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The owners of 78 properties, including the developer of the Durham Manor residential project north of Bel Air, have paid back delinquent taxes after their holdings were sold at auction three weeks ago.

Durham Manor's developer, Continental Land Co. of Parkville, paid bidders $28,707 in back taxes to recover 45 properties that had been soldat the county's annual tax sale, according to county statistics.

A record 268 properties were sold at the June 17 auction. The sale included 88 lots at three new residential developments, statistics show.

The county collected $281,624 from the sale. So far, owners have paid back $55,573.

Last year, 114 properties were sold at thetax sale, according to county statistics, and the county collected $143,669.

Several developers whose properties were auctioned were contacted for this story but declined to comment.

County administrators, auctioneers and real estate specialists say the high number of undeveloped properties auctioned off this year are evidence that the past year was a tough one for the housing market. Slow sales, a flooded market and the recession have put the squeeze on developers, they say.

"A lot of developers just got stuck in the money crunch," said David Shrodes, one of five auctioneers who handled the county's taxsale. "The heyday is over."

Harford developers have been hit by the same problems hurting other areas -- hard-to-get financing, less demand for homes and a large number of units on the market, County Treasurer James M. Jewell said.

"I think it was a difficult year, no doubt about it," he said. "It seems that some developers are waiting for the last minute to pay their taxes."

Although Durham Manor's developer has paid off its back taxes, the firm continues to face financial problems.

Crouse Construction Co. of Joppa has filed two mechanic's liens, totaling nearly $1.3 million, against the developer for unpaid work at the development, Harford Circuit Court records show.And John Hanson Savings Bank of Baltimore has filed an action against Durham Manor for payment of a $2.8 million loan, court records say.

In addition to the 628-lot Durham Manor subdivision, other developments that had lots on the auction block include Leeswood Garth and Fountain Glen, both east of Bel Air off Route 543.

Thirty lots in the 61-lot Leeswood Garth subdivision were sold at the auction. Leeswood Garth is being developed by the Wyndemede Partnership, which is controlled by the Smith Development Co. of Bel Air.

Wyndemede owed the county $27,346.37 in taxes and has not paid any of that back.

At the 475-lot Fountain Glen development, six lots owned by Matthias Realty Inc. of Columbia and seven lots owned by Fairway Realty Inc. of Randallstown were sold at the auction.

Fairway Realty has recovered the properties by paying off its $12,324.87 in back taxes, countyrecords say.

Matthias owed the county $6,915 in taxes, but hasn'tredeemed the properties yet.

Home sales in Harford started to rebound in the first quarter of this year, but the number of sales have not reached last year's levels for the same period, said Bob Lefenfeld, a spokesman for Legg-Mason Realty Group Inc. in Baltimore, which studies real estate market trends in the region.

A total of 559 homes were sold in the first three months of 1991, compared with 663 sales for the same period in 1990, he said.

In the final quarter of 1990, 334 homes were sold.

In May, 1, 296 homes were on the market in the county, compared with 1,301 for sale in May 1990, according tostatistics from the Harford Board of Realtors.

Despite the sales slump, Lefenfeld said the Bel Air and Abingdon markets continue to beamong the strongest in the Baltimore region.

The county started putting its list of delinquent taxpayers together last October -- three months after tax bills were sent out, said John Scotten, the county's deputy treasurer.

The properties scheduled for the sale are advertised as the date of the annual auction approaches, Scotten said. If the owners pay their taxes, the properties are taken off the auction list.

On the day of the auction, properties are sold to the highest bidder, but buyers pay only the taxes due at the sale, he said. The owner has six months to pay the owed taxes and interest to the buyer.

Buyers at the auction cannot take possession of the propertiesduring the six-month period, Scotten said. During that period, owners can pay the amount of the taxes to the buyers, plus 12 percent annual interest.

If the owners don't pay their taxes within the six-month period, the buyers can start foreclosure proceedings in Harford Circuit Court to take possession of the properties, Scotten said.

Shrodes, the auctioneer, noted that the interest rate provides buyers with an attractive investment in a short amount of time.

Shrodes, who has been involved with the auction since 1969, remembers when thecounty had no properties for sale in 1973 -- all landowners paid their taxes. But as the county has grown, the number of properties in the tax sale has increased, Shrodes said.

The county used to hold the tax sale on the steps of the courthouse until the late 1970s, but it has been moved into the County Council chambers because of the large number of people who attend, Shrodes said.

"You hate to see thatmany properties go up at tax sales," he said. "You'd like to have none at all. It's a real depressing time for people."

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