Commissioners urge caution for property buyers

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis City Commission is urging citizens to be more careful when purchasing property in tax sales.

The commission heard three requests for waivers of demolition and weed cutting liens on properties purchased in a March state tax sale. That brings the total to half a dozen such requests in the last two months.

In each instance, citizens have said they purchased land at the sale, and later discovered weed cutting and demolition liens existed on the properties — always in an amount greater than the property’s price tag at the auction.

The city has forgiven some, and tabled others with the advice to seek legal counsel.

“It’s a real problem, because the city’s got money in this,” Mayor Gayla Brumfield said. “People should be aware when they buy property. The liens are there for a lot more than the property is worth.”

Brumfield and Commissioner Len Vohs said there has to be a sense of “buyer beware” when it comes to buying properties at state tax sales. City Manager Joe Thomas said the city is not involved in these sales, but noted that announcements are made before the sale that purchasers are responsible for any outstanding liens on properties.

Easier said than done, said Ken Thompson, who bought property on 111 Jones Street for $800, and was later informed of liens for $20,167. Thompson said he is dyslexic, so he specifically sought help from an employee at the Curry County Courthouse.

“I did do the research,” Thompson said. “We looked it up; there were no liens found.”

In a previous instance, a buyer found no liens on the property’s address, but later discovered the property had liens listed under an address on its intersecting street. In another, a buyer believed she was buying a house on North Lea Street, but later found out she purchased an empty lot on South Lea Street.

Vohs said he has sympathy for people, but there’s a risk in buying property at tax auctions. Vohs said he falls asleep in front of the TV more times that he’d like to admit, and he usually wakes up to an infomercial about making money through property auctions.

“There’s a right way and a wrong way,” Vohs said. “You pay $800 for a property, and if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said he agreed with Vohs, but didn’t question Thompson’s motives.

“111 Jones Street is in my district,” Sandoval said, “and $800 for that lot is not a get-rich-quick scheme.”

Vohs said he’s fearful the city is placing itself in a position where they’ll waive liens for people who knew what they were getting into but knew the city’s previous forgiveness of others.

“A lot of people seem to be duped,” Vohs said, “but I don’t want to open this can of worms to a shifty character.”

Hal Greig, an attorney for the city, said liens are filed at the county clerk’s office, and it’s probably worth paying a title company roughly $100 to avoid the risk of liens worth thousands.

The city waived liens for Thompson and Beulah Mattingly for properties, and accepted payments of $500 from Thompson and roughly $1,500 from Mattingly for two other properties.