Sheriff Auctions

August 13, 2023


A Federal Marshal can levy a judgment debtor’s property to satisfy federal judgments. A county Sheriff can levy a judgment debtor’s property to help repay state court judgments.

This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment solution expert, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer. The levy paperwork and procedures used by Sheriffs and Marshals is very similar; so for this article, the word Sheriff means either a Sheriff or a US Marshal.

Sometimes, having a Sheriff sell your judgment debtor’s non-exempt assets at an auction helps to get your judgment satisfied. What if you have liened more than one of your judgment debtor’s assets? Examples would be two houses or three vehicles. Can all those liened properties be sold by the Sheriff in one batch, at an upcoming Sheriff auction?

The answer depends on the policy of your Sheriff, so ask your Sheriff how they do things. In many places, there are laws that cover situations where multiple real estate properties in the same county at the same time, are sold to help satisfy a judgment.

Usually, significant assets are held in title, and real estate is usually held with one property per title. Sometimes, more than one motor vehicle is listed on a single title. Sheriff levies and auctions are usually by title. Sheriffs are not required to sell multiple judgment debtor properties in one batch, however some do.

Often, the judgment debtor gets to decide the order in which their assets get auctioned off. This way, if multiple bidders show up and bid, the judgment debtor gets to have as few of their properties sold as possible. In multiple bidder situations, the Sheriff will only allow as many of the judgment debtor’s properties to be sold as will be needed satisfy the judgment in full; including the Sheriff’s and auction fees, statutory interest, and recoverable court costs.

At Sheriff auctions, the minimum opening bid price is usually the total of what is owed for paying off loans on the property and/or the creditor’s judgment, the Sheriff’s fees, and court costs, with consideration for any applicable debtor exemptions. If the auction brings a sale price above the minimum opening bid, any excess funds are paid to the judgment debtor. Sale prices above the opening bid, usually only happen when there are multiple bidders. Sometimes creditors must contact the county clerk or the attorney representing the court, to collect any excess funds, and there are time limits to file claims. In California, check out Revenue And Taxation Code 4675. Generally, it takes a long time to get any surplus funds.

In nonjudicial trustee foreclosure auction sales of real property, usually one does not need to register ahead of time, or post a deposit until they make an auction bid for the property. At Sheriff execution auction sales, one must usually post a deposit and identify themselves to the Sheriff, prior to the start of the auction.

At Sheriff execution sales, once the bidding on the first auction item begins, only registered bidders are allowed to bid, and there are no additional opportunity to register. When valuable debtor assets (for example valuable coins or jewelry clearly worth more than any debtor exemptions) are sold to third parties, and sometimes the Sheriff will escort them to their vehicle in the parking lot, to prevent any potential robbery attempts.

Auction starting times are prompt, and there are no provisions for those who arrive late. At the Sheriff auction, if no one shows up on time, the auction sale is canceled. (Some Sheriff auctions have a very short grace period.)

If nobody bids at the auction, the seized debtor property sometimes reverts back to the judgment debtor. Also, the judgment creditor’s deposit may or may not be refunded, depending on the Sheriff’s written policies. The smart creditor (or their friend or representative) should consider showing up at the Sheriff auction and credit bid, or just make a regular bid to get a deal, in case nobody else shows up and bids.

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