Above: An abandoned Victorian at 210 Talbot Avenue in Braddock.
Here's a scenario. You stumble across an absolutely stunning, albeit faded, Victorian that is basically your dream house (like the one pictured above). There's only one problem. It's not for sale, the owner is missing in action, you've checked the Allegheny County Assessment site and the owner hasn't paid taxes on the property in years, and the house appears to be completely abandoned and waiting to be demolished. You feel extremely sad that such a great piece of architecture and history has been left to rot and eventually be destroyed, when someone like you would cherish and spend your life restoring it. It drives you nuts that there is nothing you can do to save this property, and there are dozens more that you can think of around the city that are just like it.
There are so many abandoned properties in Pittsburgh, and many are demolished every year. A lot of these buildings are significant pieces of architecture. If you've found an abandoned building that you would like to save from the wrecking ball, there are a few things you can do:
Step 1: Try to contact the owner. You can usually find the current owner's name and address on the Allegheny County Assessment website. Express your interest in the property to the owner and see if you get a response. This often will not work, however, because the delinquent owner cannot be located, or the owner of the property has passed away.
Step 2: The Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program. In certain Allegheny County municipalities, vacant properties can be acquired through the Vacant Property Recovery Program. The property must be delinquent on taxes for at least two years, and must be abandoned, to qualify. It generally costs at least $4,000 to purchase a property through this program, and can take longer than 120 days. The participating municipalities include: Braddock, Carnegie, Homestead, McKees Rocks, North Braddock, Pitcairn, Rankin, Wilkinsburg. Here is the application to apply for the program. But what if the property you are interested is not in one of these communities? You can still apply for the Vacant Property Recovery Program, and see what happens, or move on to step 3..
Step 3: Contact the City or Municipality. Contact the solicitor for either municipality or the school district where the property is located. Explain to them that you want to buy a property that is vacant and is delinquent on back taxes. They may arrange for a Sheriff's Sale. There are some expenses involved. Houses aren't really put up for sheriff's sale unless a buyer is in place. In doing it this way, the property is most likely sold for the amount of back taxes plus the cost of the sale.
If you have experience acquiring an abandoned property, please leave a comment, share tips, and explain how you were able to do it. I would like to make this page a resource for buying abandoned properties. This is a learning experience for me, and probably most everyone who is reading this. If I got any facts or information wrong about purchasing abandoned properties, please correct me so I can get the information correct on this site. It is important to get the message out that these buildings can be saved, and that there are methods for doing so. Let's get all of the facts straight here so we can start saving our heritage.
P.S. I would be very pleased if someone with money stepped in and saved that ridiculously awesome house in Braddock.