Selling a House with a Lien

Many homeowners find themselves in a position where they must sell their current home even though there is a lien against the property. They worry that the lien could possibly hinder their ability to market the house.

What is a Lien

Investopedia describes a property lien as a: “legal claim against property that allows them to collect what they’re owed.” The two types of liens that are placed on the property are voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary liens are the most common. They refer to contracts that property owners know about. Voluntary real estate liens usually involve mortgages and home equity loans.


Involuntary real estate liens are more complicated and often catch the property owner by surprise. Some people don’t learn about the involuntary lien until they attempt to sell the property. Most involuntary real estate liens involve problems with property taxes or unpaid construction bills.

How Liens Impact Real Estate Sales

Selling a house that has a lien on it is more complicated than selling one that the owner owns free and clear, but it’s not impossible. There are a few ways that the owner can resolve the issue.


The first thing the current property owner must do is learn exactly what the lien is. Sometimes the lien turns out to be an error, in which case the property owner can dispute the issue. Winning the dispute usually involves proving that the tax or construction bill was actually paid or was the result of a clerical mistake. The dispute process will take time and could significantly delay the sale process.


For voluntary liens, homeowners have two options. The first is that they can simply pay off the lien prior to listing their home on the real estate market. Settling the lien prior to the sale not only gives the homeowner more freedom to play with the price of the home but can also speed up the closing process after an offer has been accepted. Realtor Magazine reports that handling property liens accounts for approximately 11% of all closing delays.


The other option is to use the money from the sale of the property to cover the outstanding lien. Since many homeowners lack the liquid capital to pay the lien prior to selling the property, this is the option they usually opt for. In this case, the homeowner will want to discuss the matter with their real estate agent and make sure that an agreement to pay off the lien is included in the final settlement agreement.


Anyone who is even casually thinking about selling a home, should do a background check on the property and know exactly how many and what kind of liens are currently on file for the property.