From horror to home

Tax-sale gem: A Baltimore couple rescues a waterfront luxury getaway from nearly 10 years of neglect.

July 30, 2000|By Gus Sentementes and Mary E. Medland

With creditors at his heels and his marriage on the rocks, Michael J. Wueste quickly got away from his luxurious getaway on the Eastern Shore.

It was 1990, and his Virginia computer software and leasing company had just crashed, forcing him to halt the mortgage payments on his 8-year-old waterfront retreat.

"I had a judgment against me - all the money [from a liquidation of the home] was going to go to the creditors," said Wueste, 60, who works in real estate financing in Leesburg, Va.

To Wueste, it made more sense to abandon the contemporary home than let it go to creditors.

The property, near the Talbot County town of Bozman, was a dream place of fieldstone fireplaces, a dock with four boat slips, a pond, greenhouse, swimming pool and Jacuzzi.

And yet for nearly 10 years, it was all but abandoned, reduced to ruin as Wueste's mortgages bounced from bank to bank until the lenders all but lost track of them in the shuffle.

Although Wueste balked at making mortgage payments, he continued to pay Talbot County property taxes, hoping to regain the home. He said he sought to refinance and even pushed lenders to foreclose on the home, so that he and an investor could buy it back on more favorable terms

But when those efforts failed, Wueste stopped paying taxes, allowing it to fall into Talbot County's hands for a tax sale in 1998.

Enter Willard C. Parker II, an Easton attorney.

Parker is a principal in a small company that paid $35,000 for the property at the tax sale, just enough to cover nearly $3,000 in back taxes, a $29,950 mortgage claim, and a $2,050 bank note. Parker made some minor improvements and straightened out the title problems.

With the property valued at $349,670 - more for the land than the dilapidated structure - Parker turned around and sold the place for $315,000.

The takers? A Baltimore physician and his wife who saw beyond the rot and decay, and had a vision of what the home could be.

Today, finally clear of its legal thorns, the house is once again a top-notch weekend retreat, thanks to its new owners, Lynn and Bill Macon.

Yet, it was hardly the sort of place the Macons envisioned purchasing when they began their search for a weekend retreat on the Eastern Shore - a search that at times seemed fruitless, leaving them increasingly disheartened.

"We'd been looking for about a year and a half," said Lynn Macon. "We needed a place that was a short drive away and that my husband, and our three grown sons, could use for hunting and fishing.

`We were really discouraged'

"But things were either really expensive, or needed a lot of renovation, or needed to be expanded - we were really discouraged."

Then, the Macons' Easton Realtor, Henry Neff, of H. G.-Neff Co. phoned them.

"I remember saying, `You're going to think I'm crazy, but you ought to come over and look at this place,' " said Neff. "I told them, `It's the house of your dreams, but it will take vision.'"

Vision, indeed.

Eastern Shore resident Steve Spurry, of Steven Spurry Builders Inc., described the place as a haunted house. "Very, very spooky," said Spurry, who was one of those largely responsible for the home's renovation.

While many people were interested in the property, added Spurry, they pretty much walked away after seeing the dilapidated condition of the place - and learning of the legal obstacles that could complicate its sale.

"I was asked by a couple of people to go to the tax sale - from my perspective it was a pretty typical tax sale," Parker said. "It had been advertised, someone had an interest in the property, and I put in a bid."

Parker acquired the property in June 1998 for Aulds Road, a limited liability corporation, consisting of himself, a local real estate agent and a local builder.

The legal thicket

Since Wueste was nowhere to be found, Parker had to thrash through a legal thicket of past liens to get the title cleared.

Venture Title Co. in Easton researched the history of the property for Parker and the Macons. "There were many liens on the property, but all of the lien holders received notice that it was sold at a tax sale," said a Venture Title Co. researcher, who requested anonymity, adding that only one of the lien holders pressed a claim, a bank that held one of the mortgages.

"We then had to go through the procedures so the court could confirm the sale and direct the [Talbot County] finance officer to issue the deed to the purchaser at the tax sale," Parker said.

After the tax sale, Wueste had six months to reclaim the house, but he never turned up, according to county court proceedings.

Wueste claimed he never knew of the tax sale. In fact, Wueste said, he still receives notices from a mortgage holder that doesn't know the home was sold for taxes. Nonetheless, according to Venture Title Co., the Macons are immune from any past claims on the house.

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