Upset sales are a unique feature of Pennsylvania’s property tax enforcement strategy. This approach is designed to recover unpaid property taxes, municipal claims and certain other debts without erasing existing liens or mortgages on a particular property owned by someone who is in debt.
If you are looking to purchase a property that is subject to an upset sale, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into. While these properties can be good investments, there are risks attached to them that aren’t factors in more traditional real estate purchase scenarios.
What are upset sales?
An upset sale is a public auction where properties affected by delinquent taxes are sold to the highest bidder. The term “upset price” refers to the minimum bid for a property, which typically includes the amount of unpaid taxes, accrued interest, penalties and any other charges the property owner has accrued.
Unlike other types of tax sales, such as judicial sales, upset sales do not clear the title of a property. This means that any existing liens, mortgages or encumbrances remain in place, and the buyer will be held responsible for them going forward. If you purchase a property that is classified as an upset sale, your legal and financial burdens may be much greater than they would be normally. Therefore, only if the purchase price is sufficiently low is buying an upset sale property potentially a good investment.
Under state law, property owners are granted until the day before an upset sale to pay their debts in full, including all taxes, interest, penalties and fees, to prevent their property from being auctioned. Partially because property owners are tied to their property up until the day before a sale, their financial situation can impact the burdens placed upon a potential buyer until that time. It isn’t always easy to know what obligations are attached to an upset sale property at the time of sale, as something new may have developed only days before.
As such, potential buyers at an upset sale need to conduct thorough due diligence before participating. This includes researching the property’s title to understand any liens or encumbrances that will not be eliminated by the sale. It’s also advisable to physically inspect the property, as properties are sold “as is,” and there may be issues that could affect the value or usability of the property.
Given the complexities of upset sales and all that is at stake, it is generally a very good idea for potential buyers of upset sale properties to seek legal guidance before committing to a purchase.