If you’ve wanted to buy real estate as an investment, you might consider buying a house at a foreclosed property auction. You can get a great value, but the process can be risky and you need to be well prepared. Here’s what you should know.
Why property is sold at auction
Homes are generally sold at auction for two reasons. The first is that a lender has foreclosed because a homeowner/borrower has defaulted on a mortgage. The other is when a county government seizes a house and forecloses because a homeowner has failed to pay property taxes. In the first instance, a trustee for the lender sells the house at a property auction to recover the outstanding balance of the mortgage. If the house cannot be sold for enough to satisfy the mortgage, the homeowner still owes the balance.
Two styles of property auction
In-person property auctions for mortgage or tax delinquencies are set for a specific day and time each month at either the county courthouse or a rented space such as a hotel ballroom.
It’s increasingly common now for property auctions to be held online through sites like www.auction.com. These sites provide basic information about the property such as when it was built, its estimated resale value, the property auction’s opening bid amount and more.
Buying a house through any means is a complex legal process, but this is especially true with property auctions. You may be able to scoop up a deal, but you can also buy property that turns out to be a mistake. So if you’re serious about buying a house at auction, you should definitely enlist professional help.
It’s vital to have a title company search for any liens on property that interests you. If you have the winning bid, you’ll be required to pay off the liens as well as the purchase price. A real estate agent experienced in foreclosures and short sales can help you with matters such as determining a possible rental rate on a property or whether the estimated resale value of a foreclosed home listing is reasonable. You’ll also need an experienced real estate lawyer to help you understand the various contracts, disclosure and escrow documents involved in property auctions. You may also want to enlist a contractor or appraiser to help you determine how much the house is really worth once any necessary repairs are factored in. Auctioned properties are sold “as-is.”
You can find a list of properties to be auctioned in person on the county government website or posted on a public bulletin board at the courthouse. For online auction listings, browse sites like www.auction.com and www.realtytrac.com. Some properties that are listed end up not being auctioned because the homeowners are able to catch up on their payments or otherwise work things out with their lender.
Often you will not be able to inspect properties to be auctioned. You can drive by a property, but actually entering it is a criminal offense in most states. In some cases, a real estate agent working with the property may hold an open house. Keep in mind that homes often have not been well maintained when their owners cannot afford to pay their mortgage or taxes.
Your first step for property auctions is to register and pay a deposit, usually five to ten percent of the expected sales price of a property you are considering. You’ll also be required to show proof that you have the available funds. You must be able to pay in full upon winning the bid or, in some cases, by the next day at the latest. You may also be required to pay various auction fees. Payments at in-person auctions are accepted in cash or by bank money order or cashier’s check. The deal is not final until you have clear title, and that can take as long as ten days. During that time the current owner could file a legal objection and find the funds to catch up on their delinquent mortgage or taxes. As with a conventional purchase transaction, you should purchase title insurance against any surprise liens you might discover after you close.