Is there risk in buying distressed properties?

foreclosureby Dan Krell &copy 2009

It’s not a secret that home buyers are flocking to distressed properties for the perceived bargains. Bargain distressed properties (including bank owned homes and short sales) are listed below retail prices, mostly due to the condition and other factors. “Buyer beware” is a saying that home buyers should consider when purchasing distressed properties.

Experienced real estate investors know the risks involved in distressed propeties, which they calculate in their purchase prices. However, the average home buyer may not know the extent of the risk at the exciting prospect of buying a lower priced home.

Not all distressed sales are the same. To understand the differences, you have to know who owns the home as well as the lender’s role in the sale. A short sale is an owner resale where the home owner is selling for less than what is owed to the lender. Although approval from the seller’s lender is required for such a sale, the bank is not the owner yet as the home has not been foreclosed on. On the other hand, bank owned homes (also known as REO property), has been foreclosed on and is now owned by a bank due to non-payment of the mortgage.

During a short sale, the seller’s lender goes through the loss mitigation process to determine how much of a loss they are willing take on the sale. This process is what typically extends the time to closing, sometimes more than three months. Whereas the loss mitigation process is usually completed prior to listing the home, the sale can be delayed too – but usually for title issues.

Both sales require you to purchase the home “as- is;” however because the short sale seller is usually accessible, you may have the opportunity to negotiate some repairs. Additionally, the short sale listing is sometimes in better condition than a bank owned home because the home is usually still occupied by someone as well as having recent updates.

Bank owned homes are vacant and the condition may vary due to the bank’s decision to make repairs prior to listing the home. However, since the home is vacant, vagrants, animals and weather can further deteriorate the condition of the home. If the home is in need of repair, the bank will not make the repairs nor will they allow any repairs to be made prior to settlement. If the previous owner made improvements without permits and/or there is termite damage, you are stuck with any remediation.

A short sale home seller will usually provide common ownership community (such as HOA) resale documents to you as required. Fines incurred for late fees and other issues are usually cleared by the seller. However when purchasing a bank owned home, you typically need to approach the common ownership community to negotiate any fines and pay for the resale documents.

Additionally, sellers in both sales urge you to use the title agent assisting them with the sale. However, you should choose a title attorney to represent you to minimize title issues and ensure you have a marketable title.

Without risk, there is no reward. You cannot entirely eliminate risk; however, due diligence, conducting inspections, and hiring the proper representation can reduce the risk that is inherent in purchasing a distressed property.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of August 17, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Dan Krell