How To Buy A Foreclosed Home

photo by Taber Andrew Bain

US News & World Report quoted me in  How to Buy a Foreclosed Home. It opens,

As home prices soar in many cities, buyers might look to foreclosures as an affordable option for landing their dream home. Typically, a foreclosure occurs when a homeowner no longer can make the mortgage payments and the lender seizes the property. The lender then requires the former owner to vacate the property before offering it for sale, usually at a discounted price. In some cases, the home is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Foreclosures offer home shoppers the potential to score a great deal, says Elizabeth Mendenhall, a Realtor in Columbia, Missouri, who is president of the National Association of Realtors.

“Sometimes people think a foreclosure only happens to the lower end of the market, but you can definitely find foreclosures at any price range,” she says.

But while buying a foreclosure can save you a lot of cash, it does come with risks. If you pursue a foreclosure, it helps to have a “stomach of steel,” says David Reiss, law professor and academic programs director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.
“There’s going to be a lot more ups and downs” than in a typical homebuying process, says Reiss, whose work focuses on real estate finance and community development.

Why Buy a Foreclosure?

In recent years, foreclosure sales have been trending downward, according to national property data curating company Attom Data Solutions. That is largely because a strengthening U.S. economy has reduced the number of borrowers who lose their homes as a result of failing to pay the mortgage. In 2017, distressed home sales – including foreclosures and short sales – made up 14 percent of all U.S. single family home and condo sales, according to Attom Data Solutions. That number was down from 15.5 percent in 2016 and a recent high of 38.6 percent in 2011.

Still, some buyers look to foreclosures to get the best possible deal. Homes may be for sale in various states of foreclosure. For example, pre-foreclosure is a period when the owner has fallen behind on payments, but the lender has not actually taken the home from the owner. Homes sold at this point often go through the short sale process, where the lender agrees to accept an amount of money from the buyer that is less than what the current owner owes on the mortgage.

Properties that are already in foreclosure are sold at an online or offline auction, or by a real estate agent. The biggest lure of buying a foreclosure is the potential savings you get compared with buying a similar nondistressed property.

“It can be like a 15 percent discount on your neighboring houses,” Reiss says. “So, it can be significant.”

But Mendenhall says how much you will save depends on the local real estate market and the stage of foreclosure of the property.

The Risks of Buying a Foreclosure

Purchasing a foreclosure involves several substantial risks, so buyers must enter the process with their eyes wide open. In many cases, if you buy a foreclosure at auction, you must purchase the property sight unseen. Reiss says this is the biggest potential danger of buying a foreclosure.

“The big, scary thing is that with a number of foreclosures, you can’t actually inspect the property before you actually bid,” he says. “That’s in part why the prices are below the market.”

Even if you can get a professional inspection on a foreclosure, you typically have to buy the house “as is.” Once you purchase the home, any problems that pop up are yours – as is the responsibility for finding and paying for a remedy. Such problems are more likely in a foreclosure than in a nondistressed property. For example, in some cases, a frustrated family might strip the home of valuable elements before vacating the house.

“Or they kind of just beat it up because they were angry about having to go through the foreclosure,” Reiss says.

The mere fact that the home is vacant also can lead to problems. Reiss says a home is like a plant – if you don’t tend to it regularly, it can wither and die. “If you happen to leave it alone on its own for too long, water leaks in, pipes can burst, rodents can get in, just the elements can do damage,” he says.

Mendenhall adds that people who lose their homes to foreclosure typically have major financial troubles. That can trigger other troubles for the new owner. “If the previous owner was in financial distress, there’s a chance that there’s more maintenance and work maybe that they haven’t completed,” she says.

Reducing the Dangers of Buying a Foreclosure

There are a few things you can do to mitigate the risks associated with buying a foreclosure. For starters, see if you can get a professional inspection of the property. Although buyers often cannot inspect a foreclosure property, that is not always the case. So, be sure to ask a real estate agent or the seller about hiring a home inspector.

“Even though it may extend the process, if you can have a qualified inspector come in, you can know a little bit more about what you’re getting into,” Mendenhall says.

If you can’t inspect the property, Reiss recommends researching its history. Look at publicly available records to find out when the property was last sold and how long the current owner had possession. Also, check whether building permits were drawn and what type of work was done. “Maybe you’ll see some good news, like a boiler was replaced two years ago,” Reiss says. “Or maybe you’ll see some scary news, like there’s all these permits and you don’t know if the work was completed.”

Also, visit the house and perform a “curbside inspection” of your own, Reiss says. “Even if you can’t go inside the house, you want to look at the property,” he says. “If you can peek in the windows, you probably want to peek in the windows.”

