Trying to buy an abandoned house – owners seem to be ghosts & property tax is paid

Hi everyone, I'm not sure if this is a good subreddit to post this in but my husband and I are at a dead end.

Yesterday, we watched a video about adverse possession, and a house that is in his parents' neighborhood came to mind: the common consensus is that a couple bought it from the developer when it was built (2003), lived in it for a year, then disappeared and it's been abandoned ever since. This is in Virginia, btw, and it's never been put up for sale.

We went yesterday to go look at it and there is a key lock on the door and signs from Wells Fargo saying that it was winterized in 2011. Otherwise, the trim is rotting off, the siding is moldy, etc. We asked the neighbors about it, and they said that they moved in 2 years ago, but the house has been abandoned for 5-6 years as far as they know. They said sometimes the bank comes to mow the grass and check the windows and door, but otherwise no one goes in it. We suspect that it's not the bank that does this but the HOA. We were able to look inside in the dining room/kitchen, and there's a few things strewn everywhere – a blanket on the floor, one picture left on the fridge, and literally all the cabinets open and empty.

We got the number off the notice and it led us to Wells Fargo's real estate division. The guy said that they don't own the house and that he couldn't find any record of it. So, we went to the court house to see who owns it.

It's still listed under the original owners, whose address is listed as a PO box in a different city. We were able to find documents about the house, and this is where it gets confusing. The documents state Bank of America as the trustee, who then signs it over to Wells Fargo, who then signs it over to ReconTrust, who then signs it over to Orlan. The last two are debt collector firms. At first we thought the house was indeed foreclosed (but why never put up for sale?), and so we called Orlan to find out how to buy it. Orlan told us they sold it in 2014, and they couldn't tell us anymore. We came to realize that they had just sold the mortgage, but the house was still in possession of the original owners.

The most recent documents are from the HOA releasing a $1000+ lien on the house back in 2014, made out to the original owners, whose address listed at that time was a smaller townhouse in the same neighborhood (wtf?). We went to that house and they no longer live there, if they ever did. But if the lien was released, the owners must have paid it, right?

Soooo, then we decided to see if perhaps the property tax was back paid and if we could buy the house from the county, since obviously no one was taking ownership of the house. I called the tax collectors, who told me that the property tax was all paid up to date by a loan servicing firm. I called them, and the lady was surprised by how long the house had been abandoned for, but she couldn't tell us why the firm was paying for the property tax – she said it was perhaps escrowed into the mortgage.

She told us to check with the county and see how long houses can legally be vacant for, but we're worried that if the county goes and assesses the property and decides that it is abandoned and can be auctioned off, we won't be able to afford it at auction. Houses in the area are worth $500k+ and our budget is $350k. We did as much free research as we could online to find the original owners, but they seem to be ghosts. They're in their 60's now, though, so the lack of social media presence is understandable. Adverse possession is also out of the question since the property tax is paid.

At this point, I'm going to try to reach out to the HOA today to see if they have any contact number for the owners, but it seems like reporting the house to the county is the best option to free it up. But, does reporting it risk the fact that it may go to auction and we won't get it? Or will the county perhaps allow us to make an offer first? Can the county even do anything if the taxes are paid and it has a listed owner? We're entirely unsure if we should just give up or continue looking into this.

Tl;dr 6yr+ abandoned house's ghost owners live elsewhere and may still be paying the mortgage, property taxes are paid up to date by another firm, mortgage has been sold several times, house is rotting & HOA put a lien on it that has since been released. How do we buy it?

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for any advice. If anyone knows any other subreddits where I can xpost this for more advice, it would be appreciated as well.

Update: I called the HOA and spoke to the president. She said that they've had trouble contacting the owners in the past, but their attorney has contact information so she'd give mine to him and he would give theirs to us.

She told me that although she can't discuss the entire situation, it's a weird one in which the owners obviously no longer want the house anymore, especially because they're still responsible for their property tax, HOA fees, and mortgage, but the bank/whoever owns the mortgage won't foreclose it. Not sure why they haven't sold the house, but hopefully we can contact them and work something out… if we can get the house for $250k, put $100k in it to fix it, that would work out for everyone involved since they're just wasting money on it anyway, right? I don't know. My husband looked more into it and said that it's essentially a zombie house that got lost in the system through all those mortgage sales, and that there's around 300,000 houses in the US like it. Don't know why the owners wouldn't have sold it in he past 14 years though.

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