Looking to acquire a property? You don’t have to limit yourself to the traditional channels of searching real estate listings and working with real estate agents. You can also purchase a property at auction.
Should You Buy A House At Auction?
Pros and Cons of Auctions
The benefits of buying at auction include expanding your options and possibly purchasing at a discount. You may face less or more competition to buy a property compared with buying the traditional way, but you’ll also be dealing with a different pool of potential buyers—often, experienced investors.
Perhaps the biggest risk of buying at auction is that you’ll have limited knowledge of the properties for sale, making an expensive misstep a very real possibility. And, as with any real estate purchase, you’ll need to read, understand, and sign lots of paperwork (ideally with the help of a real estate attorney).
Real-estate lore is rich with tales of homes bought at auction for well below market value, and such bargains do exist. However, auctions are generally a riskier way to acquire property than buying through the usual process. That reality makes it vitally important to be well-educated about how real estate auctions work and prudent about the properties you consider bidding on.
To help you avoid making a big mistake, this article will explain the basics of residential property auctions so you can decide if this option might work for you—whether you want to live in the property or use it purely as an investment.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
When a homeowner has not paid the mortgage for at least a few months they may fall into default and end up in the foreclosure process. When this happens, the bank files a notice of default with the county recorder. If the homeowner does not pay the balance owed—or renegotiate the mortgage with the lender—the lender can put the home up for auction and force the homeowner out for nonpayment. These foreclosure auctions are held by bank-hired trustees.
Property Tax Default
Another way a home ends up on the auction block is when the owner does not pay the assessed property taxes. In these cases, it is the unpaid tax authority, rather than the bank, that seizes the property. The resulting tax lien auction is conducted by a local sheriff, clerk, or the county or local authority's comptroller’s office.
Attending the Auction
Regardless of the auction type, these events may take place at physical locations such as local government courthouses and hotel conference rooms, and these in-person auctions are completed rapidly. Real estate auctions also increasingly take place online, and online auctions may last for days or weeks.
Buying homes at auction has been and will continue to be popular, according to Earl White, co-founder of House Heroes LLC, a Florida real estate investment company that purchases houses, condos, and residential vacant land. “Owner occupants on a budget and real estate professionals migrate to sources where there is hopefully less competition
“However, foreclosure auctions don’t provide the discounts that existed during the time of the [housing] crisis,” White continues, explaining that when fewer properties are available, buyers are highly motivated because of home appreciation and favorable mortgage rates, and online auctions have increased competition and driven up prices.
Finding Real Estate Auctions
One way to find auctions is by contacting local governments directly, or visiting their websites for information, then following up by phone to confirm the details. Another is through sites like RealtyTrac and Auction.com. However, online information is not always accurate.
Properties may be listed that are in pre-foreclosure because the owner is behind on payments. These properties may never go up for sale because their owners catch up on payments or come to an arrangement with their lenders.
Local real estate agents and brokers can also be valuable resources. But you may not find them eager to help because agents and brokers don’t automatically earn commissions on live auctions. However, these realtors can earn commissions through online auctions.
Multiple Listing Service Data
Direct multiple listing service (MLS) reports are far more valuable to potential buyers than online listings, according to White, because they contain the full data for the listing, including photos and, most important, non-public broker comments. “Non-public comments are important because they specify critical information impacting sale price and days-on-market. For example, [these MLS reports contain information on] property defects, financing options, occupancy, and tenant leases."
The best way to assess an auction property is to work with real estate agents, appraisers, contractors and others who understand construction and remodeling costs and can accurately estimate the property's value and the cost of the work it needs.
While rules vary by location, MLS and county records are often only available to real estate licensees, White says. In his experience, they are usually happy to help free of charge if you contact them.
White also notes that in-person auctions have been disappearing, as even smaller counties have been converting their in-person auctions to online ones. Many locales have where both tax and foreclosure auctions fully online.
