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Tax sale set for July 2

It has been months in the making and has consumed numerous man hours by officials and employees in several Lawrence County offices.

The first of three tax sales — auctions, to dispose of property on which delinquent taxes are owed — will be 10 a.m. July 2 at the Lawrence County Courthouse. A second sale will be July 16.

Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Kevin Waldo said the county started out with approximately 271 parcels against which legal action was taken. Of those, approximately 70 have been removed from the sale list, either because the property owner paid the owed taxes and court costs or because the cases were dismissed, leaving roughly 200 that will be offered July 2.

Lawrence County Treasurer Stephen Dale Burcham said the list of real estate amounts to approximately $800,000. All properties are at least two years delinquent before they can be considered for this kind of action.

“Most of them are 5-7 years old but we have one that is older than that,” Burcham said.

Burcham said one person whose property was on the original list of delinquent real estate recently came to his office and paid $34,000 in back taxes on one parcel of property.

“He said he thought that the taxes were being escrowed by the mortgage lender,” Burcham said. “Although we were sending him tax bills, that was the excuse that was given.” Burcham said most who have come in and paid to prevent the auction of their property give no excuse at all.

Waldo said those people whose properties are on the list can still avoid the sale by coming to the courthouse and paying not only the back taxes but also the $250 court cost that was assessed on each parcel.

The property not sold at the first two auctions will be offered at a third sale. The date for it has not been set.

Ohio law clearly favors property owners in matters such as this and allows numerous opportunities for property owners to keep their land, provided they settle the tax debt.

Even after the tax sale, delinquent property owners have until the entry of confirmation is officially filed to redeem their property.

“There is no magic number when that will be,” Waldo said. “Generally it’s about a week after the sale date.”

And while it doesn’t happen often, Lawrence Countians can and have waited until what can best be described as the 13th hour to wipe away their tax debt and keep their land.

“It has happened at least twice that I know of,” Waldo said. “I’ve been in the prosecutor’s office since 1986 and I know it’s happened twice since then, maybe more.”

Those who purchase land that is later reclaimed by the original owner is refunded their bid money.

Waldo has one piece of advice for prospective bidders who may have thoughts about making that proverbial real estate killing: Do your homework.

Liens survive the sale, meaning any lien or title that was there before the auction will be there afterward and thereby belongs to that new owner, along with the house and land. The tax sale is what is known in legal circles as an “in rem” action, meaning only the land is sold.

“This sale is to eradicate the tax lien,” Waldo said. “Any kind of judgment survives the sale.”

And there’s another potential problem, too. The property might look like a fantastic buy on paper, but wind up being useless once the buyer considers its location.

“They can be under water, they can be on the pinnacle of a hill with no access,” Waldo said.

He strongly recommended that prospective buyers pay for a professional title search well ahead of the sale.

“Don’t wait until the last second,” Waldo said.