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Foreclosing on Real Estate Opportunities

Jul 7, 2008
You're a new home buyer. You recognize there is an opportunity to purchase a home that was once out of reach for you and your family and you're scouting the raft of foreclosures in your price range.

It's exciting to contemplate finding an affordable home - perhaps one that needs a little TLC - and enjoying the many benefits of home ownership. As a former licensed real estate agent and business journalist who have purchased such homes in the past, I both congratulate and caution you.

First rule - educate yourself about home buying. Second rule - get yourself a good buyer's agent. Finally, go in search of your ideal place with eyes wide open! Unexpected things often happen to foreclosed homes. It's as if the house almost knows it has been abandoned and begins to deteriorate - frequently helped along by vandals or an occasional squatter.

Foreclosed homes often have a "look" about them that starts at the curb. Once neat landscaping gets overgrown, grass turns brown, flowers give up their blooms. Fortunately, this is purely cosmetic and, as a buyer of a property in distress, you can easily get past this condition and picture what a little water and trimming could do.

Look around. What's the neighborhood like? If it's the worst house on a very nice block, that's probably a positive for you - an investment in future appreciation if you can grab the house for much less than neighboring comps not in foreclosure. If it's the best house on a block of dilapidated rentals with cars on blocks, brown lawns and bars on windows, you might want to look elsewhere for a better future appreciation value.

As you take the optimistic view, someone else might see a different kind of opportunity. One that is not quite so positive. A derelict front yard and a "Bank Owned" for sale sign tells people of lesser character than you, that a house is empty. Think of all that copper tucked inside the air conditioner. And, how about those plumbing fixtures? Some foreclosed homes have been so stripped of copper, aluminum, and anything else that's got recycle value that they no longer qualify for real estate loans. Look carefully at the heating and cooling system to see if it is still fully intact. If it's not, you and your agent may use this defect as leverage for a better price.

Some homes in distress have suffered from neglect for years. Therefore it's essential that you and your agent look at the things which would cost the most to replace and repair. Start at the top with the roof. Is there green moss decorating the shingles? Is the roof straight and true or does the surface have little hills and valleys? Look at the ceilings inside the house for signs of a leaking roof. If you see stains, go back outside and look at the roof again, or see if there's open attic space to look for the source of a leak.

If a roof obviously has to be replaced or needs serious repair, calculate that cost into your offer.

Next, pay attention to your feet! Walk through the house and be sensitive to soft spots in the flooring. Look for floors that slope or carpeted surfaces that feel "mushy." Is the house on a slab or raised foundation? Each style will have its own vulnerabilities and foundations are usually expensive and time consuming to fix. Sometimes, with hardwood floors, it's a mere matter of replacing some boards. In other cases, a foundation may have shifted and could be weakening the entire structure. A savvy real estate agent will be able to tell you some approximate costs for repairs to big ticket items such as roofs and foundations.

You'll also find that your nose comes in handy when home buying. Be sniffing the air to discern if you smell residual "cat" or if there may be something more concerning, such as mold, in the structure. Frequently, carpeting in foreclosed homes is stained and there's an unpleasant odor in the air. Some of this develops just because a house has been closed up for a long time. It's easily remedied when a happy homeowner opens windows and doors, cleans carpets and mops floors. But, a pervasive odor can mean there is a leak somewhere - from plumbing, the roof or an appliance. Given long enough, any moisture can turn to mold which often makes people ill. Getting rid of mold is seldom easy as it has a way of traveling and hiding behind walls and under floorboards.

While keeping your eyes open and nose in the air, it's essential that buyers of foreclosed homes also open their minds. You'll seldom find a pristine property at a rock bottom, bargain basement price. Foreclosed homes usually require imagination from the buyer - an ability to look beyond what is to what can be. Some of the work requires elbow grease and paint - cheap and easy to come by! If other fixes require professional help or entire systems need replacing, make sure those costs are factored into the offer make.

Be realistic about your ability to afford to turn the house in great distress into the house of your dreams.
About the Author
Come visit us to learn about the beauty of Sonoma County Real Estate or if you are considering purchasing real estate in Sonoma County
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