Knock on the doors of nearby neighbors. Tell them you want to bid on the property but need to learn all that you can about the previous owners, including how long they lived in the home and whether they took care of it. And ask if there have been any signs of squatters or recent break-ins.

“Try to get all that information,” Reiss says. “Neighbors are probably going to have a good sense of a lot of that, and I think that kind of informal due diligence can be helpful.”

Working with a real estate agent experienced in selling distressed property may help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of buying foreclosures, Mendenhall says. Some agents have earned the National Association of Realtors’ Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource Certification, or SFR. Such Realtors can help guide you through processes unique to purchasing distressed properties, Mendenhall says.

How to Find a Foreclosure

You can find foreclosures by searching the listings at bank websites, including those of giants such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America. The government-sponsored companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also have listings on their websites.

The federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development owns and sells foreclosed homes. You can find listings on the website.

Private companies such as RealtyTrac offer foreclosure listings online, typically for a fee. Finally, you can contact a real estate agent who will find foreclosures for you. These agents may help you find foreclosures before others snatch them up.

Is a Foreclosure Right for You?

Before you pursue a foreclosure, Reiss encourages you to ask yourself whether you are in a good position to take on the risk – and, hopefully, to reap the reward – of buying a foreclosure. It is possible to use conventional financing, or even a loan from the Federal Housing Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs, to buy a foreclosure. However, people with deeper pockets are often better candidates for buying a foreclosure.

Because the process can be highly competitive, buyers with access to large amounts of cash can swoop in and land the best deals. “You can get financing, but you need to get it quickly,” Reiss says. “I think a lot of people who go into purchasing foreclosure(s) want to have the cash to just kind of act.”

Sellers of distressed properties love cash-only buyers, because the home can be sold without a lender requiring either a home appraisal or a home inspection. “So, the more cash you have on hand, the more likely you’re playing in those sandboxes,” Reiss says.

In addition, buyers of foreclosures often need to spend money to bring a property up to code or to make it competitive with other homes in the neighborhood. “Have a big cushion in case the building is in much worse condition than you expected,” Reiss says.

He cites the example of someone who buys a foreclosure, only to discover that the piping has been stripped out of the basement and will cost $10,000 to repair and replace. “You need to know that you can handle that one way or the other,” Reiss says.

People with solid home maintenance and repair skills also are good candidates for buying a foreclosure. “I think if you’re a handy person, you might be able to address a lot of the issues yourself,” Reiss says. He describes such buyers as anyone who has “a can-do attitude and is looking to trade sweat equity for home equity.”

Reiss and Mendenhall agree that flexibility is crucial to successfully shopping for and purchasing a foreclosure. Mendenhall notes that a foreclosure sale can take a long time to complete. “It can be a long process, or a frustrating one,” she says. “It can depend upon where they are in the foreclosure process. It can take a much longer time to go from contract to close.”

For that reason, a foreclosure might not make sense for buyers who need to move into a property quickly, she says. Also, think hard about how you really feel about buying a house that needs extensive renovation work that might take a long time to complete.

“It can be hard for some people to live in a property and do repairs at the same time,” Mendenhall says.

Tips for First-Time Homebuyers


photo by Alachua County

Cheapism quoted me in 21 Tips for First-Time Homebuyers. It opens,

GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR

Buying your first home is a high-pressure endeavor. The number of homes for sale in America has been steadily declining for years. According to Zillow, inventory has been on a year-over-year downward spiral every single month since February 2015. That means competition for homes is fierce, particularly for starter homes. There’s also a great deal to learn as a first-time home buyer, ranging from understanding mortgages to knowing what to look for when touring properties and which markets are the best. Cheapism has asked real estate experts to share their top tips for those making their first foray into the market. Here’s what the professionals want all first-time homebuyers to know when they start hunting for their dream home.

WORK WITH AN EXPERIENCED REAL ESTATE AGENT

There are many ways a real estate agent can make the home-buying process less stressful, says Tracy Ouellette, a regional sales manager with CLV Group, a full-service real estate brokerage. “Quite often first-time buyers try to do it themselves in order to save a bit of money,” said Ouellette. “However, there are many of aspects of the home-buying experience that greatly benefit from using a realtor. They know the market and are able to negotiate a fair price, which ends up saving you more money in the end. They also ensure that your contract will protect you and your house, if any issues arise in the future.”

