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Foreclosure auctions will move online Sept. 21 to handle the county's overwhelming increase in foreclosures.
Last year, 10,747 foreclosure cases were filed in Polk County, an increase from 2,096 cases in 2005, records show.
A judge still has the option to order that a live auction take place.
"If you're an interested bidder, you could do it from your home," he said. "You could do it from your office. You could do it from New York. You could do it from Lakeland. You don't have to be here."
Bidders and sellers must register to take part in the online auctions, which are conducted by Realauction.com.
The website is https://www.polk.realforeclose.com/index.cfm
The site includes an explanation of the foreclosure process as well as answers to frequently asked questions including how bidding works. A calendar shows the various cases up for auction.
In order to bid on a property, bidders must place an advance deposit of 5 percent of their anticipated high bid with the Polk County Clerk of Court.
A safeguard prevents people from trying to manipulate the system by placing a bid just before the sale is about to close, Weiss said.
"If a bid is put in at the last second, then it is automatically extended another minute so other bidders have a chance to respond," he said.
The winner is responsible for paying a $70 auction fee.
Weiss said the online auctions could help earn better sale prices by creating a larger pool of competitors who vie for properties.
"There is more paid for the property than if you just have a few people in the courthouse who are bidding on it," he said. "There is no telling how many people will go online that might be interested in that piece of property."
Nevertheless, people must do their homework before bidding, he said.
"The property is sold as-is," he said. "So it's the old saying: buyer beware. The bidders need to conduct their research on the property to make sure they know what they are bidding on."
The auction calendar contains the final judgment for each property as well as links to records from the county's property appraiser.
Bidders can browse satellite images and maps showing the locations of properties.