There is a lot of interest in buying short sales or buying a foreclosed home these days. A lot of information, some good and some bad, is floating around about the subject. Often the information offered is for sale, with the promise that you can make a lot of money with little effort once you know “the secret formula”. The fact is that there are no secrets, and to make money does require effort.
What's a "short sale"?
Property being listed as a "short sale" is one in which the property owner (borrower) is marketing their home, subject to their OWN lender's approval of the sale. The property's values are less than their loan value (sometimes significantly less), and the seller is asking their own bank to allow them to sell the property "short" of what is owed. CLEARLY, this has nothing to do with the time it takes to close such a deal: we have had short sales in negotiation with the short sale lender for up to 2 years (an anomaly: typically, from start to finish, its about 3 months on average here in Ventura County). The procedure is a bit more involved than a standard sale in that, understandably, with more than just the sellers eyes to approve an offer, it takes longer to get approval. Because the seller is typically short of funds to do any repairs, these short sales often do not cover termite report or work. Still, they are in some ways better an investment than an REO (see below) because you have a paper trail of disclosures that the seller must sign as per R.E. law. With an REO, there are no such documents and REOs, by and large, are sold as-is. That's the single best reason to make absolutely sure you get a property inspection so you know, as the potential new owner, what you're getting in to. Save for taking longer, short sales are not that big a deal if the buyer is patient.
What’s an REO?
REO stands for “Real Estate Owned”. These are properties that have gone through foreclosure and are now owned by the bank or mortgage company. This is not the same as a property up for foreclosure auction. When buying a property during a foreclosure sale, you must pay at least the loan balance plus any interest and other fees accumulated during the foreclosure process. You must also be prepared to pay with cash in hand. And on top of all that, you’ll receive the property 100% “as is”. That could include existing liens and even current occupants that need to be evicted. A REO, by contrast, is a much “cleaner” and attractive transaction. The REO property did not find a buyer during foreclosure auction. The bank now owns it. The bank will see to the removal of tax liens, evict occupants if needed and generally prepare for the issuance of a title insurance policy to the buyer at closing. Do be aware that REO’s may be exempt from normal disclosure requirements. In California, for example, banks are exempt from giving a Transfer Disclosure Statement, a document that normally requires sellers to tell you about any defects they are aware of.
Is it a bargain?
It’s commonly assumed that any REO must be a bargain and an opportunity for easy money. This simply isn’t true. You have to be very careful about buying a REO if your intent is to make money off of it. While it’s true that the bank is typically anxious to sell it quickly, they are also strongly motivated to get as much as they can for it. When considering the value of a REO, you need to look closely at comparable sales in the neighborhood and be sure to take into account the time and cost of any repairs or remodeling needed to prepare the house for resale. The bargains with money making potential exist, and many people do very well buying foreclosures. But there are also many REO’s that are not good buys and not likely to turn a profit.
Ready to make an offer?
Most banks have a REO department that you’ll work with in buying a REO property from them. Typically the REO department will use a listing agent to get their REO properties listed on the local MLS. Before making your offer, you’ll want to contact either the listing agent or REO department at the bank and find out as much as you can about what they know about the condition of the property and what their process is for receiving offers. Since banks almost always sell REO properties “as is”, you’ll want to be sure and include an inspection contingency in your offer that gives you time to check for hidden damage and terminate the offer if you find it. As with making any offer on real estate, you’ll make your offer more attractive if you can include documentation of your ability to pay, such as a pre-approval letter from a lender. After you’ve made your offer, you can expect the bank to make a counter offer. Then it will be up to you to decide whether to accept their counter, or offer a counter to the counter offer. Realize, you’ll be dealing with a process that probably involves multiple people at the bank, and they don’t work evenings or weekends. It’s not unusual for the process of offers and counter offers to take days or even weeks.