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.

Putting in the 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.

Buyers beware

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.

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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.

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