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"For Sale" Signs on Property

Putting “for sale” signs on tax sale properties comes up often. Today, I received a question from someone who had been given a price quote by the State, planned to pay the full quoted price, and would receive a tax deed. Her question was, “Can I immediately put a sign up indicating I will own this property soon, and asking people to contact me if they are interested?”

There are several reasons why she cannot, and SHOULD not, put up such a sign until AFTER she has her deed.

  • It is not her property until she actually receives the tax deed. If she puts up a sign, she is trespassing and could be subject to criminal prosecution.
  • Just because she is willing to pay the quoted price does not mean she will get the deed. Taxpayers sometimes redeem right before the deed is signed by the Governor. That happens because the State is legally obligated to notify the former owner before the tax deed is signed, to give them the chance to redeem before that happens.
  • Shining a spotlight on a good property might cause a vulture investor to buy up the taxpayer’s rights and redeem it from the State. The lady who asked for the price quote will lose her deal. Laying low is the best policy, until she has that deed.

Another person’s “sign” question had to do with posting a property as “No Trespassing” and if that were enough to establish possession. Answer: It is an indication of possession, but is not enough all by itself. If you do not want to get an ejectment order, do as many things as you can to take possession. Rent the property out, even if just for garage sales or growing turnip greens. Put up “For Sale” signs. You don’t have to actually sell it to anyone who asks. Keep the grass cut or the frontage mowed. Put out survey stakes approximately along the property line, every 10 or 12 feet, with orange flagging on them. Put your phone number on a No Trespassing sign. The thing about possession is that it is supposed to alert people there is a “new Sheriff in town” and they should ask questions if they are the former Sheriff.

Remember, if you have a question, you can always write. If it’s something I think might interest other people without giving away any of your tactics or secrets or identify, I might make a blog article about it.

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Quieting Title

Quieting title quiets all the ghosts that “haunt” a property’s title. It is a lawsuit that results in a court order saying nobody else has any claims or redemption rights regarding a particular property. You do not receive a warranty deed from the court, because you already own the property. But, the result is basically the same thing as if you had received a warranty deed.

After such an order you can get title insurance. That means you can borrow money against the property, and you can sell it for full market value. You no longer have any worries about doing whatever you want on the property. No matter what marketing you might have seen, you cannot get title insurance in Alabama on a tax sale property unless you have a quiet title order OR quitclaim deeds from everyone that might have any rights. You can, in other states. Not Alabama.

There are three ways to quiet title through the courts. Two of them are pretty quick, easy and cheap. They are simple enough for Do-It-Yourself, without an attorney. The third way is a little bit trickier, and I usually recommend people hire a lawyer for that one.

Quitclaim deeds are easy to prepare. Sometimes you need to hire a skip trace to find people. I usually offer to pay someone for their time meeting me to sign the deed, “up to $200.” That lets me dangle money in front of them, but it does not make it seem like they are doing any important or valuable. If they thought that, they might want more money. I just act like it’s a very routine paperwork thing the lawyers are making me do. “No big deal.”

If you would like to learn how to quiet title, try to take one of our classes on that subject. Currently, there is one scheduled in Birmingham on Saturday, January 25, 2020 from 8:30 am to Noon at the Marriott Courtyard, 4300 Colonnade Parkway. Come with information about a property you would like to quiet title on. For the two easier methods of quieting title, we’ll walk through all of the steps and forms right in class! Come prepared with information about one of your properties, if you would like to use it in class as an example.

I also tell you what you need to know about the 3rd kind of quiet title, and provide some forms. We won’t provide a step-by-step for that one, though, because I really strongly encourage getting a lawyer. But, if you are up for it, you’ll receive all the information you need. We will also spend a little bit of time going over quitclaim deeds, with those forms.

Click HERE for more information about the class, reviews, schedule, and registration link.

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Big Changes for 2020

What is 2020 bringing for Alabama tax sale investors? Lots of changes!

Interest rates are dropping to 8 percent across the board, although that was probably not the intent. Some local redemption offices will still allow 12% on auctions that occurred before 2020. The rules are quirky.

Payment for improvements will turn into a logistical nightmare, with taxpayers able to regain possession before they pay for improvements. The intended upside for investors was the “sudden death” provision if the taxpayer misses its deadline to pay, but actual implementation at the county level will change that. The best option for everybody? Get the law changed, again!

The Alabama Department of Revenue has plans to break the logjam caused by the ten-fold increase in price requests, the vast majority of which NEVER turn into a purchase.

