August 26th, 2015

krazy koati

Life used to be so hard

The tax auction day arrived. Per my father's advice we dressed up, like we do for professional activities. We drove to the Lansing Center. The parking attendant let us in free, on the grounds that people going to the tax auction would get comped anyway. We had brought bagels. It turned out they provided bagels and bearclaws and coffee and tea and such, though that all disappeared shortly after the start of the auction. Should have realized they'd be providing breakfast to people who brought thousand-dollar certified checks just to get a bidder number. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but the atmosphere was more casual, more jovial than usual. We realized: most everyone here goes to these all the time. They speak the language of profiting off others' misery. Well, that's not fair. The misery happened when the houses were seized, and in the time leading up to that. This ... well, it's people hoping to profit from the county's need to get these houses off its hands.

There was some pleasant chatting around as things started. The auctioneer playfully started the bidding at a dollar for someone's lost iPhone. They reviewed the rules. One special note: one of Lansing's oldest houses, going back near 150 years, was up for auction and the State Journal wanted to interview whoever won it. The house had drawn some attention and a lot of reviews about the fantastic spiral staircase amidst an otherwise-dilapidated home. A real estate agent, who took bunny_hugger to be one of her kind, told us that in her opinion the house could not be worth it: you might get the house for $15,000, but it would be a hundred thousand in repairs to make it livable. And with the historic-covenant and owner-occupancy covenants you couldn't just tear it down and put in a new house, nor could you rent it to people to make back the cost of these renovations.

A lot of properties didn't sell. For some that's understandable. One house had somehow managed to get a tax bill of over $40,000 on a property assessed at $30,000. The treasurer just shook his head and said he didn't know how that happened. For others the lack of a bid was weird; they seemed fine enough and the starting bids (the unpaid taxes, plus some auction charges) weren't generally high. They just wouldn't move.

One guy a couple rows behind us kept raising his hand at the start to ask complicated and unfocused questions. But he was also genial, cheery, fun. When he finally won a house he beamed with pride, and everyone applauded. It's odd how some people can just be characters, even in a routine process like bidding on foreclosed houses.

Then came the historic home. It was the auction right before ``ours''. There was a lot of attention on this bid. A couple sitting in the row next to us put in a couple bids, but couldn't be coaxed into going past, I think, $14,000. Something low like that. The house, for all its celebrity, didn't get a bidding war started. Few houses did. I had expected this if any would. The historic home went to the head of Preservation Lansing, a group that does just what it says on the label. In his interview he said he figured to move from his current home --- an historic house saved from foreclosure and repaired --- and repair and work on this one for something like five years before selling it and moving to the next. Going merely by reputation, it's hard to figure there was a person better fitted to taking over a run-down but historic building like that.

And then came ``our'' home. Given how many houses didn't move at all, or got just a couple bids, we were hopeful.

Within seconds it spiralled past our maximum. After we were out the bidding kept on going. The price rose to, I think, $17,000, above the assessed value of the property. It was one of the few bidding wars to break out. It was one of two houses to go for above the assessment. (Which is about half the ``real'' value, but still.) It was won by the couple who'd been sitting in our row. They smiled and congratulated each other and then went off. We assumed it was for paperwork and to put together the ten percent down payment required by the end of the day.

There weren't many houses left, so we stuck it through. We hadn't researched or considered any other houses, so we wouldn't bid, but we felt like seeing the end. And this let us meet that real estate agent and hear a little shop talk. And we went home, not sure what to feel about this.

On the one hand, we were relieved of the responsibility for cleaning up and repairing and paying for this house. On the other hand, we were relieved of the opportunity for cleaning up and repairing and renting out or selling this house. It's hard to picture a better house for learning how to flip homes; it had a couple problems but nothing serious, nothing that felt intimidatingly beyond our abilities.

Also, who knows what these new neighbors will be like?

We reasoned that they were probably looking for a home to own, though, rather than something to be landlords, possibly slumlords, of. They had just bid on a house with an owner-occupancy covenant. That's not a guarantee that they wanted to live in the house they purchased, if you imagine it possible that people might rent a house without complying with legal requirements for registration and inspection and such. But it's suggestive. Also they left the minute they had a house, rather than pick up several promising properties. Of course they might have just been starting, or just trying out one place.

The signs since the auction have been positive. The past week they've been at work fixing the house --- measuring the windows, scraping paint off the siding, tearing out entirely the worn-our porch. These are things we'd have done, certainly. But they're not essential; the house would be livable, or rentable, without that being done. The implication seems to be they're making the house as good as it can be, for a reasonable budget. That's promising. We hope they don't remember us as that couple sitting in the row who bid a couple times, driving their price up a couple thousand dollars. We would rather be good neighbors.

Trivia: The Gemini Static Test Article used for altitude chamber tests, designated Gemini 3A, was upgraded to being spaceworthy for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, and re-designated the MOL 1 Gemini capsule. Source: Gemini: Steps To The Moon, David J Shayler.

Currently Reading: Discord: The Story Of Noise, Mike Goldsmith.

PS: Who Was Jonas Moore? and the answer is, a mathematics-history footnote.