For as little as $100, someone could own a lot in the 300 block of Depot Street in Soddy-Daisy.
For $500, a house at 1808 Crabtree Road in Hixson is within reach.
The highest minimum bid on any of the 90 parcels open for sealed bids in this year's county property sale is $2,500 for a commercial building at 2301 Milne St. in Chattanooga, records show. Only three of the properties on a list approved Wednesday by the Hamilton County Commission require a minimum bid of $1,000 or more.
The sale takes place in late February.
The county, sometimes along with a municipality, took ownership of the properties after they lingered for years in tax delinquency, then failed to sell in the county trustee's annual tax sale.
"The minimum bids are a suggested starting point to encourage bidding on the property," said Paul Parker, the county's real property manager. "They're not a reflection of the actual value."
Most of the parcels are vacant lots in the city. This year's list contains at least six lots with structures on them.
"The majority of them, they're rental properties," Parker said. "They're vacant and they're boarded up."
Even at what would seem a bargain price, 13 properties on this year's list failed to sell during last year's sale. Parker said an average of five to eight properties a year are unsold.
A list with a similar number of properties in years past garnered as many as 600 bids, but last year the sale yielded only about 100, Parker said.
"I think we're competing with foreclosed properties and distressed properties," Parker said.
MAKING THE LIST
Many properties in this year's sale began their journey to county control when owners failed to pay 2006 property taxes.
County property taxes are due Oct. 1 each year and become delinquent on March 1 the following year, said James Davey, the county trustee's back tax attorney.
"One year after, that is when we sue," Davey said. For instance, he's preparing to file suit in March against property owners delinquent on their 2010 taxes.
A property suit can last years. Trustee Bill Hullander's office is only now preparing to sell the 2008 back-tax properties in June, Davey said.
"They went delinquent in 2009; they were sued on in 2010," Davey said.
The June 2011 sale liquidated the 2007 back-tax properties and had between 350 and 400 parcels, Davey said.
After the trustee's sale, the original owners have one year to redeem their property buy reimbursing the buyer for the purchase price, plus interest.
Properties that don't attract bids in the trustee's sale go to the county, with one exception.
"If there's a piece of property where there's an environmental disaster, the county can refuse to buy that," Davey said.
Hullander in December asked the county's delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly to remove the mandate that the county take unsold property. He said such properties can be a liability.
HOW THE SALE WORKS
The county waits a year before trying to sell back-tax properties, to allow the owners' one-year redemption period to expire.
The sale is a two-step process.
A round of sealed bids is due to the county by Feb. 20. Those will be opened publicly in the commission meeting room Feb. 21. Bidders or their representatives must be present at the opening and must pay a 10 percent deposit that day.
A 10-day period follows in which others can send letters raising bids by 10 percent. Those properties will go to a "bid-off" public auction.
The county recommends prospective buyers make a "personal on-site inspection of the property" before bidding.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
* Commissioners voted 8-0 to ask the Tennessee General Assembly not to close the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. Commissioner Jim Fields was absent.
* Commissioners voted 7-1 to offer to buy from Norfolk Southern Railway a parcel of land next to the county's Business Development Center for about $121,000, or $5 a square foot. Joe Graham cast the only "no."
* Several members of Occupy Chattanooga spoke during the public comment period, offering to have their names added to a federal lawsuit the county filed against the group last week.
Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...