Keep in mind that foreclosure auctions are often postponed or canceled, even at the last minute. The lender might not have obtained all the paperwork it needs, or the borrower may have worked out a solution to avoid foreclosure.
What Bidders Need to Know
Before bidding at a real estate auction, you need to understand the risk you’re taking. A bad purchase could haunt you for years. You also need to understand the auction’s rules and be prepared to follow them before trying to participate.
You will have to register and submit a refundable deposit of 5% to 10% of the property’s expected selling price to the entity holding the auction. If the auction is happening in person, be sure to check in at least an hour before the scheduled start and get the official card you’ll raise when you’re ready to bid.
Winning a property at auction can work in two different ways.
The starting price of the auction may be the balance owed on the mortgage or a lower amount designed to spur bidding. In a foreclosure auction, the lender is not allowed to profit from the auction. Often, these properties are sold at a loss; if there is a profit, it is supposed to go to the foreclosed homeowner after the mortgage and any other liens are paid. Auction properties aren't always great deals—for example, the auctioneer could set a hidden reserve price on a property, which is the minimum that must be bid.
“Whether a buyer attends the auction in-person or online, they must keep in mind that there is a threshold price for every property where a wise purchase can become a foolish purchase, and they must not allow the event, venue, or their emotions to sway their decision,” advises Ron Humes, a realtor since 2000 and current VP of operations for Post Modern Marketing in Lexington, Ky.
The Problem of Accessing a Property
Auction properties rarely provide potential buyers at the same level of access that traditionally sold properties do. You probably won’t be able to walk through the property with your agent at your convenience, though some auction companies do offer open houses.
“I personally would never recommend a client purchase a property remotely without first conducting the eyeball test,” says David Roberson, a real estate attorney and broker in San Jose, Calif. He and his wife own 22 rental properties in three states, and he is the owner and operator of Silicon Valley Property Management Group. Either you or your trusted investment team should thoroughly evaluate both the real estate you are considering and the people you are dealing with before obligating yourself legally or financially.
Similarly, Humes cautions that sources that report on the current or future value of a property can be very inaccurate unless there has been an onsite evaluation by professionals who know how to gather and assess all the necessary details. The best way to assess an auction property is to work with pros—real estate agents, appraisers, and contractors—who understand construction and remodeling costs and who can accurately assess the property’s current and future value and the cost of the work it needs.
Property Condition and Inspections
The house could have all kinds of problems—remember, this was a house that used to belong to someone who couldn’t afford the mortgage or the property taxes, so they probably couldn’t afford any routine maintenance or repairs, either. Furthermore, once this owner realized they would be losing the home, they may have intentionally neglected it or even seriously damaged it. Also, properties that have sat vacant may have been vandalized or have had squatters.
Assume that if the property looks terrible from the outside, it probably looks terrible on the inside too. Auction properties are sold as is, and you’ll need to be able to afford any and all repairs. Tempting though it may be, you should not trespass to get a better idea of the property’s condition.
You may have seen flippers doing this on TV—entering backyards, peering in, or even climbing through windows—but it’s not legal. And you definitely don’t want to disturb anyone occupying the home, not only out of courtesy but also for your safety. Seek information about the property’s ownership history from local government records, talk to local real estate agents, and respectfully request information from neighbors.
Auction properties often do not allow a home inspection or any legal way to view the interior in person. If you can't afford the risk of buying a property in poor condition, stick with auctions that allow you to inspect the property before bidding. Without this information, it can be hard to know what you're getting into, what a property's repair costs will be, or its true value until after you've become the owner.
Even if you can get a home inspection, any inspection has its limits. Problems behind walls, in ceilings, and under floors might not be apparent until you take possession. If the utilities are turned off, you may not be able to detect leaks, electrical problems, broken appliances, or malfunctioning HVAC equipment.
