Thrift Shopping at the County Sheriff’s Property Auction

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Illustration by Scotty Reifsnyder

For our August 2017 issue, we explored Cincinnati’s rebuilding boom.

If you’re hoping for one of those old-timey, fast-talking auctioneers to get the competitive juices flowing, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s property sale won’t cut it. But it is the best chance to land your next rehab project at a steep discount.

The sheriff’s office holds a property sale every Thursday at 11 a.m. outside Room 260 of the Hamilton County Court House, auctioning off a list of about 20–30 residential and commercial foreclosures. Verbal bidding on each property—directed by a subdued, monotone county employee—starts at two-thirds of the appraised value, with 10 percent of that appraised value due on the spot from the highest bidder. A rare handful of properties (usually in desirable neighborhoods) go for more than the appraised value, but most are bought back by the bank at or close to the initial price—meaning in general, there’s ample opportunity to score a hot deal. “A lot cheaper than you could through the normal real estate market,” says Clint Richmond. He and his wife Megan bought a multi-family home in East Walnut Hills at an auction last fall, and spent close to a year renovating it before renting it to tenants earlier this summer.

There are drawbacks to the process. “It was a lot of work,” says Clint. “Probably more than we expected.” Most properties are purchased sight unseen without the benefit of a simple walkthrough, let alone an inspection. And because full payment is due 30 days after the sale, it can be difficult for new owners to secure traditional financing through a bank loan. It’s an obvious risk/reward system, but with real estate, every little bit counts. “For the right place, we’d do it again,” says Megan. “All in all, it turned out better than we thought.”

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