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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tax Deed Property Sales

  I'm always intrigued by any chance to acquire property at a cost far below its true value.  Consequently, I'm a sucker for auctions.  I buy abandoned cars at auto auctions, pianos at school surplus auctions, and houses at county tax deed auctions.  Buyer beware, some things are pretty worthless, and they won't take it back!!!

  If you want to get into auctions, please always assume that what you are buying is about as worthless as an 8-trac tape collection.  Do research the items as much as possible, but even then, avoid getting into a bidding war.  Just let it go and wait until you find a jewel no one else is dead set on buying.

  Especially before bidding on real estate, know what you are getting.  You need to look up all the info you can on the property before the tax sale.  Find out who the owners are, and even talk to neighbors to find out why the taxes aren't being paid.  Check to see if there is a probate case associated with the property, mortgages, quit claim deeds, or any disputes over ownership.  Many counties have quite a lot of info on-line, and it is best to start there.  Find out all you can on several properties on-line, and then set out to visit your best prospects.  Google maps and street view can also come in handy to save some driving.

  Most tax deed investors are looking for properties that are likely to be redeemed.  In these cases, you would earn a very respectable 8 to 12% annual return on your investment.  It is a fairly safe investment if you make sure that you haven't bid on a worthless toxic dump.  Your investment is ultimately backed by an interest in the property that you have bid on.  If the owner's don't pay, after a time, you can take possession.

  I actually look for properties that are NOT likely to be redeemed.  My favorite type of property to bid on is a vacant house or trailer home where the owner has died recently.  You can usually find properties of the recently deceased by cross-referencing the list of delinquent tax owners with the probate records for the county.  Then, to find out the whole story, go visit the properties you found and talk to neighbors to find out what is going on.  I don't usually tell people who I am exactly when I'm out and about.

  If you successfully purchase a property at auction and it is not redeemed during the redemption period,  you will be issued a Tax Deed.  You can take possession of the property at this time, but that is not recommended if someone is actually living there.  Your next step should be to Quiet Title the deed to secure full uncontested ownership for yourself.  If no one challenges you in court for clear title to the property, a lawyer might be able to get the process done for you for about $3500.  Lawyer fees ~ $2000, 3rd Party fees ~$1500.

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IMAGE:  Google street view can save you much driving, but sometimes it is difficult to be certain of an exact address.  Always do a drive-by before you bid on a place.  The house above is one that I was trying to Quiet Title.  I bought it in the auction for $2000.  House not withstanding, the lot has much potential.

  Issues that you may run into however are that the current owners fight you in court to keep their claim to the property.  If there were any technicality errors at any step, the sale of the property might be completely overturned.  Even if just one heir could prove that he or she was never notified of the tax delinquency, the whole deal could be blown.   You would get the original amount you bid back plus interest, but you would lose any court fees and lawyer costs.   In my example, I have more to lose ( $3500 potentially ) than I originally bid on the property.  But, there are some strategies to strengthen one's case and increase the chances of obtaining a marketable Warranty Deed to the property, or at least get a good return on your investment.

1.  Knock on the door and meet the person living there.  Have an open mind and don't be confrontational.  The object is just to find out what the situation is.  They could be renting from an owner who stopped paying the taxes, and might be perfectly happy to pay you rent instead.

2.  Always be open, upfront, and flexible in your dealings with the former owner.  You don't want to incite them into fighting you in court.

3.  Find out what the current owners want to do.  If the property went through probate, be sure to research who all the owners are.

4.  Find out if they will pay you rent, or if they want to buy your interest in the property off as soon as they get their money together.

5.  Tell them about the money at the county tax office that was paid in for the property ( your bid at the auction ).  Any amount in excess of the back taxes is due to the owners.  If they take that excess money, it strengthens your claim to the property in the Quiet Title hearing if they later decide to challenge you for ownership.

6.  Offer a sum of money in exchange for their signing of a Quit Claim Deed granting you that person's share of the property.  If there are feuding heirs to a property, you may be able to secure signatures of all but 1 or 2 of the heirs.  That dilutes the value that the remaining heirs have in the property, and that makes it more difficult for them to find a lawyer to take the case when such a low amount of value is left.

7.  Remember that you are in the driver's seat.  They can never sell or borrow against the property as long as you own the Tax Deed to it.  Ultimately, you can also have them evicted, but exhaust all other possibilities first.  You don't want to end up paying out more for court costs than the place is worth.

As it turned out, the owners redeemed the property at the very last minute.  I got a good safe 12% interest off the deal, and no hassles after all.  Of course, no windfall profits either.  If any of you have any real experience in this area, please post your ideas in the comments section.

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