What Happens to Liens After Sheriff’s Sale: Cleared or Attached?

What happens to liens after a sheriff’s sale depends on their hierarchy. Typically, proceeds from the sale first go towards settling the debt that led to the sale, often a mortgage or tax lien. Subsequent liens are then paid in the order of their priority, which can leave holders of lower-ranking liens at risk of not being fully compensated.

Furthermore, if the sale doesn’t generate enough money to cover all liens, those lower in the hierarchy might even get nothing and may just get wiped out.

Key Takeaways

  • Liens After the Sale: Liens can be settled, survive, or be wiped out post-sheriff’s sale depending on the order and type of lien.
  • Lien Hierarchy 101: Understanding the types and order in which liens are addressed is key and can save you from future headaches.
  • Tax Lien Priority Payment: Tax liens often get paid first in a sheriff’s sale, highlighting the appeal of tax lien investing as a secure and low risk investment with generous returns.
Table of Contents
Courthouse backdrop with a sheriff's sale conclusion, featuring a gavel on legal documents, keys, and a 'Paid' stamp on a lien notice, symbolizing lien resolution post-sale.

Understanding the Basics of Liens & Sheriff’s Sales

What is a Lien?

lien represents a legal claim or hold on a property, often due to unpaid debts like mortgages or tax obligations. When you have a lien against your property, it must be paid off before you can sell or refinance. If debts go unpaid, lienholders can enforce their rights to recoup owed money, leading to foreclosure or auction.

What is a Sheriff’s Sale?

sheriff’s sale is a specific type of public auction where properties repossessed under court orders are sold. The purpose of a sheriff’s sale is to recover funds for creditors by selling the property to the highest bidder. This process is overseen by the sheriff’s office, as part of fulfilling legal judgmentsWhat happens to liens after a sheriff’s sale? Essentially, the liens are paid off in order of their legal priority until each lien has been paid off or the money runs out.

Lien Priority in Sheriff’s Sales

Ever wonder how the proceeds from a sheriff’s sale get distributed? It all boils down to lien priority, which dictates the order in which lienholders are paid. This is crucial information, especially if you’re considering participating in a sheriff’s sale.

Lien Types and Priorities

When a property goes into foreclosure, various liens might be attached to it. These liens represent claims against the property by lienholders who are owed money. The order in which these creditors get paid depends on the type of lien and when it was recorded.

Here’s a breakdown of common liens affected by a sheriff’s sale:

  1. Property Tax Lien: Failing to pay your property taxes may result in your local county to issue a tax lien on your property.
  2. First Mortgages: As a homeowner, if you’ve taken out a loan to purchase your property, this mortgage takes precedence over most other liens. Besides tax liens, first mortgages are usually first from the proceeds of a sheriff’s sale.
  3. Second and Third Mortgages: Subsequent mortgages, like home equity loans, follow the first mortgage in priority order.
  4. Judgment Liens: Creditors can place judgment liens on your property if they win a lawsuit against you. These tend to have lower priority, coming after mortgages.
  5. HOA and COA Liens: Your homeowners’ or condominium owners’ association can also place liens for unpaid fees. These are often behind first-mortgage liens, but some can rank higher due to specific state laws and are known as super liens.
  6. Mechanic’s Liens: Contractors and suppliers may file liens for unpaid work or materials, known as mechanic’s liens. These can sometimes take precedence over earlier recorded liens depending on the situation and state laws.

Remember, lien priority generally follows the rule of “first in time, first in line,” which gives precedence to liens recorded first. However, certain liens, like property tax liens and some ‘super liens,’ may supersede this rule based on state law.

The Superiority of Property Tax Liens

Property Tax Liens stand out because no matter when they’re placed, they usually take top priority over other types of liens. This is really important because it means when a property is auctioned off like in a sheriff’s sale, the money made from the sale pays off these property taxes first. It’s like being at a concert and having a VIP pass that gets you in before anyone else.

When you participate in a sheriff’s sale, conducting a thorough due diligence of the property and any liens attached and their order of priority is key. This bit of detective work will help you understand the potential impacts on the property’s ownership and what portion of the sheriff’s sale proceeds would be used to settle these outstanding obligations.

How a Sheriff Sale Affects Different Liens

Now that we understand lien priority, let’s delve deeper into how a sheriff’s sale affects different types of liens.

  • How a Sheriff Sale Affects Different Liens: During the sale, the sheriff sells the property to the highest bidder. The proceeds from the sale are then used to pay off the liens according to their established priority. Higher-priority liens are satisfied first, and any remaining funds are used to pay lower-priority liens.
  • The Process of Paying Off Liens: The sheriff distributes the sale proceeds to lienholders based on the recorded order of their liens. The first lienholder receives full payment (or as much as the proceeds allow) before any funds go to the second lienholder, and so on.
  • The Fate of Junior Liens: If the sale proceeds aren’t enough to cover all liens, junior lienholders (those lower in priority) receive nothing. They lose their secured claim on the property.
  • Rights and Remedies for Lienholders: Lienholders who aren’t fully paid from the sale may have options depending on the specific circumstances. In some cases, they might pursue a deficiency judgment against the borrower for the remaining debt. However, this involves additional legal steps and may not be successful.

