Kathy Waites will get to keep the West Asheville home that’s been in her family for three generations, after reaching a legal settlement with an Asheville real estate investor who acquired a half-interest in the house for just $3,000.
The investor, Robert Perry Tucker II, also agreed to drop his appeal of a judge’s ruling awarding a son the proceeds from the sale of his deceased father’s house in Asheville. Tucker had convinced the son, Robert Buckner Jr., to sell his company the property for just $10,000, even though it was already under contract for $148,000.
Tucker and his company will still receive at least $45,000 from the settlements, though the amount is considerably less than they could have gotten had they prevailed in court.
Both cases were profiled in Asheville Watchdog’s investigative series, Equity Erased, which revealed how Tucker, who is also an attorney, and his companies purchased properties from Buncombe homeowners, many elderly and poor, at far below market value since at least 2014.
Waites could have been forced out of her home, which had a Zillow value of more than $300,000, after Tucker’s company in December 2019 bought a half-interest in the property from Waites’s nephew for $3,000 and paid his mother $1,000. The sale price was “so disproportionate to the value … it would shock the conscience of a reasonable person,” according to a lawsuit Waites filed.
The lawsuit accused Tucker’s company of fraud by deceiving Waites’s nephew into signing a deed through “false representations,” including that he could go to jail for unpaid property taxes.
In response, Tucker’s company denied the allegations and asked the court for what’s known as a partition action, or a forced sale of the property, under a Reconstruction-era law that’s been widely exploited by developers and speculators nationwide.
The case went to mediation and resulted in a settlement that allows Waites to keep the bungalow that’s been in her family since 1935.
The settlement calls for a buildable lot on the property to be marketed and sold with the first $50,000 of the proceeds, after fees and costs, going to Waites, the next $35,000 to Tucker and his company, and anything above that to Waites.
Waites agreed to file an affidavit saying she “has no personal knowledge of any misrepresentation allegedly made” by Tucker and never witnessed him speak to “any third party;” Tucker agreed to drop all claims, which would include the partition action.
“I am very relieved to know that I will still have the home that my grandparents lived in, my mother grew up in, and my brother and I grew up in,” Waites said in an interview.
She credited Asheville Watchdog’s year-long investigation of Tucker’s real estate deals with helping her save her home. Tucker’s companies had filed partition actions in nearly a dozen other cases, using the law to acquire properties for as little as $2,000.
“I was on the path to losing my house,” Waites said. “Had this story not been told, not just my story, but the story of everyone’s losses, I’d be trying to find another place to live.”
Tucker and his attorney, Peter R. Henry of Arden, did not respond to an email seeking comment. At least four agencies opened investigations into Tucker and others in Equity Erased, including the North Carolina Secretary of State, the North Carolina State Bar, the North Carolina Attorney General and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office.
Lisa K. Roberts convinced homeowners to sign deeds to Tucker’s companies. She was charged earlier this month with nine counts of notarizing an action by fraud or forgery, each one a felony punishable by up to 24 months in prison. Roberts, who also goes by Roberts-Allen, has declined comment through her attorney, Jack Stewart.
In the second civil case, Tucker agreed to drop his appeal of a judge’s ruling awarding a son the proceeds from the sale of his deceased father’s house in Asheville. In return, Tucker’s company will receive one-quarter of the money.
Robert Buckner Jr. was in prison in Florida in April 2020 and did not even know that his father had died, he told Asheville Watchdog. The estate administrator was unable to locate the son, the sole heir, but Tucker found him with the help of a private investigator.
The estate was in the process of selling the father’s property. A sales contract for $148,000 had been placed in a publicly available court file. But before the purchase was finalized, Tucker convinced Buckner to sign the property over to his company for $10,000 and then claimed in court that the net proceeds from the sale, $136,000, belonged to his company, not the son.
In a court hearing in April 2021, Buckner testified that Tucker had promised him a second, undetermined payment dependent on the sale price of the house, and that he hadn’t understood the documents he signed. “There’s no way I would sell my father’s home and property for $10,000,” he said.
At a second hearing in September, Buckner’s court-appointed attorney, James Kilbourne of Asheville, said his client had been “snookered.” As an attorney, Tucker had knowledge of the legal system and access to information about the property that Buckner, in prison in Florida, did not, Kilbourne said.
Buncombe Superior Court Judge Steve Warren ruled in September that the property had been turned over to the estate at the time Buckner signed the deed; therefore it wasn’t Buckner’s to sell, and Tucker’s company had no legal interest in it.
Tucker’s company appealed. Under a settlement approved in January, Tucker’s company will receive 25 percent of the money, after legal fees; Buckner will receive 75 percent, minus the $10,000 he already received after he signed the deed.
Buckner could have come away with nothing from his father’s property if he’d lost on appeal, Kilbourne said.
“It is also possible that an appellate court could agree that Mr. Buckner is entitled to the entire amount,” he said. “In either case, it would take a year or more and significant expense of attorneys’ fees.”
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asheville Watchdog gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Duke University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, with special thanks to Ben Rossi and Alex Murphy.