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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 7, 200712:00 PM EST

Going once, going twice - sold at Foreclosure auction at Courthouse

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Fifteen minutes. That’s all the time it took to transfer title to 10 pieces of real estate property from the homeowner to the lender Tuesday morning in the lobby of the County Courthouse.

It’s the foreclosure auction and it has become an almost-daily event.

According to Foreclosure Clerk Lynea Parrella, Duval County ranks seventh in the nation in number of foreclosures with one out of 133 properties currently making its way through the court system.

About three dozen people showed up Tuesday morning, most representing lenders, but a few were speculators looking for a bargain.

In all 10 cases, the lenders were the successful bidders, which is usually the case, according to John Kearn who was there looking for investment property.

“Another wasted day,” he said. “As soon as the auction opens on a property, the plaintiffs show the rest of us bidders how high they’re willing to go. Unless we really want the property, out of courtesy we don’t raise the bid above the $100 minimum.”

He said he knows most of the regulars who come to the auction and, “we’re friendly before the auction starts, but once the gavel starts falling, we’re all business. Sometimes we really beat each other up.”

Kearn comes to the auction almost every day, he said, carrying a pocket full of cashier’s checks made payable to the Clerk of the Court.

He was there to bid on a brick home in zip code 32208 that he felt was worth no more than $69,000. The lender secured the title for $77,000, based on unpaid principal balance plus attorney’s fees to get the property to auction.

After the lender has the title, they can evict the residents in 10 days and begin the process of recovering all or part of their investment, said Parella.

Kearn said he has purchased about 200 properties at auctions in the past five years and it’s almost always a risk.

“The toughest part is buying the property virtually sight unseen. You can drive by and look, but you can’t do a walk-through. A lot of these properties are in neighborhoods where you don’t want to get out of your car.”

He added many of the properties have not been well-maintained. People will cut corners on repairs when they know they may eventually be in foreclosure, he said.

“You can really get burnt, especially in neighborhoods where they don’t like to get the proper permits. I’ve seen new roofs put on over rotten wood. Sometimes when you look up you see sky and when you look down, you see dirt.”

Real estate attorney William Nussbaum was also at the auction Tuesday representing a lender who was prepared to offer more than $60,000 to gain title to the property for sale. After the gavel fell, Nussbaum gave the clerk a cashier’s check for $100 and the next foreclosure was quickly up for bids.

He said he thinks there are so many properties going on the block in Duval County because for the past several years, a lot of people obtained balloon payment and adjustable-rate mortgages. He also pointed out that in some cases, certain federal regulations have forced lenders to make mortgages for people who weren’t really qualified.

All that being said, Nussbaum doesn’t think the number of properties being foreclosed is unusual.

“Florida is the fourth-most populous state in the union, so it’s really not surprising,” he said on his way out of the Courthouse.

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