Legal-Ease: Bidding at a sheriff’s sale requires work in advance

First Posted: 3/6/2014

Successfully bidding on real estate at sheriff’s sales typically requires more than good luck. Almost all successful bidders have done their homework before those sheriff’s sales take place.

A sheriff’s sale of property is designed to give the successful bidder at that sale clear title to the property. However, the process does not always work out the way that it is intended.

Notably, in order for every lien against a property to be released as a part of a sheriff’s sale, every person or business that possesses a lien against the property must be named in the foreclosure lawsuit and have been properly served with the lawsuit’s complaint. Although the foreclosing party (usually a lender) is required to conduct and file a title examination as a part of the foreclosure lawsuit, some of those title examinations are very minimal, which means some liens may not be identified by that required title examination.

Thus, a prospective bidder at a sheriff’s sale should secure a title opinion from a local attorney or through a local title agency before bidding. It is crucial to request that the attorney signing the title opinion confirm proper service of the foreclosure complaint on all lien-holders of record. This specific request is necessary because such a detailed review of the service of a foreclosure complaint is not always a part of each title examiner’s typical routine.

The sheriff’s sale will almost always require that the successful bidder bid at least two-thirds of the “appraised value.” The “appraised value” is not the county auditor’s value for the property. Rather, the appraised value is a value identified by three independent citizens who appraise the property within weeks or months immediately before the sheriff’s sale. The appraised value or the required two-thirds minimum bid are typically published with the notice of sale.

A bidder at a sheriff’s sale should also study the local county sheriff’s sale rules before bidding. The rules are very precise and unique to each county. There is typically a contact person in each county sheriff’s office who can answer questions about those rules. However, that person is not an attorney for any one or more of the bidders. As part of strictly following the rules, bidders should be prepared to immediately present the required deposit amount for the purchase within moments of being identified as the successful bidder.

A few days or weeks after the sheriff’s sale, if the sheriff’s sale was conducted in full compliance with Ohio law and the local court rules, the court will “confirm” the sale, which means the successful bidder will usually have up to a few weeks or a month to “close” on the property purchase by paying the balance of the purchase price beyond the deposit that was made on the day of the sheriff’s sale.

Successful bidders should hire an attorney to aggressively monitor the foreclosure case until the closing takes place because the successful bidder’s rights (in this very limited context) can be affected without notice.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney with Schroeder, Blankemeyer and Schroeder LLP in Ottawa. He limits his practice to business, real estate,estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at or at 419-523-5658. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

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