While no one likes paying taxes, for some, the word "tax" is synonymous with "opportunity."
Taxes can sometimes be profitable. Just ask those who own tax credits or participate in tax lien auctions.
In fact, a whole new industry has boomed from people that scour local auctions for real estate sales, caused by delinquent taxes. These forced sales, or tax lien sales, are becoming more and more mainstream and popular with the general public.
What is a Tax Lien?
In most jurisdictions, when a property owner is late on paying real property taxes, the county or municipality will issue a a tax lien on that person's property. Certain states allow the tax lien to become a first lien on the property, which is then turned around and sold at auction as a tax lien certificate.
After placing a successful bid, buyers of a government-issued tax lien certificate will then get one of two things:
1) A state-mandated yield from the lien, which the delinquent taxpayer must pay in order to release the lien, OR
2) Title to the property (after a certain amount of time, set by the jurisdiction) if the delinquent taxpayer fails to pay up.
Individuals have been snapping up tax liens more and more because of these two benefits. A fixed percentage rate, mandated by a government agency, or the title to property at a substantial discount are incredible benefits rarely seen with other real estate transactions.
Risks In Going It Alone
The rewards of tax liens seem promising. Who would balk at the chance to pay a fraction of the cost for a new home, either to collect a fixed penalty from the homeowner or (in case of default) the property itself?
However, what many tax lien buyers find out is that, if they did not do proper title and bankruptcy research, their tax liens can become worthless.
For instance, creditors and the IRS can take priority over tax lien holders in cases where the original owner of the property declares bankruptcy.
In addition, many people purchase properties sight unseen, going just on the description posted prior to auction. Without actual inspections and geographical surveys, sometimes these deeds are worth little more than the paper they're printed on.
Imagine the surprise of a property owner in Texas who, at auction, thought he got a deal on 2 acres of property for $11,000... only to realize the property is completely flooded twice a year.
Yet institutions, like banks and credit unions, have always been able to overcome many of these conditions. Why? Because they had the resources to build relationships with local real estate agents, do the proper title searches and property inspections.
These firms realized the potential in tax liens, provided they could "cover their bases" and ensure each tax lien purchase was a sound one.
Individual tax lien purchasers are often burned without doing full inspections of each property they purchase. At auction, tax liens are usually issued based on lot number. Purchasers have no idea whether they're buying a four-bedroom house or a plot of dirt without inspecting the property. Physical inspections take time, energy and money, and often limits tax lien purchasers to properties within a small area.
Participating in Auctions
So who can participate in these tax lien sales? Anyone who can legally own property in the U.S. can participate in these sales.
Tax lien sales are not for everyone, since purchases must be made in cold, hard cash. As is often the case, the County conducting the tax lien auction will require payment in full in cash within a pre-determied amount of time. Sometimes payment can be made in 48 hours, while others require payment in full on the spot.
Thanks to the popularity of such auction sites as eBay, the realm of tax lien sales has also entered the internet age. Many County officials recognize the greater reach and appeal that these properties can have when published online. Several online auction sites specialize in distressed property sales, eliminating the need to show up on the day of the auction.
Learn More About Tax Liens
When purchasing a tax-distressed property online, be sure to still do your due diligence and homework prior to logging in and placing a bid. Review regional foreclosure listsregularly to find out the types of property currently available. You'd also want to verify the reputation of the authority conducting the auction on behalf of the County.