Beaufort County property owners with unpaid taxes have until Friday to settle up or risk having their property auctioned to the highest bidder.
The county is holding its delinquent-tax sale Oct. 1 at the Charles Lind Brown Activity Center in Beaufort. The annual event helps the county recoup millions in overdue property taxes, late fees and Treasurer's Office expenses.
As of this week, owners had failed to pay taxes on about 2,400 mobile homes, condominiums, commercial properties and vacant land; however, that number is falling daily, county spokeswoman Joy Nelson said. Ultimately, the county expects to auction only about 1,000 properties.
"We are in what we call the 11th hour, and next week is really going into the 12th hour," deputy county treasurer Troy Hodges said Wednesday. "They have until (Sept. 28) at the close of business to pay before the property goes to tax sale.
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"We will be really busy probably the last day of the month with people actually making payments on their property so it doesn't go to tax sale."
Last year's sale drew a total of $26.5 million in bids on 1,103 properties, which had a combined tax debt of about $3 million. Two years ago, 1,572 properties went to tax sale.
The tax sale is not the last word on delinquent properties.
The owner of a property sold at the auction has one year to reclaim it by paying the delinquent taxes and interest on the sales price.
Often, Hodges said, banks or mortgage companies with an interest in the property will "redeem" the property by paying off the unpaid taxes and interest to the highest bidder. Other times the property owner will follow that same process to get it back.
If a property is reclaimed, buyers get their money back, plus the interest. If a property is not reclaimed, the former owner receives whatever money remains from the sale after taxes and fees are deducted.
Hodges estimated only about 15 percent of properties "sold" at auction will ever transfer to the highest bidder. He expected about 200 bidders from across the country to participate in this year's sale.
"We are sympathetic because we know people are struggling out there," Hodges said. "But the longer you wait (to pay your taxes), it's going to get more expensive."
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.