Suzanne Nuss saw an opportunity in 736 North Avenue. The c. 1910 building offered a spacious, light-filled unit, with tiger-oak wainscoting in the dining room and other period details. The price was affordable. And it included a garage. Yet the building needed much work inside and out, and three of the eight condominiums were vacant.
Today, the building is fully occupied and renovation projects happen each year. Nuss says clearing titles and liens so that the units could be purchased was key to saving 736 North Avenue from the fate of a similar building across the street, which deteriorated so thoroughly it was eventually demolished.
She and the other condo owners credit Allegheny County’s Vacant Property Recovery Program (VPRP) with being the “essential middleman” that freed two of the vacant units mired in title and tax delinquency issues.
“I spent two years banging my head trying to get answers about mortgage and tax questions related to the two condos,” says Nuss. “It was quite a relief when I got word that the VPRP process could start.”
She recalls that the liens against Unit #4 totaled 28 pages. Liens against Unit #8 ran 53 pages. With the latter property, the mortgage had been packaged and resold, causing complicated title issues. In addition, the property faced liens for school taxes, property taxes and unpaid bills from gas, electric and other utilities. In all, the liens for Unit #8 totaled more than $100,000.
“Without the VPRP, the process of searching and clearing title and liens would be overwhelming for the average person,” says Nuss. “The program has the power and connections to negotiate with all parties involved. Equally important, it caps the fees for legal work and other costs making them manageable.”
Buyers pay the appraised value of the property, plus acquisition costs that are typically around $4,000 per property for the VPRP to obtain and convey it. In addition, the buyer pays closing costs that run $200-$300 per property.
Unit #4 moved through the VPRP process first and was eventually purchased by the owner living in another unit, Rolynda Ford, who had eyed it for a number of years. Nuss acquired Unit # 8 with plans to resell it at some point in the future.
“I went into this just wanting to help make the building viable,” says Nuss. “We did that and more with the help of the VPRP and the Borough.”
In addition to participating in VPRP, Wilkinsburg goes a step further and offers VPRP applicants tax rebates over 10 years plus other incentives.