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Appraiser: Habitat Was Misled in Buchanan Land Deal

Sep 10, 2012

A Habitat for Humanity chapter “was misled” when it purchased a piece of property from the brother of Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, according to a board member who also is a property appraiser.

Even though Buchanan’s brother is listed as making the original deal, Buchanan later used the mortgage with Habitat as collateral on a larger loan with Bank of America, according to an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times. Payments now go to Buchanan's wife.

WUSF Public Media asked for an interview with Patricia Staebler, a board member with Manatee County Habitat for Humanity and a property appraiser.

She declined to an on-air interview, but in an e-mail, she said:

All I can do is to confirm that in my professional opinion Habitat was misled to believe they paid the right amount for that piece of land.

She wrote that in general, sites in low-income housing areas have to be evaluated very carefully:

Supply and Demand numbers between 2007 and 2011 showed that the market was more than saturated and the highest and best use of the property at the time of purchase was most likely "to hold for future development", as was shown in numerous similar appraisal work all over the state in that time frame.

Habitat bought the land for $1.4 million in 2009, at a time when the land market had already cooled. It is now estimated to be worth about $500,000.

The Habitat mortgage later became collateral for a $3.9 million loan Rep. Buchanan received from Bank of America.

Shortly after Habitat purchased the land from Buchanan's brother, they hired Buchanan's former chief of staff, who was forced out after receiving two DUI arrests, according to the Times.

Calls to Buchanan's office for comment were not returned.