Dealing with Issues of After Sale

  • Surplus Funds: If the sale proceeds exceed the total amount owed to all lienholders, any remaining funds (surplus) are typically returned to the borrower. However, there might be other outstanding claims on the property that could eat into the surplus.
  • Deficiency Judgments: If the sale doesn’t cover the entire debt owed to a lienholder (usually a mortgage lender), they might seek a deficiency judgment against the borrower in court. This judgment allows them to try and collect the remaining balance from the borrower’s other assets.
  • Redemption Periods: In some jurisdictions, former property owners may have a redemption period after the sale. This allows them to repurchase the property within a specific timeframe by paying the winning bidder’s purchase price plus interest and fees.

Practical Tips for Buyers and Lienholders

For Buyers:

  • Conduct thorough due diligence: Research the property and understand the types, filing dates, and priorities of any attached liens.
  • Secure title insurance: This protects you from unforeseen title defects or liens that may not have been identified during your research.

For Lienholders:

  • Protect your interests: Stay informed about the foreclosure process and the upcoming sheriff’s sale.
  • Claim surplus proceeds: If there are surplus funds after the sale, be prepared to file a claim to receive your portion. This might involve submitting specific paperwork to the court.
  • Navigate the legal landscape: Consulting with an attorney familiar with foreclosure and lien law is highly recommended, especially if you have complex questions or concerns regarding your rights after the sale.

By understanding lien priority and its implications in sheriff’s sales, both buyers and lienholders can approach the process with greater awareness and protect their interests more effectively.

Get High Returns with Property Tax Lien Investing

Understanding the lien priority of property tax liens reveals why investing in them is not just secure, but also a smart move for those looking to enhance and diversify their portfolio. This unique priority not only safeguards municipal interests but also opens up a pathway for investors like you to securely profit from these opportunities

What is Tax Lien Investing?

Tax lien investing involves purchasing the right to collect unpaid property taxes on behalf of a municipality or county. When a property owner fails to pay their property taxes, the local government issues a tax lien against the property. As an investor, you can buy this tax lien, giving you the right to collect the property tax debt with added interest. By doing so, you can potentially earn substantial returns, which are often much higher than traditional bank investments.

Benefits of Tax Lien Investing

  • Substantial & Secure Returns: Certain states offer appealing interest rates, with states like Florida offering up to 18% and others like Iowa presenting opportunities for returns as high as 24%. These rates are set by law, providing a buffer against the unpredictability of the stock market.
  • Stability: Tax liens are not only priority liens; the investment is also backed by the property itself. Historically, tax lien investing has been a reliable option, boasting over 200 years of consistent returns and a stable legal framework.
  • Low-Risk with Huge Potential: Since your investment is mandated and dictated by property tax laws, it is considered low risk. If the property owner fails to repay the tax debt, your position might allow you to foreclose, thereby potentially acquiring the property for a fraction of its value.

Meet Ted Thomas: Your Property Tax Lien Investing Guide

Ted Thomas emerges as a leading figure in tax lien investing education, standing out as an established Florida-based educatorpublisher, and author with a prolific contribution of over 30 books to the field. His expertise in real estate investment has garnered global recognition, propelling his guidebooks to international bestseller status.

If you’d like to know more about tax-defaulted real estate investing, Ted Thomas provides full support and complete training with home study courses, Q&A webinars, live tutorials, workshops, virtual classes, personal coaching with certified coaches, and an interactive map and auction calendar research tool that allows you to visit each county online to find the details about upcoming auctions.

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Frequently Asked Questions

In many cases, a foreclosure sale will clear or eliminate junior liens such as secondary mortgages and judgment liens on the property to provide the buyer with a clean title. However, there are exceptions where certain liens survive, such as tax liens.

The proceeds from a sheriff’s sale are distributed in a specific order of priority. Check the “Types of Liens and Priorities” section of the blog for more details.

If there are surplus funds after ALL liens and costs have been paid, they will usually go to the former homeowner.

Tax liens can significantly affect the outcome of a sheriff’s sale as they usually take priority over other types of liens. This means they get paid first from the sale proceeds, and if the proceeds are insufficient, they can remain on the property.

IRS liens may not necessarily be extinguished by a property’s sale at a sheriff’s auction. Check out our blog “Are Federal Tax Liens Wiped Out by Foreclosure?” where this topic was discussed in detail.


Sheriff’s sales can be complex, but understanding lien priority is a powerful tool that can help you navigate the process effectively. By prioritizing due diligence for buyers and emphasizing the importance of staying informed for lienholders, you can ensure a smoother and more informed experience for all parties involved.

Want to earn massive income from bargain real estate investing? Would you like to buy mortgage-free properties for pennies on the dollar? Or earn double-digit interest rates secured by real estate? Then get started today by clicking the button below and get your FREE Insiders Report.


Ted Thomas

Ted Thomas is America’s Leading Authority on Tax Lien Certificates and Tax Deed Auctions, as well as a publisher and author of more than 30 books. His guidebooks on Real Estate have sold in four corners of the world. He has been teaching people just like you for over 30 years how to buy houses in good neighborhoods for pennies on the dollar. He teaches how to create wealth with minimum risk and easy-to-learn methods.

The Ted Thomas Difference:

  • Ted is recognized as America’s Tax Lien Certificate & Tax Deed Authority and has been helping people with investing in tax defaulted properties for over 30 years.
  • Ted has built a team of certified coaches that have 70 combined years of auction experience and are available to his students by phone to guide and mentor you to avoid getting overwhelmed or worse, losing money
  • Ted has ironclad PROOF that what he is teaching you does work. With hundreds of successful students providing testimonials and a 4.9 Google rating which is unheard of in this industry.
  • Ted and his staff don’t hide behind a website; they can be reached during office hours at 321-449-9940.

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