Payment Options: Plan Ahead
Buying a property at auction usually requires a lot of cash. Each auction company and county government has its own requirements for payment, but you will probably need cash just to secure your right to bid. Down payment amounts and methods of purchasing often depend on the property and the auction house. More flexible financing options may be available by purchasing a bank-owned property the traditional way: Auctions are not the only way to buy foreclosures.
As for payment, bidders at an auction should bring cash, a money order, or a cashier's check for the sum required by the auction holder. Typically, you will have to pay for the property in full immediately after winning the auction. Occasionally, you may have until the next day to complete payment. Failure to complete the payment may result in forfeiting your deposit and being banned from future auctions. Be prepared to provide proof of funds to show you’re able to complete the purchase. If you’re bidding as an entity, such as an LLC, trust, or limited partnership instead of as an individual, you may need to show your entity documents.
Winners go through escrow and closing just as they would with any other home purchase. Bidders at property auctions are often real estate investors who can afford to pay cash. For auctions that allow financed purchases, you’ll need to get prequalified ahead of time.
Some auction houses prefer that you work with their affiliated lenders and will have those lenders on site at the auction. However, do your research beforehand to determine the interest rates available from competing lenders. This information may give you some leverage.
Also, be sure that you understand the auction fees you will be expected to cover. “Homes purchased at auctions many times have costs and fees from auctioneers, banks, attorneys, and other companies required to bring the property to the auction,” Humes said. “It is not uncommon to find 10% auction fees, bank interest and penalties, attorney fees, 12% sale carrying fees, property preparation fees, and the like that are passed on to the buyer.”
Check for Any Claims, Liens, and Occupants
Before you bid, you’ll want to hire a title search company to see who might hold liens against the property. If you win it, you’ll become responsible for any liens, which means more money out of your pocket.
There may be other claims against the home—not just tax liens, but contractor liens or a second mortgage. Bidders should check with the auction company to ensure that the property has a clear title. If you do win an auction, you’ll want to buy title insurance during escrow or immediately after closing to protect yourself against any liens not uncovered during the title search.
Also, in some cases, the (former) owner or a squatter will be occupying the property, meaning you will have to evict them—a process that can be unpleasant at best, and lengthy and expensive at worst. To simplify the process, you may want to offer them several thousand dollars up front to move out and hand over the keys.
Refrain from doing anything until you hold the title. Avoid the urge to start renovations or move into the property immediately after getting your certificate of sale. You’ll still need to wait up to 10 days or so to receive your certificate of title. The property is not truly yours until you hold that certificate; the owner could still retain their right to the home by filing an objection to the sale with the court or by paying off the loan.
The Bottom Line
Foreclosed homes may be financially appealing, but there are many obstacles to consider before buying. Also, just because a home is for sale at auction doesn't mean that you'll be able to get it at a good price (or that the home is a good deal at any price—it could be a money pit). But for savvy, intelligent, and motivated individuals, property auctions are worth exploring as a way to pick up a home or an investment property inexpensively.
That being said, consider non-auction properties as an alternative. “It can be possible to find a better deal when negotiating with a seller who has equity in a property and can negotiate on their own behalf without all of the auction’s affiliated penalties and fees,” Humes advises. “You may also have more competition at auctions from companies that purchase properties to flip as a business model. Auctioned homes are not always the best deal for the average homebuyer.”
If you're interested in trying to pick up a bargain property at an auction, there's a lot to learn. Auctions are a riskier way to purchase a property than through a real estate agent. It's important to be extremely well-educated about the process and about the properties you are interested in bidding on. Working with a local real estate agent or broker to identify potential properties may help, though they may not be interested unless you can reach a compensation agreement.
Finally, make sure to thoroughly review all the auction rules and conduct due diligence on the property before you bid. Seek the counsel of a real estate attorney—ideally one experienced with foreclosure sales—to make sure you understand what your responsibilities and liabilities will be if you’re the winning bidder.
