Foreclosure is a process in which a lender attempts to recover the amount owed on an outstanding property loan once there is a default of payments. This is usually done by selling or taking ownership (repossession) of the property. The foreclosure process begins once the lender files a public notice of default (NOD), or in some states a lis pendens (LIS).
Once an NOD is filed, the property officially enters a grace period known as pre-foreclosure (length determined depending on state). Pre-foreclosure offers the borrower an opportunity to do several things before the property is repossessed and/or sold, and ultimately reported on their credit history.
Should a loan remain outstanding once the pre-foreclosure period has ended, the bank then repossess the property to secure the loan. Usually, the lender takes ownership of the property with the intent to re-sell.
Good foreclosure deals are available, however buyers need to be cautious. Tax or mechanic’s liens placed on a property can drive up the purchase price. Once you have located a property you are interested in purchasing, it is important to have your REALTOR® check the property records for these kinds of contingencies.
It is also crucial for buyers to come educated about local state foreclosure laws, which differ from state to state. Some states follow non-judicial foreclosure procedures and others require the lender to sue the borrower before taking ownership of a property in default.
Buying a Foreclosure
1. Get Financed
To be considered a serious buyer, sellers want to know that you are financially positioned to purchase the property. The best way to do this is to get pre-qualified before engaging in any negotiations. Work with a lender who has experience with the foreclosure process and who can guide you through the crucial steps of dealing with this kind of purchase (if you don’t have a trusted lender, your REALTOR® can recommend one). Your lender should provide you with a ‘loan pre-qualification letter’. Obtaining financing information helps you understand what you can afford, and enables you to move quickly once you find a property that you want to purchase.
2. Contact Your REALTOR®
Whether you are a first-time homebuyer or experienced investor, it is always wise to work with a REALTOR® when dealing with foreclosures. When interviewing potential agents, be sure to inquire about their experience with foreclosure properties and find out if they hold any designations for buying and selling distressed properties.
3. Contact the Seller
Depending on the progression of the foreclosure, the seller will either be: the property owner in default; the trustee; or the foreclosing lender.
Buying a property during pre-foreclosure involves making an offer to buy directly to the owner in default. The owner may or may not know they are being foreclosed upon, and will undoubtedly be under a lot of stress, making negotiations difficult. If the purchase offer is less than the secured loan(s), then the lender(s) must also be included in the negotiations. It is important to remember that pre-foreclosure can last several months, so patience is essential when considering this purchase tactic.
Aside from the challenges of pre-foreclosure, selling the property before foreclosure can offer the owner in default an opportunity to walk away with some of the equity in their property, and avoid damaging their credit history. The buyer may also benefit here, with more time to research the title and condition of the property, and often times realize good discounts below market value!
When bidding on a property at public auction, you should be aware that you are competing with seasoned investors. Remember that cash is typically required to buy, and if there are any money encumbrances (i.e. tax liens, mechanics liens or second or third mortgages) you will be responsible for paying them off in full as the new owner. You’ll want to evaluate a property’s value by checking for money encumbrances before auction whenever possible.
Auctions can be postponed and/or canceled, so it is always a good idea to contact the trustee/attorney to confirm dates and times once you locate a property, as well as the day before the property is scheduled for auction. The trustee/attorney will always have the most accurate information concerning auction dates.
Some homebuyers receive government-guaranteed financing, which includes loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). When these properties go into foreclosure, they are repossessed by the federal government and sold by real estate brokers who work for the government. Buyers interested in purchasing government-owned foreclosures must have a government-registered broker write the purchase agreement.
4. Make an Offer
To gauge the potential bargain of any property, you need the property’s estimated market value, the amount of the outstanding loan, and the total of any other money encumbrances on the property. Add together the outstanding loans and encumbrances, plus any estimated repair costs, and subtract that total from the estimated market value of the property.
You will be able to decide what you are willing to offer on the property based on your results from the bargain formula above, and your available cash and loan pre-qualification letter. An offer should fall somewhere below the market value of the property, but above the total outstanding loans and encumbrances.
How you make an offer will depend on the status of the property and who is currently holding ownership. If the property is in pre-foreclosure, your offer will be presented directly to the owner in default and/or the foreclosing lender. If the property is selling at auction, your offer, or bid, will be made at the auction. If the property is bank owned, offers will be presented to the lender via their REALTOR® representative.
This information is meant as a guide. Although deemed reliable, information may not be accurate for your specific market or property type. Please consult a REALTOR® professional for more information on making a written offer.