A foreclosure occurs when a lender reclaims a property due to the owner's failure to meet loan obligations. Foreclosed properties can be a fantastic chance for homebuyers to purchase a house below the market value. However, many foreclosed homes have severe damage and are often sold in their current condition. If you have the budget and patience to make significant renovations to a new home purchase, a foreclosed property may be right for you.

Understanding what it means when a house falls into foreclosure and the foreclosure process is crucial to making a wise purchasing decision. We'll review the advantages, disadvantages and steps involved in buying a foreclosed home to help you make a more informed choice.

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ATTOM Data (Aug 11, Aug 10, July 13, 2023, Dec 3, 2020)

Foreclosure Sale Types

To find a foreclosed home, you'll need to know how far along it is in the foreclosure process. The original homeowner might still own the property in the early stages or during a short sale. You can buy a distressed home from the homeowner at this point. Later, you will need to negotiate with banks or the government to purchase a seized home.

Below are five foreclosure sales types and how to approach them:

1

Pre-Foreclosures

Properties in this phase are in the early stages of foreclosure. The original homeowner can still prevent foreclosure. In many states, loan servicers must inform homeowners about the risk of losing their homes and provide a way to catch up on payments. Some homeowners might want to sell quickly to avoid the lengthy foreclosure process. You can check county and city courthouse buildings for pre-foreclosure listings. Online platforms like Foreclosure.com also feature properties in this stage.

2

Short Sales

A homeowner is considered "underwater" on their loan if they owe more on their mortgage than the property's value. In this case, lenders might agree to a short sale, accepting a home valuation less than the outstanding mortgage. Real estate websites and firms let you search for short-sale properties. Remember that buying a home in a short sale means a reduction in the home's original value. The lender must approve the sale, which can mean longer waiting times.

3

Sheriff's Sale Auctions

After completing a foreclosure, the local sheriffs might hold a public auction for the home. In some states, lenders use a law firm or trustee company for the sale. These homes go to the highest bidder. Lenders choose auctions after informing the homeowner about the default and giving a grace period for payment. Local newspapers and online searches can help you find these auctions. Do your research, set a budget and be ready for a quick auction. You might not get a home inspection or have access to the previous homeowner's disclosures.

4

Bank-Owned

If properties don't sell at auction, they become Real Estate Owned (REO) properties under the bank's management. Banks aim to get the best price for these properties on the open market. Websites like RealtyTrac list these properties by location. When negotiating with the bank, remember that they want to sell and recover their losses.

5

Government-Owned

When properties purchased with loans from agencies like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA loans) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA loans) are foreclosed, the government takes and sells them. To buy one, contact a government-registered broker.

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WHERE TO SEARCH FOR FORECLOSED HOMES

Plenty of resources online can help you find homes in some stage of foreclosure. Platforms like Zillow and Redfin allow you to filter for properties in pre-foreclosure or those already foreclosed.

Agency websites like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have information on government-owned foreclosures. These agencies often prioritize sales to first-time homebuyers intending to occupy the property.

If you want to explore more options, Auction.com and ForeclosureListings.com are some popular sites to consider. However, be wary of any extra "convenience" fees.

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How to Buy a Foreclosed Home

Buying a foreclosed home before the 2007–2009 housing crisis presented many challenges. Potential homebuyers had to attend courthouse auctions or sift through extensive legal filings. The aftermath of the subprime meltdown increased the number of available properties and simplified their acquisitions.

Today, the process closely resembles the search for any other type of home. The process and price you pay for a foreclosed property varies based on its current owner and sale method. Here are the steps you can take to prepare for buying a foreclosed home:

1. Dive into Research

Start by understanding the foreclosure landscape. Each state has its own set of rules. Some demand full cash payments at auctions, while others just need a deposit. Figure out which foreclosure type fits your budget. Stay updated with local foreclosure laws, auction methods and any rights original homeowners maintain during the process. You can spot pre-foreclosure listings on multiple listing services (MLS), real estate websites and local newspapers.

2. Know Your Spending Limit

Before eyeing a property, get a clear picture of what you can afford. Check your monthly finances and set a mortgage limit. A good rule of thumb: your mortgage shouldn't be more than 28% of your monthly income. Remember to factor in all costs, from insurance to taxes. Use an online mortgage calculator to help you figure out a realistic budget.

