By Tom Brown
MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida's Miami-Dade County will start using the Internet next month in a bid to help auction off tens of thousands of delinquent properties that have put it on the frontlines of the U.S. foreclosure crisis.
The first auction on the website, www.miamidade.realforeclose.com, is scheduled for January 11 and will make Miami-Dade the largest of 12 Florida counties in the process of replacing courthouse auctions with online sales.
Florida had the highest rate of U.S. homes either in foreclosure or delinquent on mortgage payments throughout most of the last year, putting it at the center of a crisis that has devastated families and communities across the United States.
Lloyd McClendon, chief executive of RealAuction.com LLC, which has contracts to run the computer-based auctions across Florida, said the state is the first in the country to adopt the system allowing bidders to make offers from their home.
The laws of most states require that property auctions take place "on the courthouse steps," McClendon told Reuters, saying Florida changed its statutes in 2008 and that he hoped California, among others, would follow soon.
Harvey Ruvin, the clerk of courts for Miami-Dade, said he hoped to see the online system increase foreclosed properties sales to about 2,000 a week from a current county-wide total of about 450.
"This is a win-win in every way and it couldn't come at a better time," Ruvin told Reuters, saying Miami-Dade currently had a backlog of about 115,000 open foreclosure files.
"It is my whole approach in this office to use technology wherever I can, to serve more and more of our customers online rather than in line," said Ruvin. "This results in tremendous savings, tremendous efficiencies all the way around.
"It's better for bidders, more convenient, you now can place a bid from anywhere and I think that will broaden the base of bidders actually to a global level rather than just to those that could make it down to a physical or courtroom sale," he said.
McClendon said about 1,450 bidders had registered for Miami-Dade's online foreclosure auctions so far. Some are potential foreign-based buyers.
"We have had an increase in foreign bidders and, for some reason, especially in Australia or New Zealand," he said.
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott)