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Can you sell a house with a lien on it?

On Behalf of | Apr 11, 2023 | Real Estate Transactions

You’re ready to sell your home – but there’s an involuntary lien on it that you know is going to cause problems. It could be a tax lien, a judgment lien from an old debt or a contractor’s lien that’s leftover from a construction dispute. 

You’re afraid that will prove the death knell for any deal you might make as soon as a title search is run – and you’re right. While you can sell a home with a lien on it, that means that the buyer would purchase the lien with the home, and nobody is likely to be willing to do that. 

What are your options?

Clear the lien 

Obviously, the easiest thing to do – if you have the cash – is to just pay off the debt and take the proof to the courthouse to have the lien removed. However, this is usually not possible (or you probably wouldn’t have the lien in the first place).

See if the lien is valid

Are you completely unsure about where the lien originated? If you don’t even remember the debt, it’s possible that the lien was attached to your property by mistake. You may need legal assistance to uncover the source of the lien to dispute it.

See if the lien expired

Even with a judgment, like for an old credit card or medical debt, the New Jersey statute only permits liens to last 20 years. After that point, you can get legal assistance to help you remove the lien from your property so that the title is clear. 

Negotiate the debt

If the lien is valid and not expired and you still cannot afford to pay, you may be able to negotiate with your creditor to pay part of the debt in exchange for clearing the lien. Many creditors would rather recoup part of their losses than nothing at all.

Finally, you always can negotiate with a potential buyer to include the lien as part of the payoff when the sale goes through. That means the lien would be worked into all other fees that come out of your proceeds. 

Situations like this can be complicated, so experienced legal guidance is wise.