Foreclosure Primer

It seems many readers here have questions about the foreclosure process and more specifically, how to purchase homes in foreclosure. While I’m certainly not qualified to offer up advice on the process, someone who is has offered up some information that might answer your questions. Rick Sharga from RealtyTrac has provided me with a document that outlines the purchase process and includes some tips on how to go about purchasing foreclosed properties. This site has no relationship with RealtyTrac, nor will it in the future. But since Rick did approach me with information that I feel is helpful for readers, I’m going to forward it on to you. I’ve taken the liberty to trim down the article, if you would like the entire document, just reply to this post with your email address or email me directly.

Caveat Emptor!

What is a foreclosure?

Foreclosure is a process that allows a lender to recover the amount owed on a defaulted loan by selling or taking ownership (repossession) of the property securing the loan. The foreclosure process begins when a borrower/owner defaults on loan payments (usually mortgage payments) and the lender files a public default notice. The foreclosure process can end one of four ways:

1) The borrower/owner pays off the default amount to reinstate the loan during a grace period determined by state laws. This grace period is also known as pre-foreclosure.

2) The borrower/owner sells the property to a third party during pre-foreclosure. The sale allows the borrower/owner to pay off the loan and avoid having a foreclosure on his or her credit history.

3) A third party buys the property at a public auction at the end of pre-foreclosure.

4) The lender takes ownership of the property, usually with the intent to re-sell. The lender can take ownership through an agreement with the borrower/owner during pre-foreclosure or by buying back the property at the public auction. These are also known as bank-owned properties.

Pre-Foreclosure (NOD, LIS):
Buying a property in pre-foreclosure involves approaching the borrower/owner and offering to buy the property. The borrower/owner can walk away with something to show for any equity in the property and avoid a bad mark on his or her credit history. The buyer has time to research the title and condition of the property and can realize discounts of 20-40 percent below market value.

Auction (NTS, NFS):
If the loan is not reinstated by the end of the pre-foreclosure period, potential buyers can bid on the property at a public auction. Buyers often are required to pay in cash at the auction and may not have much time to research the title and condition of the property beforehand; however, a public auction often offers some of the best bargains and avoids the unpredictability of dealing directly with the borrower/owner.

Bank-owned (REO):
If the lender takes ownership of the property, either through an agreement with the owner during pre-foreclosure or at the public auction, the lender will usually want to re-sell the property to recover the unpaid loan amount. The lender will probably make sure the title is clear for any buyer, but the potential bargain is typically less than a pre-foreclosure or auction property.

Foreclosure Overview


Buying a Foreclosure Property Below Market Value: Five Tips from the Pros
By Jim Saccacio, RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer (This version has been edited)

House hunting can be a very daunting experience, especially in today’s real estate market. Both investors and home buyers have been priced out of the market by escalating costs, and good real estate deals are increasingly difficult to find.

But there are bargains out there, for people who know where to look.

“For people willing to do some homework, the foreclosure market offers some of the best opportunities in real estate today,” explains James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer at RealtyTrac, the leading online foreclosure marketplace.

“Foreclosure properties can be a terrific investment, or give home buyers a much more affordable option than traditional properties,” notes Saccacio. “But they’re not a way to get rich quick, and a foreclosure purchase needs to be approached in an educated, intelligent manner.”

Saccacio offers five tips to help you close a deal on a foreclosure property:

1. Learn about the different types of foreclosure properties, and the foreclosure process.

There are three basic types of foreclosure properties, representing different stages in the foreclosure process: notice-of-default (NOD) and notice of trustee sale (NTS), which are both pre-foreclosure properties; and real-estate-owned (REO), a foreclosure property which has been re-purchased by the bank.

For most consumers, buying a pre-foreclosure property from a private homeowner is the best option. It’s important that both the buyer and the seller see the situation as a win-win situation, in order to ensure a smooth process. In this case, the seller is able to get out from under a mortgage without destroying their credit rating, the lender is saved the time and expense of foreclosing on the property, and the buyer gets a below-market price on a home.

Foreclosure auction sales are typically the domain of the professional investor. These properties are formally in default, and sold to the highest bidder at an auction. Buyers are required to be physically present at the auction, and must pay 100% of the sale price in cash, on the spot. Though foreclosure auctions can offer significant savings, they are not for the feint of heart or the uninformed. Unless the buyer is already familiar with a particular property, there is usually little time to examine it. And the buyer will be competing against professional investors—and sometimes even the lender—at the auction.

