Foreclosures and short sales have been an unhappy downside to the American housing market in recent years. For those looking for a bargain, the temptation to snatch up something at a greatly reduced price makes the time seem ripe. But there are some precautions people in that mode should note carefully.
On the plus side, many distressed properties are selling at 5 percent to 10 percent below today’s market value. That’s as much as 50 percent or more below the peak prices of five to six years ago. Coupled with the current low interest rates, that’s enough to attract buyers with enough assets to take the plunge. But experienced Realtors advise caution. There are some common pitfalls in these deals. Some bargain-hunters have found that their offers on even listed short-sales go unanswered.
Banks make loans. They don’t sell real estate and even though they’ve had several years of dealing with property on which they have foreclosed, they still aren’t good at it, many prospective buyers complain. Weeks, even months of frustration may be ahead for those bent on such a purchase.
For one thing, lending institutions are bogged down with the sheer numbers of properties they have had to reclaim and the backlog can be a frustrating factor for the would-be new owners. It could take up to a year to consummate a deal. You have to be lucky to hit one of the “waves” that occur when the institution has worked through a number of problem loans and is ready to market a batch of properties. These sellers also differ in their approaches to ridding themselves of foreclosed properties. Some are in a hurry to sell and put on a price gauged to get the property sold. Others may pad the price in anticipation of being asked to make concessions.
Before you write out your check, listen to some tips offered by Realtors to help you maneuver the winding path to foreclosed property ownership:
1. Don’t let the posted price be the only criterion on which to base a decision. Consider all the factors to avoid belated sticker shock.
2. If what you want is a condo, check with the homeowners’ association and be certain it has adequate reserves and is certified by the U.S. Federal Housing Administration. Without that certification, would-be buyers relying on FHA-insured loans, would not accept the purchase. Some other types of loans have the same guidelines. Your resale potential could take a real nosedive. Be aware that some condominium complexes charge very high home-owner fees, which should be factored into the long-term cost.
3. Don’t rush into anything. Sometimes that great asking price can be a cover for significant problems with the property. If you lose what you saved on the bottom line through costly repairs, you haven’t benefited at all. Property that has been left to languish without any upkeep might be targeted by its political jurisdiction for fines for weeks, trash , unpaid utility bills, etc.. As the proud new owner, those are part of your deal. Some homeowners facing foreclosure feel free to walk off with anything that isn’t firmly attached.
The lower prices of housing in today’s market compared to what they were at the height may trip you up if you buy a short-sell home and then want to refinance. The lender may refuse because the property at today’s values is less than it was before. There also is the problem of multiple loans on a property. Second and third mortgages can muddy the waters pretty fast.
Banks that went along with the extra mortgages a few years ago are not nearly so eager now. All of the lenders who have a money interest in the property have to agree to a short sale. Best to become involved after all those items are settled.
Unless you are auction-savvy, don’t risk that route. Also be aware that you aren’t the only bargain-hunter in the market. Expect multi-offers situations and be prepared to dicker aggressively.
Some experts in the field are aware that there are bargains to be had, but unless you go into the short-sale/foreclosoure market with your eyes wide open, you may find that your “good buy” really meant good-bye to precious assets.