The buying public seems to think that “great deal” equals foreclosure, short sale or bank-owned property. The truth is that these properties may appear to be bargains, but in many cases you could be buying someone else’s problems. If you’re looking for a bargain property, here are some key issues to consider:
1. What is your time line for purchasing?
You may find the perfect short-sale property, and the seller may accept your offer. The challenge is that you don’t have a deal until the bank approves the short sale. At many large lenders a single processor may have up to 500 files on his or her desk at one time. Realtors are reporting that it can take six or more months to get an offer approved. The wait can be extremely frustrating. It can also be costly.
For example, if prices are still declining in your area and price range, the offer you made six months ago may be too high. Also, if you qualify for a loan now, will you still qualify six to eight months from now if mortgage interest rates have increased? More importantly, can you afford to make a higher monthly payment? If possible, search for a short sale or an REO where the bank has preapproved the sales price. It still may take a long time to close, but not as long as it would if the price was not preapproved.
2. Are you prepared to be in a multiple-offer situation?
Since so many buyers are searching for distressed properties and the approval process takes so long, multiple offers are common. The lender will not tell you about other offers. They may, in fact, tell you that your offer will “probably” be approved — but you cannot rely on this representation.
If another offer comes in at a higher price and at better terms, the bank is obligated to take the best offer. If the property is a short sale, the seller’s signature on the document merely opens the negotiation — it does not finalize it. Furthermore, the seller/lender may continue to market the property even after they have signed a contract with you. This is simply smart business, as so many borrowers are having trouble closing transactions due to appraisal issues.
3. Ask the agent if the seller participated in the “Cash for Keys” program
The best candidates for good bargains are those properties where the sellers are still occupying them. Many banks have a program called “Cash for Keys.” This program pays the owners of foreclosure and short-sale properties money to keep the owner from trashing the property when they move out. I have seen copper piping ripped out of properties, concrete poured down the plumbing, and appliances stolen or destroyed. Cash for Keys is designed to minimize these behaviors.
4. Beware of vacant properties
Never purchase any property without doing a physical inspection. Also, if it takes more than 90 days to negotiate the transaction or if the house has been vacant, have the property re-inspected prior to signing off on the final deal. The reason for this is that the longer a house stays vacant, the more likely it is to have problems.
For example, pack rats and mice are more likely to move into vacant properties. They can chew through the wiring and generally wreak havoc with the home’s electrical systems. Also, if the dishwasher is not run at least once a week, the seals can dry out. If you live in an area where the pipes are not winterized and there are freezing temperatures, a pipe may burst. You may not discover the problem until you turn the water back on after closing.
5. Is the deal more important than your lifestyle?
A property can be a great deal in terms of the price, but is it worth it if it’s in a poorly rated school district or if the commute is an hour from your workplace? What if the property has a terrible floor plan, is in the flight path for a major airport, or occasionally gets a whiff of the sewage treatment plant? When you purchase, it’s important that you take all of these issues into consideration rather than focusing exclusively on the price. A property with any of these types of problems will be harder to sell in the future.
It’s important to consider the price in conjunction with the quality and the convenience of your lifestyle once you move in. For example, an extra 30-minute commute over a number of years can easily chew through thousands of dollars in terms of your vehicle costs, not to mention the wear and tear from the additional stress of commuting.
There are good distressed property deals out there. Nevertheless, don’t limit your search. Have your agent show you seller-occupied homes that are not distressed properties. Thirty-five percent of all properties are owned free and clear. These properties are often lovingly maintained, in top-notch condition, and in more desirable locations. In the long run, they may be a much better bargain.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success” and other books.