BUHL — “I bought the ugliest house in Buhl.”
For some home buyers, that befitting description might have been a major turnoff. But Twin Falls resident Domingo Villanueva found it to be the biggest benefit when he attended the county’s tax deed sale Sept. 14.
“It looks like a piece of junk,” Villanueva said after purchasing the Buhl home at the auction. “It’s a piece of junk, but nobody wants it.”
That wasn’t quite true — another curious investor bid him up to $7,025 from the minimum offer of $6,608. But for a future rental property, that still wasn’t a bad price.
It’s far from a get-rich-quick scheme: Villanueva estimates it will take another $7,000 to $10,000 — and at least six months — to make the necessary renovations.
“I buy ‘em and I rent ‘em,” he said. “I don’t like to sell ‘em. I’m not going for fast money. I’d like steady money.”
The Twin Falls County’s tax deed sale takes place every September for properties that have unpaid taxes over three years. The attractively low, minimum bid for a property covers all unpaid taxes and administrative costs.
And for buyers, it could either be a cheap-flip or a lot of work.
Cinderblock steps, warped siding and a yard overgrown with brush are just some of the less charming aspects of the house at 709 Ninth Ave. N.
Inside, the walls of a tiny bedroom, bathroom and kitchen are in desperate need of a deep cleaning. The house couldn’t pass an inspection for electrical service, Villanueva said. And the fridge interior emits a sour, spoiled odor from bottles of liquids that were once recognizable.
But Villanueva’s first thought upon visiting his new property Sept. 16: “Where’s the rest of the house?” The one-bedroom, one-bathroom building is less than 1,000 square feet.
Still, he imagines that once he’s finished, the house will be ideal for a single person or a young couple with one child. And it’s that personal pride that’ll carry him through the hard months of labor.
“People that don’t want to work and don’t want to spend money — they better not get into this,” he said about investing in homes on the tax deed sale.
Most of the work —peeling off and replacing the linoleum, adding new carpet and cleaning and painting the walls — is “pretty basic stuff,” he said. But since he works full-time delivering electrical parts, Villanueva plans to get assistance from some of his connections.
This isn’t his first rodeo with a tax deed home. Villanueva said he’s been buying and fixing these homes for years.
His worst investment? A trailer home he bought in Jerome.
“That one took six months to clean it up,” he said. He hauled six trailer loads of junk to the dump.
And another rental property he bought in Buhl was a “legal mess” after a tax deed auction three years ago.
Every property at a tax deed sale is sold as-is. This year, the county sold six properties for $111,026.
After the county allocates the $19,348 owed in unpaid taxes and administrative costs, it can’t keep the rest for profit.
“The commissioners office looks to see if there are any creditors or claimants that are out there and entitled to a part of those excess funds,” Twin Falls County Treasurer Becky Petersen said.
If none of those can be found, Idaho’s unclaimed property program will hold the money until the previous owner comes and claims it.
Villanueva’s newest acquisition has a 2017 assessed value of $34,293. Its 2016 taxes were $1,182.36.
There’s still a chance that the former owner or creditor could come and get the house back. Within six months, all that person would have to do is pay Villanueva what he paid for it, plus interest.
Which makes doing improvements immediately somewhat risky. But the 53-year-old Villanueva said he doesn’t want to wait until winter to get started.
“If they do (buy it), I’m OK with that,” he said. “I don’t like to be too greedy.”
And if all goes according to plan? By March, he said, the “ugliest house in Buhl” will look totally different.
Community members are invited to drop off donations — such as food, cleaning supplies, diapers and toiletries — this weekend for a “Fill A Truck 4 Florida!” event. Organizers plan to fill a semi-truck, which will leave early next week for Florida.
“We’re hoping to load it up and drive it all the way to Florida with lots of love from Idaho,” said Suzy Heath, who helps with Lighthouse’s friendship ministry.
The event runs from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday in the Target parking lot in Twin Falls. Checks can also be made to the “Hurricane Relief Fund” and deposited at any Farmers Bank location, or can be dropped off at the event.
One-hundred percent of donations will go to hurricane victims in Florida, Heath said.
Supplies will be brought to the Star of the Sea Foundation — also known as the SOS Foundation — a nonprofit based in Key West, Fla., that helps low-income individuals and families. The organization will distribute supplies to those in need.
A couple of Lighthouse groups are joining together to organize the fundraiser: junior and senior high school youth groups, and the friendship ministry for adults who have intellectual disabilities.
Adam Newberry is donating use of a truck, and the church will cover fuel costs and finding a driver. Event organizers hope the truck will leave Monday morning, but the timeline will depend on the number of donations.
Community members are invited to include a note of encouragement to hurricane victims along with items they donate. And Lighthouse Christian welcomes volunteers to help load the truck at the event.
“Filling a semi-truck full of needed supplies for the victims of the hurricanes is a tangible way for our community of businesses, churches, schools, organizations and individuals to send hope and encouragement from the Magic Valley straight to Florida,” Heath wrote in a statement to the Times-News.
Earlier this month, Hurricane Irma carved a path of destruction through the Caribbean and then enveloped Florida.
It followed Hurricane Harvey, which flooded a vast area in August stretching from Houston to the Louisiana border. The storm caused 70-plus deaths and damaged or destroyed more than 250,000 homes and hundreds of thousands of automobiles.
TWIN FALLS — After 18 months without top leadership, the Magic Valley YMCA has a new chief executive officer.
Randy Wastradowski, from El Paso, Texas, started on the job Monday. He was a branch manager for the YMCA of El Paso for eight years.
Wastradowski, who has 27 years of experience with the YMCA, previously spent time as CEO of two YMCAs in Indiana.
He said Tuesday he was looking for an opportunity to become a CEO again in the western United States, near his hometown of Centralia, Wash.
He came across the opportunity to lead the Magic Valley YMCA in Twin Falls.
“I saw it as an opportunity to restart the YMCA in the community,” he said, including to rebrand and reorganize the nonprofit. “That’s really what I enjoy doing with YMCAs — just taking it to the next level and making it a real asset in the community.”
Wastradowski got his first YMCA job in 1990 in Fort Wayne, Ind., After working as a swim instructor, lifeguard and pool manager, he worked his way up at different YMCAs in Oregon, Washington and Indiana.
Wastradowski is taking over leadership of a nonprofit that’s recovering from financial problems that surfaced last year.
A national parent group placed the local Y on probation. And the Idaho Attorney General’s Office wrapped up an investigation in September 2016, saying it has reason to believe the Y violated Idaho’s charitable trust laws.
In October 2016, the Y closed its Canyon Rim branch on Pole Line Road and sold the property. Employees and services for members were consolidated to the Elizabeth Boulevard branch.
And due to financial struggles, the Y backed out of its contract this spring to manage the city pool on Locust Street. The city was paying the nonprofit $120,000 each year to manage the pool and the contract was slated to continue until August 2018.
But the Y has celebrated some new program and facility changes: It reopened its pool in April at the Elizabeth Boulevard branch, and started a new preschool and after-school program earlier this month.
Wastradowski said Tuesday first thing he wants to address is staff development — “training staff and getting employees more engaged with the members.”
That includes learning stronger customer service skills, he said, and giving employees access to training to allow them to work more efficiently and have a greater impact.