Birmingham Land Bank will be selling commercial as well as residential properties. Changes to the process will make it easier to buy in 2020. Right now, they have 22 residential properties already in inventory with warranty deeds and title insurance, for immediate closings upon payment of $3,000 to $4,500. More cities are expected to implement their own local Land Banks, including several in Jefferson County.

Mobile County will join Shelby and Baldwin in switching to tax lien sales, as will several of the smaller counties. Mobile plans to have an online auction rather than the traditional method. As of the date of this blog post, it will be the only one for 2020.

An important new appeals court decision means a redeeming owner will have to pay you the reasonable rental value of tax deed property from the deed date up until the date of redemption, on top of the other redemption charges.

FYI, one of the pre-filed bills for the 2020 legislative session seeks to abolish state sales taxes and income taxes and replace them with an 8.03% consumption tax on all goods and services. It doesn’t have anything to do with tax sales, but I though you’d like to know about it!

If you are interested in details about these and other changes, plus explanations of what they mean to you, your strategies, your new opportunities, and your new perils, please attend one of our classes on “2020 Tax Sale Changes.” The class is 4 hours, but every single minute is important! You can attend in Birmingham or Orange Beach, in person or live over the Internet. Streaming video also available. For details and registration links, click HERE.

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Question of Week: Sale to Former Owner

This question comes from Mona Lisa Zimmerman.

“I have just received a tax deed on yesterday for a property in Jefferson County, Bessemer, AL. I am in the process of sending a certified letter to the previous owner, who still has possession of the property (is living there), asking them to vacate the property. I am willing to sell the house back to them. Can I sell it back to them at a fair market value or can I only sell it to them for the taxes I’ve paid plus interest? Also, please verify that these are the correct steps for me to take:
1. Send a certified letter letting the previous owner know that I have purchased the property via a tax deed and ask them to vacate.
2. If they don’t vacate by the specified date (I’m giving them 2 months), start the ejectment process.
3. Alternatively, I will rent to them if they want to stay.
Thank you! “

My answer: Many people sell properties back to the owners at fair market value after they’ve received a tax deed. Technically, the owner can redeem by paying only the taxes plus interest. Many owners do not know that. I am not sure if it is fraud or not to tell someone they must pay fair market value. I am not condemning the people who do that, because I’m truly not sure in my own mind. I would not do that, because it would make me nervous and uncomfortable and it would feel wrong. But that’s just me. It doesn’t mean that is the only correct response.

Yes, Lisa, your outlined steps are correct. If you have only a tax certificate, you must give six months notice before you file your ejectment lawsuit. If you have a tax deed, you do not have to wait out any notice period at all.

There is currently a case pending in the Court of Civil Appeals about the ability to recover “mesne profits” when you sue for ejectment after you have a tax deed.

“Mesne profits” is a very very old Anglo-French word dating back to the time of King Henry II of England, who was the father of Richard the Lionhearted and King John of Magna Carta fame. It is a little bit earlier than Robin Hood. The concept is VERY old. Some people pronounced it as “main profits” because that is the French pronunciation. At the time, all English royalty was basically French by heritage. Some people pronounce the word “mez-knee”. Either one is acceptable.

It means that if you sue for ejectment after you have a deed, you are also entitled to money damages equal to the reasonable rental value of the property for the entire time of the unlawful occupancy by the defendant. The pending case will decide if that applies to a tax deed situation. As soon as there is a decision, I will let everybody know. You should always ask for mesne profits, if you have a tax deed, just in case the court allows it.

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Question of the Week: Day Care Tenant

An investor has been given a price quote for a tax deed on a property. The former owner operates a day care center there. The day care is still in business. The investor asked for my advice. Here it is:

An operating business or a property occupied by a paying tenant will probably be redeemed. On the other hand, they might be short of cash for the time being and willing to sign a lease. Getting that signed lease puts you legally in possession, which is important when burning off judicial redemption rights. Worst case–they redeem pretty quickly and you get your money back. Most likely case, they redeem after several years and you get the rent plus the interest. Best case, three years slip by without them redeeming, and you can now quiet title in yourself.

A day care raises some red flags, though. Are they licensed? If not, then they can be shut down by the authorities. Makes no different to the investor, except that the loss of income makes it even less likely the former owner will be able to redeem.