FALL HOME MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST
You’re moving and it’s time to pack your kitchen. From appliances to crystal wine glasses, the kitchen runs the gamut of special packing needs and techniques. But first you need to decide the timing. If you’re okay living off restaurant food or eating off paper plates, you can pack up your kitchen all at once. Many people decide to do it in stages, packing up the things you don’t use first, and saving the everyday items until right before the move. Once you figure out which approach works best for you, you can get started tackling kitchen packing by type of item.
If you’re bringing your refrigerator with you, there are a few steps you’ll need to take time to prepare it for the move. Start by considering how you want to handle any food you don’t want to take with you to your new home. You can share frozen and fresh foods with neighbors and friends, and consider bringing extras like condiments and salad dressings to the office and put them in the shared fridge for your coworkers.
Contact an appliance specialist to find out what needs to be done to make sure your appliance can be safely moved. That might include addressing high-voltage connections, disconnecting the water line, draining the reservoir, and, in some older models, bolting down the motor and/or compressor.
The day before the move, defrost the freezer and clean the entire refrigerator with warm water and a mild soap. You can then prop the doors open overnight to help it dry completely. The next day, use masking tape to secure all the drawers and compartments so they won’t get damaged during the move. Remove shelves and pack them in a separate box.
For your plates, bowls and glasses, pick up dish boxes, which are moving boxes specifically designed to protect your dishes. They’re built with an extra layer of cardboard, which will give the padding needed to endure the bumps and jostling that can occur during a move. Dish sleeves, which are made from a thin, foam material, come in small and large sizes, and give each plate a safe cushion of protection. Put one plate in each sleeve and stack them vertically in your dish box. Then add crumpled newspaper or packing paper to fill the gaps in the box. The more extra padding, the better!
Glasses, teapots and vases — anything that’s “hollow” inside — should be filled with crumpled paper before being individually wrapped. That helps keep these delicate items stronger and they’ll be less likely to break if they end up getting stacked under a heavier box. Be sure to order dish boxes and other packing supplies ahead of time, so you’ll have what you need when you start.
You can gather silverware by type and wrap them in dish towels or ziplock bags. For steak and cutting knives, cover them with the blade sheaths that came with them if you still have them. If not, you can create your own protective sheaths with pieces of cardboard. Cut the pieces into strips bigger than the blade; place the blade between two pieces of cardboard and secure with tape. For other kitchen tools, group by size, and pack short, medium, and longer items together, respectively. You can either wrap them in packing paper or use shoe boxes or food storage containers to keep the tools organized in the main box.
If you still have the original boxes and packaging for small appliances like your toaster, coffee pot, and slow cooker, clean the appliances and repackage them like they were new. They’ll stay snug and safe during your move. If you don’t have the original packaging, you can take a large box and place a layer of packing paper or a heavy towel in the bottom to help fortify it. Then disassemble the appliance (if it’s supposed to be disassembled) and wrap each element separately (lids, inserts, attachments, etc.) with plenty of packing paper or bubble wrap. Put heavy pieces (like the pot from your crockpot) on the bottom of the box, and carefully place the smaller parts inside or around the bigger pieces.
Pull out all the pots and pans on to your counter and organize by stackability. Put frying pans on the bottom, then baking and casserole pans, then sauce pans. Although pans are durable, it’s smart to separate each with some packing paper to avoid scratches. Individually wrap the lids and wedge them into the corners of the box, including plenty of extra padding around them.
Treat baking sheets similarly to pots and pans, lying flat at the bottom of the box, and separating each with a layer of packing paper. Carefully wrap breakable baking pans in bubble sheets or multiple layers of packing paper and place smaller pans inside bigger pans. Fill any open spaces with dish towels, oven mitts, or more packing paper.
