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The Foreclosure Process Step by Step

When a borrower fails to meet its loan obligations, the lender may try to foreclose on the
property securing the loan. “Foreclosure” is just the series of steps a lender has to take
in order to force the sale of such property and use the sale proceeds to recover its
unpaid debt.

This is simple enough in theory. However, except for professionals who deal with
foreclosures on a regular basis, few understand the many steps involved in the process.
Given the complexity, and the fact that these steps can vary from state to state,
residential or commercial property, and even depending upon the terms of agreements
between individual borrowers and lenders, it isn’t surprising the process may be a bit of
a mystery.

Nonetheless, since compliance with the foreclosure process can greatly impact the
length, cost and outcome of these actions, a solid understanding of the foreclosure
process is critical.

In this article we’ll take a deep dive into the foreclosure process, step by step.

Foreclosure Rules Vary from State to State

First of all, as with most real estate laws, foreclosure rights and procedures are different
in each state. These differences can be minor variations in things such as how many
times a lender must publish notice of a foreclosure sale, or the number of days a
borrower has to respond to a lawsuit.

They can also, however, vary significantly in terms of borrower and lender rights. For
example, a borrower may or may not have the right of redemption, which is the ability to
recover their property following a foreclosure sale by (i) paying the sale price, interest
and other costs to the winning bidder or (ii) if the redemption happens before the sale,
by paying the lender its outstanding debt and other costs.

Since these differences can vary so much between states, let’s take a quick look at
the most significant differences between states before diving into the foreclosure
process itself.

Judicial vs. Non Judicial Foreclosure

Those states which use a mortgage to evidence a lender’s security interest in property
utilize a judicial foreclosure process. Judicial foreclosure requires a lender to file a
lawsuit with the courts and prove they are entitled foreclose under state law and the
loan documents. However, where the mortgage includes a “power of sale clause”
authorizing a lender to sell the property upon default by the borrower, these states will
allow the lender to use a non-judicial foreclosure.

Those states using a deed of trust utilize the non-judicial foreclosure process. This
process doesn’t involve a court’s approval, but rather is conducted by a trustee for the
lender and governed by state law and loan documents. In those states which use both
mortgages and deeds of trust, a non-judicial foreclosure is generally available to those
mortgages that include a power of sale clause.

Where a power of sale clause sets out a procedure for the foreclosure, that procedure
will be followed unless it doesn’t comply with the minimum state law requirements.
Because the non-judicial method is typically faster and less expensive, most lenders opt
for it over the judicial method.

Procedural Requirements

Because foreclosures result in the loss of property, including people’s homes, strict
compliance with procedural items, such as the method and form various notices must
take, is required. Accordingly, knowing when, where and what form notices must take
(as well as all other procedural requirements) is critical to a successful foreclosure.
While there may be some similarities, the procedural requirements for a foreclosure can
vary widely from state to state.

Time to Complete the Process

Depending on the state, foreclosures can occur as quickly as 30 days, and up to seven
months (or longer).

Right of Redemption

Some states grant a borrower a right of redemption, and others do not. Generally
redemption is not available in non-judicial foreclosures unless the deed of trust grants
the right. Even where they are given, there is a great deal of variation among the states
as to the period in which a borrower must exercise or lose its right to redeem (generally
between six months and a year). Further, state laws may condition the right of
redemption, or modify the time period in which it can be exercised, on different factors,
such as:
 Requiring the borrower to redeem the property before the foreclosure sale
 The percentage of the unpaid loan amount at the time of foreclosure judgment
 Whether the property has been abandoned
 Whether the borrower relinquished possession to the new owner (the winning
bidder at the foreclosure sale) following demand
 Whether the borrower lost its source of income following foreclosure
 In what year the mortgage was granted
 Whether a lender gets a deficiency judgment
 Whether the lender was the foreclosing buyer
 The type of property (e.g., agricultural), and
 The terms of the mortgage or deed of trust

Deficiency Judgments

Where the proceeds from the foreclosure sale aren’t enough to pay the borrower’s
unpaid debt, the lender may be able to obtain a deficiency judgment against the
borrower for the difference. Some states permit them, and some do not. Generally such
judgments are not available where a deed of trust was used. Again, however, even
where a deficiency judgment is permitted, the states can differ on their application, such
as the time period in which it must occur and conditions on its availability (e.g., a
borrower may be able to avoid a deficiency judgment if it agrees to a sale of the
property prior to foreclosure).

