It is spring in Sullivan County, with it comes the greening of the tees and lawns, and the different yellows of the daffodils and the forsythia. But there is a different yellow that also comes in May. It is the NYS Tax Auction signs. Every year our county takes possession of a few hundred properties via tax foreclosure. The owners did not pay their property tax for three years, and so the county takes ownership.
Tax liens take precedent over any other lien, and so a bank with a mortgage lien will have no control over the county, unless they pony up the back taxes. (And very often that happens. You will see ninth hour rushing around by banks to pay taxes on a property so they themselves can try to recoup some of their loses.) However once May 1st hits, owners are out of luck. While many states, (and some NY counties) allow owners to recoup their properties right up to auction day, Sullivan County has a cut off of the first of the month. After that the only way to get your property back is to bid at it like everyone else.
By law, the county can only recoup what is owed on the property, (plus fees and fines.) Anything more than that will go to the previous owner (or the secondary lien holder.). However the county has no vested interest in getting the highest and best for the property. It is a no minimum auction, so you can see some properties going for pennies on the dollar. But more times than not, if something is going for cheap, there is a reason. Many of these properties have sat empty for years. On some the banks have determined they are not worth paying the taxes on. It is very rare to get a property at a tax auction that doesn't have some pretty serious issues.
Tax auction bidding is not for the amateur. More times than not, the properties on the block will have some pretty big drawbacks, and a handful will be downright useless, "landlocked or swampy acreage, condemned houses with environmental issues, etc." A low price tag may come along with a pretty big headache. However you never know. There could be that one diamond in the rough property.
Here is a list of all the properties that are up for auction here in Sullivan County. Auction day is Wed. June 10th. "Open houses" on the properties are on the 8th and 9th. This year there are just under 500 properties. That is down from the previous few years.