3. Plan Your Payment

Cash or mortgage? Decide early. If you're considering buying at an auction or through REO listings, ensure you're mortgage-ready. Cash purchases are straightforward but not always feasible. If you're going the mortgage route, get prequalified. If you're making a cash offer, have your funds ready.

4. Team Up With an Expert

Foreclosures can be tricky. Get a seasoned real estate agent on your side. Find someone who is knowledgeable in buying foreclosed homes in your area. While going solo might seem cost-effective, a skilled agent can save you time and money. Check their credentials, reviews and track records.

5. Secure Mortgage Pre-Approval

Get a head start with mortgage pre-approval. This gives you an idea of how much a lender might offer, making you a more attractive buyer. It's not a guarantee, but it's a solid start. You don't have to stick with the bank selling the property. Shop around for the best mortgage deals.

6. Make a Smart Offer

Work with your agent to gauge the market and craft a competitive offer. Whether you're bidding at an auction or negotiating directly, have a clear budget in mind. Once you've zeroed in on a home and price, it's offer time. Your agent will guide you on where and how to make your move.

7. Inspect and Appraise

After your offer gets the nod, get the property inspected. A professional will spot potential issues, giving you a clearer picture of what you're getting into. Foreclosed homes often come "as-is," so be prepared for surprises.

8. Tackle Home Liens

Foreclosed properties can come with baggage, like multiple loans. A trusted title company can help you sort through these and clear the path for your particular loan. Once everything's in order, you're on your way to closing.

9. Seal the Deal

Closing on a mortgage involves juggling paperwork and coordinating with various parties. The steps might differ based on the type of foreclosure you're buying. It could be a traditional document-signing affair or a post-auction cash deposit. Lean on your agent and lender for guidance to smoothly close on the home.

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How to Pay for a Foreclosed Home

When considering a foreclosed home, your financing options may differ from those available for traditional home purchases. With the right approach, you can secure a property at a potentially lower cost.

Mortgage and Financing Options for Foreclosed Homes

Navigating a foreclosed home purchase on a tight budget? Several federal programs can make homeownership more attainable, even if you're financially constrained. These programs are designed to assist potential homeowners in various situations, from those eyeing fixer-uppers to first-time buyers.

Government-Sponsored Financing

Several government agencies offer specialized financing options for eligible buyers:

  • 203(k) Loans: The FHA's 203(k) loans cater to those interested in high-risk REO purchases. These loans combine the home purchase and repair costs into one mortgage. The limited version allows for basic repairs up to $35,000 above the sale price. The standard 203(k) loan is ideal for extensive renovations. With a minimum borrowing of $5,000, it doesn’t have a specific maximum dollar limit. An independent consultant will inspect the property to ensure compliance with program guidelines. However, these loans can come with higher interest rates and upfront fees. They might also pay one or two mortgage points, which are upfront fees worth 1% of the principal amount.
  • HomePath: The HomePath program offered by the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) — or Fannie Mae — is a boon for first-time homebuyers. It offers a free online course for first-time homebuyers called "Fannie Mae HomeView®." Completing the course may help participants qualify for assistance when buying their first home.
  • HomeSteps: Freddie Mac’s program offers special financing for its foreclosed properties in select states. Key benefits include no mortgage insurance or appraisal at origination, saving potential homeowners significant amounts. A list of available properties is on the HomeSteps website. HomeSteps is currently available only in the following states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

USDA Loan Program

The Rural Development's Single Family Housing Programs assists low-income individuals who want to live in rural areas. The Section 502 program provides subsidized loan payments for moderate-income households to purchase a property in designated rural areas as their primary residence. Verify your area's eligibility using this map. The Section 504 program offers loans for home repairs and upgrades for those unable to secure bank financing.

Veterans Affairs Loan Program

The Department of Veterans Affairs champions the cause of current service members, veterans and surviving spouses. The VA home loan program can be a pathway to owning repossessed properties. It's an attractive option with benefits like zero down payment loans, reduced closing costs and no mortgage insurance. However, due to the potential repair costs of foreclosures, having a significant down payment and a robust credit score can be advantageous.

Conventional Loans

Conventional loans are standard loans, often preferred for properties in good condition. While some private lenders might be hesitant to finance foreclosed homes due to potential repair costs, obtaining a mortgage pre-approval can give you an edge. This pre-approval showcases your financial credibility and speeds up the purchasing process. Ensuring the property meets the lender's standards is essential, as some might require a thorough inspection before approval.

