CROWN POINT | A Lowell couple are offering to pilot the adventurous into the little-known waters of the Lake County Treasurer's tax sale.
"It's fun. It's a good investment with some excitement," Tracie Moldenhauer said to explain why she and her husband, Dan, launched their new business, which is behind the eruption of black-and-white www.propertytaxsaleauction.com. yard signs throughout Northwest Indiana and Chicago's south suburbs.
They intend to help interested amateur speculators navigate one of the largest tax sales in the state. It begins today and runs through Sept. 24 online at http://www.sri-taxsale.com/.
Their website offers a glimpse of thousands of houses, businesses and real estate parcels whose owners are in danger of losing them for failing to pay their property taxes.
She said being the highest bidder can mean either buying potential business properties at a fraction of the market price or, in many cases, a return on their money with interest ranging up to 15 percent if the delinquent owner redeems the property within a year of the tax sale.
On the other hand, the successful bidder could be stuck with a parcel so small or inaccessible as to be worthless or a building so deteriorated it's not worth demolishing.
She said she and three others have spent hundreds of hours on the county assessor's and surveyor's GIS websites researching the location and potential value of properties to be auctioned.
The county websites are free to the public, but she thought enough people would prefer someone with experience, like herself, picking the potential winners and losers.
Moldenhauer said she has been interested in real estate since her teens.
When asking for information about tax sale properties, she was directed to the plat books -- a pile of outsized, heavy binders containing maps and descriptions of innumerable subdivision lots.
"It was a lot of work, but I ended up going to the auction with this huge book filled with each property I liked. A woman sitting next me said she had never seen anything so organized and was so impressed," she said.
However, it took her a while to get over the fright of joining in the bidding process, where well-heeled professional investment firms and lawyers compete among one another.
She said she spent much of last weekend distributing her signs. "I got a ton of people showing interest. When I was putting up signs, people stopped me and asked about it," she said. She just lowered her registration fee from a one-time $199 fee down to $29.99 to prompt consumer interest.
Although the county directs the public to SRI, its authorized auction service, Treasurer John Petalas said he has no objection to her new business. "I just want people to know it isn't connected with our office," Petalas said.