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Bidder and the sweet: Property buyer gets his money back

Auction » Assessor’s error lets one purchaser off, but the other has to live with his “victory.”

By Mike Gorrell

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jul 17 2014 10:39 am • Last Updated Jul 19 2014 12:35 pm

For the Salt Lake County Council to undo a property sale requires a persuasive argument from a bidder with buyer’s remorse.

Ayyoob Abbaszadeh had one.

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Rob Walton did not.

After the county’s May sale of properties with delinquent property taxes, Abbaszadeh thought he’d landed a great deal on a parcel in Emigration Canyon’s Pinecrest area.

The 58-year-old man paid $53,500 (plus $16,000 in delinquent taxes) for the acre — listed on the county assessor’s records as being worth $185,400 — where he planned to build his retirement home.

But when he took an engineer friend up to see his "trophy," Abbaszadeh was crushed to hear the ground was too steep for a house.

Abbaszadeh contacted the assessor’s office and found out the property records he had checked, showing the parcel to be a "buildable recreation lot," actually had been misclassified years ago. Turns out, the slope had no potential for residential development.

Instead of being worth $185,000, he added, its value was closer to $21,000.

Abbaszadeh appealed to the county’s Tax Administration Office to rescind the sale because of the assessor’s inaccurate information. But the office’s property tax committee recommended denial.

"It was our expectation that potential bidders would be doing their due diligence and knowing what they’re buying," county tax administrator Liz Fehrmann told the council, noting Abbaszadeh drove by the property beforehand and signed disclaimers at the auction acknowledging the county did not guarantee assessments were accurate.

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Because of that, Fehrmann added, the property tax committee felt it would be a bad precedent to let Abbaszadeh back out of the purchase.

But Abbaszadeh’s attorney, Ryan Robison, said the council "would set a proper precedent by rescinding the sale," especially since the land’s actual worth was a ninth of what assessor records showed. That would restore faith in the believability of the assessors’ valuations, he said.

"What is your level of experience in showing up for tax sales?" Councilman Jim Bradley asked Abbaszadeh.

"My first — and last," he replied, winning over the council.

"This is an issue of fairness," Councilman Randy Horiuchi said. "If you can’t believe [the county], who can you believe?"

Added Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw, making the motion to undo the sale: "For the public good, a mistake on county records shouldn’t be held against a good-faith bidder."

Rob Walton, however, made no claims against the county’s tax sale process. He simply got caught up in a bidding war for a residential parcel in Magna and won — only to find out later he’d lost because the investor he was representing thought the purchase price of $86,000 was too high.

So Walton turned to the council for relief, claiming the other bidder was in cahoots with an adjacent property owner to run up the price. But he could offer no names or supporting evidence.

"So you regret bidding the price you bid?" Councilman Richard Snelgrove asked. "Is that anyone else’s fault but your own?"

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