Summary of State Variations in The Foreclosure Process

The above categories outlines the most significant differences between states. To get
specific and detailed differences you can browse the Foreclosure Laws website.
Because of these many variations, and because this article is only for informational
purposes, and not legal advice, if you have any specific foreclosure issues, you should
consult with an attorney.

The Foreclosure Process

Now that we’ve covered some of the major differences between states, let’s next walk
through the foreclosure process, step by step.

Default by Borrower

The foreclosure process begins when a borrower defaults on its loan, whether by failing
to make timely payments or meet its other obligations under the loan documents (e.g.,
failing to maintain property insurance). Evidence of the default is the linchpin of a lender
being able to establish it has the right to foreclose.
Notice of Default

Following default, the lender sends a notice to the borrower that includes a description
of the default and the time period in which the default must be cured. For example, if the
default is a failure to timely pay loan amounts, the notice will state the amount due and
when it must be paid. If the default is not cured before this period expires, the lender
may begin the foreclosure process.

Under certain circumstances, typically for commercial properties where the loan
documents permit, the notice of default may also include a demand that the borrower
sends the lender all rents from the property it currently has, and those rents it collects
through the foreclosure process which aren’t used for certain property expenses
approved by the lender.


Though not an actual part of the foreclosure process, in an effort to avoid the time, cost
and other negative consequences of a foreclosure, following the default notice the
parties may attempt a workout, or a restructuring of the loan terms, to avoid further
defaults. Common workouts include forbearance, loan modification, a repayment
plan, deed in lieu of foreclosure or short sale.

Acceleration Demand

If the borrower fails to cure the default before the period stated in the notice, the lender
demands an acceleration of the loan. Acceleration means the amount due is no longer
the missed payments, but rather the total amount of unpaid debt. The right to demand
acceleration is granted in the loan documents, and the time required between the
default notice and acceleration demand varies.

Lender Files Complaint / Trustee Issues Notice of Default

The next step depends on whether or not the state is a judicial foreclosure state or a
non-judicial foreclosure state. Let’s walk through both scenarios.

Judicial Foreclosure: Complaint

In a judicial foreclosure action, if the borrower is unresponsive to the demand and

acceleration letter, and no workout has been negotiated, the lender will begin the
foreclosure lawsuit by:
1. Filing a complaint or petition for foreclosure with the courts,
2. Issuing summons to the borrower and all interested parties notifying them of the
suit and stating the time period in which they must contest the foreclosure, and
3. Recording in the county records a lis pendens (this is done to give notice to the
public, subsequent lien holders, and potential purchasers of the foreclosure).

The suit is filed in the county where the property is located, and asks the court for a
judgment of foreclosure, an order for sale of the property, and in some cases a
deficiency judgment.

The complaint will name the borrower and all other interested parties. These can
include, for example, guarantors to the loan, holders of second mortgages or other liens
junior to the lender’s mortgage, or the IRS if a tax lien encumbers the property. The
lender must notify each defendant separately by summons according to form, method
and timing under state law.

The complaint sets forth the lender’s argument that it is entitled to the relief it seeks.
Typically a complaint will include the mortgage, all loan documents, state the default
and amount due, and identify the property. Some states require the lender to file an
affidavit of fact with the complaint, which affidavit attests to the amounts due, the
amount of the unpaid principal balance, unpaid interest due, late fees, attorney fees,
and other costs. Further, a person with personal knowledge of the affidavit’s contents
must sign it. This means that no automated signatures are permitted.

In some states, where the foreclosure is on commercial property, the complaint may
also include a request that the court issue an order requiring the borrower to deposit all
rents from the property into the court or other depository. Generally, in order to protect
the value of the property securing the loan during the pendency of the foreclosure
action, the court may use these rents to pay expenses relating to the operation of the
property and make payments on the loan.

Non-Judicial Foreclosure: Notice of Default

In a non-judicial foreclosure, a third party referred to as the “trustee” handles the

foreclosure instead of a court. The trustee, named in the deed of trust, is a neutral third
party who owes a fiduciary duty to both lender and borrower.

