A sheriff's sale is a public auction of private property, usually after a court judgment for foreclosure or tax troubles. Property sold at a public auction is frequently distressed, as the owners are unable to maintain it. Such properties retrieve far below market value at auction.
As the sale of private property at a public auction requires not only a court judgment but also someone who can execute the order, it falls upon the sheriff to conduct the sale, thus the name. Anyone interested can bid on the property, with the party winning the judgment making the first bid. Though the property may not be vacant or available for inspection, there is typically a period of time available for buyers to research the property before bidding.