August 27, 2013 9:59:33 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
More than 170 people participated in Lowndes County's annual delinquent tax auction Monday at Trotter Convention Center.
Potential bidders sat through a bidding process that lasted more than six hours. In their hands were lists of 2,160 parcels totaling more than $1.75 million in unpaid property taxes. They each waited for their turn to either accept, decline or pass on the chance to purchase liens with the hopes of earning a 1.5 percent monthly interest on them until the original owners pay the taxes back and reclaim their property.
The owners have two years to pay back those taxes plus interest, meaning up to 36 percent interest can be earned on a purchase. If owners do not pay, the tax sale buyer can claim the property, Lowndes County tax assessor Greg Andrews said.
Split evenly, the approximate $1.75 million divided by the 175 bidders would hypothetically mean each bidder spent $10,000 on the tax sales. If it takes one year before the original property owner pays what is owed plus interest, a bidder who spent $10,000 would regain that amount plus $1,800.
Andrews estimated about 96 percent of the owners pay back what they owed plus interest within the two-year window.
On Monday, Jeff Cook of Pell City, Ala., came to Columbus for the delinquent tax auction for a 10th straight year. Cook goes to three or four tax sales a year. He does homework on high-cost parcels but otherwise waits to decide whether one is worth his dollar until his number is called.
With an hour left in the auction, Cook said he'd said "yes" to purchasing liens for 13 parcels. He emphasized that many bidders don't want to end up with the property in two years, but it happens on occasion.
"It's a fool that comes into it to get property," he said. "It's more of an investment. I think this is the largest crowd they've had. The primary reason, I think, is interest has been down so low for so long."
A delinquency list was published in the Aug. 15 and 22 editions of The Dispatch. On the second printing, 2,264 parcels were listed as delinquent, but owners of about 100 of those paid theirs at the last minute on Friday, Andrews said.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.