a Village Road home on 1.68 acres in Franklin Township came up, pushing the purchase price to $23,000. The property is assessed at $105,100.
The price of a 28-acre parcel on Newhart Road in Jackson Township shot up to $60,000 after intense bidding.
Freeland Solicitor Don Karpowich fended off competitors to obtain a mobile home for $8,000 and a vacant lot on Center Street for $2,500 at the borough’s request.
The mobile home on Front Street will be torn down to create additional parking for the neighboring YMCA, he said. The borough had invested $68,000 tearing down the deteriorating Pittman Furniture Store on the now-vacant Center Street lot, and officials want to seek new development for that site, he said.
“The borough has been taking a very aggressive and proactive approach acquiring properties for redevelopment and to abate blight,” Karpowich said.
Swoyersville resident George Karosa paid $37,000 for a townhouse on North Welles Avenue in Kingston assessed at $97,200 and purchased a single home in Swoyersville for $19,000.
Karosa, who works in the insurance business, said he had his eye on other properties but backed out because the bidding prices climbed too high.
The 103 properties that did not sell will go in the repository, a dumping ground of roughly 750 properties that did not sell in past auctions. Rodgers and county officials want to more actively market these properties to get them back on the tax rolls.