How to Buy a Foreclosed Home
Home prices have soared over the last few years, and they’re expected to hold steady throughout 2023. These increased costs can make the savings you could score from buying a foreclosed home very attractive. Below, we’ll walk you through the steps of purchasing this type of property.
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Not only has it been a difficult time to break into the housing market lately, it’s been a rough time to be a homeowner as well. As of March 2023, foreclosures are up 10% from last year. Of course this is unfortunate for those who are losing homes, nonetheless it’s a boost of housing stock into a low-inventory housing market — and if you’re looking to buy now, this could mean more opportunities. Here are the steps for buying a foreclosed home:
1. Find foreclosed homes for sale
You can find foreclosed properties advertised in many places, from national websites to your local bank branch. They may not always be available in the neighborhoods you’re eyeing, so be prepared to monitor the market for a while. A real estate agent can help you in your search.
Where to find foreclosed homes
Luckily for those who don’t know how to find foreclosure homes for sale, it’s as easy as picking up a local print publication or searching on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) sites. You may have to use a search filter for foreclosures — here are a few popular sites:
Pros and cons of foreclosed homes
As you look for foreclosed homes, be sure to keep the benefits and drawbacks in mind.
You could save a lot of money. A major perk of buying a foreclosed property is the savings. In terms of a foreclosure, the lender is strongly motivated to sell the home, giving the buyer a strong negotiating position.
Needed repairs could give you an opportunity to customize the home. If the house were perfectly move-in ready, spending money on renovations may feel wasteful. But if you already have to make some repairs, spending a little extra to get exactly what you want may be worth it.
You could make a profit. Even if you’re not a professional house flipper, selling a foreclosed property that you fixed up and lived in for a while can still net you some cash.
Buying a foreclosed home can be a long process. Purchasing foreclosed properties generally involves more paperwork. The average foreclosure process during the first quarter of 2023 took just over 2.5 years, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
A foreclosed home can have hidden debts. Foreclosed homes can have outstanding taxes or unpaid liens on them that new owners must pay. The exception to this rule is an REO home. A title search should reveal if there are any issues, and title insurance will protect you from any new ones.
The property is “as-is” and may not be in great shape. Foreclosed homes are sold as-is. You can’t negotiate and ask the seller to make any repairs. Because the house is a foreclosure, the former owners had major financial trouble and may not have maintained the property. You may find damage, trash, mold, pests and weeds.
You may be competing with many buyers. Other homebuyers, professional home flippers and real estate investors can all smell a good deal. You might have some stiff competition.
You could see higher monthly payments if you use a renovation loan. While renovation loans like the FHA 203(k) mortgage fill an important gap for borrowers who want to avoid the complications of managing multiple home loans, they usually come with higher interest rates and mortgage insurance obligations.
As of March 20, 2023, the FHA reduced its annual insurance premiums by 0.30 percentage points. That’s good news for the average FHA borrower, who will save around $800 per year as a result.
2. Hire an expert real estate agent
Truth be told, steps No. 1 and No. 2 can happen in any order. You may, however, find that it’s easiest to look at what’s available first and determine what you want before reaching out to a real estate agent. That way, if you’re sure that you’re interested in a foreclosed home, you can find a local real estate agent who specializes in those properties.
Here are the types of homes you’ll come across as you sift through foreclosed home listings:
Some owners will sell their homes while in “preforeclosure,” that is, before their mortgage lender can start the official foreclosure process. Owners generally have 120 days (about four months) from their first missed payment to find a solution. Selling the house for enough to cover what they owe before the deadline can save their credit.
How to find them: Local courthouses often maintain lists of properties whose mortgages have gone into default. You can also try a website like Foreclosure.com, which allows you to filter search results so that you only see listings for homes in preforeclosure.
In a short sale, the lender and the homeowner agree to put the home on the market for less than the remaining mortgage balance — all in an effort to avoid foreclosure. A short sale also takes place during the preforeclosure period, in other words, but what differs from the preforeclosure listings we mentioned above is the role of the lender. A lender doesn’t have to agree to a typical preforeclosure sale but does have to sign off on a short sale. That’s because if you sell “short,” you aren’t receiving all the money you need to pay back what you owe the lender.
How to find them: Real estate websites and other listing services may let you filter by “short sale” when searching. If not, you can keep an eye out for telltale signs in the listings, like the phrase “third-party review required,” which means that the transactions will be a short sale, but the lender has to approve the sale once an offer is made.
If a homeowner isn’t able to catch up on payments or sell their home, the lender can foreclose on the property and send it to public auction. Many foreclosures are auctioned off at courthouse auctions, which are run by local law enforcement. The highest bidder gets the deed.
