Overcoming Tax Liens: Can You Really Sell Your House With Outstanding Tax Debts?

The world of real estate can be daunting, even more so when selling a property saddled with unpaid taxes. This situation often leads to a tax lien being placed on your property, creating additional layers of complications. If you’re in this predicament, understanding your options is crucial to navigate through the storm successfully.

Understanding the Tax Lien

A tax lien is a government’s legal claim on your assets due to your failure to pay a tax debt on time. It essentially means that you cannot sell your property and utilize any equity from the sale until the tax lien is satisfied. Delinquent taxes can arise from unpaid income taxes, property taxes, or other state and federal taxes.

The three primary types of tax liens are:

– Property Tax Liens: Resulting from unpaid property taxes due to the city or county.
– State Tax Liens: Arise due to unpaid back taxes to the state’s Department of Revenue.
– Federal Tax Liens: Imposed due to unpaid income taxes owed to the IRS.

However, the challenge doesn’t end with identifying the type of lien. Tax liens may not always remain with government entities. For instance, a city or county can produce a **tax lien certificate** that can be sold to private investors. If the property owner fails to settle the debt, the investor can even foreclose on the property.

The Implications of a Tax Lien on Property Sale

When selling property with delinquent taxes, it’s essential to understand that the tax lien must be dealt with before completing the sale. So, how does a tax lien affect the home sale process?

1. Title Search Implications: During the title search process, any existing tax liens on the property will surface. This is a significant hurdle since it highlights unresolved financial obligations, often deterring potential buyers.

2. Equity Erosion: Tax liens, along with the associated penalties and interest, erode the equity in your property. Over time, the growing debt can exceed your property’s value, leaving you with no profits post-sale or even incurring losses.

3. Time-Consuming: Resolving a tax lien isn’t always straightforward. It can be time-consuming, with cases taking months or even years to resolve. This delay can significantly impact the property’s selling timeline, especially if the real estate market is volatile.

Steps to Selling Property with a Tax Lien

1. Consultation: Engage with a knowledgeable real estate agent and tax attorney. They’ll guide you through the nuances, helping you understand the gravity of the situation and the best possible solutions.

2. Consider HELOC: If you have substantial equity in your property, consider taking a HELOC (home equity line of credit)**. This can be used to settle the tax debt before selling, making the entire process smoother.

3. Payment Arrangements: If you can’t clear the lien immediately, contact the relevant tax authority (be it the IRS, Department of Revenue, or city/county office) and discuss a payment plan. While this doesn’t remove the lien, it might offer you some breathing space and showcase to potential buyers that you’re actively addressing the issue.

4. Dispute Invalid Liens: If you believe the tax lien has been placed in error, work with your tax advisor to dispute its legitimacy. However, ensure you have concrete evidence to back your claims.

5. Consider Bankruptcy: In extreme situations where the owed amount is exorbitant, and there’s no feasible way to pay it off, filing for bankruptcy might be the last resort. While it’s a challenging step, it ensures that institutions like the IRS get their due.


Selling a property with a tax lien is undeniably challenging. However, with the right information, professional guidance, and a proactive approach, it’s feasible. Always remember: Addressing the issue head-on and as early as possible is crucial. The longer the delay, the more intricate the situation becomes. Take control, and ensure that your property’s sale isn’t marred by unresolved tax debts.