mortgage

Buying a home in a tax lien sale

Then troll in your neighborhood pond. "Stay local and take advantage of being a little guy," says Spader. "Since you know local properties, you can better tell their value. Also, smaller towns don't have as many liens available, so you're less likely to be competing with big investors looking to buy portfolios of tax liens. You may even be able to go right to an individual government official and find liens that aren't being offered in a public auction."

Even if you're not sold on tax liens as an investment vehicle, they serve as a stark reminder to all property owners. "Pay your property taxes," says Hughes. "The penalty is too great to not pay them."

G.M. Filisko is a writer in Chicago.

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