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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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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.