Friday, September 21, 2007

"I want to buy a foreclosure."

I'm interested in foreclosures is something I often hear from clients, but few people really understand the process, and specifically what it means to buy a foreclosed property. It's not for the faint of heart. Though you can occasionally find a bargain, there are unique risks involved with buying a foreclosed or bank-owned property. First, let's clarify some definitions.

It's possible that someone can be "upside down" on their mortgage (that is, they owe more on the mortgage than the property is worth) and antsy for a quick sale before it gets worse. In this situation, the seller is said to be "bringing money to the table" because they literally need to write a check to the settlement company even AFTER receiving the proceeds from the buyer. The seller hires an agent (in most cases) and the property is listed in the MLS--the buyer may or may not even be aware that the seller is in this situation. But what if the seller doesn't HAVE funds to bring to the table? Then it becomes a...

Pre-foreclosure or "short sale": The bank is a third party to this transaction because they have negotiated with the seller to take a loss on their loan. The property will likely be listed in the MLS, but there are special addendums and disclosures because the bank has to approve any contracts. In some cases, this delays the process, which can make timing for a settlement and move date tricky. Read more about short sales in my previous blog entry here. If no buyer is found, then the property becomes a...

"Foreclosure" or trustee sale: This is the proverbial auction on the courthouse steps. Properties are advertised in the newspaper, but typically no real estate agents are involved (because there are no commissions paid--can't blame us for staying away from those!) Note that the property may or may not be vacant at this point...a buyer may be forced to evict the previous owner. This isn't typically the auctions you'd think with bidders standing around with placards. The bank is unlikely to take a bid less than what is due on the loan, and if there's no equity in the property, why would someone buy it? So you need a property that's worth more than the loan, and if that was the case then it wouldn't be a foreclosure to begin with! So most auctions quietly pass with no bidders. If you do wish to bid, it's typical for the bank to demand a 10% deposit at the auction, and you have 15 days to close. These properties are typically sold "as is." If it's a condo, the seller (the bank) is not required to provide you with condo or HOA docs, as in other sales. If the "auction" ends with out a winning bidder, the property moves to...

"Bank Owned" or "REO" (Real Estate Owned): The bank usually works with a Realtor to list the home in the MLS and it's advertised just like any other property. They are usually sold "as is" (no home inspections) and special addendums are required. The addendum is sure to include a penalty for any change or delay in closing--anywhere from $65 to $200/day. While the banks are quick to penalize buyers for any delays, they don't usually hold themselves to the same standards--Some banks have very quick turnaround time on offers (days) and some have very bad turnaround time (months). This uncertainty makes settlement and move-in dates are very tricky, if not impossible, to manage. I've seen buyers put in an offer and wait 3 months only to be told that theirs was not the winning offer. This is typically also not an option for anyone with a brokered loan or stated income loan, again, because the timing is so difficult to manage.

I've found that the only REO properties that are priced significantly cheaper than the market are those that are in very poor condition, and maybe not such a bargain at all. There are always exceptions, and yes, a handful of really great deals out there. But to limit yourself to "foreclosures" is cutting off some of the best deals out there! I've actually found that the best "deals" are where sellers have some equity and can actually afford to sell below market, and have the incentive due to a life change (new job, new baby, etc.) to motivate them!

So to recap: Most people who are looking for "foreclosures" are actually looking for "short sales" or "REO/Bank-Owned" properties. Both categories of sales come with unique risks--specifically:

1) timing--if you have a specific timeframe for moving, make sure you have a backup option for living space
2) financing - related to timing
3) property condition--you won't get to ask for repairs, and may not even be allowed to have a home inspection prior to buying

My advice? Look at all the listings, not just "foreclosures"--which we now know really means short-sales and REO, in your price range. You never know where you're actually going to have the most negotiating power!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Yes, the Market is Down 7% AND Up 1%

Hooray - an article from the Post that is SO useful in interpreting the doomsday real estate stats--and also the overly optimistic ones--that we read about. It dives into detail on the methodology of two housing reports released two days apart: one from OFHEO that claims a 1.2% price increase for the year, and another from S&P claiming a 7% drop.

The headlines might as well read: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. The moral of the story being that anyone who understands anything about data can twist it to say just about anything they want (as an ex-consultant, I know this applies to other fields, not just real estate!)