Liability issues are especially important with a day care. If a child is hurt or killed while on the premises, you better believe EVERYBODY–including the tax deed owner–will be sued. Under some theories of liability, the tax deed owner might be held liable. The investor should discuss with their insurance agent that the tenant will be an operating day care center, and make sure the investor gets the right insurance to cover such risks. Some companies will not insure properties with day care tenants. Some charge a higher premium. Also, the investor should check into getting an umbrella insurance policy. An umbrella picks up the difference between the maximum liability limits on all your other policies, up to the umbrella amount. For example, suppose you buy a $1 million umbrella, which is surprising cheap, btw. If your auto policy has $250,000 liability limits and your homeowners has $100,000 liability limits and your landlord property policy has $200,000 limits, then for whatever thing you get sued for, the umbrella will pick up the difference. It will add another $750,000 to your auto liability coverage, $900,000 to your homeowners, and $800,000 to your landlord policy.

If you are interested in landlord/tenant advice, be sure to visit our companion site, AlabamaLandlords.com to read the blog articles and check out the class, video, article and book resources.

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Exciting Things in Birmingham's District 9

In case you want to skip over this post, don’t! It is about how somebody else’s vision can bring personal financial rewards to you–the tax sale investor. Read to the end, please.

I just returned home from speaking at a Pastor’s Breakfast in Birmingham, at the invitation of City Councilor John Hilliard. I was the featured speaker with a talk about tax sale investing, meaning people were supposed to be excited about MY words. A wonderful bonus for me was listening to Councilor Hilliard’s talk about his vision for the people of his District, and viewing his video about a planned aviation high school. In my opinion, that would be a game-changer for so many families, so many futures. If you teach children it is okay to dream, because you are also giving them the tools to realize their dreams, then the repercussions will echo down through the generations. Our country was built on dreams, and our future will be designed by the dreams of the children now coming up in the school system. We should all help them dream big, because we will also reap the rewards.

If you haven’t already acquainted yourself with Councilor Hilliard’s plans, please do so right away. Lots of exciting things are in the future for District 9, and that means tax sale investors should target that area for purchases and rehab. The future of property values, in my opinion, is very promising! Don’t be left behind, saying something similar to “I wish I bought properties in Avondale when you could buy them so cheaply….” or any number of other examples. Be among the early birds to get in on District 9 and its future! Let other people be envious of YOUR ground-floor investments. To see what’s included in District 9, click HERE for a map and a locator.

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Question of the Week: Insurance

Someone wrote and asked the question, “Where can I find insurance for my tax certificate property?”

I think it will require a work-around. The problem is caused by the fact that you do not yet have ownership. The insurance industry says you do not yet have an “insurable interest.” If the house burns to the ground, you have lost your possession rights, until such time as there might be a redemption. It’s hard to put a price tag on that, to know how much the insurance check should be. You have lost the possibility of maybe owning the property in the future, but that is pretty far-fetched to an insurance company. The easy answer to these difficult questions is for insurance companies to say, “We won’t insure your tax certificates.” Because Alabama is the only state that has the tax certificate and possession format, the market is just not large enough for insurance companies to figure out a risk vs. premium structure.

On the other hand, they do have a lot of nationwide experience with a different kind of delayed ownership situation. That is when someone sells property on a contract for deed or similar arrangement. The buyer does not get a deed until some time in the future, when they’ve made all their payments. Despite that, they are able to buy full value property insurance.

With that in mind, I recommend the following work-around. Acme LLC buys the tax certificate. It then “sells” the property to Jim Acme (sole owner of Acme LLC) on a contract for deed. The contract requires Jim Acme obtain casualty insurance. Jim goes to his insurance agent with his contract for deed and obtains property insurance. Jim should disclose to the agent that it is tax certificate property he is buying. Full disclosure is important with insurance companies. Otherwise, if you have a loss they will claim fraud and refuse to pay your claim.

Note: Big changes are coming in 2020, that can affect the insurance issue. Be sure to attend the class on “2020 Tax Sale Changes” in a city near you, or watch the streaming video. Click HERE for more information.

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Question of the Week: Quitclaim Deeds

From an email, “Hi Denise. Does a quitclaim deed from the former owner give me good title to a tax sale property?”

There are several issues involved in answering this question.

(1) A quitclaim deed transfers all real estate rights from the grantor to the grantee. It does not make any warranties (promises) about whether the grantor actually owns anything at all, or the existence of redemption rights. The taxpayer might have already sold the property to somebody else. A creditor might have executed on their rights. If the taxpayer does not have good title, you will not have it just because you receive a quitclaim deed.

(2) If the investor has a tax deed, it is now the technical owner of the property. A quitclaim deed from former owners will remove title defects by destroying redemption rights and any other claims former owners might have.

