Several happy heirs walked away from Beaufort County's delinquent-tax auction Monday after successfully bidding on their family's property.
Despite being one of the more competitive auctions in recent years, a majority of bidders heeded a request by the Penn Center -- made at the start of the sale -- to not bid against heirs trying to re-claim their land. Heirs' property is land that has been passed down through generations of the same families without wills. Much of the heirs' property in Beaufort County has been owned by the same families since the end of the Civil War and represents a unique part of the county's history.
The courtesy of not bidding against heirs at the annual county tax sale has been a long-standing local tradition. But in the 2013 and 2014 auctions, some heirs were outbid and lost their ancestral property.
Samuel Jones was one of the first to benefit Monday from the restored courtesy.
"Heirs' property!" he shouted when the family acre in Sheldon came up for sale.
He successfully bid $810 on the land that had been lost at the 2003 tax auction. No one challenged the bid.
The one acre he purchased is surrounded by about 50 acres that have been in his family since the 1890s.
"It feels good," said Jones as he exited the auction in the gym at the Charles Lind Brown Activity Center in Beaufort.
"We don't know how it got out of the family," he said.
Alvena Spencer was smiling when she won the $1,560 bid on family property in Burton without a challenge.
"That's my mother's property, and now I'm going to have it back in the family where it belongs," she said. "And that's a blessing."
Not all heirs left with such a successful ending. One man had announced he had heirs' property but had failed to register for the auction. His family's property was sold.
Afterward some audience members were explaining to him that he could still redeem the property by paying the taxes and penalties on it within a year. He declined to comment for this article.
Former Beaufort County magistrate Joseph McDomick announced the heirs' property courtesy for the Penn Center at the auction and hoped it would lead to heirs starting the process to clear the title to their land. A clear title will allow them to protect the property from surprise partition sales by distant relatives, and it also allows the family to use the property to earn income through forestry and other practices, as well as obtain a mortgage.
"Trying to help people save land, that's the basic thing we want to do," he said.
He noted that a tax deed does not mean clear title, and some legal work remains.
He also hoped that heirs who won the bidding would deed property among the rest of their relatives who have an ownership stake.
That's what Paul Graham said he planned to do after he won his late father's five acres in Burton that he had been paying the taxes on. He planned to call his two sisters to tell them the news.
"I will split it equal among the three of us," he said "And those who don't want it, I'll just buy them out."
Help with taxes
The Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network is trying to prevent the loss of Gullah-Geechee ancestral land in Beaufort County by helping property owners pay their taxes. For more information on the network, go to http://panafricanfamilyempowerment.org, call 843-812-3558 or 843-592-6076, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- HEIR PRESSURE: Beaufort County Gullah families struggle to hang onto ancestral land, Oct. 2, 2015
- PUTTING THE LAND TO WORK: Beaufort County heirs are growing trees, planting crops, leasing land to afford to keep ancestral land, Oct. 2, 2015
- Program to save Gullah homes on Daufuskie Island off to a rough start, Oct. 2, 2015
Tax sales by the numbers
*Bidder information for 2011 was not available.