The procedure detailed in the deed of trust and loan documents will be followed so long
as they meet the minimum borrower protections afforded under state law. Generally this
begins with the lender notifying the trustee of the borrower’s default and how it may be
cured. The trustee then issues a notice of default by:
1. Sending all interested parties notice of the proceeding, the foreclosure sale and its
2. Recording a notice of the default in the county records, and
3. Publishing notice in newspapers, posting on the property, or as otherwise required
in the deed of trust and state law.

As with a summons, the notice of default will tell the borrower the basis of the lender’s
complaint, the date by which the borrower must either contest the foreclosure or bring
the loan payments current, and the remedy sought by the lender, i.e., money judgment
and sale of the property.

Appointment of Receiver

In a commercial foreclosure, and if the mortgage provides for such, a lender may ask
that a receiver be appointed. A receiver is a neutral third party, paid by the lender, who
essentially takes over the management of the property to ensure the borrower is not
damaging the property (including by failing to make necessary repairs) or “skimming”
rent (using the rent to pay non-property expenses, including loan payments).

Depending on the terms of the mortgage, receivership may be requested either by

petitioning the court upon a default or as a part of the foreclosure complaint. Although
the lender pays for the receiver, the receiver is responsible only to direction from court.

Once a receiver has been appointed, it will operate all aspects of the property, including
such things as managing leases, entering into new leases, collecting rent, maintaining
and repairing the property, paying all property expenses (e.g., insurance, taxes, etc.),
and, if all parties and the court consent, selling the property and ending the foreclosure

Borrower’s Answer and Defenses

If the borrower wants to contest the foreclosure, it must file an answer within the time
period set forth in the complaint (judicial) or in the notice of default (non-judicial). The
answer will include responses to all of the statements made by lender in its complaint,
either accepting, denying or asserting it doesn’t have enough information to accept or
deny each claim.

Additionally, in the answer the borrower may assert any defenses or counterclaims it
has to the foreclosure. Common defenses and counterclaims include:

 Violations under Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (residential foreclosures only)
or Truth in Lending Act
 Loan has been paid in full
 Lender miscalculated the amount due
 State law, mortgage or deed of trust procedures weren’t followed
 Deficient affidavit of fact
 Improper plaintiff or assignment (lender failed to establish it was the owner of the
mortgage and loan)
 Waiver
 Equitable estoppel
 Fraud
 Statute of limitations

If the borrower doesn’t file a timely answer, the court will issue a default judgment for
the lender.

In the case of a non-judicial foreclosure, where the borrower does not have the chance
to make such defenses or counterclaims to a court, the borrower may consider suing
the lender. It then becomes the plaintiff filing the complaint, and argues the foreclosure
should be stopped or modified based on the borrower’s defenses.

While a lawsuit could be a large expense for a borrower, it is sometimes used to delay
the foreclosure or encourage settlement with the lender.

Relief: Judgment of Foreclosure and Deficiency Judgment

Following the court’s consideration of the lender’s claims and borrower’s defenses and
counterclaims, the court will issue a judgment either denying the foreclosure, or granting
the relief sought by the lender. As noted above, lenders typically ask for a judgment of
foreclosure (money judgment for principal, pre-judgment interest, reasonable expenses,
and costs of the action), an order for sale of the property, and in some cases a
deficiency judgment.

In those states where a deficiency judgment isn’t issued at this time, the lender will ask
the court to retain jurisdiction over the action so it can consider the request for
deficiency later.

While most states don’t pass title to the property until the foreclosure sale has been
completed or the redemption period has expired, in two states, Vermont and
Connecticut, the foreclosure judgment can include an order that title to property is
immediately transferred to the lender.
As to the deficiency judgment, the lender can then start trying to collect this amount.
Some methods to do so include garnishing wages, freezing bank accounts, and placing
liens on the borrower’s other assets.

Notice of Sale

Following a court’s order for sale, the lender will notify the borrower of the sale date,
time and place. Depending on state law and the loan documents, this notice may have
to be mailed to the borrower, posted on the property, published in certain newspapers,
recorded in the county records, or otherwise distributed.

