Reporting David Highfield
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Some people in our area actually make a living buying homes at sheriff’s sales and then renting them out or re-selling them.
Sounds interesting? KDKA went along to a sale to see what it’s really like.
Sheriff’s sales have been covered before — but never quite like this where the winning bid is shown, with the ability to go inside the homes to judge what kind of deal the buyers made.
And while KDKA was at a sale, something exciting happened.
People were bidding on homes at a sheriff’s sale in Allegheny County.
“$25,000 … $30,000 … $35,000,” bidders said.
It happens every month in the Gold Room of the court house.
“It’s named the Gold Room because you’re mining for some gold – ha,” buyer Burt Kuhn said.
One Sewickley house up for auction is no joke, with seven bedrooms and five bathrooms.
Prudential Preferred Realty listed it at nearly $3 million.
The bidding started low, but it eventually sold for $660,000.
Aaron Chaney is a regular at sheriff’s sales and he agreed to take KDKA to one of the homes he just bought, a townhouse in Wilkinsburg.
“We’re missing the toilet and the vanity,” Chaney said.
“You got cobwebs all over you,” he said.
Chaney paid $2,400 for the house and fixed it up.
He thinks the company he works for, Penn-Pioneer Enterprises, can sell it for around $20,000.
“I used to be a public school teacher and I enjoyed that,” Chaney said. “But this is more creative in some ways and I enjoy it.”
Is there a little bit of a high for Chaney when he bids?
“Of course. Yes,” he says.
There’s definitely competition at the sale too.
Some people come armed with lists of properties they’re interested in — Sgt. Richard Fersch with the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office presides.
“I don’t recommend it,” Fersch said. “It’s a very dangerous way of doing business.”
One reason why, is that normally people can’t get inside the homes.
“A lot of times you have to buy it sight unseen from the outside,” Kuhn said.
And while the home Kuhn just bought in Penn Hills is vacant, not all are, and that could leave some people in an uncomfortable position.
“I don’t know you can face somebody saying, ‘hey look, I just bought your house – you need to get out,’” Kuhn said.
Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem for Mark Fichtner from Penn-Pioneer when he bought a grand, old home in Wilkinsburg.
It’s been vacant for years – but it has some impressive features.
“The glass in there is just breathtaking,” Fichtner said. “This dining room has the columns.”
Still, the house will need a lot of work.
He got it at sheriff’s sale for $6,600 and after renovations; he says it’s been appraised at $330,000.
“This is probably the best deal that we’ve gotten in 25 years that I’ve been in the business,” Fichtner said.
Buyer beware though, there’s a lot of liens and judgments against many of these properties.
There’s no way to know without a title search.
The $3 million Sewickley home that sold for $660,000 seemed like a great deal – but was it?
It was a foreclosure brought about on a second mortgage and the new buyer becomes responsible for the first mortgage.
But if the house is worth $3 million, even after a buyer pays $660,000 and the $1.2 million mortgage – there’s still the potential to make more than $1 million in profit.
Even though it doesn’t apply in that case, there is one more thing worth mentioning.
If someone buys a home that was up for sale because of unpaid taxes and there’s someone living in there — that owner has the right to buy the house back for nine months.
If they come up with the amount that was paid, plus 10 percent, they get it back – so the deal might be up in the air for nine months.
Sales are listed in the newspaper beforehand, so buyers have to do their homework. But note that many times, things get postponed.