What is a Forced Sale?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 February 2020
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Also known as a sheriff’s sale, a forced sale is a court-ordered sale of property in order to settle an outstanding debt. The sale is forced, because the owner of the property is selling his or her holdings involuntarily. Generally, a sale of this type does not occur until after all reasonable attempts to work with the debtor have been exhausted, and the creditor has chosen to take legal action.

A forced sale of property can take place as a means of settling just about any type of debt. One of the more common reasons for this type of court-ordered sale is because a debtor has defaulted on a mortgage. Assuming that the debtor has no other assets that can be called upon to settle the debt, the property sold under the jurisdiction of the court, with the proceeds from the sale forwarded to the mortgage lender.

In many countries, landlords can also seek redress in court for delinquent payments of residential or commercial property rentals. If there is no other way to secure the necessary funds from the debtor, a judge may order that the individual’s belongings, including vehicles or furnishings, be confiscated by local law enforcement authorities and sold at a public auction. The proceeds from the sale are tendered to the landlord, after court costs have been settled in full.


It is important to note that in most jurisdictions, the process to win a judgment and hold a forced sale of real estate is a lengthy process. Often, the injured party must be able to demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to work out a payment plan with the defendant did take place. Even then, the process leading up to a forced sale may take several months before a decision is rendered, then even more time for the sale to actually take place. This is especially true when the assets in question are something other than real estate.

The legal procedures that must be followed in order to obtain a judgment and receive instructions from a judge to schedule a forced sale are not only time-consuming, but also can be somewhat expensive. For this reason, lenders tend to try every conceivable approach before filing suit against a debtor. In like manner, a landlord will often try to find some way to settle the matter amicably without the need to go to court. Should the lender or landlord feel that the cost of litigation would ultimately prove more than the original debt, it is not unusual for the matter to be turned over for collections rather than going through the effort of obtaining a judgment and forcing the sale of the property or other assets.


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