Generally the borrower may still be able to keep its property if it can negotiate a
settlement with the lender (e.g., pay the full amount due, court costs, receiver costs,
attorney’s fees, etc.) before the sale date.

Foreclosure Sale

Depending on whether the foreclosure is judicial or non-juridical, and the terms of the
loan document and state law, the sale may be conducted by the county clerk, the
trustee or another party. It will occur at the place identified in the notice of sale, often on
the county courthouse steps.

The sale may be postponed at the time and place originally set for the sale. Generally
anyone may bid at the auction, and bidders may be required to provide proof they can
pay the full amount they’ve bid.

Objections to Sale

Some states allow a party to object to the foreclosure sale within a certain time following
the sale. In those states, the certificate of title may not be given to the bidder until this
period has passed without objection, or until a court has resolved the objection.

Example objections include mistake, collusion, notice or other procedural defects. In

other states, if the court retains jurisdiction of the case through the sale, a party may file
an objection to the court as a part of the existing foreclosure action.

Certificate of Title or Deed of Trust Issued

Following the auction, the highest bidder typically receives a certificate of title (judicial)
or a deed of trust for the property (non-judicial) transferring title to the property to the
bidder. A certificate of sale will identify the bidder, the sale amount and the bidder’s
rights in the property. However, title may not transfer to the bidder until sale objections
(where permitted) are resolved or, in states allowing redemption, until the redemption
period has passed.

Proceeds Disbursed

Following the auction, the sale proceeds are disbursed to the lender pursuant to the
court’s judgment or the terms of the deed of trust. Generally proceeds are disbursed in
the following order of priority: foreclosure expenses (e.g., auction holder may be entitled
to a fee), the lender’s money judgment, paying off junior liens, and any remaining
proceeds going to the borrower.

Transfer of Possession (Eviction of Owner and Tenants)

Once the bidder is given ownership, the borrower either relinquishes possession of the
property voluntarily or the bidder must bring an eviction lawsuit under state law. As
noted above, in some states if the borrower refuses to transfer possession it may lose
its right to redemption.

In addition to the borrower, the new owner may need to deal with tenants remaining on
the property. If the tenants were joined in the foreclosure action, the court may issue
writs of possession to move the tenants out. In commercial cases, if the tenant’s lease
included a subordination clause (meaning the tenant’s interest in the property is junior to
the lender’s), the lender may terminate the lease and evict the tenant.

If, however, the lease included a non-disturbance clause (which gives the tenant, so
long as they are not in default, the right to stay on the property even if it is sold or
foreclosed), the lender cannot evict the tenant.


As described earlier in this article, the right of redemption grants a borrower the right to
regain ownership of its property following the foreclosure sale by paying the winning
bidder the sale price plus costs within a certain period of time. Redemption is not
available in all states.

The redemption period varies by state (generally a year, though Rhode Island grants a
three year period), as do related conditions. For example, in Missouri, a borrower must
give notice within 20 days of the sale that it intends to pursue redemption, as well as
give a redemption bond.
Again, a borrower may lose or not be eligible for a right of redemption, or have its
redemption period shortened, under certain circumstances, such as (1) failing to give
possession of the property to the new owner within a certain period, (2) abandoning the
property, or (3) owing more than a certain percentage of the original loan amount at the
time of judgment.

Setting Aside a Foreclosure Sale

In a judicial foreclosure, other than the methods listed above to object to the sale, the
only ways to set aside the sale is by either appealing the court’s decision, filing a motion
to reopen the case, or filing a new lawsuit to overturn the sale. The procedural
requirements, including how quickly any of these actions must be taken, vary from state
to state.

In a non-judicial foreclosure, there are two options: (1) if the state requires a court to
confirm the sale, then the borrower may be able to object to the sale in the confirmation
proceeding, or (2) bring a separate action to challenge the sale’s validity. Again state
law governs procedures and time requirements.

Clearly while the concept of foreclosure is straight forward, the path to its end can be
complex. However, given that the rules for foreclosure are generally explicit and
detailed under each state’s statutes, if a party has an experienced real estate attorney
familiar with the process, the path can become much clearer.

If you’ve seen a foreclosure action, successful or not, or if you have any comments or
questions, please let us know in the section below.