How to buy a house at a sheriff sale?


Closing on Your Sheriff's Sale Property

Have you ever dreamed of owning your dream home at a fraction of the market price? Buying a house at a sheriff’s sale could be your golden ticket to homeownership or a lucrative investment opportunity.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the intricate process of purchasing properties at sheriff’s sales. We’ll unveil insider tips and strategies to maximize your chances of success.

What is a Sheriff’s Sale?

A sheriff’s sale, also known as a foreclosure auction, is a public auction where foreclosed or defaulted properties are sold to the highest bidder. It occurs when a homeowner fails to make their mortgage payments and the lender (often a bank or financial institution) obtains a court order to seize the property.

Unlike traditional real estate sales, where a homeowner voluntarily lists their property, a sheriff’s sale is a legal process initiated by the lender. This process is designed to recover their losses from the unpaid mortgage. The proceeds from the sale are used to pay off the outstanding mortgage balance, legal fees and any other debts or liens attached to the property.

Types of Properties Available at Sheriff’s Sales

The beauty of sheriff’s sales lies in the diverse range of properties up for grabs. You might come across:

Types of Properties Available at Sheriff's Sales

Single-family homes: From cozy starter homes to sprawling mansions, single-family residences are common finds at these auctions.

Multi-unit residential properties: Apartment complexes, duplexes, and other multi-family dwellings offer lucrative investment opportunities.

Commercial buildings: Office spaces, retail stores and other commercial properties can be acquired through sheriff’s sales.

Vacant land: Undeveloped plots of land, potentially ripe for construction or development projects, are also auctioned off.

The variety is truly astounding. One investor’s story illustrates this: At a sheriff’s sale in New Jersey, I unexpectedly came across a mixed-use property with a retail space on the ground floor and apartments above – a real gem that I couldn’t pass up.

Preparing for a Sheriff’s Sale: Due Diligence is Key

While the prospect of scoring a great deal is enticing, proper preparation is crucial for success at a sheriff’s sale. Here are some essential steps to take:

Research properties beforehand: Conduct thorough title searches to uncover any outstanding liens, tax debts, or code violations associated with the properties you’re interested in. Services like and Zillow can be valuable resources.

Get pre-approved for financing: Most sheriff’s sales require cash or certified funds for the down payment, typically ranging from 10% to 20% of the purchase price. Secure pre-approval from a lender to ensure you have the necessary funds available.

Attend a sale as an observer first: Before bidding, it’s wise to attend a sheriff’s sale as a spectator. This will give you a better understanding of the bidding process, the types of properties available, and the overall atmosphere.

Understand local rules and requirements: Each county or municipality may have slightly different regulations governing sheriff’s sales. Familiarize yourself with the specific rules in your area, such as the minimum bid increments, required down payment percentages, and closing timelines.

The Bidding Process Explained

At the heart of a sheriff’s sale is the auction-style bidding process. Here’s how it typically unfolds:

The Bidding Process Explained

Opening bid: The bidding starts at the “upset price,” which is the minimum amount the lender is willing to accept for the property. This figure is usually based on the outstanding mortgage balance, legal fees, and other associated costs.

Competitive bidding: Once the opening bid is announced, interested buyers can bid against each other in increments set by the auctioneer. It’s crucial to set a maximum budget beforehand and stick to it to avoid getting caught up in the heat of the moment.

Highest bid wins: The person who places the highest bid secures the property, provided their bid meets or exceeds the upset price.

Down payment: Immediately after the winning bid, the successful bidder must provide a non-refundable down payment, often 10-20% of the purchase price.

Pro Tip: Consider working with an experienced real estate attorney who specializes in sheriff’s sales. They can guide you through the bidding process, represent your interests, and ensure you comply with all legal requirements.

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Closing on Your Sheriff’s Sale Property

Once you’ve secured a property at a sheriff’s sale, the next step is closing the deal. Here’s what you can expect:

Closing on Your Sheriff's Sale Property

Typical timeline: In most cases, you’ll need to complete the purchase and take possession of the property within 30 days of the sale date. However, some counties may have shorter or longer closing periods, so be sure to check the local regulations.

Additional costs: Beyond the winning bid amount, be prepared to pay any outstanding taxes, liens, code violation fees or other debts associated with the property. You may also need to budget for necessary repairs or renovations.

Possession and eviction: If the property is occupied, you’ll need to follow the proper legal channels to gain possession. This may involve serving eviction notices or, in some cases, negotiating with the current residents to vacate the premises peacefully.

Case Study: John, a seasoned real estate investor in New Jersey, shared his experience: At a recent sheriff’s sale, I purchased a single-family home for just $120,000-nearly half the estimated market value of $250,000. However, I did have to allocate an additional $15,000 for back taxes and $10,000 for necessary repairs. Even with those extra costs, it was still an incredible deal.

Pros and Cons of Buying at a Sheriff’s Sale

Like any real estate investment, purchasing a property at a sheriff’s sale comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s weigh them:


Significant discounts: Properties are often sold well below market value, creating opportunities for substantial savings or investment returns.

Diverse inventory: From residential homes to commercial buildings, the variety of properties available is vast.

Potential for flipping or renting: With the right property and some renovations, you could flip the property for a profit or hold it as a rental investment.


Unknown property condition: You may be purchasing a property “as-is,” without the opportunity for a thorough inspection, which can lead to costly repairs or renovations.

Title issues: Liens, judgments, or other encumbrances on the property’s title can create legal headaches and additional expenses.

Competitive bidding: The auction environment can be intense, and you may end up overpaying if you don’t exercise discipline and set a firm budget.

Occupied properties: If the property is occupied, the eviction process can be time-consuming and emotionally challenging.

Ultimately, the decision to buy at a sheriff’s sale should be weighed carefully, considering your investment goals, risk tolerance and available resources.

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Frequently asked questions

What happens after a sheriff sale in Pennsylvania?

After a sheriff sale in Pennsylvania, the property is transferred to the highest bidder. This transfer is subject to court approval and potential redemption rights by the original owner.

What is a sheriff sale in Texas?

A sheriff sale in Texas is a public auction where properties foreclosed due to unpaid debts or taxes are sold to the highest bidder. This process is used to satisfy the outstanding obligations.

What does active P mean?

“Active P” typically stands for “Active Pending,” indicating that a property is under contract but still accepting backup offers in real estate listings.

How to buy a foreclosed home in NJ?

To buy a foreclosed home in NJ, attend the sheriff sale auction and bid on the property. If successful, fulfill the payment requirements and complete the necessary paperwork.

What is the difference between a foreclosure and a sheriff’s sale in PA?

Foreclosure in PA is the legal process where a lender seeks to recover the balance of a loan from a borrower who has stopped making payments. A sheriff’s sale is the auction held to sell the foreclosed property.

What is a sheriff sale in California?

A sheriff sale in California is a public auction where properties seized due to unpaid debts or court judgments are sold to the highest bidder. This process is used to satisfy the debts.


Buying a house at a sheriff’s sale can be a rewarding and potentially lucrative endeavor, but it’s not without its challenges. By arming yourself with knowledge, conducting thorough due diligence and developing a strategic approach, it increases your chances of success.

Remember, success at sheriff’s sales often boils down to preparation, discipline and willingness to navigate the complexities of the process. If you’re up for the challenge, scoring an incredible deal on your dream property or a promising investment opportunity can be incredibly rewarding. The potential rewards can make the effort and challenges involved worthwhile.

So, what are you waiting for? Start researching upcoming sheriff’s sales in your area, consult with experienced professionals and get ready to bid with confidence. The path to homeownership or real estate riches could be just one gavel strike away.

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