Sheriff sale delivers; properties go for garage sale prices
Editors note: This is a first person account of attending the annual tax sale in Barton County.
Tuesday morning, Oct. 10, the annual Barton County tax sale took place at the public meeting room at the Barton County Courthouse. Each year, property owners who have failed to pay their property taxes are given notice that if they fail to pay by a particular date, the properties will be auctioned to the highest bidder at the annual Barton County tax sale.
Both Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir and County Commissioner Ken Schremmer presided over the auction. Schremmer, as many know, is a professional auctioneer when he isn’t performing his public duties.
I’m not a stranger to auctions, and that part of my mind that urges me to live large was nagging at me to go and watch. Back in the day, I attended a number of them. I bid on my fair share, and managed to accumulate a number of homes. Then, I poured buckets of elbow grease and hard-earned cash into them and turned around and rented them. It helped pay the bills while my kids were young and I was going through college. Auctions can be heady things, and I remember the excitement of the moment when the auctioneer is working on a run, and you’re caught up in the process. It’s been several years since I’ve been to one, my landlording days now long in the past. I wondered if it would feel the same, years later. Curiosity got the best of me, so I put my reporter hat on and walked the block in the early October bluster.
Houses on the block
When I arrived, the sale was already underway. Every seat was taken, but there was room to crowd my way into the back of the room and stand. With less than 20 lots to sell, I banked on not having to stand for long. I made a point of not registering. You can’t bid if you don’t register.
Most of the time, auctions proceed at a pretty fast clip, and Tuesday morning was no exception. While the room was filled with a complete spectrum of people from the area, one thing they all had in common was an interest in learning how low, or how high, these parcels of real estate would go for.
From the photos included with the descriptions, projected on a screen at the end of the room, it was clear most had been neglected at best and abandoned at worse. When I arrived as a small house at 2219 Monroe Street was offered. The bidding started at $100, and it appeared the bidding was really between two, maybe three people. Two guys sitting next to each other were both bidding, and it was hard to tell if they were for or against each other.
“Are you two bidding together,” Bellendir asked. They were . “Only one of you bid, you’re confusing the hell out of me, and that’s easy to do at my age.”
“And at my age it’s even worse,” auctioneer Kenny Schremmer agreed.
“Between the two of us we might figure this out,” Bellendir added.
The bidding started at $100, and in the course of less than 3 minutes, it was sold for $6,000.
Land in the country
There were also odd little lots, both in and out of town. For some, non-existent addresses were included, Sheriff Brian Bellendir explained, for the purpose of the auction only. It would be up to the purchaser to survey the lot and confirm the boundaries, the county accepting no responsibility for any assumptions purchasers might make. He ran through this explanation as he opened the bidding on 0 SW 9th Street.
“You’re buying as is, where is. Once again it’s not a real address so you’re going to have to figure it out on the legal description as to what the real address is,” he said.
One bidder pipes up,
“Hey, the measurements are right on it, right?”
“That is how it is legally recorded,” Bellendir starts. “I’m not guarantee anything because that would have to be surveyed… that is what we have it recorded in the plat at the Registrar of Deeds office as to what that is. Once again, we’re expressing no warranty, and no guarantees on any of this. If there is a problem with the survey on it, not our fault.”
“You’ve got to take some kind of blame buddy,” the bidder said.
“No, no, no,” Bellendir said. “I’m a politician, I’m elected…” and the room bursts out in laughter.
“You gave me a hard time, you ought to open that up for $20. Give me $20 for it…”
“I got you,” he said. And the bidding began.
The lot was bid up to $550, and then Schremmer seemingly lost track, jumping into the thousands, prompting the crowd to murmur and correct. Whether by design or truly a mistake, I sympathized with Schremmer. Bidding up the property in $10 increments was beginning to feel tedious. Bellendir got it back on track. The lot ultimately sold for $750.
Lots in the city
City lots have true addresses, but in the case of lots with mobile homes on them, like the one at 617 3rd Street, Bellendir shed some light on the purchase.
“I’m selling you the lot, but not necessarily the mobile home. “You may inherit that, but I cannot guarantee that it’s going to stay on the property.”
The person owning the mobile home could possibly come back and move it to another lot.
“Fat chance,” I thought to myself. Moving an old mobile home isn’t an easy task. Plus, most cities no longer allow mobile homes to be placed inside the city limits, so private land or an unincorporated park are the only other likely scenarios. If it hadn’t already been moved by the date of the sale, it likely wasn’t going anywhere.
Bidding opened at $500. It ran up to $950 in less than a minute, and it was sold.
A little piece of history
I have to admit, when 2103 Forest St., located at the corner of Forest and Williams Streets was offered, I was regretting my decision not to register. The lot is where the once proud Great Bend Opera House stood, before it was demolished in 2015 after years of neglect leading up to its condemnation. I was surprised to see it offered, actually, because I was under the impression one of the nearby property owners was interested in it, if for nothing else than to pave for parking. Schremmer opened at $200. It quickly went down to $100. Still not low enough. It finally got a nod at $50. Then $55, $60…$100. On up to $300, where it finally stopped.
See you next year
So it went, with every few minutes another lot on the block, and most selling for less than $1,000. I imagined the stories every bidder there may have had, from those looking for rental properties, to those looking for something to fix and flip, and in the case of the lots of land west of town, perhaps something to hold for later. Two women, stroller-aged children in tow, had bid on one of the last properties, hanging in until the last bid, then bowing out. I asked them if they had been to an auction like that before. It turns out, they had.
“Last year, we bought a lot for $13,” one of the women said. I asked her what she did with it. She hadn’t done a thing with it. “I’ll probably just keep mowing it,” she said.
Another man I talked to had bought two lots. He beamed as he explained he planned to put a building on one of them.
Regardless of the reasons, their participation ensure the county can recoup the previous year’s back taxes and any uncollected fees or fines accumulated on the properties. As the last property sold and successful bidders began moving into line to pay, Bellendir closed the sale, “See you next year.”