Oakland County’s annual tax foreclosure sale has gone high-tech. For the first time, bidders can review vacant county land, private homes and commercial properties being sold for back taxes and submit bids online.
County Treasurer Robert Wittenberg said the county moved to online auctions for several reasons. The auctioneer the county traditionally used had retired, and the physical auction site it needed had been sold to United Wholesale Mortgage.
Going online increases post-pandemic safety, makes auctions more accessible to more people and is more transparent, he said.
From now until August 12, the date of the last auction, people can go online to tax-sale.info to browse properties and submit bids.
“It’s like eBay. You put what your highest bid is,” Wittenberg. “”You can watch prices ahead of the August 12 one-day live auction. Once the auction is online, you will see in real time which is the highest bid and bid accordingly. »
The public can also view the auction schedule without creating an account, as well as view the auction book and catalog. To get details they must have an account and this requires a driver’s license number and the last four digits of a social security number.
Megan Buwalda, chief operations officer of tax-sale.info, said the website uses a secure identity verification service for this process, and tax-sale.info does not store driver’s license or driver’s license information. social Security number. The identity verification process, she said, is an important step in ensuring the integrity of every tax auction.
“This information is only used to verify the account during creation,” she said, which prevents people from using a fake name to create an account.
Wittenberg said the county and state require such identification as part of the legal requirements for the transfer of title deeds.
“We try to make sure the bad actors aren’t there,” Wittenberg said. “We prohibit anyone with overdue taxes from bidding on a property. The whole thing is to put those parcels on the tax roll. never pay taxes and they are seized again.
Those planning to bid should expect to see $1,000 held on their Visa, MasterCard or Discover credit card. The suspension usually lasts up to 30 days, according to the facts listed on tax-sale.info, where users will find video tutorials on how to use the website and submit offers.
While people from outside the United States can bid on properties, they must complete an additional form to be individually authorized to bid.
Bidders can set up an automatic default for their offered prices to increase in response to other bids, he said.
“Your bids would gradually increase, up to the threshold you set, say, $10,000,” he said.
The legal, or statutory, process leading to tax seizure takes three years. The first time a property owner fails to pay his taxes to the municipality, he falls into delinquency. If the debt is not paid, the municipality sells this debt to the county.
“We’re like a collection agent for the local community,” Wittenberg said. The county pays the city, township, or village for outstanding taxes, fines, and fees, and begins contacting the owner in the second year to obtain payment for the first and second year debt.
In the second and third years that a homeowner is behind in paying taxes, county officials will work to get full payment or create a repayment schedule.
These efforts end at the end of the third year.
“This year, anyone who owes taxes for 2019 or previous years could have been seized,” Wittenberg said, unless the owner was actively working on refunds with the county.
In cases where properties appear vacant or the owner is underwater – unable to sell for what is owed, county officials will visit the property multiple times to reach the owner, and send a dozen or more letters.
“We do all the research we can, if we seize a property,” he said.
Sometimes landlords let the county know they just don’t want the property or can’t pay back what’s owed to them. In other cases, the landlord never responds to calls from the county.
After all efforts to contact the owner have been exhausted, the county moves to tax seizure and auctioning off the property. Every year, he said, thousands of county property owners fall behind on their taxes. Relatively few end up being auctioned off for back taxes.
“Most people find a way to pay off the debt,” Wittenberg said.
This year, 376 properties were listed. That may seem like a high number, he said, but there were no tax foreclosure sales in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. In 2019, the county auctioned 185 properties. A year earlier, the county had 291. During the pandemic, he said, county officials did what he called “robust outreach” to help people avoid losing property.
Otherwise, this year’s number would have been considerably higher, he said.
Most of the plots auctioned this year are for vacant land or vacant buildings.
Some of the 376 parcels were combined, so the Oakland County auction listing shows 372 open for auction. Bidders cannot separate properties that have been combined and they cannot inspect buildings before the auction.
Before the public has a chance to bid, counties give the state, and then municipalities, the first right of refusal to buy property for the cost of back taxes, interest, fees and the interview. The county is the third to consider buying the property before it goes to public auction.
Another action the county is taking is sending a claim form and letter to interested parties, such as the landlord and the bank that holds the mortgage, saying they can claim the excess proceeds.
This year, just one property set to go up for auction on July 1 had two interested party claims, he said, and all the other properties have one claim.
Wittenberg said if no one claims that property, the local community can get it for the minimum bid.
However, if someone has submitted a claim for property purchased by the state, municipality, or county, the government agency must pay double the state-equalized value for the property.
Even with this cash injection, the person who made the request cannot use the money for their tax seized property.
“We can’t undo it,” he said. “They must submit the request to the judge to determine an amount greater than that which will make the community whole.”
Michigan-based Tax-Sale.Info hosts online auctions for more than 70 of Michigan’s 83 counties, as well as the state of Michigan.
The online auction costs taxpayers nothing. The buyer pays a buying commission on top of the purchase price which pays for whatever is sold. There is an additional percentage that goes to the company that is listing.
Although she did not disclose county-level data, Buwalda said the site attracts about 10,000 individual visitors each week during the July-August auction season.
Buwalda said if no one bids on a plot at this auction, it will go up for sale again in the fall, with bids due by Friday, October 28.
People can view the auction online by visiting tax-sale.info, but must create an account to get parcel details and must provide credit card information to place bids. People who cannot go online to bid can use tax-sale.info’s telephone auction system, (800) 259-7470.