GET EDUCATED ABOUT MORTGAGES

Mortgages are complicated financial products, so spend some time educating yourself about them, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School. “If you understand them, you can choose the right one for your circumstances,” said Reiss. “Most people think they should get a 30-year-fixed rate mortgage. But those usually have a higher interest rate than adjustable rate mortgages.” For those buying a starter home, an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) may be worth considering in order to keep the monthly mortgage payment lower initially.

Selling Yourself When You Have A Broker

image by Russellprisco

Realtor.com quoted me in Selling Your House Privately If You Have a Listing Agent: OK or a Big N-O? It opens,

So your home is for sale, and you’ve signed a contract with a real estate agent, but you were actually able to nab a buyer through your own efforts. Maybe it was through word of mouth or your aggressive push on Facebook (you should really apologize to your friends for posting so many pictures of your house!), but someone is writing you an offer and really wants to buy your house. Having found a buyer on your own, are you still legally obligated to pay real estate fees or commission? Here’s how to know if you’re on the hook.

Read your listing agreement

In most states, a seller and an agent draw up something called a listing agreement. The listing agreement details the rights and responsibilities of the seller and the broker, and usually outlines the circumstances when a broker is due a commission.

“If it is an open listing or an exclusive agency listing, the seller can sell the property and not have to pay the broker a commission,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School
.

Things get tricky if the listing agreement confers an exclusive right to sell. This means the real estate agent has the sole right to sell the property. All offers must go through him or her, and for any sale, you’re obligated to pay the agent the commission spelled out in the contract, according to Marc D. Markel, a board-certified Texas attorney in residential and commercial real estate law. Agents rely on these exclusive listing agreements to avoid putting in what can be months of free work without seeing a payoff. For this reason, the agreement outlines the many ways an agent earns a commission, including what happens if the seller breaches the exclusive agreement.

The loopholes

If the sellers do find a buyer on their own, despite having a contract with an agent, they may be able to negotiate a reduced commission with the agent. But the sellers should be up-front about their potential to find their own buyer when drawing up the exclusive-right-to-sell listing agreement, says Markel. Maybe they know of a friend of a friend who is looking for a house, or they plan on marketing their home on social media.

If the sellers feel as if they are doing all the work, they might also be able to modify the existing agreement and add a termination if the broker doesn’t meet certain obligations, like selling the home within a certain time frame, says Sandy Straley, a real estate agent in Layton, UT. Other obligations for the listing could include organizing open houses, creating and distributing printed materials, and even the posting of videos shot by drones, says Markel.

How Are First-Time Homebuyers Doing?

photo by designmilk

Genworth Mortgage Insurance Corporation released a a First-Time Home Market Report.  The big news from the report is that first-time homebuyers purchased fifteen percent more single-family homes in 2016 than in 2015.  The 2 million homes purchased in 2016 was the most since 2006, before the financial crisis. This is a positive sign for the housing market and for the homeownership rate which has fallen to long-time lows since the financial crisis. The Executive Summary reads,

First-time homebuyers represent an important segment of the housing market, generating significant revenue to real estate agents, homebuilders, and the mortgage finance industry. In this report, we adopt the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of first-time homebuyers as homebuyers who did not own a home in any of the prior three years  . . . Compared to repeat homebuyers, first-time homebuyers play a more pivotal role in influencing housing inventory and home prices because they represent the shift of housing demand from rental to owner occupancy. Despite this well-recognized dynamic, there has been limited data available on the first-time homebuyer market, starting with market size. In this report, we estimate the size of the first-time homebuyer market going back to 1994 using a combination of government and mortgage industry data—20.1 million actual first-time homebuyers were identified. This data provides a historical perspective on the first-time homebuyer market as well as important recent trends. (2)

The report’s key findings include,

1. Between 1994 and 2016, first-time homebuyers purchased on average 1.8 million single-family homes each year, accounting for over one in three of all single-family homes sold, and 45 percent of the purchase mortgages originated.

2. First-time homebuyers have led the housing recovery, contributing over 60 percent of the sales growth in the housing market over the past five years and 85 percent of the growth in the past two years. The resurgence of the first-time homebuyer market has contributed to very tight housing supplies and accelerating home prices, especially at the “low” end of the housing market.

3. During the Housing Crisis, the number of single-family homes sold to first-time homebuyers saw a peak to trough decline of 900,000 units (43 percent) – reaching a trough of just 1.2 million units in 2011. Over the last 10 years, the housing market has seen 3 million fewer first-time homebuyers in aggregate compared to the historical average.

4. The first-time homebuyer market stagnated during the historic housing expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s, leading to a decline in first-time homebuyer mix. Instead, it was repeat homebuyers, including second-home buyers and investors, who led the surge in housing activity.

