Mesa County moves tax lien sale to Internet



Mesa County holds a tax lien sale every year in which participants place bids on liens on properties for which the owners haven’t paid the taxes.

This year’s sale on Nov. 2 is being conducted online, meaning potential buyers can place a bid online up to three weeks in advance. The winning bidders must pay the delinquent taxes on the property.

The advantage to buying tax liens is buyers are guaranteed a 10 percent return on their investment. The potential disadvantage is that if property owners don’t pay their property taxes for three years, the person who buys the certificates may receive a deed for a property he or she may not want.

Mesa County will shift its annual tax lien sale from the windowless meeting rooms of Two Rivers Convention Center to the wide-open spaces of the Internet next month, joining other Colorado counties for the first time in hosting an online sale.

County officials say the move will save the county money and make it more convenient for bidders to participate.

“One of the biggest things for us is it’s a cost-efficiency,” Treasurer Janice Rich said. “It’s a way for us to provide the service but also meet our fiscal responsibility.”

The change, though, raised the eyebrows of some longtime local buyers who fear opening the Nov. 2 sale to anyone with a computer and Internet access will diminish their financial returns, leaving people who have a couple thousand dollars to invest squeezed out by deeper-pocketed bidders.

“It stiffens competition, which I guess is good for the county. They should make more money,” Orchard Mesa resident Vicki Felmlee said. “It’s going to be a huge change. I’m not skeptical. I just don’t know what it’s going to do to the little person.”

The county treasurer and her staff traditionally hosted the sale in-person on a single day. Bidders were assigned a paddle with a number and, using a round-robin format, numbers were called. If the bidder whose number came up wasn’t interested in buying the lien, it moved around the room until someone offered a bid on it. Buyers may not have known anything about the property on whose lien they were bidding.

The online sale, held at, allows bidders to access information about the properties and begin placing purchase offers Oct. 12. Winners will be determined when the auction closes at 2 p.m. Nov. 2.  More than 110 people already registered.

Rich said the online auction is cost-neutral to the county. The auction company, of Plantation, Fla., will receive up to $12 per tax certificate sold and won’t receive any money for liens not sold. By comparison, the county spent roughly $6,000 to $7,000 putting on the in-person sale, she said.

Rich said the county chose because it uses the same software employed by other county treasurers. She said the only other company that conducts online tax lien sales is SRI International in Indianapolis, Ind.

Grand Junction resident Steve Grant, who began buying tax liens in the 1970s, suggested the county switch to an online sale to offset a portion of its budget cuts.

“It’s easier for them. They don’t have to devote as much manpower,” he said.

The county could sell a record number of tax liens this year, as the recession has hampered more property owners’ ability to pay their taxes. Last year, the county sold 1,307 tax liens worth $2.4 million. It’s advertising more than 1,600 parcels this year, although property owners could pay off some of those debts before the sale.

While more liens may be available, Rich said, they may not sell for as much as in the past.

“In the past, Mesa County has been able to sell all of the tax liens, but absolutely in these economic times we’re prepared that the money may not be there,” she said.


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