How Foreclosures and Sheriff Sales Work in Pennsylvania: A Comprehensive Guide

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Are you curious about how foreclosures and sheriff sales work in Pennsylvania? As a realtor based in Westchester, PA, I’m here to provide you with some insights into the foreclosure process and offer practical advice. Please note that I am not an attorney, so it’s always recommended to consult with a legal professional regarding your specific situation. In this article, we will dive into the basic flow of the foreclosure process, explore the sheriff’s sale, discuss buying foreclosures, and shed light on the current state of the market.

The Foreclosure Process in Pennsylvania

Foreclosure proceedings in Pennsylvania typically take over a year due to the state’s judicial foreclosure process. This means that at some point, the foreclosure case will go to court. Let’s break down the basic steps of the process:

  1. Delinquency: The process begins when a homeowner falls behind on mortgage payments for more than 120 days. At this point, the mortgage company will start contacting the delinquent homeowner to address the issue.

  2. Act 91 Letter: If the homeowner fails to rectify the payment situation, the mortgage company is required to send an Act 91 letter after the 120-day mark. This letter officially notifies the homeowner that the foreclosure process has begun.

  3. Court Proceedings: If the homeowner doesn’t take action to resolve the delinquency, they will receive a notice to appear in court. It’s crucial to consult with an attorney at this stage to explore defense options and potentially avoid foreclosure.

  4. Defending Yourself: Homeowners have the opportunity to defend themselves in court and present their case to prevent foreclosure. Hiring an attorney with experience in foreclosure cases can significantly increase the chances of a successful defense.

  5. Selling the Property: Selling the property voluntarily can be a preferable option instead of going through the foreclosure process. Particularly in Pennsylvania, where property prices have increased, homeowners may have equity in their homes, making selling a viable solution.

  6. Sheriff’s Sale: If the court rules in favor of foreclosure, the property goes into a sheriff’s sale. In Pennsylvania, this sale traditionally took place at the courthouse, but now it often occurs online. At the sheriff’s sale, interested buyers bid on the property, aiming to surpass the reserve bid.

  7. Buying at Sheriff’s Sale: Potential buyers participating in the sheriff’s sale need to bring cash and often bid without having inspected the property. The highest bidder who exceeds the reserve bid becomes the new owner of the property and must provide a 10% down payment at the time of the sale.

  8. Bank Takes Back the Property: If the property doesn’t sell at the sheriff’s sale, it reverts to the bank. The bank then takes ownership of the property and moves forward with an REO (Real Estate Owned) sale. The property is listed on various platforms like Zillow, Redfin, and MLS like any other property on the market.

  9. Post-Foreclosure: During the foreclosure process, efforts are made to keep the homeowner in the house whenever possible. However, if the bank takes back the property, the former homeowner will have to face eviction. The bank may refuse to make any necessary repairs on the property, leaving the new owner responsible for any rehabilitative measures.

Avoiding Foreclosure: Selling Your House

To avoid going through the foreclosure process, homeowners can choose to sell their house. By doing so, they can potentially retain any equity they have in the property and find a more favorable outcome. In some cases, investors may be interested in purchasing pre-foreclosure properties, allowing homeowners to remain in their homes while avoiding foreclosure.

Understanding Sheriff’s Sales

Sheriff’s sales are an integral part of the foreclosure process in Pennsylvania. Previously held at the courthouse, these sales are now commonly conducted online through platforms like Bid for Assets. It’s important to note that participating in a sheriff’s sale involves risks and requires cash on hand. Potential buyers may not have the opportunity to inspect the property before bidding, making it a challenging and cash-intensive way to acquire real estate.

Exploring Foreclosures on the Market

When browsing the market, you might come across properties listed as foreclosures on MLS platforms. These properties may present potential investment opportunities. In Chester County, Pennsylvania, for example, there are currently a limited number of foreclosures available, indicating a historically low foreclosure rate. However, it’s essential to set realistic expectations as foreclosed properties can often be in distressed condition and require substantial repairs.


Understanding how foreclosures and sheriff sales work in Pennsylvania is crucial for homeowners and buyers alike. It’s important to remember that each foreclosure case is unique, and seeking professional advice from an attorney is vital to navigate the legal aspects properly. If you find yourself facing foreclosure or are interested in purchasing a foreclosed property, consulting with a reputable realtor, such as Rob Lawrence from the Rob Lawrence Team, can provide you with valuable guidance and expertise. Foreclosure is a complex process, but with the right knowledge and support, you can make informed decisions and explore available options within Pennsylvania’s real estate market.

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