Sheriff Jewell Williams talks to guests during a Dec. 8 seminar on buying properties at Sheriff's Sale, the first seminar to include translators to various Asian languages. (Bill Andrews)

One of the main responsibilities of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office is running sales for the city's court system, at which tax-delinquent or foreclosed-upon properties are sold off to the highest bidder.

In a bid to make more inclusive a program that he said offers "the American dream" to the diverse non-English speaking communities of the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection, Sheriff Jewell Williams organized the office's first Sheriff's Sale seminar with Asian language translators on Saturday, Dec. 8.

About 300 people from all walks of life attended this Sheriff's Sale seminar, organized by the office's Real Estate Division, which included translators for several Asian languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Filipino, Laotian and Korean. About three-quarters of attendees were Asian-Americans, while the remainder were other ethnicities taking advantage of a rare weekend seminar. Overall attendance was more than double a usual weekday seminar, Sheriff Jewell Williams said.

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"It went very well. It was a historic event for the Asian community," Williams told Metro after the seminar. "The Asian community is sometimes not heard. For this seminar, Asians, African Americans, whites and Latinos came together, and they all had the same concerns, they were communicating with each other, exchanging ideas and questions."

How much will a property cost? The lowest bid depends on the type of sale, based on standards set by the Revenue Department. The highest bidder wins the property and must be prepared to make a deposit of at least $600 or 10 percent the winning bid..

The Sheriff's Sale program sells off properties that have been forfeited by their past owners to the public due to unpaid mortgages or property taxes. These properties are auctioned off to recoup the city for lost revenues. Approximately 12,000 properties over 60 auctions per year.

One major change to the program since Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams took office in 2012 has been the beefing up of the office's Defendant Asset Recovery Team (DART), to return excess funds from these sales, beyond the debt on the property, to the former owner.

Sheriff's Sales are only intended to recoup overdue funds, and not intended to net a profit for the city or office. Since 2012, Williams said his office returned $16,969,816 to the original property-owners through the DART program.

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Seminars on how to navigate the process are held the second Tuesday and second Friday every month at the Sheriff's Office. The office is also exploring holding more Saturday seminars, " as not everyone can attend during the week and we want the process of buying property at a Sheriff sale to be open to as many people as possible," Williams said.

This first-ever seminar with Asian translators, "How to Buy Property at a Sheriff Sale: A Seminar for the Asian Business Community," was held Saturday, Dec. 8, at 10-11:30 a.m., at 3801 Market St. Williams said his office is looking into holding more seminars in foreign languages and on weekend dates.

Visit PhillySheriff.com for more information, as well as details about available properties, upcoming seminars, and auction dates.