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What You Need To Know To Buy Foreclosure Properties

By Lisa Buth Published 11/29/2007 | Real Estate

While thinking about purchasing foreclosure properties might feel a lot like thinking about building a spaceship, anything's easy if you know how to do it . . . and you're prepared.

The first step is to understand how the foreclosure works. A homeowner has to be in arrears on their mortgage payments long before the bank initiates foreclosure, a process that could take up to a year in some states. Once the property is formally in default, it's offered at auction. Auctions are not for the squeamish. Not only will you be competing with professional investors (and even sometimes the bank), but if you should win the bid, youll be paying cash right then and right there on a house that you may not have had time to examine. Talk to a Realtor knowledgeable in auctions before you decide to bid.

If there are no bidders at the auction or the bank wins the bid, it becomes a real-estate-owned property (REO) and gets officially put on the market.

Another type of foreclosure property available is Department of Urban Housing & Development (HUD) homes. These are the result of FHA-financed loans defaulting and sometimes are not priced low enough to warrant the time and effort involved in renovating. But there can be some excellent deals, so don't automatically exclude them.

However, before all of this takes place, before even the thought of defaulting on the mortgage is but a twinkle in the eye of the homeowner, you should secure your financing. The ideal offer on a foreclosed home incorporates the best of both financing and terms. Full price, cash, no inspections, closing in 5 or less days would make the banker tingle all over. But if you don't have the cash you need to make that kind of offer, you'll need to talk to a lender. Find a lender who has worked with investors and knows the ins and outs of investment financing.

I can say, though, that you can most likely forget about FHA or VA financing; because although they've lowered the standards a smidge regarding condition of a property, most foreclosed properties wont meet even those standards. Thats because most foreclosed homes have been ridden hard and put away wet.

Think about it. Although they know that it's their fault, the bottom line is that the former homeowners are still out on the street . . . and there might be just a little resentment directed towards the bank. In laymen's terms, they could really trash the place. Not uncommon is food strewn about the house, burns on what's left of the carpet, holes in the walls and even feces outside the commode. Add to all that the fact that the electricity has no doubt been shut off, rendering the A/C ineffective, and what you have is a really unpleasant combo! Even more damaging (though significantly less repulsive!) is if the bank isn't able to winterize the home in time and the plumbing sits inactive through the winter. Water expands as it freezes and can burst a pipe quicker than an unvented potato in the microwave. Keep all of that in mind when youre viewing the property. Some homes just need a really big dumpster!

Once your financing is in order, you should find a Realtor experienced in foreclosure sales. They've got the skills and paperwork necessary to walk you through the process. And your Realtor will be able to put you on an MLS search, precluding the need to pay for online services.

It's essential, in order to compete with professional investors, to be able to view a home and put an offer on it on the same day that it becomes available. If it's a good deal, which means the current price and future value supports the amount of money needed for repairs, it'll be gone quickly. In fact, many times the agent will put on the listing that "all offers will be submitted to the bank M-F" and may take several days for a response." Not necessarily so. Yes, bankers work banking hours, but if you're proffering the ultimate offer, they'll verbally accept as soon as the agent can get ahold of them. Of course, a verbal contract is only as good as the integrity of all the parties involved . . . so get signatures ASAP.

Walking through the home beforehand is important, very important. You don't want to buy it for a song only to find out that it needs 12,000 in structural support piers or thousands of dollars in mold remediation. There will always be surprises, but you want to minimize what you can when you can.

Once you've found the home and decide to make an offer, meet with your Realtor. He or she will write the offer up for you. If a property is fresh on the market, you'll want to get as close as you can to the perfect offer. The results of the research initiated by your Realtor will determine the direction your offer should take. For instance, it will be unlikely that you will have to pay full price if a property has been on the market for several months.

If a foreclosed home has been sitting on the market awhile, it's either in a less-than-desirable neighborhood or it's overpriced. Period. It may not be overpriced for the neighborhood, but it's overpriced for the amount of money needed to bring it to a marketable condition.

The first thing to address is your earnest money deposit. Whether you're offering cash or not, you'll be required to submit an earnest money deposit, usually a percentage of the total amount offered. Some banks will demand a forfeiture of the earnest money after a certain number of days, whether you follow through with buying the property or not, so have any inspections within that time frame.

Foreclosure properties are mostly sold as-is, which means that you can have inspections, but the bank will not make any repairs (the exception being termite treatment, and even then the bank might put a monetary cap on it). Many buyers waive the right to inspections in order to make their offer more appealing, but I always encourage inspections in one form or another, either a licensed home inspector or licensed contractor. You want that "out." Better to risk the deal by indicating that you want inspections than to learn of major issues after you close. Ideally, you'll want to bring the licensed professional to the property before you write the offer.

You'll also be required to sign a multi-page Addendum of some sort releasing the bank from any liability associated with the home. I've seen some as short as two pages and others as long as 30. And every single page essentially says the same thing. "We know nothing about the property, make no representations about the property, and are not liable for anything at all ever related in any way to the property. Ever. You are." If you're the type to bristle at inequality, this'll make your hair stand on end. Not only is it completely biased, but to add insult to injury, you may be required to sign something stating that it does not show partiality! If you want the house, suck it up. There are few areas to negotiate on the Addendum, and if you can find them, more power to you! But one thing that's steadfast with regard to the Addendum: if there's a conflict between the Sales Contract and the Addendum, the Addendum will win every time. So read the Addendum carefully, as will your Realtor. Just grit your teeth and you'll get through it.

Some Addendums require that you close with the bank's closing agent. That's not so bad, because if you do, many will pay the title insurance for you and your lender. Title insurance is a one-time fee protecting you (and your lender) from losing your shirt should something come up to make the sale invalid after closing. You won't get to keep the house, but you'll be financially reimbursed, if nothing else.

Closing a foreclosure home is no more difficult that closing a "normal" property. Sign papers. You own it. All done.

Always remember, though, that doing the work on the front end will help minimize surprises on the back end. View the property, have inspections, plan accordingly.