State Specific Information and Tools
With 50 states and over 3000 counties, much of the tax liens business involves figuring out how it is done in different areas, counties and states. We have gathered here some information to help you in your research. The states displayed here have a couple of characteristics in common - they feature some form of over-the-counter sales and they show much of their tax sale information online. The information we give you here is a tool - you still have to put in the work and effort - and since these are Web sites, they are subject to change and are beyond our control. We make no respresentations as to the accuracy of this information, but the sites linked here are all sponsored by official government entities.
Alabama: Alabama has a large number of over-the-counter sales, all of which are held by the Alabama Department of Revenue. You can find these lists easily by going to www.ador.state.al.us and clicking on the calendar below the word "Individual," then clicking on the text link for "Property Tax." Now you are at the page for the Property Tax Division. The button bar at the top of the page has this button second from the right labeled "Tax Delinquent Property For Sale." This page lists all the counties in Alabama as links which show a PDF file list of state-owned properties. You can then use the parcel numbers to look the properties up at the associated county's parcel search engine. Or you can go directly to www.revenue.alabama.gov/advalorem/transcript/transcript.htm and skip the buttons.
Arkansas: Tax sales in Arkansas are mostly administered with the county boundaries, but are the responsibility of the Commissioner of State Lands. At this site you will find a list of upcoming auctions in the "Auction Catalog" along with information about "Negotiated Sales" (i.e., over-the-counter sales) under the heading of "Publications."
To use the parcel locator on this website, click on the button “Form Requests” on the far right of the black navigation bar. You can register to use this feature with a user name and password. This can be tricky if you don’t follow the instructions explicitly (pop quiz question: What is a non-alphanumeric symbol?) Once you have successfully registered, you can sign in and can now search for the properties you found under any of the Negotiated Sales lists using either the parcel number or owner’s name. To the right of the basic information you will see a button labeled “View Detail.” This will reveal additional important information about this property. At the bottom of this report you will find buttons labeled “Request Petition to Redeem” and “Request Offer to Purchase Form.” The petition button is for the original owner’s use in redeeming the property.
Whenever you see the “Request Offer to Purchase Form” in shaded relief, that means this property is available to purchase “over the counter.” Click the button and follow the instructions. You use this to request forms from the Commissioner of State Lands for purchase of the property. If the button is faded out, you can then approach the property owner to make the purchase. Either way, you win!
Florida: Florida is a very interesting state to work in – and unique in many ways. The first thing we notice about Florida that sets it apart from other states is the fact that we can buy both lien certificates and deeds there – on the same properties!
When the taxes on a real property become delinquent in Florida, the local county conducts a lien certificate sale. These certificates have a two-year redemption period. However, at the end of this time the certificate holder does not automatically foreclose and take possession of the property as with other states that sell lien certificates. Instead, the certificate petitions for an auction of the property – a deed sale. Proceeds of the deed auction pay the certificate the principal part of the investment plus interest. The lien holder is free to bid in the auction or not and simply earn the interest.
This creates a situation where a large percentage of certificate holders in Florida are LLCs owned by financial services companies who like the interest income from the certificates (guaranteed to be no lower than 5% per annum – very good income for a bank) with no risk of being stuck with an unwanted piece of real estate.
This also make deed sales easy to spot in Florida. The trick is that the County Treasurer, who collects taxes, does not conduct the auctions. The properties transfer over to the circuit court for sale. The Clerk of the Circuit Court handles the announcements of these auctions. The counties hold them frequently and announce them well in advance. In the more populous areas the counties may hold sales every week or two during certain seasons.
Any properties that fail to sell at the deed auction go on to a List of Lands Available. This constitutes Florida's over-the-counter sales: Lands Available. They are easy to find by looking at the site for the Clerk of the Court for each county – usually in the same part of the Web site as the regular deed auctions.
Mississippi: Tax sales in Mississippi are typical lien auctions using a premium bid method. In other words, the interest rate is fixed, but is only paid on the principal portion of the bid (i.e., the taxes), and not on the premium amount. The premium consists of anything that is bid higher than the amount of the taxes. Obviously if an investor must pay $1500 just to win the bidding on a $1000 lien, and earns interest only on the $1000, that reduces the yield of the investment. On the other hand, this fact will reduce the competition at an auction, since fewer people would attend. Given that Mississippi as a whole is less well known as an investing site, it becomes good for avoiding excessive competition.
Mississippi also has deed sales as over the counter through the Secretary of State. An application to purchase a property is available at www.sos.state.ms.us. Properties are awarded by date application is received, regardless of bid amount. A list of available properties can be found at the same site along with instructions on the application process to purchase.
Pennsylvania: The system in Pennsylvania is a little more complex than in other places, but it provides plenty of opportunities to find excellent deals. Once you figure it out, it's easy. Just make sure that you talk to the correct county department - the Tax Claim Bureau. Additionally, the law firm that is found under Texas as "Publicans" handles sales for the County of Philadelphia.
Texas: Tax sales in Texas can occur as often as monthly, on the first Tuesday of each month. These sales are usually conducted by the County Sheriff, with one notable exception, Harris County, where they are conducted by a local district marshal. To obtain these lists you can contact the law firm hired by foreclosing taxing entities or the county office. The taxing etities are usually the County Tax-Assessor Collector, an Independent School District, an Incorporated Municipality or the County Appraisal District, if it is acting on their behalf.
Be aware that over-the-counter sales in Texas go under the title of "Struck-Off" sales. Most counties in Texas have a number of these. You purchase them with a sealed-envelope bid directly from the county government. You should review the various county Web sites for instructions and procedure. In addition, counties may have a year-end Commissioner's Sale where struck-off properties are sold at public auction on the first Tuesday of December. This sale features a greater price reduction than the normal struck-off sales.
The following four law firms probably represent more than eighty percent of all foreclosing taxing entities, with each having an Internet website where they post their monthly first Tuesday sales:The counties rarely post these lists more than 21 days ahead of the auction, but will sometimes make the lists of delinquent properties available to you, often for a fee. Here are some of the law firms that handle Texas sales.
Since you buy the property in Texas with a deed sale, iit might occasionally be valuable to do a public records search of a property to check for liens. Whenever the county has it's public records online with the Clerk's Office, you can search there without cost. Occasionally, however, a county might not have that database on its web site.
In the absense of such access, there is a commercial site that will help you with this kind of research, www.texaslandrecords.com. Although it is a subscription service, as a non-subscriber you still only pay $1.00 per page of information. Of course, with an unimproved parcel, you probably don't have to do this research - pay money for title research only when a house in involved.