5. The expansion of government lending programs and the implementation of the first-time homebuyer tax credit provided temporary support to first-time homebuyers. Between 2008 and 2010, first-time homebuyers represented 35 percent of all single-family home sales, which is close to its historical average. However, the percentage of single-family home sales to first-time homebuyers declined once the tax credit expired, and stayed below 30 percent for these three years.

6. First-time homebuyers have always demonstrated a greater need for low down payment mortgage products. Between 1994 and 2016, 73 percent of first-time homebuyers chose such products compared to 30-50 percent for repeat homebuyers. Mortgage products with a lower down payment will likely have a higher first-time homebuyer mix.

7. Private mortgage insurance and FHA (government-backed mortgage insurance) are the two leading products for first-time homebuyers and have together accounted for close to 1 million first-time homebuyers a year since 1994. They have played a key role in reviving the first-time homebuyer market in the current recovery, accounting for approximately 80 percent of its growth in the past two years.

8. First-time homebuyers purchased 2 million single-family homes in 2016, 15 percent more than 2015 – and the most since 2006. During the first quarter of 2017, there were more first-time homebuyers than any other year since 2005. A total of 424,000 single-family homes were sold to first-time homebuyers, up 11 percent from a year ago, and accounting for 38 percent of all single-family home sales. (3)

What Is a HUD Foreclosure?

Mike Licht

Realtor.com quoted me in What Is a HUD Foreclosure? A Home That’s Below Market Value. It reads,

“Foreclosure” is a scary word with a simple definition: It’s the process of a lender attempting to recoup the balance owed on a loan after the homeowner fails to pay the mortgage. Mortgage lenders can be banks, private institutions, or the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA is the world’s largest insurer of mortgages; FHA loans are managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. So any foreclosed house that was purchased with an FHA loan is called a HUD foreclosure. But what exactly is a HUD foreclosure?

What is HUD?

HUD is a federal agency with the mission to help low-income and first-time home buyers. Through mortgage assistance and subsidized housing, it helps make the dream of owning a home a reality for many Americans.

A major division of HUD is the FHA, which is the world’s largest insurer of mortgages.

“A HUD foreclosure is the foreclosure of a loan that was insured by the FHA,” says David Reiss, professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship
 at Brooklyn Law School
.

When a homeowner defaults on this government-backed loan, HUD pays off the mortgage and becomes the property’s de facto owner. To recoup financial losses, HUD then puts the house on the market.

The benefit of buying a HUD foreclosure

The upside for bargain home hunters is that HUD-owned properties are usually sold well below market value.

While anyone can buy a HUD home, “the agency has a special program for teachers, police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel called the Good Neighbor Next Door program,” says Reiss.

This program allows people in those professions to purchase a HUD property at a whooping 50% discount if it’s in a “revitalization area” and the owner occupies it for three years. Revitalization areas are neighborhoods with very low income, low homeownership, or a high concentration of foreclosed homes.

How to buy a HUD foreclosure

HUD foreclosures are not sold in the typical manner, according to Reiss. Instead of open houses and offer letters, he explains, HUD foreclosures are sold through a bidding process that favors owner-occupants (people who actually want to live in the house) over investors by giving them priority in bidding.

Prospective owners working with a real estate agent authorized to sell HUD property submit bids but have no idea what the other bids are. If the property fails to sell to an owner-occupant, the HUD foreclosure is then open to investors.

How to find a HUD foreclosure

According to Reiss, HUD maintains the HUD Home Store, an online database that lists all its foreclosures. And unlike some foreclosed properties that may have liens (a notice attached to your property that means you owe a creditor money), HUD homes are for sale lien-free.

Choosing a Real Estate Agent

US News & World Report quoted me in 6 Tips for Choosing a Real Estate Agent. It opens,

Selling a home has become easier over the years with online services to help the seller set a price and advertise, but most homeowners still hire a real estate agent.

While many agents have deep experience and know their markets intimately, newcomers abound – people looking to cash in when the market is hot and may not even work at the job full time. So experts advise homeowners to look carefully for an agent with the right combination of experience, knowledge, work ethic and personality.

What is a Realtor? Typically an agent is someone licensed by the state to sell real estate, while a broker is a manager of a team of agents. A Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors, the industry’s main trade group, which requires members abide by certain ethical standards. Experts suggest sellers use agents who have received more than minimum training required in their state.

“In California, the requirements for a real estate salesperson’s license are very low, basically, three classes and a test,” says Bryan Zuetel, a real estate attorney and broker in Orange County, California.