Now is a great time to lighten up your pantry and donate to your local food bank. It’ll give you less to carry on moving day, and you’ll be helping out your old neighborhood by providing quality food to folks in need. Pack or toss the open items — like flour, rice, and spices. But any canned food, dry pasta, beans or rice that’s never been open can be donated. Just make sure you’ve saved a few easy-to-make essentials — like your favorite soup or boxes of macaroni and cheese — to keep you going the first week in your new home.
Use a smaller box for packing up the pantry items you’ll be taking with you. These items will probably be heavy, and it’s easier to move heavy items in small boxes. Start with the heavy stuff on the bottom, like canned foods. If you tend to keep your sugar or flour in their original, open containers in your pantry, transfer them to food storage containers or Ziplock bags prior to packing. You don’t want to open up a box full of powder when you get to your new home. Individually wrap spices and place soft items, like bags of rice, nuts, or dried fruit in the nooks and crannies of the box. As always, use as much crumpled packing paper as you need to fill the box.
If you keep cleaning supplies in your kitchen, pull out the things you know you’ll need to do your final cleaning and set them aside in a tote or bucket. This might include dish soap for those last-minute pieces you forgot to pack, sponges and gloves, spray cleaner, scouring tools, and paper towels.
For the remaining items, consolidate whatever is left with the other cleaning tools and supplies in your house. If you want to avoid the hassle of packing the cleaning products altogether, you can gift them to your neighbors. But if you’d rather bring them to your new home, there are a few tips for safe packing. Place a bath towel on the bottom of a box, then carefully package each of the cleaning items to help protect against spills. For open bottles of cleaning solution, unscrew the top, place a layer of cling wrap over the opening, and then screw the top back on. Then wrap the entire container with several layers of cling wrap and tape securely. This double protection will help contain leaking if there are spills during the move.
For many homes, the kitchen is the center, where everyone gathers to eat and catch up and laugh. It may be one of the last rooms you decide to pack. But with a focused plan on how to organize, wrap, pack, and protect your kitchen items, you can box up the room pretty quickly and be ready to recreate that new gathering place in your new home in no time.
Did you know that approximately 1 in 4 first time homebuyers will use gift funds to purchase their home? According to the National Association of Realtors Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers, 24% of first time homebuyers used gift funds for their down payments. Since the rules regarding gift funds vary by loan type, check out these tips to ensure a smoother loan process.
Gift funds for mortgages have specific rules on who the gift can come from. Most loans allow gift funds to come from immediate family members such as parents, siblings, spouses, and domestic partners or close extended family such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The gift funds must be given with the expectation that they are a gift and that the funds will not be paid back.
The amount of the gift funds that can be received will vary based on loan type and sometimes the buyer’s credit score. For example, for conventional loans, if the buyer is putting down more than 20% then all of the down payment can be gifted. If it’s less than 20%, then a portion of the down payment must come from the buyer’s own funds. With FHA loans, all of the down payment can be gifted unless the credit score is below 620. If the credit score is below 620, 3.5% of the down payment must come from the buyer’s own funds and the gift funds received can be used towards additional down payment or closing costs. As a side note for the gift fund donor, tax law restricts how much money can be gifted to a family member per year tax free. Be sure to check with an accountant to see what current law allows.
When giving gift funds for a mortgage, the lender is going to require a gift letter. This letter typically includes donor name, relationship to the borrower, date and amount of the gift given, and proof it was received. The lender may also require bank statements from the donor depending on loan type. The reason for this is that the lender must be sure the donor has the ability to give the gift.
Understandably, some family members are uncomfortable sharing their financial information with other family members. Conventional loans allow the donor to wire the gift funds at closing and thus negate the need for bank statements. Another alternative is to receive gift funds from the donor as early as possible in the home search process. When a borrower begins the loan process they must provide the previous 2 months bank statements. Any funds that are already in the account at that time are considered “seasoned” and would not require additional documentation.
Since gift fund rules vary depending on loan type, it’s best to consult a mortgage professional to assist the buyer with the specific guidelines and documentation required by the buyer and the donor to ensure a smooth loan process and closing.
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