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Thoughts, advice for upcoming Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction

Chances are that if you're reading this you are at least interested in buying one of the nearly 20,000 properties that will be up for grabs at the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction that begins this weekend.

Congrats, you are about to embark on a business venture that comes with both high risk and high reward. Allow me to offer some insight into the the land of buying a house in Detroit for as little as $500. Please keep in mind that while I have purchased a handful of properties through Wayne County's tax foreclosure auctions over the last two years, I am not an attorney. With that said, please take my advice with a grain of salt and think about the following:

- Contact an attorney. You will need help figuring out exactly what your rights and obligations are as a new property owner, what type of deed you have, etc.
- Go to the place you're looking at during the night to make sure you are still comfortable there.
- Double check the property boundaries. I have literally accidentally bought a building when I thought I was buying a vacant lot because I didn't realize where the property lines were located.
- Do not go inside the property until you have the deed. If it's abandoned and wide open I doubt anyone will make a fuss if you secure it, but realize it's not yours until you have the deed.
- Go into the auction with a couple of places you would like to buy so if one doesn't work out you have a backup.
- If it's your first time, just buy one. Remember you are getting what you pay for. A house that sells for as little as $500 also means it is a huge project that will more than likely cost tens of thousands of dollars to make it a comfortable home.
- Expect to do things like replace the roof, rewire the electrical, install a new furnace, etc. If someone hasn't been able to pay the taxes for years that means they have been letting the maintenance slide for much longer.
- Wayne County can nix the sale for any reason until you have the deed.
- When you have the deed, go knock on the door with a friend in the middle of the day. If someone answers the door be friendly and calmly explain who you are and your intentions for the property. Hope for a reasonable person who will work with you.
- If someone is living there that means the place is still their home even if you are the new property owner. You can't go inside unless they give you permission. If they are uncooperative, then you should speak to an attorney about the eviction process. This is a foreclosure so the eviction process will take longer.
- Clean up the property as soon as possible after taking possession. This is a great way to casually meet your new neighbors.
- Contact the local police station and let them know that you bought the place and your plans for it.
- Contact the Detroit Water & Sewerage Dept to have the water turned on, bill straightened out, etc. Because the property was foreclosed on, you are not liable for previous water bills prior to the foreclosure.
- You will have to pay the 2012 taxes on the property by the end of the year. This auction only wipes out the taxes prior to this year.
- Become a constant presence at the house. Check it multiple times a day if you can, even if it's just to walk through and make sure everything is fine. Make sure you check it at different times so you avoid a pattern.

Also realize that you are not the first person to do this. Ask around to family, co-workers, friends and friends of friends for advice or information.

For specifics on a property, I like to use Zillow.com to get a rough idea about things like square footage and taxes. WhyDontWeOwnThis.com provides a bevy of great information about the auction properties, including its easy-to-use mapping system. Its comments feed is a great place to learn more, too.

There are also a few local blogs that are helpful. "A $500 House" is about a young man who bought his new home at an earlier auction. "Redemption in Corktown" shows what it takes to bring a forlorn foreclosure back to life.

Writer: Jon Zemke
Source: Jon Zemke's experience

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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