What Is a Sheriff's Sale?

FAQs About This Foreclosure Auction

Picture of Sheriff's Sale
A Sheriff's Sale Is a Property Auction. Kirby Hamilton/E+/Getty Images

As a property investor, you want to find the best deal on an investment property. To do this, you must be willing to explore all available options. One option for finding a potential investment is at a sheriff sale. This type of sale can allow you to purchase a property at a significant discount.

What Is A Sheriff's Sale?

A sheriff's sale is a type of public auction where interested buyers can bid on properties.

The homeowner was delinquent on his or her mortgage payments and lost the property to foreclosure. The bank or lender is now in legal possession of the property by a court order. They are trying to sell the property at this foreclosure auction in order to recover the money they have lost on the property. Sheriff sales are usually conducted in individual counties within a state.

What Types of Properties Are Auctioned Off?

At a sheriff's sale, the properties that are being auctioned off are foreclosures. All types of properties are auctioned off including single family homes, multifamily homes, mixed use propertieslarger complexes and commercial buildings. The common thread is that they have been foreclosed on. 

When Do Sheriff's Sales Occur?

Sheriff’s sales occur quite frequently. You will need to consult with your county’s sheriff department to determine how often they take place near you.

However, they usually take place at least once a month, if not every week.

Where Does a Sheriff's Sale Take Place?             

A sheriff's sale usually takes place in the sheriff’s office at the county courthouse. Some areas of the country will actually conduct the sale on the front steps of the courthouse rather than inside.


Who Can Bid on Properties?

The public can bid on the properties or the lender can bid to buy back their own property. You must have your certified funds available in order to bid on the property.

How Do You See the List of Properties?

There are a couple of places you can go to view the list of properties that will be auctioned off at the next sheriff's sale.

1. Online- Many sheriff's offices have online sites. You can often view the upcoming sales on the website.

2. Newspaper- The properties that will be listed at the sheriff sale will usually be advertised in the local or county paper for about a month before the actual sale. You should contact your local sheriff’s office to find out which exact papers these sales will be listed in.

3. Sheriff's Office- You can find a list of the properties to be auctioned off by physically going to your local sheriff’s office.

What Should You Expect to See in the Listing?

When viewing the list of properties up for auction, each property will usually include the following information:

  • Docket#/ Sheriff#/ Court Case #
  • Plaintiff:
  • Defendant:
  • Property Address:
  • Upset Price
  • Description:

What Is an Upset Price?

At a sheriff's sale, the upset price is the minimum amount that the plaintiff will accept in order to sell the property.

If the bids do not meet this amount, the property will not be sold. The upset price could be lower or higher than the actual judgment amount. The plaintiff’s attorney will usually bid on the property to help drive the price up.

Is There Anything You Should Do Before a Sheriff's Sale?

If there are properties at the sheriff sale that you are interested in bidding on, before the sale, you should do a full coverage title search on them. Some areas allow you to conduct this search online, while in other areas, you must conduct the search at the main court house.

You will want to see if there are any liens against the property on a Federal or State level or by the IRS. This could include taxes or water charges. You could be responsible for paying any of these liens that were not wiped out during the court proceedings.

Instead of doing this title search yourself, you could also elect to hire an attorney to do it for you.

How Much Money Do You Have To Bring?

The amount that you must bring to a sheriff sale will differ depending on the amount of money you are willing to spend on a property, as well as the amount of down payment required. The amount you must put down after a successful bid will differ, so check the rules of your local sheriff's sale. Some towns will require you to make a down payment of  10% of the bidding price and others will require 20%. The funds must be cash or certified check or money order.

As an example, a sheriff's sale requires a 10% down payment on successful bids. The most you are willing to pay for a property is $180,000. Therefore you must bring proof of funds of $18,000 to the auction which is 10%.

When Do You Have to Close on the Property?

Again, this will depend on the rules of each individual sheriff's sale. You will usually have to close on the property within 30 days of successfully bidding on the property and submitting your down payment. Some sheriff's sales require you to close on the property sooner than 30 days and others have a closing period of longer than 30 days, so it is important that you know the rules of the sheriff's sale you are attending. Many sheriff's sales will publish these rules online or you can call or go to the sheriff’s office for the full list of requirements.