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What is a Trustee Sale?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A trustee sale is a public auction at which a piece of real estate is sold. These sales are held when people default on their mortgages and the lenders take possession of the property, and they are also held when people fail to pay their property taxes and the taxing authority takes the property. Such sales are usually listed in the newspaper so that members of the public are aware of the fact that property is available for sale.

In the case of mortgaged properties, when someone mortgages a property, part of the agreement involves a clause that allows the lender to foreclose on it if the borrower does not pay. When property is foreclosed, a person is appointed to act as a trustee to handle the repossession of the property and the sale at auction. The purpose of the sale is to collect the balance of the loan. Tax auctions are held for similar reasons.

A property cannot be sold in a trustee sale without warning. The person in default is usually sent a series of notices providing opportunities to get current on the account. If the person fails to get current or to work out a deal which allows for a payment plan, the sale can move forward and a final notice about the sale will be sent. People should be aware that when property is sold in this way, the buyer usually gets the right to immediate possession.

When the sale is held, the trustee starts the bidding at a price deemed reasonable. He or she may also determine that the property will not be sold unless the bids pass a certain amount, such as the amount outstanding on the mortgage loan. If no bids reach this level, the property will not be sold, and the trustee will pursue other avenues, such as listing the property with a real estate agent.

At a trustee sale, bidders buy the property as-is. Sometimes it is possible to arrange for an inspection before the sale, but in other cases, it may not be. The title may also not be clear. Furthermore, buyers need to be able to pay in cash for the property and may be required to put down a deposit before they are allowed to bid so that the trustee can be confident that they will make good on their final offer.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon991481 — On Jun 24, 2015

I went through a trustee sale in Southern CA and was happily surprised to find that I was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in overage. I didn't need a lawyer or an advocate to help me claim the excess funds commonly referred to as overage.

When a home is sold at a Trustee Sale and if it sells for more than the amount required to pay off the loan amount, the surplus funds are disbursed to the former owner of the property. The surplus funds are referred to as "overage" and the law in CA controlling how they are disbursed is section 2924 of the California Civil Code.

Once the sale has proceeded through the auction process the trustee (usually a lawyer of some sort) disburses the overage to creditors who have filed a claim. If your home was sold at auction you should have received a claim form from the trustee. Simply fill it out and return it to the trustee, 'claiming any and all proceeds' remaining after the sale. It might take anywhere from a few weeks to a month or two for the trustee to sort out the claim priorities. If your claim has priority, then you will have a check sent to you for the amount you are owed as determined by the trustee.

You can get a rough approximation of how much is going to be issued to you by subtracting the balance on the mortgage from the sale price. The sale price should have been communicated to you by the Trustee and you should know the balance on the mortgage at the time of the sale. If for some reason you don't know the auction price you can go to the County Clerk Recorder's office and look up the document on file to get the sale price.

By Bertie68 — On Jul 25, 2011

I believe there are two ways of handling property that has a large amount of tax due. If the owner doesn't pay his taxes after several notices, the tax people will take over the property and sell it at a trustee sale. A notice must appear publicly to let people know that it will be auctioned off.

There's another way, at least in some states. The tax agency keeps a list of properties that have a tax lien against them and the owner can't pay. You can go to the tax place and get a list of the properties. I think you can get the address so you can look at the outside of the house. At the auction, if they are the highest bidder over the tax amount, (I think this is correct) they own the property.

By Misscoco — On Jul 25, 2011

It is a very sad situation when a family or individual's house is foreclosed and it is put up to be put up for auction at a trustee sale. In my state, the bidding takes place on the courthouse stairs. The thought of your home being sold on the steps of the courthouse seems really demeaning.

There are some entrepreneurs, who make their living by buying these foreclosed homes at a bargain price. They either fix them up minimally to sell or rent. One disadvantage is that buyers are usually not able to see the inside of the house before the trustee auction.

I hate to see one person's terrible loss become big profits for others.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 24, 2011

The saddest thing in the world was watching my cousin’s house get sold at a trustee sale. She and her husband both lost their jobs months prior, and they had no income with which to pay off their mortgage.

Depression and anxiety mounted for them as they received notice after notice of the impending foreclosure. They had no option but to simply let it go. Their savings were depleted.

They have since both found jobs and rented a place. They are very frugal, and I have no doubt they will soon be able to purchase another home. I’m sure they will never forget the utter helplessness they felt at the trustee sale, though.

By seag47 — On Jul 23, 2011

When my sister-in-law moved to New York, she and her husband got a good deal on a house at auction. They bought it through a trustee sale.

The cool thing is that they were the only bidders. The house was kind of old but in generally good condition. It also sat way out in the country. They preferred a fixer-upper, so they got just what they needed.

Since they were the sole bidders, they got the house for the asking price, which was just what the seller needed to cover the costs. They were able to use more of their money toward remodeling and furniture.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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