Business

Manatee County foreclosure auctions fall behind technology curve

BRADENTON -- A St. Petersburg-based attorney known for consumer rights advocacy is concerned about information missing from Manatee County's online foreclosure portal.

Matt Weidner said the information online at Manatee County's Real Auction website isn't enough for third parties to do adequate research to invest in foreclosed properties. Fewer investors, he said, means the county is losing out on money and consumers are losing out on opportunities.

Although many factors could prevent third-party bidders from participating in auctions, Weidner said the lack of addresses and parcel IDs on Manatee County's foreclosure site "really hamstrings" the ability of third parties to do research. Without the information, many third parties will give up, Weidner said.

Without third parties driving bids up, the county and state miss out on revenues from documentary stamp taxes and clerk fees. According to data pulled from Manatee County's auction site, as third-party bids for properties go up, clerk fees and documentary stamp taxes rise, too.

Clerk fees are paid to county clerk of courts. Documentary stamp taxes are also paid to the county clerk and then the money goes to the state where it is distributed, according to the Florida Department of Revenue

website.

Documentary stamp taxes are distributed among the state Transportation Trust Fund, Ecosystem Management and Restoration Trust Fund, Economic Development and Enhancement Trust Fund and other funds used for management of public services and lands.

Of 702 foreclosure sales between Jan. 1 and June 26 in Manatee County, plaintiffs won 532, or 76 percent. Plaintiffs in foreclosure cases are banks or firms representing financial operations that mortgaged the property.

From cases won by Manatee County plaintiffs, zero clerk fees were paid. Almost $335,000 was paid in documentary stamp taxes.

"The county makes next to nothing when properties revert back to plaintiffs," Weidner said.

Of the 170 cases won by third parties, clerk fees amounted to $224,586. More than $105,000 was paid in documentary stamp taxes.

"It's so critical because this is an open marketplace where people from all around the world are deciding if they are going to participate in an auction with real money," Weidner said. "It's the basic information that you need."

Lori Tolksdorf, Manatee County clerk of the circuit court and comptroller director of courts, said a liability issue originally prevented Manatee County from providing the parcel ID and address in foreclosure auction information.

Manatee County was the first county to put foreclosure sales online starting in 2008. Before then, foreclosure sales were conducted on the Manatee County Historic Courthouse steps.

Karl Youngs, general counsel for Manatee County clerk of court at the time its Real Auction site went live, said the housing market crashed right about the time Manatee County put foreclosure auctions online. As a precaution and because of multiple instances of incorrect paperwork, Youngs said the office chose a more conservative online auction system.

The Manatee County clerk of courts wanted to replicate the in-person auction process online. In-person auctions did not provide parcel IDs or addresses.

"The only thing the clerk ever had was the court file in the old paper world," Youngs said. "People would have to go look at the court file and then look at the property appraiser's office and pull up the information there."

Counties using the Real Auction foreclosure site, such as Sarasota County, list parcel IDs and addresses. Dave Winiecki, enterprise information officer for the Sarasota Clerk of Court and Comptroller's Office, said his office submits the recorded final judgment to Real Auction, which then displays the information, often including parcel IDs and addresses, on the county auction site.

Because the information is provided by third parties to Real Auction, Winiecki said a series of disclaimers will warn users of the "buyer beware" nature of foreclosure auctions.

"If you go to the Real Auction site and look at their disclaimers, they're going to tell you upfront that you have to go and do your research," Winiecki said.

CEO Lloyd McClendon of Real Auction said Manatee County chose not to list addresses or parcel IDs associated with foreclosed properties when the system went live because of possible liabilities.

"They err on the side of caution," McClendon said. "It's not required and if they put it out there there's a possibility it is incorrect."

Tolksdorf said she believes data processes and technology have come far enough for her office to provide more information. To do so, her office would create a foreclosure case file and match information from the file with information in the Property Appraiser's Office.

Manatee County Property Appraiser Charles Hackney said even with advancements in technology, liability from incorrect information still exists.

"If you give me a legal description, we can't warrant it will be the exact property without doing a title search, and with somebody that's qualified to do that like an attorney," Hackney said.

Angel Colonneso, general counsel for Tolksdorf's office, said she thinks more information could be provided and the liability concern taken care of by a disclaimer.

In the last two weeks, since the Herald began asking questions, the Manatee County Real Auction website was updated to include a link to the property appraiser's website under the "parcel ID" listing.

For the sake of Manatee County tax revenues, Weidner said he hopes the Manatee County Clerk of Courts Office will provide as much information as possible.

"The prime concern for Manatee County is that the third parties would say: 'This isn't worth our time because Manatee County is too hard to navigate so we're not going to play in Manatee County.'"

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.

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