Once the lender officially reclaims a home, it becomes a real-estate-owned property (REO). While REO properties typically offer more time for evaluation and a more standard bank-managed transaction, their prices are usually very close to full retail market value.

2. Secure financing early

It’s important for a buyer to be pre-qualified before engaging in discussions with a seller. This ensures that the buyer is in a financial position to purchase the property, and is in the strongest possible position to negotiate. It’s best to work with a lender who understands the foreclosure process, and can guide the buyer through certain steps, such as ensuring that a property is FHA-compliant. Another reason to consider pre-qualification is that not all lenders finance foreclosure properties. Having approved financing in-hand makes negotiations with both the seller and the lender easier, and may even make it possible for the buyer to simply cure the default and take over the existing loan to reduce loan processing fees.

3. Engage a real estate agent as a “buyer’s representative”

Most people hire a real estate agent to sell their home. These “seller’s representatives” are charged with making the sale and negotiating the best deal for their clients. “Buyer’s representatives” have the home buyer’s interests at heart, and are charged with finding the right property and negotiating the best price for their clients. Picking the right real estate agent will make a buyer’s life much easier. There are agents who specialize in the foreclosure market, with specific experience in REO properties. Look for an agent with foreclosure transaction experience, as well as knowledge of local, regional and state laws. But it’s also important to consider the agent’s knowledge of the area; their ability to close a deal; and their access to other professionals (attorneys, lenders, mortgage and title professionals) to ensure that the buyer is in good hands.

4. Do your homework

Stocks offer higher potential returns for investors than traditional savings programs, but are also riskier. Similarly, purchasing foreclosure properties is somewhat more risky than buying traditional real estate properties, but offers much higher potential savings. With the right examination and due diligence, buyers can significantly reduce the risks. It makes sense to give any property under consideration a thorough examination. Here are eight steps for doing a professional-level exam.

· Identify desirable neighborhoods – Identify specific neighborhoods where you’d like to live or own a home. This will limit your search to a manageable size for you and your real estate agent, and give your a sense of relative property values.

· Cast a wide net – There are a number of Web-based services that can put hundreds of thousands of foreclosure properties at your fingertips. Since the best savings are often found in pre-foreclosure properties, it’s important to check the percentage of pre-foreclosure (vs. REO) properties in any database before subscribing.

· Determine the property value –Look at the original purchase price, and recent comparable property sales to determine the current value of the property.

· Find out the amount in default and the remaining loan balance – In order to determine a reasonable offer price, you’ll need to know—at a minimum—how much money it will take just to satisfy the debt to the lender.

· Run a legal and vesting report – Before purchasing any foreclosure property, make sure it is free and clear of any bankruptcies, tax liens or other financial liabilities.

· Assess the condition of the property– If at all possible, visit the property, ask your realtor’s opinion, and review pest and structural reports to make sure that the property is in acceptable condition, or to determine how much of a rehab budget you’ll need to build in to your deal.

· Build a positive relationship with the seller – Before purchasing the property, try to make sure that you’re entering into a win-win situation with the seller, so that they’ll do what they can to make the process easier and leave the property in good condition

· Leverage your timing – Knowing when a property is going to be auctioned gives you an extra bargaining chip when negotiating with the seller or the lender.

5. Make a realistic offer

Despite what you may see on late-night cable TV, investing in foreclosure properties isn’t a sure fire “get rich quick” formula. Lenders aren’t likely to give properties away, particularly in a real estate market where prices continue to rise. And homeowners in financial distress may be difficult to deal with, particularly early in the foreclosure process. The keys to a successful foreclosure property purchase are diligence and patience.

As a rule of thumb, the best savings can be made at the pre-foreclosure stage, where home owners can avoid a foreclosure and lenders can save the time and cost involved in going through the process. Another critical point in the process is immediately prior to the auction date, when all parties might be most open to a last-minute solution. It’s not unusual to save from 10-30% of the market value on a foreclosure property, and certain properties offer savings of 50% or even more. An educated buyer—one who knows how much is owed on the property and what its market value is—can usually come up with a realistic offer; one that offers significant savings, while meeting the requirements of the lender.

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7 Responses to Foreclosure Primer

  1. grim says:

    Hot off the presses, existing home sales in at 6.6M far under consensus estimates of 6.87M.

    NAR December EHS


  2. Anonymous says:

    how does one contact the bank holding foreclosure?
    It’s been easy last few years just for bank to list with realtor.

  3. I can’t say I disagree.

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