Thursday, August 09, 2007

What Happens at a Tax Sale?

What happens at the tax sale depends on what state you attend a sale in, and on whether it is a tax lien sale or a tax deed sale. Tax lien sales can be very different from state to state or even from county to county within a state. Tax deed sales are pretty much the same around the country.

At most tax deed sales the properties are read off by the auctioneer in the order that they are listed and the price of the property is bid up. The exception to this is in counties that have online deed sales, like some counties in California and Florida. In order to bid at an online auction, you have to register online and put up a deposit. The properties are usually listed in batches and a time frame is given for each batch. You put bids in on the properties that you want to bid on, but you don’t know who else is bidding and what the other bids are. You may not even know if you are the successful bidder on a property until after the sale.

Tax lien sales can differ greatly from state to state. In some states the interest rate is bid down. This happens in Florida, Arizona, (two of the most popular tax lien states) Illinois, and in Nassau County, NY. In other states the interest rate is kept constant and the price of the lien is bid up. The amount bid up from the amount due is referred to as “over-bid” or “premium,” and each state handles it a little differently. In some states you receive interest on the premium paid for tax liens (Alabama and Indiana are two state that give you interest on your premium), and in other states you do not (West Virginia is one of these states). Some states do not pay interest on the premium amount and do not return the premium to the investor should the lien redeem (Colorado and Vermont are two of these states). New Jersey is the only state where the interest rate can be bid down to zero and then premium is bid. You don’t receive any interest on the premium paid, but you do receive your premium back if the lien is redeemed within five years.

In some states, something entirely different than the interest rate or the premium is bid. In these states, what is bid down is the percent ownership interest in the property should the lien be foreclosed. The tax lien certificate is awarded to the bidder willing to accept the lowest percent ownership interest in the property. As you can imagine, this makes for some sticky situations should you have to foreclose on a lien and is not the ideal situation for the investor. Tax sales are conducted in this way in Rhode Island, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Iowa.

Some states will use a random selection or round robin process to award tax lien certificates at the tax sale. With the random selection process, the tax collector or auctioneer randomly selects bidders, usually by bidder number for each parcel as it is read out at the sale. With the round robin procedure, the tax collector will go around the room, offering the next parcel on the list to the next bidder in line. The downfall to both of these procedures is that you cannot pick which properties you want to bid on and only do your due diligence on those properties. Here you do not know which properties will be offered to you and you can only accept or decline the ones that are offered to you. The random selection process is used in Wyoming and in Oklahoma. The round robin procedure is used in some counties in Colorado for liens under a certain amount (the amount differs by county).

One tax lien state does something entirely different than any other, and that is the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In Kentucky, nothing is bid, or randomly selected. There is no auction. They accept bids for the amount due plus costs by mail, e-mail, fax, and in person, and the first bid to be received is awarded the tax lien. Although you can mail or fax your bid in, you have to be present at the “sale” to be awarded the tax lien certificate.

If you need help deciding what state to invest in or with getting ready to invest in tax lien certificates or tax deeds, you may want to take advantage of my JetStart Coaching Call. My JetStart call is a one-on-one coaching call with me for only $99.00. I’ll spend one hour with you answering your specific questions about what you need to do to get started. You can find out more about this call and see if it’s something that you’re ready for by filling out the form at

Happy and Prosperous Investing,


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