The master commissioner is selected by and reports to the circuit judge, who assigns him cases and other duties. During his tenure, Hensley has overseen the sale of a wide variety of property, most of which ended up on the auction block because of foreclosures.
"Most of the properties I have sold have been individual, single-family dwellings and lots, but I have also sold apartment complexes, big farms and the old Danville Square Shopping Center on Perryville Road," he said.
In addition to foreclosures, other reasons that property ends up in Hensley's case file include court orders in divorce cases, dissolution of partnerships, and disagreement between parties over how to dispose of jointly-owned property, said Hensley.
Auctions held on Tuesdays
"We're selling up to $1 million or more in property a year," he said.
Hensley oversees an average of two sales a month, and they are always held at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays. They are advertised in The Advocate-Messenger on three straight Mondays prior to each sale.
An average of four to five pieces of property are on the block at each sale, and each piece is auctioned by local Realtor Johnny Durham. Hensley used to have to pay an auctioneer $150 a sale but says Durham "does it at no charge as a favor to me and his community."
"We have turnouts of two to three people, on up to 15 or 20, at each sale," he said. "We usually are able to complete our business in 10 to 20 minutes, but sometimes we can get it done in two or three minutes."
Each sale requires hours of preparation, though, Hensley said.
The process begins with Hensley joining Circuit Judge Darren Peckler in reviewing the file on a piece of property that is subject to foreclosure action or some other lawsuit. Upon their agreement, Peckler issues a judgment with an order for Hensley to sell the property.
Hensley then has a "householder appraisal" done, not by professional appraisers but by "two property owners who have real estate knowledge and whose judgment I trust," he said. A total of six local property owners perform appraisals.
"If the property in a foreclosure sale doesn't bring at least two-thirds of the appraisal amount, the person being foreclosed on has a year to redeem the property, but they also must pay court costs and interest," he said.
"But in the 16 years I've been master commissioner, only three pieces of property haven't brought at least two-thirds of their appraisal, so that shows how good our household appraisers have been at their jobs."
Most property bought by the lenders
When a bid is accepted, the buyer must pay a minimum of 10 percent of the price at the time of the sale and the remaining amount within 30 days.
Most of the winning bidders happen to be the banks or mortgage companies that lent the money on the property in the first place, Hensley said.
"I'd say 60 or 70 percent of the properties we sell are bought by the lenders."
After each auction is completed, Hensley files a report. The public then has 10 days to inspect the report and, if they choose, file an objection.
"While I have served as master commissioner, no one has ever filed an objection to one of our sales," he said.
While master commissioner sales comprise most of the up to 100 cases a year he handles, Hensley also may be handed a case from the circuit judge in which he takes oaths and testimony from witnesses or performs accounting work.
His compensation is based on fees tied to each service he performs.
"A master commissioner's compensation is capped at $48,000 a year," he said. "My compensation varies from year to year, and might be $24,000 one year and $36,000 the next."
Hensley spends about 25 to 30 percent of his time each week on his master commissioner duties and the rest on his private law practice. However, he said one of the secretaries in his office spends most of her time, 30 to 35 hours a week, on master commissioner business.
"Despite its grand-sounding title and the periodic public auctions of property that are associated with the position, being a master commissioner is one of those behind-the-scenes kind of jobs in our court system," he said. "You do a lot of what you might call little things but they are all important because they all involve people.
"And I hope I have done my best to serve both the judge and the people. I hope I have earned their trust."