By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County's first land auction for unpaid taxes in several years brought in less than $70,000 on Thursday.
But the auction gave some residents a chance to buy land for recreational uses or to grow their properties on the cheap.
More than a dozen people attended the auction held on the courthouse steps in downtown Front Royal. Kimberly Athey served as the special commissioner in charge of the auction. Tom Eshelman, a licensed auctioneer, led the proceedings. Athey said the county had not held an auction since February 2009.
A winning bidder bought a small piece of land in the Shenandoah Shores community and said she intends to use the property as a launching point for small recreational watercraft on the Shenandoah River.
Gretchen Devins bid the highest for a piece of land that adjoins her home in the Shenandoah Shores Sanitary District. The land sold at auction for $6,400. The previous owner owed more than $4,629 in taxes dating back to the late 1990s, according to county records. Devins said she plans to preserve the land as open space.
The county sold 11 properties for prices that ranged from $500 to $54,000. The owner of the most expensive property to sell at the auction also owed the county approximately $14,000 in real estate taxes over many years, Athey said after the event. County tax records show the property in the Massanutten View Subdivision and last owned by John T. Munson et ux had been in arrears 2006.
But winning bidders did not have to pay the back taxes, Eshelman explained. Winners only need to be responsible for paying property taxes owed for this and future years.
County property tax records show that one property in Shenandoah Farms, listed as owned by William Anderson et al, is in arrears for $5,257 -- a total accumulated since the late 1990s. The property sold at the auction for $500.
County Administrator Douglas Stanley has said the tax sale serves as a last resort to recoup revenue owed by the property owners.
Athey said after the event that the auction went well. She indicated that the county may likely hold another auction in the next few months.
Eshelman explained to members of the crowd that they would need to pay a bidder's deposit of 10 percent of the winning bid at the auction. The process to fully acquire the land may not conclude until January, Eshelman said, as the court must schedule a time to deal with the conveyance of the properties by special warranty deed.
Eshelman warned that property is sold as is.
"Hopefully you've done your due diligence on those properties and you know what you're getting yourself into or what you might get yourself into," Eshelman said.
The auctioneer noted that three properties have adjoining lots. Bidders didn't request that he auction the adjoining properties separately.
At one point in the auction, when a property failed to attract much attention from bidders, Eshelman joked "what is this -- a swamp?"
Another property attracted several bidders but the competition narrowed to two people.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org