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PHIL HARDWICK — Watching your property taxes and what it means

PHIL HARDWICK

Did you lose your property because of a tax sale? Did you buy property at a tax sale in August? Did your mortgage company pay your real estate taxes?

There are two times during any given calendar year that the subject of unpaid property taxes is certain to make the news. The first is February-March, when the list of properties and their owners is made public. The second is August, when said properties are sold at auction to pay back taxes.

This year there is no shortage of news stories about unpaid property taxes and their owners. Public officials in particular have come under the journalistic microscope of scrutiny from their local media. After all, what better news item than the discovery in the public records that an elected official has not paid property taxes?  Most will proffer some excuse, pay the taxes and move on. Others, including some not-so-public owners, will lose their properties. Therefore, it behooves us to understand the process of how a parcel of real estate can be forfeited to the state at a tax sale.

At real estate closings, a common phrase heard is “Insurance is paid in advance and property taxes are paid in arrears.”  That simply means that the property insurance premium is paid BEFORE coverage begins, and that property taxes are not paid to the tax collector until AFTER the year has ended. In Mississippi, that means that property taxes for calendar year 2017 are due for payment in January 31 of 2018. What is confusing to many homeowners is that they pay their monthly payment to a mortgage company that collects the property taxes from the monthly payment and then pays them on behalf of the owner in January of the following year. They assume that just because they made the payment to the mortgage company that it was paid to the county tax collector. It almost always is paid, however errors can occur, and it is the property owner’s responsibility to make certain that payment was made. If and when those property taxes are not paid, a chain of events goes into effect.

On February 1, interest will begin to accrue on the unpaid taxes at the rate of one percent per month. If the taxes are not paid by August, then publication of the delinquency will be made in the local newspaper to give notice that the property will be sold to pay for the taxes. It is at this point that things can really become interesting.

No doubt you have seen television commercials or print ads for information and courses about how to buy property at a tax sale. According to these commercials, there can be big money made in the game of tax sales. Here is what one company says on its Web site:

» Earn fantastic rates of return on your investment.

» Use the power of compounding to build your wealth.

» Acquire deeds to real estate at unbelievable low prices.

» Buy Low – Sell High.

» Houses for less than $5,000.

» Residential lots for less than $500.

» Earn 18% to 36% annualized yields investing in government issued tax lien certificates.

» Learn how to acquired properties before the tax sale from delinquent property owners for pennies on the dollar.

» Learn how to research and acquired properties at tax forfeited land auctions.

» Learn how to research tax lien certificates before investing. Avoid the pitfalls.

After reading those claims, who could resist wanting to go out and buy property at the tax sale. While it is true that all of the above claims could and have happened, it is noted that those are the exceptions and not the rule.

For example, Mississippi is a state that allows for redemption of property. That means that a property can go to the tax collector and “redeem” his or her property by paying the back taxes and interest. When that happens, the investor who bought the property at the tax sale will receive his or her money back, plus interest. But if the property owner does not redeem his property, the investor may get a worthless property with a small chance of ever getting good enough title to resell the property. In short, buying property for investment at a tax sale is not for the faint of heart or those short of capital to lose.

For more information about real property tax procedures and tax sales contact your local tax collector. You may also want to check out the tax collector’s website in your county. Some are very good, while others are rather embarrassing. One of the better ones is that of the Jackson County Tax Collector. It’s online address is https://www.co.jackson.ms.us/officials/tax-collector/real-estate.php.

A final question: Do you know if your real estate taxes were paid for 2017?

» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His e-mail address is phil@philhardwick.com.

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