STANISLAUS COUNTY -- After more than five years dodging taxes, a record number of Stanislaus County properties will be auctioned off to the highest bidder Wednesday.
"I don't like to throw people out of a house," assured Gordon Ford, the county's tax collector. "But we come to the point there's no other option."
Landowners who haven't paid their property taxes for five years still can save their homes by paying up before 5 p.m. today. After that, it's too late.
The auction will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
As of Monday afternoon, 46 properties were on the auction list. Ford expects at least several landowners will scrape up the cash they need by today's deadline, but he expects to have to sell 35 to 40 of those delinquent properties.
Only 19 properties went to auction last year, and most years far fewer than that have been sold.
"These have been tough times," Ford said, noting how "the economy fell apart" in 2007. Most of the owners of properties now facing tax auctions stopped paying their taxes about then.
Few people live on those parcels. Many are empty lots or vacant rural land. Some are vandalized, fire-damaged or badly neglected old houses that aren't safe to occupy.
But there are a couple of gems in the mix, and they could sell for a bargain. That's because the minimum bid is set at what's owed in back taxes.
Example: A two-story office building on Newman's Main Street owes $22,400 in taxes, but it's been listed for sale at $255,000. That so-called Parker-Rexall building, constructed in 1920, was restored recently. It has a retail shop downstairs and four apartments upstairs.
There's also a great-looking home on Modesto's Bella Tuscany Drive. It owes $33,100 in back taxes, but its assessed value is $283,000.
If that home or others end up selling for more than the government is owed in taxes, the property owners will be given the excess proceeds.
Many properties, however, may not be worth enough to cover their tax debts.
The biggest item on this year's tax auction list is a 52-acre parcel in what was supposed to be a luxury home community in the hills above Patterson. That Diablo Grande Legends project was foreclosed on in 2009, and the bank that got stuck with the land went belly up.
That parcel owes $555,700 in back property taxes, plus thousands in additional fees owed to the Western Hills Water District. The land's assessed value, however, is only $316,011.
"It has in some people's mind a lot more value than that," Ford said. "We have a party interested in it."
But bidders beware: These properties do not come with warranties.
"I really fear people are going to buy something they haven't even seen just because they think it's a good price," Ford said. He advised only well-informed bidders to participate.
Purchasing these properties requires cash, a cashier's check or an official check for at least the minimum bid amount. The auction will be in the basement chamber at 1010 Tenth St., Modesto. Bidder registration starts at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, and the auction starts at 10 a.m.
The final list of which properties will be sold will be posted online this evening. For details about those properties, photos and bidding information, go to: www.stancounty.com/tr-tax/auction.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.
Click on image below for full PDF of Stanislaus County properties