Judicial foreclosures take place through the state court system. While all states allow judicial foreclosures, some require it. To find out if you live in a judicial foreclosure state, see our Key Aspects of State Foreclosure Law: 50-State Chart.
If you're facing a judicial foreclosure, it's important to understand the basic process and timeline for the foreclosure.
Judicial foreclosure procedures and timing vary by state. But generally, this is how a judicial foreclosure goes.
In most cases, a foreclosure can't start until you’re more than 120 days delinquent on the loan. Though, under certain circumstances, the process might start sooner. (To learn more about when a foreclosure can begin, see How Soon Can Foreclosure Begin?)
After the servicer—the company that manages your loan account on behalf of the lender—refers the file to an attorney for foreclosure, the attorney will prepare a "complaint" or "petition" for foreclosure and file it with the court, usually in the county where the property is located. The lawsuit will ask the court for a judgment authorizing a foreclosure sale. The sheriff or a process server will serve you with a summons and a copy of the complaint for foreclosure.
Once served, you will have a certain amount of time, typically 20 to 30 days, to file an answer with the court. You can choose to file an answer, but you don't have to do so. If you don't file an answer, the lender will be granted a default judgment, meaning you automatically lose the case, and the lender will be allowed to proceed with a foreclosure sale.
However, if you file an answer, you can raise procedural and substantive defenses. The foreclosure might be halted or significantly delayed if you have a good defense. (Read about defenses to foreclosure.) If you file an answer, but are in default and don't have a legal defense, the lender will still get a judgment and the court will allow it to proceed with a foreclosure sale.
Once the court grants the lender a judgment of foreclosure, notice of the sale might be published. The foreclosure sale will take place on the designated time and date and the property will be sold to the highest bidder. The foreclosing lender can credit bid up to the total amount of the debt, plus foreclosure fees and costs, while any other parties must bid in cash or a cash equivalent, like a cashier's check. In the majority of cases, the lender will be the high bidder at the foreclosure sale.
Certain states give foreclosed borrowers a redemption period following the foreclosure sale. A redemption period is a specific time period given to borrowers in foreclosure during which they can buy back, or “redeem,” their property. Depending on state law, you might get the right to live in the home during the redemption period even though you're no longer making mortgage payments and even if you don't redeem. (Learn more about post-sale redemption periods.)
Many states require that the court review the foreclosure sale procedures and confirm the sale before the foreclosure is finalized. Once the foreclosure sale is confirmed, title passes to the new owner and the foreclosure process is finished. If you haven't already vacated the home, you'll be evicted. (See Foreclosure Timeline: Getting Notice to Leave to learn more about eviction following foreclosure.)
Depending on several factors, including state law and whether or not you file an answer, a judicial foreclosure process can take several months or even years to complete. (Learn about states with long foreclosure timelines.)
To get an idea about how a typical judicial foreclosure might proceed, see Typical Judicial Foreclosure: Example. For a good estimate of the timeline in your area and in your particular situation, talk to a local foreclosure attorney.