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Pros and Cons of Buying a Foreclosed Home

Buying a foreclosed home offers you a chance to purchase a property at a reduced price. However, like any discounted purchase, it comes with certain considerations. Below are some of the potential benefits and risks that you should consider when looking for a foreclosed property.

Benefits

Purchasing a foreclosed home can offer several advantages.

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    Lower Prices

    Foreclosed homes are often priced below market value because lenders want to sell them quickly. This allows you to purchase a home at a discount, which can lead to significant savings.

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    Standard Loan Configurations

    Despite the unique bidding process for foreclosures, you can still finance foreclosed homes using conventional or government-backed loans, such as VA, FHA or USDA loans, as long as the home you're considering is livable. If the property has damages, the government might mandate repairs.

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    Reduced Competition

    Not everyone is cut out for the foreclosure market, which can mean fewer bidding wars and more opportunities.

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    Investment Potential

    You can renovate foreclosed homes and either resell them for profit or use them as rental properties. Recognizing this potential can pave the way for long-term financial gains.

Potential Risks

Buying a foreclosed home often comes with risks compared to purchasing an owner-occupied residence.

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    Lengthy Process

    Buying a foreclosed property often involves more paperwork and a longer timeline than standard home purchases. While the closing time can vary due to various factors, a smooth process without unforeseen complications typically ranges from 45 to 90 days after offer acceptance.

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    Maintenance Concerns

    Some homeowners may have no incentive to keep their properties in good shape if they are facing foreclosure. If something breaks, the homeowner won't spend money fixing it, and the problem could worsen over time. When you purchase a foreclosed home, you are responsible for repairing any issues that may exist.

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    As-Is Sales

    The lender's primary objective is to retrieve their money as fast as possible, which usually always means selling the property as-is. There could be issues like damage, debris, mold, pests and overgrown vegetation. You should only buy a foreclosed home if you have significant cash to invest in repairs.

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    Squatter's Rights

    Even if a home undergoes legal foreclosure, someone might still occupy it. Many foreclosed homes remain vacant for extended periods, becoming magnets for squatters. If you purchase a property housing a squatter, you'll need to handle the eviction, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

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    Hidden Costs

    Auctioned properties might come with outstanding debts like back taxes or liens. Various entities, including the IRS or state agencies, might impose these liens, adding unexpected costs to your purchase. It would be best if you settled these debts before finalizing the purchase. Typically, banks clear any liens before they resell a property.

Frequently Asked Questions About Buying a Foreclosed Home

We've compiled frequently asked questions addressing the most common concerns and considerations associated with buying foreclosed homes.

Additional Resources

When considering the purchase of a foreclosed home, arm yourself with the right tools and information. Here are some trusted organizations and tools to guide you on your journey:

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Homebuying: The CFPB offers a suite of tools and resources for homebuyers, including a guide to loan options, closing checklists and more.
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC): The FDIC offers resources and information on foreclosure prevention, understanding your loan and options available to homeowners.
  • Federal Reserve: Offers a guide to the home buying process, including understanding mortgages, the role of credit scores and more.
  • Foreclosure.com: This website offers listings of foreclosed properties across the U.S. They also provide educational articles and resources to guide buyers through the foreclosure process.
  • Making Home Affordable: A government resource that provides tools and programs to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. They offer options for those struggling with their mortgage payments.
  • Mortgage Bankers Association: Provides resources and tools for homebuyers, including calculators, guides and information on different types of loans.
  • National Association of Realtors®: Provides resources, news and research on the foreclosure market. They also offer guidance on navigating short sales and foreclosures.
  • National Community Stabilization Trust (NCST: NCST is a non-profit organization that works to restore vacant and abandoned properties to productive use. They offer programs and resources for potential buyers.
  • National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA): Provides resources and advocacy for fair housing practices, including guidance for those considering purchasing foreclosed homes.
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC): A non-profit organization that offers housing counseling for potential homeowners, including those considering foreclosed properties.
  • NeighborWorks America: A non-profit organization that provides resources and support for potential homeowners, including those looking at foreclosed properties. They offer homebuyer education and counseling.
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): HUD offers a variety of resources for homebuyers, including information on buying a HUD home, which are homes that have been foreclosed on an FHA-insured mortgage.

About Nathan Paulus


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Nathan Paulus is the director of content marketing at MoneyGeek. Nathan has been creating content for nearly 10 years and is particularly engaged in personal finance, investing, and property management. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of St. Thomas Houston.


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