Are there any foreclosures, short sales or distress properties in your town or neighborhood? If you answered “no,” you probably aren’t paying close attention to the local real estate market.
Good times or bad, these situations always occur. Even during the peak years of 2004 and 2005 for home sales, there were still mortgage lender foreclosures and distress property sales. Today, the numbers of these sales are rapidly rising. If you’re interested, the current buyer’s market in most cities is a great time to acquire these below-market-value properties.
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WHAT CAUSES FORECLOSURES AND DISTRESS PROPERTIES? There are many reasons, but the cause usually is the property owner isn’t thinking straight. Reasons for foreclosures include divorce, unemployment, drugs, alcohol, death or serious illness in the family, disputes between owners, local economic conditions, mental problems, and good old-fashioned greed.
But the real reason for foreclosures and distress property situations usually is the borrower isn’t acting rationally to solve the problem. Imagine you can’t afford the increased monthly payments because your adjustable-rate mortgage just “adjusted” and your payment went up by $300. To make matters worse, home market values in your neighborhood are stagnant or slipping so your market value is no longer appreciating.
You consider selling. But local Realtors tell you there is a glut of listings for sale nearby and you would be lucky to sell for the amount of your mortgage balance. Should you stop making mortgage payments and walk away? Of course not. That would ruin your credit and you need a place for your family to live.
Rather than face foreclosure, the obvious solution is to increase your monthly income by at least $300. Maybe you can get a part-time evening job. Or perhaps your spouse or teenage child can get a part-time job to help out. One way or another, virtually every foreclosure and distress property situation can be avoided.
SOMEONE PROFITS FROM EVERY FORECLOSURE. The grim reality is somebody will profit from every foreclosure and distress property situation. If you didn’t cause the problem, you might as well profit from someone else’s problem.
Most institutional mortgage lenders do not want to foreclose and acquire the property. It costs lenders thousands of dollars to hold foreclosure property instead of keeping their mortgage money earning interest.
However, if you understand the simple foreclosure rules, you can profit from someone else’s distress. That’s why it pays to understand the basic foreclosure profit opportunities.
STEP 1 — THE JUDICIAL FORECLOSURE LAWSUIT OR NOTICE OF DEFAULT. Until the mortgage lender gives up on the borrower, the public usually does not know there is a problem. But when the lender records a judicial foreclosure lawsuit on a mortgage, or files a notice of default on a deed of trust, the borrower’s default becomes public knowledge at the local court house.
At this point, bargain hunters swing into action to contact defaulting borrowers to see if there is a “preforeclosure opportunity” during the lender’s reinstatement period before the official foreclosure auction.
This reinstatement period, which can be as short as 21 days in Texas but generally is three to six months in most states, gives borrowers time to either sell the property or reinstate the mortgage before losing the property at a foreclosure sale.
SHORT SALES USUALLY ARE NOT BARGAINS. Sometimes during the mortgage reinstatement period it becomes evident the home’s fair market value is less than its mortgage balance. When that happens, the real estate listing agent confronts the mortgage lender to accept a “short sale.” That means the lender agrees to accept less than the mortgage balance as full payment of the mortgage.
For example, suppose a mortgage balance is $250,000 but recent comparable sales prices of similar nearby homes are only $225,000. If the mortgage lender agrees to a $225,000 short sale, the buyer can purchase for $25,000 less than the existing mortgage balance.
The defaulting borrower on a short sale walks away with nothing. However, the borrower gets rid of his mortgage obligation without a foreclosure on his credit record. But the downside, in this example, occurs when the lender sends the borrower an IRS 1099 form showing $25,000 of taxable debt-forgiveness income.
As a general rule, the buyer of a short-sale house does not get a bargain purchase price. Lenders are usually very demanding to insist that the home sell for as much as can be obtained.
Another problem with short sales is lenders often take 30 to 90 days before deciding to accept or reject a short sale purchase offer. For this reason, smart buyers set a reasonable deadline, such as 15 days, for the lender to accept or reject a short sale offer.
STEP 2 — BUY AT THE FORECLOSURE AUCTION. If a property buyer cannot purchase the home from the defaulting borrower during the reinstatement period, the house will go to either a judicial court foreclosure sale or a nonjudicial trustee’s sale.
The advantage of buying at such an auction is any junior liens are wiped out. To illustrate, if a house has a first, second and third mortgage, plus a judgment lien and a mechanics’ lien, they will all be wiped out when the first mortgage lender holds a foreclosure sale.
But the disadvantage of buying at a foreclosure auction is cash (actually cashier’s checks) are required either at the sale or shortly thereafter. This is one place your MasterCard, Visa and American Express cards are not welcome.
Raising enough cash to bid at a foreclosure sale can be difficult, especially when the amount of the defaulted mortgage is large, often $100,000 or more.
Another problem is foreclosure auctions are “as is,” meaning there is no opportunity to inspect the house before purchase and the foreclosing lender will not pay for any repairs. In most states, foreclosure-sale sellers are not required to disclose even known defects at the auction.
STEP 3 — BUY AFTER THE FORECLOSURE AUCTION. When there are no bidders at the foreclosure auction, title to the property then goes to the foreclosing lender. This is called REO (real estate owned) property. Lenders are usually very anxious to get rid of REO property, which costs money to maintain and incurs liability risks.
Astute buyers often approach foreclosing lenders who acquired property immediately after the sale to make a purchase offer. My favorite tactic is to send a FedEx overnight letter to the lender’s president, offering to purchase for the amount of the foreclosed mortgage (presuming the property is worth that much).
Of course, the lender’s president never sees the letter, but it will get referred to the right decision-maker in the REO department.
SUMMARY: Foreclosures, short sales and distress properties offer opportunities to purchase houses at bargain prices if you know what you are doing. However, it is easy to make mistakes because the safeguards of normal sales are not present. More details are in my new special report, “Foreclosure, Short Sale, and Distress Property Profit Secrets,” available for $5 from Robert Bruss, 251 Park Road, Burlingame, Calif., 94010, or by credit card at 1-800-736-1736 or instant Internet delivery at www.BobBruss.com.
(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center).