“Almost any agent can get a listing, enter the property into the (multiple listing service), create some flyers, hold open houses and fill in blanks on the contract forms,” Zuetel says. “However, most agents do not understand, but should understand, the complex contract terms, implications of an unhappy party in the transaction, legal requirements for the numerous disclosures, appropriate negotiations during the escrow period, conflict resolution via mediation or arbitration, and the remedies under the contract.”

Do your homework. Law professor David Reiss, academic program director at The Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, says it’s important to check out a prospective agent with previous sellers.

“Some real estate agents are great at pitching themselves but not great at marketing homes once they have the listing,” Reiss says. “Getting recommendations from friends and relatives will give you information that the agent herself or himself would not provide. Do they return phone calls promptly? Are they creative problem solvers? Do they educate themselves about the pros and cons of the home and (comparable properties in the area)?”

Understanding FSBO

US News & World Report quoted me in 3 Things to Know About Selling a House on Your Own. It opens,

The internet is full of sites that help homeowners sell property on their own, promising thousands in savings by avoiding commissions, but the National Association of Realtors says commission savings on a for-sale-by-owner transaction, or FSBO, are more than offset by lower sales prices.

The truth lies somewhere in between, according to most objective analysts. So for most sellers, deciding whether to go FSBO is a tough call.

Ali Wenzke, a Chicago writer with a blog called the Art of Happy Moving, says do-it-yourself transactions have worked well for her.

“My husband and I have sold two houses FSBO and purchased one home without an agent,” she says. “Be objective. Work hard. Be flexible to do showings at any time.”

“Anyone can do it and the average home is shown five times or less,” says Sissy Lappin, co-founder of the FSBO website ListingDoor.com.“The notion that no buyers or sellers can understand or manage what happens in a transaction is simply absurd.”

One thing is sure: the average seller’s experience does not necessarily apply in any specific case. What matters is whether you can succeed with a FSBO, regardless of whether your neighbor has.

Adjust your expectations. Experts do agree that FSBO novices should be realistic. Even if you get top dollar and avoid the agent’s commission, the process can be a time-consuming headache. And even if you don’t have an agent of your own, you may have little choice but to pay one representing the buyer, cutting the savings in half.

“While listing on your own seems easy, you are in fact replacing a job which you usually employ a broker to do full time,” says New York-based real estate agent Dylan Hoffman, who is not a fan of FSBOs. “You will need to organize showings, tours, previews and open houses. Plus all the back-end work, like maintaining photos and descriptions on websites, checking for a clear title, etc. An owner would also take on the role of marketing, both digital and print.”

The internet has made the process much easier, with many sites now offering listings, advice and services like printing signs. For a fee, usually several hundred dollars, some services will get your home on the multiple listing service used by real estate agents and buyers, though Lappin says it’s good enough to list on a site like Zillow.com, which is free. The goal is to save the agent’s commission, typically about 6 percent of the sales price, or $18,000 for a $300,000 home.

“FSBO has grown up and sellers don’t have to settle for a red-and-white generic yard sign,” Lappin says.

She says the seller of a $400,000 home with $60,000 in equity would spend 40 percent of that equity if they paid a real estate agent 6 percent commission, or $24,000.

What kind of homes sell without an agent? The National Association of Realtors says about 10 percent of home sales are conducted without an agent, though some critics say the figure is higher. The association says the average FSBO sells for 13 percent less than the average agent-assisted sale. Again, critics like Lappin disagree, with many noting the association’s studies do not look at comparable homes and lump in mobile homes and other inexpensive properties, as well as intra-family deals that tend to have low sales prices. Association figures do show that FSBO is less common with high-priced homes.

FSBO advocates generally agree that doing it yourself is more difficult for the seller, and can take longer. Though you might catch a buyer’s eye right off the bat, the FSBO approach is relatively passive, as you won’t have an agent steering buyers your way. Obviously, the seller must be available to show the house, and that can require weekdays, not just Sunday afternoons.

“It takes a lot of people skills to sell your own home,” says law professor David Reiss, director of The Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at New York’s Brooklyn Law School. “Can you engage with potential buyers even as they are criticizing your house and the choices you made about it? Can you distinguish serious buyers from window shoppers? Can you negotiate without giving away the farm or playing too hard to get?”

Anti-discrimination laws limit what you can tell buyers about issues like the ethnicity of neighbors, or even the number of school-aged kids or seniors on the block. And you have to be willing to show to all comers.

Going it alone also means you won’t have an agent’s advice setting the home up to it up to look its best, though you could hire a professional stager.