How-to Monday: Finding foreclosures
Associated Press photo
The more you hear about foreclosures piling up, the more you may be tempted to buy one. There's a lot to consider if you do -- but first things first: how to find them.
A foreclosure becomes a foreclosure when the home goes to auction. Frequently, the buyer is the lender -- that's what happens when there's no one else willing to bid at least as much as the lender wants. If you think there's a deal to be had, you can be that bidder.
You'll find ads for impending auctions in the newspapers. Or you can see listings online. Alex Cooper Auctioneers, for instance, keeps a tally of scheduled foreclosure auctions -- typically on courthouse steps. Express Real Estate Auction Services has foreclosure auctions listed as well, as does Tidewater Auctions. Harvey West Auctioneers doesn't separate its foreclosure listings from its regular auctions, but you can see the full list HERE.
Then there are companies you can pay for pre-foreclosure and foreclosure information, such as ForeclosureS.com and RealtyTrac. (Paul R. Cooper, a vice president with Alex Cooper, pooh-poohs the idea of paying. If you're willing to do your own homework, "all the information's free," he said.)
Remember: You have to come prepared to make an immediate deposit if you're going to bid at an auction. Alex Cooper expects cash, a cashier's check or a certified check.
If auctions worry you, there's another option: Buy from the bank afterward.
Some lenders keep a list of their post-auction properties -- known as "Real Estate Owned," or REO -- on their websites. Those with lists include Bank of America, Chase Mortgage, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (which oversees FHA-insured loans).
Or ask a real estate agent. Realtors often market foreclosed properties for lenders, so they'll be listed for sale. (Agents can, if they choose, note on Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' multiple listing service whether a property is a foreclosure.) You can look for agents who take a lot of foreclosure listings or those who work with a lot of buyers interested in foreclosures.
A note of caution before you rush off to buy: While a foreclosed home could be a great value, seasoned real estate investors say there's no guarantee. The asking price or starting bid could be more than the house is really worth, particularly if the previous owner started with a small down payment. Or the house might need more repair work than you can afford.
That's where research and due diligence come in. You might, for instance, start by looking up the property's assessment record -- click on "property sales" to see recent sales prices elsewhere on the same street -- and by checking out the loan history.