Basic Investing Insights

Where to Find Tax Auctions and Over-the-Counter Listings

Rachel Seidensticker
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Investors in property tax liens and tax deeds are always on the hunt for properties that match their investment needs. But to find them, you first have to know where to look – which the following overview can help you understand to make the search easier and more efficient.

Auction Announcements and Listings

Counties or other jurisdictions have their own different ways of publicizing auctions. Many have online portals you can access to find lists of items to be auctioned, while some still publish theirs the old-fashioned way, in local newspapers. If there are digital listings online, you may be able to conveniently download them. If they use a newspaper, you’ll need to know which papers and what day the listings appear. Maybe the newspaper offers a digital edition, or you may have to buy it in print. In some jurisdictions, you may need to register online to access the listings, which is a relatively simple procedure – although some states or counties will charge a small fee. All of this may sound complicated and confusing. But the simple solution is to just call the tax office and ask them when they post their listings and where to find them. They’ll be happy to tell you.

Liens or Deeds that Fail to Sell at Auction

Sometimes, for whatever reason, a tax lien or tax deed will be offered at auction and nobody will buy it – either because the bids don’t meet the minimum threshold for purchase or because bidders just aren’t interested. That could mean the item offered for auction wasn’t worth buying – but not necessarily. It could be that bidders didn’t have sufficient information to learn about the underlying property before the auction occurred. Or maybe the auction involved new parcels where the tax assessments had not yet been updated. Whatever the case may be, these unsold liens and deeds are taken back by the taxing agency that offered them – a process that is known as being “struck off.” You can wait around for them to come back up for auction next time, or if you want to act sooner, you can call or visit the tax office that they were struck off to and inquire about buying them. 

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Opportunities

When you buy directly from the taxing authority in that way, it’s called an over-the-counter (OTC) transaction. Just contact them and ask if they have any liens or deeds that didn’t sell at auction and if they are available for you to buy directly from them. When that item transfers to you – whether it’s a lien, a deed, or whatever – that process of ownership transfer is generally know as an “assignment.” You might get an assignment from the county or from the state – and what you have to pay to complete the transaction will vary. Inquire from them about the rules and guidelines regarding their OTC sales. Also be aware that most tax authorities will need a day or two after the auction to do their paperwork. You can try to buy right after the auction, but they may need more time before they are ready to sell OTC parcels.

Can You Bid and Buy Online?

More and more jurisdictions these days let you attend online auctions where you bid and buy from the convenience of your computer. You’ll likely be required to register and provide a valid payment source beforehand. Keep in mind that in some places there will be multiple auction sites. In that case, you may need to find out about each of them, and how to access them and participate. In one state there may be half a dozen online tax lien auctions – each with their own unique listings. 

Buying in Secondary Markets

The other way to get an assignment is from another investor who bought the lien at the auction. Maybe they’re willing to part with it at an agreed-upon price. Since the original auction is the primary market, these post-auction transactions between the winning bidder and another party such as yourself are in what is called the “secondary market.” 

Can You Buy Lists?

Many investors don’t want to do all the legwork or sit at a computer or talk on the phone all day just to compile more complete lists of buyable tax liens and deeds. They will instead rely on professional services that offer databases of information you can either buy outright or gain access to on a subscription basis, by signing up with them and paying a monthly membership fee. The ways and means of finding auctions, lists, and OTC offerings are numerous – because so are your options and chances to find ideal investments that meet your criteria. 

Author - Rachel Seidensticker
Rachel Seidensticker
Chief Operations Officer
In the Tax Sale Industry Since 2010
Rachel is responsible for managing and overseeing the daily operations of Tax Sale Resources, which produces data for approximately 8,000 nationwide tax sales yearly. She started in the tax sale industry originally as an investor but decided to change course and team up with her brother (Brian Seidensticker) to build Tax Sale Resources quickly thereafter.

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