WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Jaclyn Cooper got a knock on the door earlier this month, a stranger with papers showing he had just bought the family’s home in a tax foreclosure auction. The Coopers were stunned and bewildered because they had just paid their back taxes, and had the receipt to prove it.
“He said, ‘well I just bought this house in auction, and I am going to take over ownership on Wednesday,’” Jaclyn recalled.
Jaclyn and her husband James would learn, when Erie County held its annual tax foreclosure sale October 13, their address was on the auction block, and sold for $19,000 to cover the back property taxes. What’s worse, it was no mistake.
The future was looking dim for the couple and their two small children, facing the prospect of vacating their home, and moving all of their belongings.
“I cried, and because it was Veterans Day and we could not get ahold of anybody, I did not sleep the whole weekend,” the West Seneca mom said. “I was having panic attacks. It was terrible.”
When Jackie and James did make it to the tax office in the Rath Building, county officials confirmed they still owned their house. They would eventually learn the buyer who thought he got their home for $19,000–a steal–actually bought a 30’ wide vacant lot with the same address, not such a good deal.
The lot? A driveway separating the Cooper’s house from the property next door. Somehow, a 30’ section of property abutting the Cooper’s home was carved out into a separate parcel, but with the same address on Clinton Street.
Joseph Maciejewski, Erie County’s Director of Real Property Tax Services, confirmed the address aberration, “I am aware that both the 30’ vacant lot, which is separately described, and the home, share the same address.”
Maciejewski said the address was assigned by the Town of West Seneca, not Erie County, and now the buyer who thought he got a house for $19,000 has a tough decision. He paid a non-refundable deposit of $3,800 dollars for the driveway, and can own it by paying off the balance, or walk away.
“You are dealing with foreclosure, and it is buyer beware–you assume whatever you bid on, you know what you are bidding on,” said a sympathetic Maciejewski.
The driveway is hardly worth $19,000 but Maciejewski insists, the $3,800 deposit the buyer put down now belongs to Erie County—an expensive lesson that every deal at a tax foreclosure sale is not a bargain.