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What Makes a “Grossly Inadequate” Sales Price: The Debt Method vs. the Equity Method
In South Carolina, a judicial sale of a property can be set aside if the sales price is “inadequate.” Either the sales price must be “inadequate” and also involve fraud, or the price must be “so grossly inadequate so as to shock the conscience of the court.”
What makes a sales price “grossly inadequate”? Just how low does it have to be? In South Carolina, there is no set amount or percentage that a court must apply to make that determination. However, looking back at past cases in the state, courts have consistently determined that sales prices of 10% or less of the property’s value are “grossly inadequate.”
Based on this, the 10% threshold was used as a benchmark in Winrose Homeowners’ Association v Hale (read the opinion here) which went before the South Carolina Supreme Court in 2019, and which we discussed in a previous blog.
How to Calculate the Sales Price: Debt Method vs Equity Method
In Winrose, Tina and Devery Hale’s home was sold in a judicial sale after they missed an HOA payment of $250 and their HOA foreclosed. Regime Solutions, LLC, bought it with a high bid of $3,036. The fair market value of the house was $128,000, with an unpaid mortgage balance of $66,004.
Since fraud was not an issue in this case, the question for the court to decide was whether the sales price of the house in question was “so grossly inadequate” that the sale could be set aside. If so, the foreclosure could be vacated and the home returned to the Hales. If not, the judicial sale would stand and Regime would retain the house.
With the 10% benchmark in place, the court needed to determine what the sales price was. There are two methods for determining whether a bid price is so grossly inadequate as to shock the conscience:
- The Debt Method. This assumes that the party that purchases the foreclosed property will become responsible for the mortgage and other associated debts. This method focuses on how much the foreclosure purchaser must pay before having a free-and-clear title to the property, so the value of the outstanding mortgage is added to the bid price.
In this case, Regime would have paid ($3,036 bid) + ($66,004 mortgage balance) = $69,040. This is 53.9% of the Property’s fair market value of $128,000.
- The Equity Method. This method focuses not on the debt the foreclosure purchaser is taking on, but the equity they would gain through the transaction. Instead of adding the outstanding mortgage balance to the bid, the balance is subtracted from the fair market value and compared to the bid.
In this case, Regime would stand to gain ($128,000 fair market value) – ($66,004 mortgage balance) = $61,996. The amount Regime paid, $3,036, is 4.9% of the equity it would stand to gain.
The majority of the time, the party that purchases the foreclosure does take on the obligations of the mortgage, because associated debts needs to be settled in order to have a free-and-clear title. For these situations, the Debt Method is appropriate.
But in the present case, Regime never took on the Hales’ mortgage and never took any positive steps to do so. As Justice Lockemy pointed out in his dissenting opinion in the Court of Appeals decision, it didn’t make sense to credit Regime with having taken on the mortgage. Furthermore, the Hales continued to pay their mortgage, substantially reducing the outstanding debt on the house over time. Therefore, using the Equity Method in this case is, in the words of the SC Supreme Court decision, “the only logical option.”
Since 4.9% is clearly below the 10% threshold, the court concluded that the bid was, indeed, “so grossly inadequate as to shock the conscience of the court.” The court set aside the foreclosure sale.
Get Strategic Legal Advice
For guidance and legal help on business matters, estate planning, and commercial real estate in South Carolina, call Gem of the Gem McDowell Law Group in Mount Pleasant, SC. Gem and his associates are experienced problem solvers who are here to help you and your family. Call 843-284-1021 today to schedule a free consultation at the Mount Pleasant office.