Tax-deed sales to be held online in Lake County for first time

By Ludmilla Lelis, Orlando Sentinel

February 28, 2012

TAVARES- Tax deed sales, the public auctions of tax-delinquent properties, will be held online for Lake County for the first time in the coming weeks.

The online sale broadens the Internet-related options for those who have been able to buy tax certificates online since 2004.

The website offering the online sales, www.lake.realtaxdeed.com goes live this week and the first sales will begin April 3.

"It will open it up to allow more people to participate, rather than just those who could physically show up at 11:15 a.m. at 122 E. Main St.," said Rick Whilden, senior recording clerk for the Lake County Clerk of Court. He was describing the old method for the sales, with a deputy clerk holding a public auction at the public-records center in Tavares.

Tax deed sales are the final result for properties delinquent on property taxes. When property taxes aren't paid by the annual April deadline, the bills are sold as tax certificates by Tax Collector Bob McKee.

Recouping cost

Through that sale, the buyer pays the tax and can recoup the cost plus interest when the property owner pays it back. Those certificates become a lien on the property. After two years, if the certificate isn't repaid, the buyer can apply to have the property put up for a tax deed sale.

Lake was among one of the first counties to sell tax certificates online and the method has been effective in making sure that taxes are collected, McKee said.

"Before, we would have about 75 percent of the certificates sold and with the remaining 25 percent, the taxes would be unpaid," McKee said. "With the online sales, we are able to sell 100 percent of the tax certificates."

Last year, his office sold 11,400 of the certificates.

The website also offers online applications for tax-certificate holders who want to start the tax deed process.

"Offering the tax-deed sales online would seem to be a natural progression," McKee said.

The clerk's office has a contract with an online company, Realauction, to conduct the sales. Realauction already runs tax-deed sales in nine Florida counties, including Osceola in Central Florida and nearby Citrus.

Interested buyers can register online and can place a deposit of $200 or 5 percent of the winning bid to participate. Before the auction begins, bidders have the option of posting a proxy bid of their maximum amount.

'Very excited'

Online bidding opens the auction up to more people, which ensures that the sales are competitive and that all the properties are sold. Last year, about 440 properties were sold under tax-deed sales.

"We're very excited about it," said Bruce Carroll, chief deputy of administrative services for the clerk's office. "We believe it'll be good for the people of Lake County."

Training is available for those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the online bidding process. Sessions will be held at 2 p.m. March 26 and 9 a.m. March 27 in Tax Deed Room No. 114 of the public-records center, 122 E. Main St.

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