TULSA - A five-month-long investigation into a home's unusual circumstances brings a look at the complex business of foreclosures and how it impacts our community.
For more than two years Dustin Spellins has watched notice after notice be placed on the house just across the back yard from his father's home.
And for more than two years he's tried to figure out how to buy it out of foreclosure and move in.
"I grew up here," Dustin said. "This is my neighborhood for 22 years of my life and I want to help with it."
He says although the county, the city, and Bank of America are all listed on different notices posted on the home no one could even find the property, or what had been done to it, in their records.
Spellins said he just kept hitting brick walls.
"The numbers, the people, that Tulsa County told me to get ahold of led back to Bank of America and nobody knows anything."
With so many foreclosures some properties do seem to disappear in the system just as the owners of the home Spellins wants to buy seemed to disappear when they could no longer make payments.
So we contacted Bank of America. They found the property in their system the very next day and got the foreclosure ball rolling again.
The property, vacant and often vandalized, has been set to go to Sheriff's auction five times in three years, but pulled from the auction at the last minute each time.
"We can see when stuff has been messed up and we just try and keep an eye on it," said Dustin.
But somehow the appraised value has gone up.
Tulsa County Sheriff's Deputy Ed Pierce is in charge of running all aspects of foreclosure sales in the county. "I've seen foreclosure property I've walked into that there's food, dinner plates on the table and it looks like the people just got so depressed they just got up and walked out, said Pierce. "And then I've seen property, one of them I have in mind is a several million dollar property that, nothing left but the walls."
So how can a home like the one Spellins wants, repeatedly pulled from foreclosure sales, left vacant and falling into disrepair for years, keep increasing in appraisal values?
We went to some of the appraisers appointed by the Sheriff to find out.
What many people don't know is the appraisal going into a foreclosure sale is rather limited and only serves one purpose.
"By statute all we're doing is giving our thoughts on the value of the property and at the foreclosure sale the opening bid must be two-thirds of that number," explained appraiser Michael Seymour.
Seymour and his team let us go along to see how they do it.
It is simply a drive-by look with some discussion and the appraisal is made in a matter of minutes.
"We drive by the home, make sure it's not been burned or we look and see if it's been outwardly damaged that we can observe," said Seymour.
Appraisers cannot go on the property because even though it is in foreclosure it is still the private property of the current owners, until the Sheriff's auction process is complete.
There are four such teams working for the Sheriff doing foreclosure sale appraisals.
In the case of the home Spellins wants to buy, as we dug into its history we found the home would go out for a new appraisal before being scheduled for another sale months later. And we found the appraisals went up. Seymour says he knows why. "It may come up with a different team. And, that team would go out there and have a totally different opinion of what another team would have."
So where do things stand for the property near Spellin's dad's home? It came back up for auction in May.
Bank of America bought it and a BOA spokesperson says it will be conveyed to HUD and sold.
By conveying the house to HUD, BOA will file essentially, an insurance claim and get money back toward what it's owed from the owners who defaulted on the loan.
Dustin holds out hope with BOA out of the picture his two and a half year crusade could still end with him owning the home. "It would just mean the world to me and my wife and my entire family to be able to get in here," he said.
We contacted HUD about the property and some of the issues Spellins has witnessed through the years.
As a result HUD says it is notifying BOA, in writing, that to become a HUD home and for the bank to get its money the property must be brought up to condition good enough to be put on the market. Spellins says that will be good for the home and the whole neighborhood.
Deputy Pierce says when it comes to foreclosures, understanding the process is key and Pierce cautions people against assuming buying a foreclosure property is going to be a bargain. "So it's basically buyer beware."
He says on average you'll need to plan on putting a minimum of $10,000 to $15,000 into a home bought out of foreclosure to make repairs and make it livable.
Because the appraisal value set for the foreclosure sale is not a market value you'll want to check out neighboring homes through the County Assessor's Office to try and gauge what actual value might be.
RELATED LINK - Tulsa County Assessor's website (http://bit.ly/12BjaPe)
Working with a realtor can also help you figure out a home's real value.
Here's how the foreclosure process usually works:
Someone gets behind on their mortgage and once the lender decides to foreclose it will file for a court judgment. "They go to the court and they ask for the balance of their loan, the interest that has accrued, and will accrue, and attorney fees and tax fees they've paid," said Pierce.
A judge sets the amount and the lender essentially has a line of credit toward buying the house back out of foreclosure, unless someone else bids higher. In the case of the home Spellins wanted to buy, BOA took its court judgment and used it to purchase the home at auction for $34,000, three-quarters of the most recent foreclosure appraisal on the property.
While BOA already held the mortgage it had to buy it at auction to be able to sell it or convey it to HUD.