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Tax Sale

A transfer of real property in exchange for money to satisfy charges imposed thereupon by the government that have remained unpaid after the legal period for their payment has expired.

Tax sales are authorized by state statutes to collect taxes that are long overdue to the state government from negligent or unwilling individuals.


Any sale of real property for delinquent taxes must be conducted in compliance with legally imposed requirements, or it is not valid. Ordinarily the tax collector is required to make and publish a list of property on which taxes have not been paid. Such a list must contain an adequate description of each parcel of land to be sold, the owner's name, the amount due, and the period of time for which the taxes are due. The interest permitted by law on the delinquent taxes, penalties for default in payment, and the costs incurred for the sale may be included in the amount due. Certain states mandate that this delinquency list must be filed or recorded in the office of the county clerk, and statutes may indicate specifically the newspapers in which the list is to be published.


The purpose of a notice of a tax sale is to warn the owner of the property that it will be sold and to furnish information to prospective buyers. Failure to provide notice to the owner renders any subsequent sale of the property invalid. This rule is consistent with due process requirements that any individual must be given notice and opportunity to defend himself or herself before being deprived of his or her property. The notice given to the owner must adequately describe the property, the amount of tax owed, and for what years it is due.


State statutes regulate the manner in which tax sales may be conducted. Ordinarily the sale is open to the public in order to ascertain that a fair price for the property will be obtained in the open market. A private sale is valid, however, when authorized by statute.


The general rule is that land offered at a tax sale must bring at least the total amount of taxes due on it, plus legal costs and charges. In some jurisdictions, a sale for a smaller amount is invalid.

In the event that the land is sold at the tax sale for a price that exceeds the amount owed, the sale might be valid, depending upon the state; however, the excess must be given to the delinquent taxpayer.


Any individual who is not disqualified by statute may purchase land at a tax sale provided he or she is the highest bidder. Upon payment of the amount bid, the buyer will be given a tax deed that serves as proof of his or her ownership of the property. Certain states mandate that a tax sale be confirmed in a court proceeding before the purchaser actually takes title or ownership to the property.

A state, county, Municipal Corporation, or other governmental unit may buy land sold at a tax sale only if authorized by statute.


The owner of property that is the subject of a tax sale is given a statutory right of redemption—that is, if, within a certain period, the owner pays the back taxes plus any other legal charges due, he or she will regain complete ownership of the property free of the prior tax debt. The public policy behind such a statute is to provide the taxpayer with every reasonable opportunity to redeem property since Forfeiture of land has always been regarded as a drastic remedy. Generally any individual interested in the property sold for taxes is entitled to redeem it if his or her interest in the property will be affected by the purchaser taking complete ownership of the land, such as in the case of an individual who has a life estate in the property.

Redemption must occur within the time and in the manner specified by the statute.

Sale Prohibited

Courts can proscribe a tax sale in cases where (1) a sale would be unlawful, so that the buyer's ownership of the land would be open to question; (2) the taxes have been paid; (3) the levy or assessment was unlawful or fraudulent; or (4) the valuation was grossly excessive.

Where errors or irregularities exist in the assessment that could have been rectified if promptly brought to the attention of the proper authorities, the tax sale will not be enjoined if such errors have no effect upon the substantial justice of the tax or the liability of the property for its satisfaction.

Further readings

Lilienthal, Christopher. 2003. "Tax Sale Set Aside: Officials Failed to Examine Past Due Taxes: County and Township Tax Offices Failed to Use 'Common Sense Business Practices'." Pennsylvania Law Weekly (March 31).

Sacks, Michael E. 1998. "Escape Clause in Tax Sale Law Under Review by High Court." Pennsylvania Law Weekly (November 9).

