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Guide To: Purchasing Properties At Philadelphia Foreclosure Auctions

Thinking of purchasing property at a foreclosure auction? These auctions can be an ideal opportunity to purchase a great piece of real estate. However, there are also unforeseen risks and issues that can arise if you are not fully prepared going into the situation. This guide will walk you through some of the important aspects of how to prepare to attend Philadelphia foreclosure auctions, and will provide you with resources should something unexpected come up.

Foreclosure Sales and Philadelphia Foreclosure Auctions poster from the 1900's


Before planning for and arriving at the auction, you should do as much research as possible so you know what you’re looking for, how much you’re willing to pay for it, and how to spot a red flag.

1. Know the basics: There are two main types of foreclosure auctions—tax foreclosures and mortgage foreclosures. As the names suggest, tax foreclosures occur when the property owner fails to pay their taxes and the government places a lien on the property. Mortgage foreclosures occur when the owner misses payments on his or her loan for a certain period of time. Both types are auctioned at separate sheriff sales in Philadelphia. The sheriff sales take place on Tuesdays, and the mortgage foreclosure sheriff sales are typically on the first Tuesday of each month (with some holiday exceptions).

2. Do your research: Start with the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office website. This resource enables you to locate properties scheduled to be auctioned by searching for address, auction date, or for an advanced search with other criteria. From here, you can search online for more information about the property, or contact a real estate attorney for assistance. You should also locate the properties you are interested in, and do a drive-by physical inspection if possible, though you cannot legally go inside the property. Foreclosures are sold as-is, and a full inspection will normally not be possible beforehand. Driving past the property and checking out the exterior and neighborhood will give you an idea of the property’s value and condition. Whatever you do, don’t trespass—as this is a criminal offense! Finally, if you’re attending your first auction, it can be a good idea to first observe an auction that you are not planning to participate in, simply to get a feel for the procedure.

3. Know your limit: Have your maximum bid for each property in mind so you do not overbid during a stressful or exciting auction. Auctions happen very fast, and it is important to know what you want and what you don’t. The opening bid is typically the value of the outstanding judgment amount and is usually listed on the website prior to the auction. Your maximum bid should be based on your research, including the best possible estimate of market value, necessary repairs, and additional expenses or obligations that may come with the property. 

What to Bring

A list of properties that you are planning to bid on. This list should include the book number and writ number for each property, as properties are not identified by address in the Philadelphia auction.

Money orders of different denominations, or a certified (or attorney’s) check. Cash is no longer accepted! If your bid is the winner, you will be required to put down ten percent of the amount at the auction, with the remainder due within thirty days. 

If you plan to finance part of the total purchase, please note that many traditional banks and lenders will not finance foreclosure auctions.  

Pros of Foreclosure Auctions

Attending a foreclosure auction provides you the chance to get great deals that will not be available once the properties are placed on the market. The risk that comes with purchasing a foreclosed home means there will often be less competition and lower prices. A foreclosure auction also serves as the first chance to purchase a property, and can provide a potential buyer the opportunity to purchase a property that otherwise would not be available on the open market.[1] Finally, most people are not able to pay cash for the property at a foreclosure auction. Those with liquid capital are able to buy the properties at a discount and re-sell them on the open market for a premium to those who must purchase using traditional financing.

Pitfalls to Avoid

First and foremost, avoid overpaying for a foreclosed property. Foreclosures are sold in “as-is” condition, and there could be major unforeseen issues (no appliances, trashed house, structural damage, etc.). Factor into your maximum bid that repairs and renovations will likely be required. There may also be people living in the property that will need to be evicted or ejected. Tax or other types of liens could attach to the property, resulting in further expenses. You may also run into administrative issues with the sheriff’s office.

A final issue to be aware of is that there is a redemption period where the owner can buy back a property that has been auctioned from a tax foreclosure. 53 P.S. § 7293 provides that the owner or other appropriate parties may redeem the property at any time within nine months after the sale by paying the bid price plus associated costs and interest (usually around 10%). Thus, you may not get the title to a tax foreclosure right away, and run the risk of redemption. Many title companies will not provide title insurance for a period of twelve months after a tax foreclosure purchase. This redemption period generally does not apply to mortgage foreclosures.


A Philadelphia foreclosure auction can be the ideal opportunity to purchase properties at a favorable price that would otherwise not be available once placed on the market. By doing your research, consulting with a real estate agent and/or attorney, and being aware of what to look for and what to avoid, you can be on your way to a successful auction experience.

Additionally, it is now possible to participate in online auctions and have access to properties that otherwise would not be available in your location on the traditional MLS.