(3) If the investor has only a tax certificate, then a quitclaim deed from owners might be dangerous. To understand this, you need to think about the fact that a tax auction trumps virtually all liens except those by local government. They have redemption rights, but they can’t just foreclose and take the property away from the investor. If the taxpayer redeems, all those liens come right back. If a taxpayer quitclaims his rights during the first three years, then the investor does not yet have his own deed. His only route to deed ownership is because of the taxpayer’s quitclaim. I think that the quitclaim carries with it all the baggage of the liens, just the same as if the taxpayer had redeemed. But, if the investor already has a tax deed, then the quitclaim deed just wipes out the redemption rights. That is because the investor already has ownership, he doesn’t need the quitclaim deed to obtain ownership, just to get rid of redemption rights. Be careful about this. If you have only a tax certificate, you might want to obtain a release of redemption rights, not a quitclaim deed.

(4) If the taxpayer has died, you need to make sure you obtain quitclaim deeds from ALL heirs. Usually you need an affidavit from a relative describing who was alive at the time the taxpayer died. Was there a spouse? Children and/or grandchildren? Stepchildren? Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces or nephews? Download our free article about “Who is the Heir if Someone Dies Without a Will” to then figure out whose signatures you need. Not everybody who claims to be a heir, really is. Some people are heirs and don’t yet realize it. Until you spend money on a property. Then they’ll come out of the wood work. Getting heirs’ signatures is not hard, but you have to make sure you do it right.

(5) If you can get quitclaims from only some heirs, then you are a co-owner with the other heirs. That is not all bad. You can make improvements, buy insurance and pay taxes, but they are obligated for their proportionate share. If they show up and cause problems, you can make them pay their share and, if they don’t, you can foreclose on them. But it also means that any rents you collected have to shared, too. My advice: If you can’t get signatures from ALL the heirs, then get the ones you can, and file a quiet title lawsuit against the rest.

(6) Make sure you use the right form. This might not be so important if you are receiving the quitclaim deed, but it is critically important if you are giving one. Not every document with the words “Quitclaim Deed” at the top do the job correctly. If the wrong language is in the legalese, then it might really be a warranty deed. Use a lawyer, or use a form from a reputable source.

(7) Comply with the recordation requirements for your jurisdiction so you can record it in the real estate records. There are some local variations. Tuscaloosa County, for example, wants you to list the Source of Title at the top of all deeds. In other words, what was the book and page number of the last recorded instrument related to your deed? If it was a tax sale, then you’ll also need to put the book and page number of the instrument by which the taxpayer originally gained title to the property. For all counties, you will need to state in the deed whether parties are married or single. At the top, you will need to have the name and address of the person who prepared the deed. You will also need the name and address of the person who should receive tax notices. Signatures will have to be notarized. You cannot make any handwritten changes on the deed.

(8) Finally, remember this: When someone makes a decision to sign a quitclaim deed, the faster you get it signed the less risk they will change their mind. I recommend taking the deed and a notary public to the person signing, and getting it done right away. You can notarize a quitclaim deed to yourself. For more information on how to become a notary, check out Jefferson County’s website, HERE. All counties are very similar. It is an easy process with very minimal expense.

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Question of the Week: Minerals

Question: “Hi Denise, I hope things going good for you.  Got a question – if I owned a 40 acre tract of land and also owned the minerals. If I failed to pay the property tax, and it is eventually sold at auction — do I lose the minerals too?”

Answer: Sometimes surface rights and mineral rights are severed–separated–via a deed. It might say the sale is of certain described real estate, but with the mineral rights reserved to the grantor. Sometimes the deed is for the mineral rights, and the grantor keeps the surface for sale later or passing to heirs at death. Sometimes an owner will deed the minerals to himself, just to legally separate the minerals from the surface. When that happens, the surface rights and mineral rights are each assessed separately for taxes.

At one time, the owner of the mineral estate paid the ad valorem taxes every year. Now, he can choose to do that, or he can pay a one-time deed tax equal to $1 per $1,000 of value of the mineral interest. Most people elect the one-time charge. That is why you almost never see mineral interests up for sale at the tax auctions. Instead, the owner pays the one-time fee and then, when minerals are actually extracted, it pays the severance tax based on weight or value of material extracted.

If an owner fails to pay the taxes on the surface, that does not affect the mineral rights. The surface will be sold and the minerals will remain in the name of whoever owns the mineral rights.

If the minerals have not been severed, then a sale of the land includes the surface and the minerals. Sometimes investing in minerals rights sold in older tax sales can be very profitable. Other times, investing in seemingly worthless land that includes valuable mineral rights can be incredibly profitable. Taking possession without actually mining or drilled has to be done exactly right, but it’s not really complicated or hard. To find out about this and many other out-of-the-ordinary tax investing strategies, check into our Advanced Tax Strategies live class or video, HERE.