Stone, Lin. 1998. How to Buy Land at Tax Sales. Ed. by James Criswell. Kansas City, Mo.: Truman.


noun amount, appraisal, appraisement, charge, compensation, cost, disbursement, due, estimate, exaction, exchange value, expenditure, expense, fare, fee, figure, outlay, payment, premium, pretium, purchase money, quotation, rate, recompense, selling price, toll, vallation, value, worth
Associated concepts: abatement of price, contract price, essablished price, fair price, inadequacy of price, market price, market value, price adjustment, price control fee schedules, price discrimination, price fixing, reasonable price, retail price, stipulated price
Foreign phrases: Emptor emit quam minimo potest, vendiior vendit quam maximo potest.The buyer purchases for the least he can; the seller sells for the most he can.
See also: bid, bribe, charge, collection, cost, evaluate, expenditure, expense, face amount, fare, fee, gratuity, par, payment, rate, recompense, value, worth


in the law of sale, the money consideration for the transfer of property. In a contract of sale of goods, the price may be fixed by the contract or may be left to be fixed in a manner agreed by the contract or it may be determined by the course of dealing of the parties. Failing any of the foregoing, the buyer must pay a reasonable price. What constitutes a reasonable price is a question of fact dependent on the circumstances of each particular case. The price may be left to the decision of arbiters, maybe fixed by some public standard or maybe left to the decision of one of the parties. Where there is an agreement to sell at valuation by a third party and he cannot or does not make a valuation, the agreement is avoided; but if the goods or any part of them have been delivered and appropriated by the buyer, he must pay a reasonable price for them. Where the third party is prevented from making the valuation by the fault of the seller or buyer, the party not at fault may maintain an action for damages against the party at fault. Unless a different intention appears from the terms of the contract, stipulations as to time of payment are not of the essence of a contract of sale. Various statutes relating to competition or consumer protection affect the price at which goods can be sold or advertised, see e.g. PRICE MARKING.

PRICE, contracts. The consideration in money given for the purchase of a thing.
     2. There are three requisites to the quality of a price in order to make a sale.
     3.-1. It must be serious, and such as may be demanded: if, therefore, a person were to sell me an article, and by the agreement, reduced to writing, he were to release me from the payment, the transaction would no longer be a sale, but a gift, Poth. Vente, n. 18.
     4.-2. The second quality of a price is, that the price be certain and determinate; but what may be rendered certain is considered as certain if, therefore, I sell a thing at a price to be fixed by a third person, this is sufficiently certain, provided the third person make a valuation and fix the price. Poth. Vente, n. 23, 24.
     5.-3. The third quality of a price is, that it consists in money, to be paid down, or at a future time, for if it be of any thing else, it will no longer be a price, nor the contract a sale, but exchange or barter. Poth. Vente, n. 30; 16 Toull. n. 147.
     6. The true price of a thing is that for which things of a like nature and quality are usually sold in the place where situated, if real property; or in the place where exposed to sale, if personal. Poth. Contr. de Vente, n. 243. The first price or cost of a thing does not always afford a sure criterion of its value. It may have been bought very dear or very cheap. Marsh. Ins. 620, et seq.; Ayliffe's Pand. 447; Merlin, Repert. h.t.; 4 Pick. 179; 8 Pick. 252; 16 Pick. 227.
     7. In a declaration in trover it is usual, when the chattel found is a living one, to lay it as of such a price when dead, of such a value. 8 Wentw. Pl. 372, n; 2 Lilly's Ab. 629. Vide Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.; Adjustment; Inadequacy of price; Pretium affectionis.

References in periodicals archive ?
The Baseline Stage consisted of a block of 10 auctions in which no buy prices (NO) were offered.
As we did not have information on risk preferences prior to the auctions, no attempt was made to calculate optimal buy prices.
12) These results show that in most cases average revenue is higher with buy prices than without, the exception being NOPROXY auctions with a temporary buy price.
Results are reported in the top row for all buy prices combined (360 observations per treatment), and in the other three rows, for buy prices of 25, 50, and 75 individually (120 observations each for PERM and TEMP).
In considering how often buy prices are utilized by the bidders, there are three related questions: (1) does buy price utilization vary between buy price types, (2) does buy price utilization vary across institutions, and (3) how does buy price utilization vary with buy price level?
First, buy prices are used more frequently as the number of BPE bidders increases in every case except for TEMP/NOPROXY with a buy price of 25.
It is clear in the figure that there is more early bidding in auctions with buy prices, regardless of the type, than those without (note the greater number and taller bars to the left).
In addition to the early bidding evident in auctions with a buy price, there is also a large amount of late bidding that occurs in all auctions, even those without buy prices.
Both the additional early bidding and improved efficiency that may accompany the use of a buy price may be important motivating factors for the introduction of buy prices in online auctions.
First, the introduction of a buy price may be an attempt to increase seller revenue as revenue is higher in auctions with buy prices than in auctions without.