By Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.
Q: I’d like to purchase property at an upcoming Tax Deed sale. What do I need to do, and what should I be aware of?
A: Prior to the Tax Deed sale, you’ll need to visit your local Clerk of Court’s website to register and place a deposit which is typically the greater of $200 or 5% of your maximum bid and should be made by electronic check or wire transfer. For example, you should deposit $2,500 if you intend to bid up to $50,000. If you wish to purchase the property with an LLC or other entity, you should form the entity well in advance of the Tax Deed sale.
If you have the winning bid, within 24 hours you must pay to the Clerk the balance of the bid along with the recording fee and state documentary stamp taxes based on the winning bid amount. After the Clerk receives full payment, the Clerk issues and records the Tax Deed. However, according to statute, the property owner has the right to redeem his property by paying all back taxes and costs at any time before the successful bidder makes full payment to the Clerk for the Tax Deed.
When purchasing property at a Tax Deed sale, there are several things to be aware of. The Clerk must take certain steps and actions before the property may go to Tax Deed sale. If these requirements are not strictly complied with, the Tax Deed may be invalid. Furthermore, the tax certificate holder applying for the Tax Deed is sometimes the high bidder at the Tax Deed sale because the tax certificate holder is entitled to a credit against the tax certificate holder’s bid price equal to the amount of the tax certificate. Also, you should keep in mind that there may be environmental issues with the property, and you probably won’t be able to have a proper environmental assessment done until after the Tax Deed sale which is risky.
Moreover, a Tax Deed is basically an administrative Quit Claim Deed without any warranty of title, and the former owner has 4 years to bring an action to challenge the Tax Deed sale. Therefore, many title insurance companies will require a quiet title action if you decide to sell the property within 4 years of purchasing the property and wish to provide title insurance to your buyer.
On top of all this, the following are some of the interests in real property that survive the issuance of a Tax Deed:
• Matters reflected on a plat
• Covenants and restrictions that run with the land
• Mineral reservations
• Federal tax liens
• Subordinate liens which are held by state, municipal, or county governmental units.
Therefore, it would be wise to have a real estate attorney do a title search for the property you plan to purchase well in advance of bidding so you’re aware of any issues before you wind up with a problem.
While many view Tax Deed sales as an easy way to scoop up valuable property at an inexpensive price, if you don’t do your homework beforehand, you might scoop up a headache instead. A savvy real estate attorney can help you navigate the process and choose the right property.