Summit County is running months behind transferring property deeds after foreclosure auctions, creating a major problem for willing homebuyers who are walking away from deals and for real estate agents who are losing sales.
“It’s crazy,” said real estate agent Barb Sabo of Kremer Realty in Munroe Falls. “You should have your deed in like 10 days to two weeks and they are running two to three months behind.”
The backlog means hundreds of properties are sitting vacant when they should be occupied. And some buyers are deciding to look outside the county because they don’t want to deal with the deed hassle, agents say.
The sheriff’s office is responsible for transferring the deed to a new owner after an auction. Until the property is transferred, homebuyers can’t close on financing with their mortgage lenders or take ownership of the property.
In cases where banks or investors buy foreclosed properties, they can’t sell them until the deed is transferred into their names.
Summit has been overrun with foreclosed properties. The sheriff has sold nearly 10,000 properties at weekly auctions over the last five years.
The deed backlog has gotten so bad that the Akron Area Board of Realtors formed a task force to approach the county about the problem. The group sent a letter to the sheriff last week protesting the delays and offering help in finding a resolution.
Sheriff Steve Barry blamed the problem on layoffs in recent years and the swell in the number of auctioned properties. There used to be five or six workers handling deeds, but now there are only three.
On top of that, some employees have transferred out of that division and there is a steep learning curve for the deed process, which is complicated and time-consuming, he said.
“You cannot make mistakes on this type of stuff,” the sheriff said.
He had heard some complaints about the delays, but said he was unaware of the extent of the problem until questioned this week by the Beacon Journal. Barry was elected last year and has been in office only two months.
He said he is planning to hire a new worker for the office and trying to use overtime to reduce the backlog.
“We are trying to throw them out of there as fast as we can,” Barry said. “We also are in the process of transferring another person who left that area to help us catch up, as well as hiring. We are doing as much as we can.”
He couldn’t provide an average time it takes to process a deed now.
Buyers walk away
Several real estate agents said the delay is anywhere from one to six months.
“We have to tell our buyers what’s going on with the sheriff getting the deeds over and as soon as we tell them that they are six months behind, they start looking in Portage County or nearby, just not in Summit,” said Dave Clark of Clark Realty Inc. in Stow.
Some frustrated families and investors are walking away — even after paying about $900 in appraisal, inspection and credit report fees. Sometimes, it’s because the mortgage rate that they have locked in has expired and their lender doesn’t want to wait.
Clark said he has 18 properties under contract waiting for the deed to transfer, with the delay being greater than five months in most cases.
He noted that he had a family who bought a house in Akron’s Firestone Park neighborhood in January. The deal was supposed to close in late February but couldn’t because the deed wasn’t transferred in time.
“My people walked,” he said. “They had to get out of their place. This is just a waste of time. Now that family has lost a house and the listing agent has to go through the process again.”
The delays have cramped the ability of real estate agents to sell properties.
“A quarter of our inventory is sitting there and we can’t sell it,” Clark said. “They are putting us out of work. Every property, we can’t sell.”
The Beacon Journal attempted to contact some affected buyers through the real estate agents, but none responded.
The biggest problem is properties sitting vacant, said Cece Fox, a real estate agent with Twin Oaks Realty Inc. Agents are forced to baby-sit properties, trying to prevent them from being damaged, for example, by bad weather or other conditions such as moisture if utilities aren’t turned on.
“What this delay is causing is further deterioration of the housing,” Fox said. “That’s my big concern.”
The vacant properties also are ripe for vandalism.
“While they are sitting there, they are being busted into,” Sabo said. “Copper plumbing has been stolen. The hot water tank has been stolen. The toilets have been stolen. The front door is broke. The picture window is busted out. Now it’s boarded up.”
The homebuyers who are willing to wait have their lives turned upside down.
“I have clients whose whole house is in boxes and then they are told to wait two more months,” Sabo said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.