Sour Deal? Buyer says county misled him on real estate purchase

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By Jaime Thomas

What is there to do with five acres of golf course land and half of a clubhouse? It’s the question James Tomkiewicz is asking himself after he purchased said parcel under what he believes to be unfair terms from the county.

Tomkiewicz bought the lot from Washington County at an auction in June. He was intrigued by the low price of $65,000 compared to the assessed value of the property, which was higher by more than $100,000.

The land was for sale after the previous owner, Charles Ayers, could no longer afford to pay taxes on it.

“The county raised the taxes way too much because of the clubhouse, which is really just an office and a couple of bathrooms; they took it last fall,” Ayers said.

However, Tomkiewicz feels the county was falsely advertising what it was actually offering. He believed he was getting a great deal with the land and an over 1,400-square-foot building that he would easily be able to resell for a profit, a practice known as flipping. On the web site used for the sale, it appeared all but a small portion of the clubhouse was on the property for sale, where it was assessed. Instead, the clubhouse is primarily across the line of a second parcel of four on which Ayers had established his par-3 golf course.

Matt Hicks, Granville town supervisor, disagrees with Tomkiewicz’s view. He said the county makes it clear several times in the process to potential buyers that they need to research property on their own. There are too many parcels of land around Washington County for officials to go out and survey them all, Hicks said.

This absolution from responsibility, Hicks said, is stated at the auctions and is also in writing. County Attorney Roger Wickes said Tomkiewicz, along with all interested buyers, received and signed a packet of papers that listed these terms before the auction began.

“The county makes no promises or statement of fact about any parcel which is being offered for sale. No county employee or agent has any authority to make any promises or representations of any nature concerning any parcel. It is the responsibility of each prospective purchaser to investigate any and all aspects of the status of each parcel which he or she may desire to purchase,” the agreement states.

Hicks stressed how clearly this information is made to interested parties.

“The county tells bidders up front that they are responsible to do their research and homework; the county doesn’t verify and validate this stuff; you need to find out for yourself,” Hicks said.

Though he said he scoped out the spot before making the sale final, Tomkiewicz didn’t realize what he had bought until he spoke with Ayers after the deed was done.

“I went to see him, and he says, you know, the building’s half on one property and half on the other property,” Tomkiewicz said.

Tomkiewicz, who had signed a quit claim deed on the parcel, said this was a shock. He said he had looked at all the information the county provided about the property but thinks it was inaccurately represented.

“The auction site should’ve had a picture of the map instead of a picture of the building,” Tomkiewicz said, because none of the documentation made clear what an interested party would be purchasing. However, Wickes thinks the county was very clear about everything.

“I don’t know what more I or we could’ve done to say you need to do your homework and know what you’re doing before you do it,” Wickes said.

Tomkiewicz said he has been flipping houses for 15 years but has never before come across an issue like this. He believes he researched the property as thoroughly as possible.

“They said I didn’t do my homework — what more do you want me to do? I learn from my mistakes — where’s my mistake?” Tomkiewicz asked.

While Hicks sees this as an unfortunate situation, he said Tomkiewicz made an invalid assumption.

“If his argument is that the picture didn’t tell the whole story, we’re telling you up front that we don’t have the whole story,” Hicks said. “The county tells buyers over and over that the maps, etc., are just for identification purposes, and interested buyers have to do their own research to find out exactly what the parcel includes.”

Tomkiewicz is upset with the county officials’ attitude.

“It’s them against us, but they should be helping us,” Tomkiewicz said. “They don’t want to help you; they want to take your money and run.”

Hicks does not think the county did wrong towards Tomkiewicz.

“He’s claiming that he was duped, when in fact, I don’t believe he was,” Hicks said. He believes Tomkiewicz had plenty of time to fully evaluate his decision.

“He had approximately five weeks between the auction and the closing date to change his mind. The closing date came, and he paid the balance; he didn’t choose to find out about the property first. At that point, he’s the owner, and the deed is filed with the county clerk,” Hicks said.

Tomkiewicz has asked the county to take back the land, but officials say that is not an option.

“He’s asking us to purchase this parcel,” Hicks said. “The county is not in the real estate business; it doesn’t buy property to speculate. That’s not even allowed. It only buys property if it needs it for county use.”

Ayers said he tried to warn Tomkiewicz before he took final possession.

Tomkiewicz and Ayers are now discussing a possible way to work things out.

“I told him he was getting took,” Ayers said. “Now he realized it, and he tried to get his money back, but of course the county shot it down.”

“We have to work with each other; he’s losing and I’m losing,” Tomkiewicz said.

Both men are unhappy with Town Assessor Daniel Boone’s assessment.

The assessed value for Tomkiewicz’s parcel is $170,000, while the adjacent parcel, on which the bulk of the clubhouse sits, is assessed at only $12,300.

“Daniel Boone was here, he took pictures, but it wasn’t done right. Whatever Mr. Boone says is cast in concrete,” Ayers said.

Boone said he properly followed routine procedure. He assesses paperwork as it comes to him, and his job does not include surveying land, he said.

“We have the parcel that he bought assessed as a clubhouse. We had no way of knowing that it was on two properties. We had a building permit from Ayers listing the building on that parcel, and papers from the code enforcement officer okaying everything, because he had no reason not to,” Boone said.

He sees the situation as “kind of a mess,” and said he’ll have to reassess the property next year; he expects the building to be split on the two parcels, thereby changing their value.

It’s a good thing it doesn’t happen very often; I don’t know how it’s going to be resolved,” Boone said.

Tomkiewicz vows to fight on.

“I’m going to call everybody from (Gov.) Cuomo all the way down. I’m going to find somebody who’ll help me,” Tomkiewicz said. “If you don’t fight it, you’re not going to get anywhere.”