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Some sites are out of sight

Some real beauties could be had at a fraction of their worth at auction next week.

This 37-acre Wright Township townhouse project is scheduled for auction in a back-tax sale Wednesday, with bids starting at $806. A Dunmore bank has judgments against former Luzerne County Prothonotary Jill Moran, suspended attorney Robert Powell and former county judges Mike Conahan and Mark Ciavarella for defaulting on loans to finance the townhouse project.

AIMEE DILGER/THE TIMES LEADER

These Luzerne County properties are among the hundreds slated for auction on Wednesday, with bids typically starting around $800. Property owners must pay the back taxes or get a court order to be removed from the sale. Pictured clockwise, from the top left, are: a 37-acre townhouse construction project in Wright Township; a 2,700-square-foot home in Jackson Township; a former veterinary clinic in Avoca and a commercial office building in Pittston Township.

times leader photos

Three former restaurants, a law office, attractive homes, sizeable swaths of land and several apartment buildings are among the 500 properties slated for auction in next week’s Luzerne County back-tax sale.

Attorney John Rodgers, who heads the company overseeing the county’s tax claim office, said he’s trying to promote the properties listed in the Aug. 10 sale to make more people aware that they’re up for grabs at a fraction of their worth.

Bidding typically starts around $800 because this type of sale is designed to cover only the county’s costs to get the properties to auction.

As indicated by the name of the sale – “free and clear” – the debt attached to these properties disappears for buyers who submit the highest bids, said Rodgers, of Northeast Revenue Service LLC. Back taxes, mortgages and other liens against these properties are forgiven.

“There are some really good deals out there,” Rodgers said. “We’d like to see more people come out and bid.”

His company prepared a list of some of the highest valued properties in an effort to showcase potential steals.

That list includes three restaurant properties that once housed Ferdinand’s Family Restaurant in Hazleton, the Ground Round in Hazle Township and Damien’s on the Lake at Harveys Lake.

A former veterinary clinic on William Street in Avoca, a commercial office building on John Street in Pittston Township, a commercial warehouse on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre and a retail/food establishment on Main Street in Duryea are also on the auction list.

At least six apartment buildings in Wilkes-Barre are on the list, along with a range of single-family homes.

Plains Twp. townhouse

An example: A 1,970-square-foot townhouse, built around 1988, at 53 Clarks Lane in Plains Township. The property owners bought it for $100,000 in 1990 but stopped paying taxes in 1990, racking up $120,821 in back taxes. On-and-off bankruptcy filings kept the property out of back-tax sales – until now.

The townhouse is assessed at $167,400, and bidding starts at $1,033. The starting bid is higher than usual for this property because of the number of lien holders that had to be notified about the property’s sale.

Some other residences up for auction: a 2,700-square-foot 1970 home on 2 acres on Bulford Road in Jackson Township; a 1,820-square-foot home built in 1990 on Garbutt Street in Dallas Township and a 2,668-square foot split-level on Orange Road in Franklin Township.

A newer industrial building on North Park Drive in Hazle Township is also listed at a starting bid of $797, a drop in the bucket compared to its assessed value of $6.166 million. The property on roughly 16 acres is owned by Behnken Properties Inc., which owes $152,197 in taxes from 2008 to 2010.

Suspended attorney Robert Powell’s Butler Township law firm and a Wright Township townhouse project he’s involved with are also on the auction list.

The law office, listed under the ownership of Powell’s Big Kahuna Realty LLC, sits on 5 acres and is assessed at $1.174 million. Bids start at $832.

W-Cat Inc. property

The unfinished townhouse project, owned by W-Cat Inc., is assessed at $1.237 million. The property includes 37 acres, with bidding starting at $806.

Large vacant parcels in the sale include: 32.65 acres on Hayes Street in Hazle Township, 29 acres on Bear Creek Boulevard in Bear Creek Township and 6.45 acres on Snyder Lane and Spring Mill Road in Wright Township.

A vacant commercial building on the corner of South Main and Northampton Streets in Wilkes-Barre is also listed. The city has purchased two other properties in this complex, which faces the Main Street lofts above the downtown theater complex.

List could shrink

The list of properties could be reduced before the sale. Property owners may get the properties removed from the sale if they pay the back taxes before the sale or convince a judge that the property should be removed.

Roughly 75 people or businesses had registered to bid in the sale as of Wednesday afternoon.

Rodgers said he wants competition because it may up the purchase prices. Payments beyond the starting bids are split up among taxing bodies that lost money when the taxes weren’t paid.

He suggests that bidders research the list of properties at the county Tax Claim Office on the first floor of the county courthouse or on the office’s website, www.luzernecountytaxclaim.com (click on the judicial sale heading at the left of the main page).

Potential buyers may visit the county mapping office in the courthouse to identify the location of properties they might want to purchase and then check out the properties from the street, Rodgers said.

Buyers have no right to inspect the interiors of properties ahead of time. Buyers must pay for the properties immediately after the sale and also pay transfer taxes that typically amount to 2 percent of the assessed value (Wilkes-Barre’s tax is 3.5 percent).

Bidders may also want to consult with a lawyer or search for past records associated with a property in the recorder of deeds or prothonotary’s office to make sure everything is in order before they bid, he said.

There are many success stories of property owners who have acquired property cheap at back-tax sales, he said.

He pointed to Premium Realty Inc., which bought the former 2.9-acre Red Carpet Inn property on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre at a back-tax sale for $863 earlier this year. The previous buyer had paid $1.57 million for the property in 2005, county records show.

How to bid at the back-tax sale

• The Aug. 10 sale starts at 10 a.m. in the county courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

• Bidders must register by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

• Bidders must complete paperwork certifying that they have no delinquent property taxes or municipal utility bills within the county. Prospective bidders must also verify that they have not had a landlord license revoked in the county and are not acting as an agent for someone with a revoked license.

• Information on bidding is available by calling the county tax claim office at 825-1512 or visiting the office’s website, www.luzernecountytaxclaim.com (click on the judicial sale heading at the left of the main page).

To see a detailed description of some of the properties listed in the sale, visit www.times

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