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Nearly 2,900 city properties go on foreclosure auction block

Jeff Brennan plopped down $500 Monday for the privilege of cutting overgrown grass at a vacant lot near his West Side home.

Peggy Vogelbacher scooped up a lot on Fulton Street with the intention of combining it with another vacant parcel and building a new home.

Chris Augspurger spent his money, about $9,000, for an existing brick building on Broadway.

Augspurger, Brennan and Vogelbacher are just three of the buyers who walked away with a small piece of one of the biggest real estate auctions in Buffalo's history.

"It's a nice building," Augspurger said of the property he's buying and currently lives in. "It's worth every penny I paid for it."

While some walked away with their own personal American Dream, others simply stood and watched as city officials tried to sell nearly 2,900 pieces of property.

The large number of buildings and lots up for sale this year is viewed as one more indication the city's vacant housing crisis is getting worse, not better.

Buffalo's future was clearly on Brennan's mind as he and other West Siders scrambled to ensure the properties in their neighborhood were bought by responsible buyers.

"I'm a concerned citizen," he said. "The lot I bought is a neighborhood eyesore I want to improve."

Brennan said he bought the lot on 14th Street, across from his house, because it attracts trash and is a neighborhood trouble spot. He plans to mow the grass, pull the weeds and do whatever else is necessary to maintain the lot.

Just a few feet away, Niagara Common Council Member David Rivera, part of the West Side group monitoring the three-day auction, watched as local buyers promising rehabilitation and reuse bid for buildings in his district.

"It's great for the district and the neighborhood that we're seeing a lot more rehabs," Rivera said.

The Old First Ward is where Vogelbacher is spending her money. She bought a vacant lot on Fulton Street with the intention of combining it with an adjoining lot.

"We want to build a new home," she said.

While Vogelbacher got what she wanted, most of the bidders at Monday's tax auction seemed more like tire kickers than real buyers.

Of course, most of the houses and lots up for sale the first day were properties in foreclosure for years. The more recent foreclosures are expected to attract more interest.

As always, Housing Court Judge Henry Nowak started the auction off by offering a "buyer beware" warning of sorts.

Nowak said a large number of properties on the auction block are targeted for demolition or have outstanding housing code violations.

"This is an opportunity, a rare opportunity," said the judge. "But you will want to know if your property is currently in Housing Court."

The auction continues today and Wednesday in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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