An Expensive, Worthless, Empty Lot

Crack! The gavel banged on the county supervisor’s desk.

“Lot number 16. Sold for $10,200 to the man in the striped shirt!”

I was not the man in the striped shirt, and glad of it. I had made another trip to El Dorado County to attend their annual tax sale. Properties owned by taxpayers who failed to make the required annual installments for periods of longer than five to seven years lose their homes and investments to the highest bidder.

At the beginning of the proceedings, the county tax collector goes over the rules, reads the mandatory legalese required by state law, and utters the caution of “caveat emptor” to the packed room of bidders. Payment is immediate, in cash or negotiable paper, and there are no refunds, no exchanges. The room was so full, I had to stand out in the adjacent hallway, six people deep.

Some year very soon I may stop going altogether. It’s a lot of work to do the research, even on those few occasions when I can do some of the work online at home. Traveling from property to property across an entire county can be time-consuming and tiring — not to mention a bit confusing trying to find every unmarked piece of land. Worse yet is that the auctions have become a circus with every moron within 25 miles in attendance.

This isn’t rocket science, guys. But you gotta spend the time to do your homework.

Remember the guy in the striped shirt? The one who purchased lot number 16 for $10,200? The corresponding parcel number was 026-040-06-100, a lot just a few hundred yards from the gorgeous, near-pristine Lake Tahoe.

Sounds great!

Imagine his surprise when he found out that the piece of land he purchased for $10,200 was worthless — a one-foot by 20-something-foot strip of dirt worth a whopping $36. My guess was that he misread the assessor’s maps and assumed he was bidding on a neighboring parcel, one likely 6,000 to 10,000 square feet in size.


Update (2012)

During a website revamp in late 2012, I re-researched this parcel to see if there had been any additional activity or transfers. I was surprised to find that the lot had been advertised in local newspapers as having gone back up for auction in both November 2004 and July 2012.

Since California Revenue and Taxation Code requires that the property be in default for a minimum of five years before the county is permitted to auction it off, and the legal filings indicated the same assessee name in both notices, it is almost certain that “striped shirt” realized his mistake prior to losing his striped shirt and backed out of paying the full $10,200 bid.

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