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He thought he snagged a villa for $9,100. He got a foot-wide strip of land.

Kerville Holness thought he’d done a great job snapping up a $177,000 Tamarac villa for only $9,100.

But that’s not what he actually bought during a Broward online auction of properties that had defaulted on their taxes.

He got a 1-foot-wide, 100-foot-long strip of land on Northwest 100th Way — valued at $50.

It starts at the curb where two mailboxes have been installed, goes under the wall separating the garages of two adjoining Spring Lake villas, then extends out to the back of the lot.

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And officials say he’s stuck with the deal.

So what can Holness do now? Make the people living there get their mailboxes off his grass? Remove the water meters that are in his ground? Maybe try to charge rent to both villas for the joint wall and roof that sit on his land?

“If I’m vindictive enough, I can cut right through the garage wall and the home to get to my air space, but what use would that be to me?” Holness said.

County tax auctions put small investors at a disadvantage

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What he wants is for the county to void the deal and give him his money back.

“It’s deception,” said Holness, a first-time auction bidder from Tamarac. “There was no demarcation to show you it’s just a line going through [the villa duplex], even though they have the tools to show that.”

Holness said that property appraiser pictures linked to the auction site showed the villa as being the parcel he was bidding on.

But the appraiser’s site and information on the county’s tax site also show the negligible value of the property, that there is no building value, that the land takes up only 100 square feet and that the property is one-foot wide.

Officials say state law does not allow the refund Holness is seeking.

The message from county officials and real estate experts is that auction participants need to do their homework and make sure they’ve checked for all possible problems a property might have.

“He may go to court and find some error in the sale procedure,” said Gary Singer, a real estate attorney who writes a weekly column for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Generally speaking, he bought what he was supposed to have bought.”

How did this happen?

Officials aren’t sure why the strip was never attached to either of the adjoining properties, but instead remained in possession of the developer, GHO Tamarac II. It could have been overlooked. After the company dissolved, taxes stopped being paid on the property, leading to the March auction.

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Holness said the property shouldn’t have been put up for sale. County memos he obtained from last summer show the county’s Records, Taxes and Treasury Division had raised that question with the appraiser’s office because of the parcel’s odd location under two homesteaded properties. But tax division director Tom Kennedy said if the property is on the tax rolls, it must be auctioned.

One memo suggested the adjacent villa owners would have the most interest, but neither bid on the property.

One of the owners, Tina DeFeo, bought her villa in April, after the auction.

“It makes no sense,” DeFeo said. “I don’t know how you buy a strip of grass like that.”

DeFeo said she’ll check with the title insurance company to see why the issue wasn’t flagged, but she said she wouldn’t be paying any money to Holness.

“If we have to move our mailbox, we’ll move our mailbox,” she said.

Richard Sherman, deputy general counsel for the appraiser’s office, said tiny parcels like the one Holness bought aren’t common, but do happen. State law requires the appraiser’s office to put a value on every property, he said.

Holness could try to work out a deal with one of the villa owners to take ownership of the property, but it’s not likely he would recoup everything he spent, Singer said. Any chance of collecting any type of rent or fee from the current villa owners could be hurt if no such payments were required by the previous owner, Singer said.

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Buyer beware

Bottom line: Taking part in the county tax deed auctions is a risky venture.

The county put a new warning Thursday on top of the online auction site, telling investors to “do your research” and that “Tax Deed sales are not for the uninformed.” The county doesn’t guarantee any of the properties, which are sold as-is.

While the notice is new, tax officials say the same information was already in six other places on the site in instructions to potential bidders.

Holness was one of four bidders on the Tamarac parcel. He beat out Antoine Rutherford of Miramar by $100.

But Rutherford, another first-time bidder who also thought he was bidding on a villa, also ended up buying something he didn’t want.

Alleged fraud scheme at Broward tax office grows to $2.4 million

In the March auction, he paid $6,100 for a vacant Lauderhill parcel that he saw as having development potential. But the land he bought was for one of 30 condo units that used to be on the property. Rutherford said the building was demolished after a fire nine years ago. If the association ever sells the property, he could see some return, but he has no control over that.

Will he be bidding again in the future?

“No, that’s it,” Rutherford said. “If I do do it, I’ll have to go to the place and analyze it myself.”

Singer said that’s a good idea.

“Any kind of clerk’s auction is buyer beware to the max,” he said.


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