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The next big trend: Foreclosure
The number of foreclosures has jumped in some places. For buyers it's both an opportunity and a risk
February 5, 2004: 4:03 PM EST
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money staff writer

BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) – Terri Moloney, a real estate agent in Gastonia, N.C., used to sell a couple of foreclosed properties a year.

"Now, they've taken over my life," she said. "In the last three years this area has gone from a bustling economy to 'where's my paycheck.'"

Where are the foreclosures?
These 10 counties had the most foreclosures in 2003
County  Number of foreclosures 
Cook County, IL (Chicago) 3,034 
Wayne County, MI (Detroit) 2,998 
Marion County, IN (Indianapolis) 2,214 
Maricop County, AZ (Phoenix) 2,168 
Dallas County, TX (Dallas) 2,039 
Harris County, TX (Houston) 1,901 
Salt Lake County, UT (Salt Lake City) 1,779 
Grainger County, TN 1,774 
Clark County, NV (Las Vegas) 1,657 
Fulton County, GA (Atlanta) 1,622 

In 2003 alone, Moloney sold 168 foreclosed properties, ranging from a $5,000 house in great disrepair to $255,000 house that was virtually abandoned by the owner after his wife died.

Grainger County, in eastern Tennessee, has also had its share of foreclosures. The county has no major city but still had 1,744 foreclosed listings in 2003, according to

"Several furniture plants have closed in the county next door and that's where a great many of our people worked," said Donna Walker, a real estate agent in the county.

In fact, the market for foreclosed homes has grown in many parts of the country in recent years, thanks to unemployment and less stringent lending practices.

Hard times for some, of course, are considered investment opportunities for others. Real estate investors – and homebuyers looking for a break – view the foreclosure market as one big bargain bin.

On the heels of a foreclosure

As we pointed out in our July 2003 article "Foreclosure: Hit or myth?" there are several stages of foreclosure. The first, pre-closure, is the stage at which the owners have defaulted on their mortgage payments but haven't actually gone through foreclosure proceedings. Experts say it's difficult to find desirable properties at this stage.

Next, the property goes up for public auction, but this phase is too risky for most buyers because there is little time for inspections, and owners sometimes have the right to buy back the property within a certain period of time.

The third stage, post-foreclosure, is the most accessible to individual buyers and the least risky. At this point, the property is either owned by a bank or by a government agency such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

According to Robert Irwin, author and veteran real estate investor, the best deals come to those with friends in the foreclosure department of a local bank. The bank-owned properties that aren't scooped up right away by people in the know are typically listed with a real estate agent who lists the property as they would any other house.

You can search these listings at, which charges a $23.80 monthly subscription after a seven-day free trial.

"Turnover of these properties is pretty fast," said Dominic Muttillo, COO for "The average time on the market is about 30 days, though in some places they'll sell in a matter of five days."

According to Muttillo, Cook County, Ill. (Chicago) had the most foreclosures in 2003, with 3,034 foreclosed properties. Counties that are home to Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City also ranked high for foreclosures.

Still, while some cities have a plethora of foreclosures, there are some markets where it's unheard of.

"In California, you're just not going to have many opportunities to buy a foreclosure," said Irwin, explaining that in hot real estate markets homeowners have no problem selling if they need to get out from under their mortgage payments.

The price is right sometimes

In theory, homes owned by banks sell at a discount. These properties are seen as liabilities, so the banks are eager to sell them as quickly as possible.

"We've seen discounts up to 50 percent off, but those are not the norm," said Greg Sullivan, vice president of marketing for But it's more common to see prices 10 percent to 20 percent below market value.

Don't let the perception that foreclosed properties are bargains keep you from doing your market research. Compare the price with what the foreclosed owners paid, assuming they bought it recently, as well as similar properties in the neighborhood.

"These properties are usually in bad shape," said Nik Signorello, a Chicago real estate agent.

Often, people who can't afford to pay their mortgage can't afford to make repairs or pay for regular upkeep. "It's a terrible time and they just don't care," said Signorello.

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In other words, don't expect to walk in and smell fresh cookies in the oven. There might not even be an oven. In fact, garbage, rotting food, and missing light fixtures are par for the course.

Maloney has a $300,000 house on the market. A bargain, right? Only if you like fixer-uppers.

"The owner took the fireplaces, the heat pump, the central vacuum system and everything else he could take with him," said Maloney.

"I've even seen people take the pipes from under the sink," adds Sandy Montanino, a real estate agent in Salt Lake City.

Depending on how much work the house needs, a lender may require more cash down than with a typical loan, said Signorello. "A lot of the buyers I deal with are able to pay in cash."

Banks typically sell foreclosed property "as is" with no warranties, but they do allow time for an inspection. With these properties, an inspection is critical.  Top of page

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