Pennsylvania Owner Sues to Block Tax Sale Due to High Winds

A Lake Eerie property owner whose valuable home was sold for $76,000 in October 2019 is suing to block the sale, claiming high winds blew the tax sale notice county officials pinned to her house away. The owner insists if high winds are not to blame, then power-washing is, since workers were cleaning her house to prepare it for sale in July 2019. Either way, since she did not receive notice of the sale she wants the entire transaction canceled so she can sell the $975,000 home herself.

The buyer of the property, a local lawyer, succeeded in having his possession of the deed held up in court last year, but has since sold his interest in the property. He has declined to identify the individual in court records and is still involved in the noninjury trial. The property owner is still living in the property and seeks to fully invalidate the tax sale because the Tax Claim Bureau did not personally serve her with notice that the property was up for sale. According to the bureau, the owner did not receive personal service because she had not listed her home as “owner-occupied” despite living in the property for several years.

The lawyer and the unnamed buyer have allegedly (according to the property owner) offered her $650,000 for the property with the understanding that she would return $300,000 to the new owner for remodeling purposes. The lawyer said in a press conference he had offered her $750,000 with “no hold backs” for remodeling and other work, and the prospective buyer would spend their own money to repair the property’s foundation. At present, the lawyer claims, the foundation is damaged and it could “float into the lake”.

According to tax records, the 1920 property was assessed at $372,000. Even at this estimate, which is much less than the list price, the property is far more valuable than most properties that sell at tax sales and tax auctions. The prime location on the shores of Lake Eerie and the bay views could make the property far more attractive than public records indicate, however, particularly during ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that is driving real estate prices through the roof in many markets. The vacation-home-turned-full-time-residence angle could be extremely attractive to buyers who might previously have balked at shelling out such a large sum for a part-time property or seasonal rental.

According to local news outlets, the judge on the case will make a decision this month. The property was last sold in 1976 for $28,500, and value estimates on the home range from $397,000 (Zillow) to $870,000 (realtor.com). This case demonstrates just how complicated tax sales can get, although most are far simpler. At PIP Group, we carefully vet every property we acquire to identify potential issues with ownership before we buy, thus protecting our investors and our own portfolio.

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About the Author

Charles Sells is the founder and CEO of The PIP Group, a turnkey service provider that focuses on investments in distressed real estate assets including tax liens, tax deeds, traditional foreclosures, fix-and-flips and long-term cash flow acquisitions. He has been involved in tax lien investing for over 20 years, during which time The PIP Group has grown to become one of the largest agencies of its kind with nearly 1,000 individual and institutional investors worldwide.

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