Notice of auctions for foreclosed homes — including when, where and what’s being sold — are typically announced four to six weeks before the event in local newspapers and on the county sheriff’s website.
How to find them: Search for “sheriff’s sales” to find these auctions in your area.
When homes don’t sell at auction, they can become real estate-owned (REO) properties and the bank holds the keys. Most banks don’t want to fuss with managing properties that may be located all over the country, and are typically willing to sell at large discounts. Here’s how to negotiate home prices.
How to find them: Contact the bank or institution whose foreclosures you may be interested in. You may also want to try online marketplaces like RealtyTrac that specialize in foreclosed real estate listings.
When a government agency guarantees a loan, it’s obligated to pay the lender if the borrower doesn’t and there’s a foreclosure. Several federal agencies can hold the keys to foreclosed homes, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
You can only buy a government-owned foreclosure with the help of a real estate agent, servicing representative or mortgage broker — a real estate agent with additional credentials.
How to find them: Some government agencies maintain lists of approved brokers. You can find HUD’s list of registered brokers online.
3. Get a mortgage preapproval
There’s no specific type of mortgage loan you have to use to buy a foreclosed home. A mortgage preapproval from a lender of your choosing is, however, usually a necessity in a hot market and lets owners know that you’re capable of purchasing the property. A preapproval also provides you with a stronger negotiating position when it comes time to find the best rate and finalize your loan.
If you’re interested in a foreclosed home because finances are tight, there are tons of programs that could help you.
- Government-backed loans typically have lower qualification requirements:
- FHA loans: Purchase loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) have low down payment and flexible credit requirements. If you know that you’re going to choose a fixer-upper, you may also want to look into FHA 203(k) loans, which allow you to use a single loan for purchasing and rehabbing a property.
- VA loans: Loans backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are a great deal if your military service allows you to qualify. Just keep in mind that any home you purchase must meet the VA’s minimum property requirements, which vary by location and ensure that a home is safe and sanitary.
- First-time homebuyer programs, including:
- Fannie Mae’s HomePath Ready Buyer™ program. HomePath deals with houses that went into foreclosure when homeowners defaulted on a conventional loan. The program allows buyers who complete a homebuyer education course to receive up to 3% of the home’s price, which can be used toward their closing costs.
If you’re looking to invest in a foreclosed property, you’ll be happy to hear that the rates and fees charged on conventional investment property loans recently went down for some borrowers. Specifically, the changes affect those who are able to make between a 30% and 40% down payment. For multiunit properties (two to four units), the decrease was for all borrowers across the board, regardless of loan-to-value ratio.
4. Submit a competitive offer
Work with your agent to submit a competitive offer. Remember that you may have some tough competition — depending on how good the deal is — and that it can take a long time to close on the deal. One tactic is to submit multiple offers on foreclosed properties to better your odds of one being approved.
Another strategy is to make a cash offer, which is more enticing to sellers, and then finance the purchase after the fact. Fannie Mae allows homeowners to do this with a conventional loan within six months of the sale. You can even take cash out if you meet the usual conventional cash-out refinance requirements.
5. Get an inspection and appraisal
Because the property may not have been well taken care of, it’s strongly recommended that you get a home inspection. A professional inspector will flag any problems with the home’s structure or major appliance systems. If there are large issues that’d be expensive to fix, you’ll have to weigh the cost of repairs with the savings you’re getting from purchasing a foreclosed home. A home appraisal will provide you and your future lender with a professional estimate of the home’s value.
As we discussed earlier, not all foreclosed homes are sold the same way. It’s important to realize that some methods typically leave time for an inspection while others — like buying at auction — don’t. One solution is to purchase with what’s called an “inspection contingency” in your contract. An inspection contingency allows you to get out of the sale if you put a home under contract that subsequently fails an inspection.
How to back out of buying a foreclosed home
Your ability to back out of the purchase may depend on how far into the purchasing process you are. Generally, you’re able to back out of buying real estate if you haven’t signed the purchase and/or financing contract that would put the title in your name. If you do back out, you could lose any earnest money you originally put down toward your purchase offer.
Wondering if a seller can back out of a real estate contract? The answer is yes, but only under very specific circumstances. If you’re holding up your end of the contract as a buyer and the reason the seller wants to back out isn’t written into the contract, they likely won’t be able to pull out successfully.
6. Purchase the home
The mortgage closing process can take a while as multiple entities get their ducks in a row. Respond quickly to any paperwork requests to facilitate the process on your end.