I finished reading "Profit by Investing in Real Estate Tax Liens", by Larry B. Loftis, Esq. The author is an attorney and a member of the Florida bar. The subtitle says "Earn Safe, Secured, and Fixed Returns Every Time." The book teaches you how to "get fixed returns of 10 to 20 percent or more through tax lien investing," and how properties can be acquired for "10 to 50 cents on the dollar through tax deed investing." After finishing the book and checking some things out on-line, I would have to agree with Mr. Loftis about his claims, tax lien certs have good returns that are pretty safe.
What is a tax lien? All US counties levy property taxes on real estate, which are used to provide county services. Unpaid property taxes result in a lien placed against that property by the county for the amount of the tax bill, plus penalty and/or interest. In order to keep the county's cash flow going, the some counties will sell tax lien certificates to investors to get the cash it needs to run the government services. When the property owner pays off the tax bill, plus penalty and/or interest, the county sends this amount to the investor. Everyone wins: the property owner gets more time to pay his taxes, the county keeps its cash flow going, and the investor makes a pretty good return on his money that is pretty safe and secure (since its backed by real property, and property taxes are typically only 1 - 2% the value of the property).
My skeptical mind kept wondering, what's the catch?
1. These tax liens/deeds must be for crack houses right? No, the author cites properties owned by Anna Kournikova, Wesley Snipes, Carrot Top, Stefi Graf, Nick Faldo, Dr. J (if anyone remembers him), Hector Camacho, as well as corporations like McDonalds, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Amoco Oil, Walt Disney, Walmart, and even the US government. He detailed one auction where bidding was over Walmart's parking lot, apparently corporate headquarters had neglected or overlooked that the store's parking lot had a separate property tax on it. So ultimately the store will either have to close up or pay some hefty lease to the new property owner!
2. Why is the author giving away his secrets if it leads to more competitive bidding? I think the author sees the writing on the wall, and just wanted to make some money off the book deal at this point. Counties are switching over the in-person auction process to on-line. So the bidding is already starting to get more competitive. But it seems to me that a) it will take some time for this transition to occur, b) smaller counties may never transition, and c) the number of delinquencies will likely rise in the coming years. I think over time, the returns are going to get smaller and smaller.
3. Banks and private client groups know of these instruments, so in the larger jurisdictions, you will be bidding against them. As a side note, my full-service broker has never heard of them, and he asked all around in various departments, nothing except the same rumor I already knew - that there is one particular private client group offering them (I still need to check this out).
4. Since property tax on a $200,000 property is typically in the $2000 - $4000 range, one needs to buy a portfolio of tax lien certs before it makes an impact on a large portfolio. This might be too much trouble for someone with big bucks.
5. If the certificate is redeemed early, you won't collect the interest for a full year (in counties that have penalties, you'll collect the full penalty). You are making 10 to 20 or more percent only during the time before redemption. With a high rate of redemption, you may be busy buying up tax lien certs year round.
6. There is the risk that the property tax will never be paid off, and the property itself is a worthless lot. So due diligence is required before the purchase.
Mr. Loftis goes into some considerable detail about all the what-if situations (what if there is an outstanding mortgage, what if there is an IRS lien, etc) and differences between various counties.
Websites I'm looking at:
Some counties are contracting their tax sales out to these sister websites.
Hey, look what else I found on bid4assets:
All counties I have looked at have their own website, with a link to the Tax Collector/Treasurer department, which has the details on that county's tax sales.