The article is very insightful and points out that neither stat is completely representative. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The author hits the nail on the head in the last paragraph:

Don't overreact when you see big drops -- or jumps -- in these indexes. They are measuring different things, and no national index gets down to the nitty-gritty: what's happening to property values in your Zip code, micromarket or neighborhood.

All the more reason to talk to a Realtor when you're thinking about buying or selling--what you read is only part of the story!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Listings & Dedicated Websites

Most people don't realize that agents have basically complete control over how they market--or don't market--their clients' listings. It's important to ask your agent what, exactly, you'll be getting from them. Of course anyone who works with a reputable broker has the usual fluff--listing in Multiple Listing Service,, Broker "X" websites. Unfortunately most of the sites they list automatically populate from the MLS. You need a broader exposure on the web, where 80% of buyers begin their search.

I have a host of standard services that I provide to my listings, including

- Multiple photos in the MLS (Agents used to have to pay for these, but now up to 20 photos are FREE...yet, it's embarrassing to the industry how few agents take the time to upload them.) Almost every buyer I work with says that if there are no photos, they skip the listing, assuming that the seller is hiding how bad the house must be.

- A home warranty that transfers to the buyer. Buyers are nervous, and want to know that the home's systems won't fail right after they move in.

- Postcards to the neighborhood and/or area renters announcing the listing.

- A professional photographer. The majority of agents have neither the equipment nor the training that a professional photographer has, and you need your home showcased in the best possible light.

- Professional printing of brochures. A xerox copy isn't going to stand out amongst 20 other brochures the buyer picked up that day.

- Professional staging consultation. I don't try to be a "jack of all trades." I hire professionals to do a professional job.

- And my newest service, dedicated websites. Check out one of my sold listings at . These sites provide a showcase for your home beyond the 3 lines of text in the MLS.

If you're thinking about listing your home, contact me for information about some of the OTHER services I provide to my listings, too!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sub-Prime Mortgages: Crisis Averted?

I've posted here before that there were signs that the sub-prime mortgage mess, while unfortunate for many, was not the crisis that the press makes it out to be. The housing market is just too important to this economy, and while no one is screaming "bailout", there have been consistent signs that the country is not going to sit idly by and let millions of people lose their homes.

Today President Bush announced that new programs were being established to help 80,000 people who have fallen behind on their payments. I'd be willing to bet that if conditions worsen, even more programs will be announced. Sure, they'll blame it on the predatory lenders rather than home buyers that made bad decisions, but at the end of the day, no one wants people out on the street. It's in everyone's best interests--from the owners', to the lenders', to the government's, to keep people in their homes.

FAQ: ARM Loans

A very informative article about shopping for ARM loans (more popular given the recent jump in both jumbo and second trust rates).

The bottom line is to show around for rates, and know which questions to ask.

- Determine the initial interest rate and how long you will get it
- Ask if it’s a negative amortization loan
- Determine what the rate increase will be and how often it ‘resets’
- Determine what the annual and lifetime ‘caps’ are and how quickly you might reach them – this gives you the worst case scenario on your rates. Make sure you understand what the payment is at those rates.
- Know what the index (LIBOR, T-bill, etc) and spread is
- Know whether your loan is a balloon, and what term the balloon is, or based on a 30 year amortization

The author wisely points out to be wary of internet lenders. I’ve seen cases of this myself—even if the rate does turn out to be as low as they claim, keep a careful eye on the fees they charge but are buried somewhere in the Good Faith Estimate (GFE), and often not in the “Lender Fee” section where you’d expect.

Speaking of fees, that’s the only I’d add to this list—always ask what the fees are, and what they’re for. Always ask about things like: administrative fee, underwriting fee, processing fee, application fee, document fee, and warehousing fee. Don’t get me wrong—a lender needs to make money too, but these are the fees you should be comparing, and negotiating. And also understand the origination fee and any discount fees, especially as it relates to the interest rate you’re being charged. Two lenders might both be quoting 7%, but one of them is charging you a “point” (equal to one percent of the loan value and listed as a “discount point” on the GFE) to get it!

As always, you can contact me with any questions, or to look over your GFE with you. I can’t negotiate it for you, but I can tell you which things I’ve seen before and which things I haven’t. I routinely do this with my clients.

And of course, the way to avoid many issues is to work with a reputable lender in the first place!