Timeline for a Judicial Foreclosure

Learn the basic steps and timing in a judicial foreclosure.

By , Attorney

Judicial foreclosures take place through the state court system. While all states allow this kind of foreclosure, some require it. If you're facing a judicial foreclosure, it's important to understand the basic process and timeline for the foreclosure.

Foreclosure procedures and timing differ from state to state. But generally, here's how the process goes.

When Foreclosure Starts

In most cases, under federal law, 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.

Initiation of Judicial Foreclosure

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 specific 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 respond to the complaint, 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.

But if you file an answer, you can raise procedural and substantive defenses. The foreclosure might be halted or significantly delayed if you have a strong defense. 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.

Foreclosure Sale

Once the court grants the lender a judgment of foreclosure, a notice of the sale might be published, depending on state law. 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. If the lender is the high bidder at the sale but bids less than the total debt amount, it might be able to get a deficiency judgment against the borrower.

Redemption Period

Some states provide for a redemption period following a judicial foreclosure sale. A "redemption period" is a specific amount of time foreclosed borrowers get to buy back, or "redeem," their property. To find out if your state's laws provide a post-sale redemption period, check our Key Aspects of State Foreclosure Law: 50-State Chart.


Once the property is sold at a foreclosure sale, the property's ownership is transferred to the new owner. If you haven't already vacated the home, an eviction will start to remove you from the property. (Although, in some states, the homeowner gets the right to live in the home during a post-sale redemption period.)

For More Information

Depending on several factors, including state law and whether you file an answer, a judicial foreclosure can take several months or even years to complete. For an estimate of the timeline in your area and your particular situation, talk to a local foreclosure attorney or a HUD-approved housing counselor.

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