What Is a Foreclosure?
How Foreclosures Work
Home buyers who want a good deal in real estate invariably think first about buying a foreclosure. They think, sure, I'll do a little work to get a cheap price. They believe banks are desperate to dump these awful homes, and that's not true, either.
Some well-meaning buyers have this picture in their mind of a cute little house, surrounded by a white picket fence that is owned by a widowed mom who fell on hard times, but that scenario is generally far from reality.
The real picture is often ugly.
A foreclosure is a home that belongs to the bank, which once belonged to a homeowner. The homeowner either abandoned the home or voluntarily deeded the home to the bank. You will hear the term the bank taking the property back, but the bank never owned the property in the first place, so the bank can't take back something the bank did not own. The bank foreclosed on the mortgage or trust deed and seized the home. There is a difference.
Why do sellers go into foreclosure?
Sellers stop making payments for a host of reasons. Few choose to go into foreclosure voluntarily. It's often an unpredictable result from one of the following:
- Laid-off, fired or quit job
- Inability to continue working due to medical conditions
- Excessive debt and mounting bill obligations
- Squabbles with co-owner, divorce
- Job transfer to another state
- Maintenance issues they can longer afford
During the market crash from 2005 through 2011, many homeowners simply walked away from their homes because the values had fallen and they owed more than their homes were worth.
This was not the best solution, in most cases, but it was immediate relief for homeowners.
Negotiating Directly with Sellers in Foreclosure
Investors who specialize in buying foreclosures often prefer to purchase these homes before the foreclosure proceedings are final. Before approaching a seller in distress, consider:
- Foreclosure proceedings vary from state to state. In states where mortgages are used, homeowners can end up staying in the property for almost a year; whereas, in states where trust deeds are used, a seller has less than four months before the trustee's sale.
- Almost every state provides for some period of redemption. This means the seller has an irrevocable right during a certain length of time to cure the default, including paying all foreclosure costs, back interest and missed principal payments, to regain control of the property. For more information, consult a real estate lawyer.
- Many states also require that buyers give to sellers certain disclosures regarding equity purchases. Failure to provide those notices and to prepare offers on the required paperwork can result in fines, lawsuits or even revocation of sale.
- Determine whether you're the type of person who can easily take advantage of a seller's misfortune under these circumstances and/or put a family out on the street. Oh, critics will argue it's just business and sellers deserve what they get, even if it's five cents on the dollar. Others will feign compassion and trick themselves into believing they are "helping" the homeowners avoid further embarrassment, but deep inside yourself, you know that's not true.
Buying a Home at the Trustee's Sale
Check with your local county office to find out how sales in your area are handled, but common denominators among those in Sacramento are:
- No loan contingency
- Sealed bids
- Proof of financial qualifications
- Sizeable earnest money deposits
- Purchase property "as is"
Sometimes buyers are not allowed to inspect the house before making an offer. The problem with buying a house sight unseen is you can't calculate how much it will cost to improve the structure or bring it up to habitable standards. Nor do you know if the occupant will retaliate and destroy the interior. On top of that, you may need to evict the tenant or owner from the premises after you receive the title, and eviction processes can be costly.
Another drawback could be liens recorded against the property that will become your problem after title transfer.
Some investors who buy at trustee sales pay for a title search in advance to avoid this problem. These guys who show up to bid on the courthouse steps are professionals, and they buy foreclosures at auction as a business. They hope to buy the foreclosure at a low price to make a nice profit when they later flip the home. You do not need to hire a real estate agent to buy a foreclosure at the auction, but you do need to know what you are doing to compete with the pros.
Buying a Foreclosure From the Bank
Many banks do not sell homes directly to investors or home buyers. If a bank is willing to sell homes individually and not in bulk sales, the bank will generally list the home through a real estate agent. There are REO agents who specialize in foreclosure listings.
It is more common to buy a foreclosure directly from the bank in a bulk sale purchase. In bulk sales, the banks will package a bunch of properties into one transaction and sell them all at once to one entity. That is the best way to buy a foreclosure if you can afford it, because the discounts are typically the steepest.