Frequently Asked Questions About Property Tax Foreclosure
Does Washington State sell Tax Lien Certificates?
• Washington State is not a tax lien state. We are a tax deed state.
How does tax foreclosure work in the State of Washington?
• The County Treasurer is required by state law to start tax foreclosure on any real property which has a tax payment due that is three or more years’ delinquent. The Treasurer’s Office, with the assistance of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, must file a Certificate of Delinquency with the Spokane County Superior Court. This starts the tax foreclosure process. The Treasurer’s Office usually begins this process in June of each year. The Treasurer’s Office must notify all lien holders of the tax foreclosure via certified mail. The Treasurer’s Office gets this information by ordering title reports. A list of owners and lien holders is also published in a local newspaper. If the tax is not paid, prior to the scheduled auction day, the property goes to sale.
How many tax sale auctions does the Spokane County Treasurer’s Office have a year?
• The Treasurer’s Office holds only one real property tax sale a year, which is normally scheduled in early January and held via an internet based auction.
Do I need to register with the Spokane County Treasurer’s Office to become a bidder?
• Our auction is done via the internet through a third party. Registration, log in capabilities, and bidding is done through this third party. As a bidder, you must also follow the rules and regulations of the company handling the auction. Go to the Treasurer’s Foreclosure web page for a link to the auction site.
If I am the winning bidder, what forms of payment are accepted by the Treasurer’s Office?
• The Treasurer’s Office only accepts certified funds, which include cash, cashier’s checks, money orders, and wires. Winning bidders are notified and given payment instructions.
Does the County finance for tax foreclosure properties?
• No. You must make payment in full by the date instructed in the Terms of Sale.
How long does it take to get a deed if I am the winning bidder?
• A tax deed will be issued within thirty days from the end of auction. The end of auction is when the Treasurer deems the entire auction is closed, not when the winning bidder may have paid for the property they won. The tax deed will be mailed to the winning bidder at the address provided after they are notified they won.
What happens to all the liens on a property that is sold at tax sale?
• In Washington State, the tax lien is the highest priority, see RCW 84.60.010. It is understood that most other liens are extinguished from a tax sale. However, the Treasurer’s Office makes no guarantees, warranties, or implications that a lien holder may or can dispute their lien. There are specific liens that do survive a tax sale. You may want to consult an attorney for legal advice.
Does the Treasurer’s Office have information about the properties in tax foreclosure?
• The Spokane County Treasurer’s Office knows very little about the properties in tax foreclosure. Our responsibility is to collect taxes owed to the County. Our office knows nothing about condition, land use, or whether structures on properties are livable. Our office is unable to give any legal advice.
What if people are living on or using a piece of property I purchased at tax sale?
• All tax foreclosure sales are “buyer beware, as is, where is.” If you purchase a property at tax sale and people are on the property, it is between you and the parties on the property to resolve. The Treasurer is unable to assist in any way.
Before I make a bid, can I go onto the property and look?
• Understand that a tax foreclosure sale is not like a bank foreclosure. The property is privately owned until a new deed is issued. By going onto property during the tax foreclosure process, you may be trespassing on private property.
Some of the properties are bare land, can they be built upon?
• In Washington State, all property is taxable unless specifically exempt by law. This means there are many different types of real property, which can include; private roadways, easement properties, wet lands, hills and mountainous topography, and other properties which have specifications for use per plat maps. You must do your own due diligence and be sure that property you are purchasing can be used for your intentions. A property is not necessarily buildable merely because it is being taxed.
What happens to properties that do not sell at tax sale?
• They become trust property of the County. These properties are handled by the Engineers office as tax title property.
What exactly are excess funds from a tax sale?
• When property goes to tax sale, the Treasurer’s only obligation is to collect the back taxes, interest, penalties, and costs. Any difference between the minimum bid, and sale price is called excess funds. Per RCW 84.64.080 the excess amount is held for the party and/or parties who held title to the property on the day the Treasurer filed the Certificate of Delinquency. If you were the title holder on the date of filing, you will receive a letter & application from the Treasurer's Office to claim your excess funds. The owner has three years to request these funds. If after three years no request has been made, the excess funds are deposited to the County’s general fund.
You may be contacted by persons claiming you need assistance in applying for these excess funds. If you held title when the Certificate of Delinquency was filed, the excess funds are yours and you will be notified by the Treasurer's Office with instructions on how to claim the excess funds.
What are market improvements?
• Market improvements are something being assessed on real property that is a structure of some sort. These may include but are not limited to; houses, mobile homes, barns, garages, lean tos, sheds, and others. Therefore, when reviewing the assessed values of property, you may come across a land value and a market improvement value. When added together it is the total value of the property. Be aware, just because land has a market improvement value, does not mean it is a house or a buildable lot.
May I get on a mailing list for notifications of upcoming auctions?
• Spokane County Treasurer’s Office does not maintain a mailing list. The list is available on our website.