Last updated: February 16. 2013 6:42PM - 978 Views

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WILKES-BARRE ‚?? Larksville resident Jennifer Malak came to Thursday‚??s Luzerne County back-tax auction hoping to buy an Edwardsville double-block she‚??s been eyeing.

The Hillside Avenue structure is solid but likely needs a new roof and other repairs, so she limited herself to $10,000.

Malak fidgeted in her folding chair in the packed courthouse rotunda because her chosen property was one of many that prompted bidding wars. The other interested parties dropped off when she offered the winning bid of $4,800.

Once the deed and other legal paperwork are processed, she will shovel out the debris and complete most of the repairs herself. If all goes as planned, she‚??ll turn a profit renting out both sides of the unit.

The prior owner paid $72,000 for the property in 2005, and it‚??s assessed at $88,000.

‚??I guess I made out good,‚?Ě she said. ‚??If you don‚??t take chances, you won‚??t know.‚?Ě

A total 109 of 260 properties sold, generating $854,533 in revenue that will be returned to taxing bodies, according to Northeast Revenue Service LLC, the county‚??s tax claim operator.

Bids started at under $1,000 for most properties because back taxes and other liens were cleared at the final-stage sale.

The potential for bargains attracted an unusually large crowd, with 289 registered bidders.

The highest bid was $220,000 for the former Dominic‚??s on the Lake restaurant at Harveys Lake, which was owned by Casty Realty and is assessed at $599,100. The property has racked up $40,300 in unpaid property taxes from 2008 through 2011.

After back-and-forth from multiple bidders, Moorestown, N.J. resident Justin Wock snatched up the property for $220,000. Wock is affiliated with Lake Road Enterprises, which is owed money for an outstanding mortgage on the property, officials said.

Wock said he doesn‚??t plan to go into the restaurant business.

‚??I just want to flip it,‚?Ě he said, referring to a quick turnaround resale.

Derrick Cottle, of Terrific Transport, bought the former Zedock‚??s Cleaner‚??s property on Hazle Avenue in Wilkes-Barre for a bid of $861. Iself Allah, who is affiliated with Terrific Transport, said the company plans to open a store in the tiny building.

Lodge building for $3K

Future Horizons Inc. of New York purchased the former Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 128 at 273 Stanton St. in Wilkes-Barre for $3,000 after competition from other bidders.

Company representative Alex Zbinovsky said he‚??d like to explore the possibility of renovating the 6,500-square-foot structure for an elderly day care center, though he stressed he must first meet with the city zoning office to discuss allowable uses for the building.

The property has been in limbo for years because the previous buyer in a 2008 back-tax auction also defaulted on property taxes.

‚??There are some issues. I haven‚??t seen the inside yet,‚?Ě said Zbinovsky.

Bidders aren‚??t permitted to examine interiors of properties until they assume ownership.

Wyoming resident Lou Burkhardt said he‚??s still fixing up a single-family home he purchased at a back-tax auction a year ago. His plans to pick up another one at Thursday‚??s auction fizzled when the property was pulled after a concern all lien holders weren‚??t properly notified.

The increased popularity of back-tax auctions has boosted purchase prices of the most attractive properties, which could reduce or erase profits for buyers who must rely on outside contractors, Burkhardt said.

‚??I can do most of the work myself, but I don‚??t know how long these sales will be worthwhile for people who don‚??t,‚?Ě he said.

Competition for house

Thursday‚??s sale of a Hazleton property owned by James and Michele Lee was monumental because the couple owed $170,337 in taxes from 1994 through 2011.

Multiple bankruptcy filings kept the stately brick home out of tax sales until Northeast Revenue was hired by the county in 2010 and aggressively pushed for its auction listing.

Several bidders battled for the property, which ultimately went to Hazle Township resident Carmen Clement for $55,000. A representative of the buyer said the property will be ‚??fixed up and put back on the tax rolls.‚?Ě

A 5-acre catch basin in the Wilkes-Barre Township Commons shopping center anchored by Target was removed because of concerns an unknowing buyer or the county would end up with the liability, said Northeast Revenue owner John Rodgers.

The 151 properties that didn‚??t sell Thursday remain in a repository, where they continue to accrue taxes that aren‚??t paid, unless someone submits a purchase offer accepted by taxing bodies.

What‚??s next

‚?Ę Another free-and-clear auction will be held Nov. 7 for roughly 170 properties pulled from Thursday‚??s sale. The county‚??s tax claim operator removed the properties to ensure all lien holders are properly notified.

‚?Ę The county also will hold a first-stage auction Sept. 20, where starting bid amounts are based on the amount of taxes owed.

‚?Ę Call 825-1512 or visit www.luzernecountytaxclaim.com for more information on these sales.

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