Five Fatal Foreclosure Flaws
Gazing up a tree-lined street featuring foreclosed properties, you may think theres homeowners gold in them there hills. But beware before bargain-shopping. Foreclosed homes often come with a variety of home repair and financial issues that can mean more expense and trouble than youve originally budgeted for.
Besides taking the common-sense steps of knowing exactly what you can afford and determining your financial tolerance for the seasonal surprises of homeownership, its important to understand the primary pitfalls that foreclosed properties involve. According to pros in the field, here are the top five fatal foreclosure flaws.
An inheritance of hidden debt. With a foreclosed property, there can often be expensive surprises lurking behind the posted sale price. All a foreclosure does is wipe out prior private debt, says New Jersey-based land use attorney Gordon Gemma. So the first thing you have to do is determine whether theres any type of public debt against the property, like real estate tax or income tax. That means conducting a thorough title search, which will uncover past problems that could become future obstacles to a pleasant homeownership experience.
A price thats no bargain. Also take care to keep from getting caught up in the excitement of a hot opportunity and paying more than a property is actually worth. Though most foreclosure sales do indeed have advantageous price points, the financial institution behind the sale is ultimately looking to recoup the value of the defaulted mortgage. If that mortgage value doesnt match up with the present value of the property, pass up the so-called deal and shop elsewhere.
Deferred maintenance that leads to damage, danger and debt. The road to foreclosure usually includes a steep financial decline with dangerously deferred property maintenance along the way. It all leads to what home inspector and building failures researcher Daniel Friedman calls the Three Ds of building defects: Dangerous, Doesnt work and rapid Damage.
Very often, when people have the bad luck to have a home foreclosed, theyre in financial trouble. And when people are in financial trouble, they stop spending money on the house well before its taken away from them, says Friedman. So one of the questions you would certainly ask, in addition to how long the house has been empty, is how long hasnt it been getting repair and maintenance?
The answer to this key question can mean the difference between a recent roof leak thats easily fixed, and a longtime leak that has fostered such structural threats as excessive moisture, rot, and an invitation for insect infestations. Youll need to get a very clear picture of exactly what cosmetic and structural issues youll be buying into with a foreclosed property; determine the costs involved. If you go through with the purchase, perform triage to sort immediate needs from would-like-to-haves.
Elusive environmental issues. Sometimes foreclosed properties involve deeper, broader dangers that add a tidy sum to the reduced-price purchase. Such environmental threats as a leaky underground tank that impacts you as well as your neighbor can saddle you with very expensive responsibility once you step into the chain of title.
Abandoned homes, especially those that have had heat cut off, may also develop toxic mold problems. Minor mold is easily fixed but a major outbreak can render the home uninhabitable.
Sub-prime inspection. A thorough professional inspection is key to any home purchase process─particularly one involving a foreclosed property─and assuming you can spot trouble on your own or otherwise forgo an unbiased evaluation leads to sub-prime information for your decision.
Buyers have to take a very realistic approach not only with the cost of the building but the problems with it, notes home inspector Joseph Corsetto, principal of Shelterworks inspection and consulting in Flanders, New Jersey. And heres where a home inspection is worth its salt if its done correctly. Foreclosure shoppers can locate qualified professional inspection assistance through the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).
Bottom line, dont let the lure of a low-priced property distract you from the due diligence required for a smooth and secure home purchase. Adds Gemma, Just because youre buying a property in foreclosure doesnt mean you have to forego all the things youd normally think about You cant close your eyes.
Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the shows podcast or sign-up for Toms free weeklye-newsletter, visit the programs website.
Tom's latest book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure, is available in bookstores everywhere and online.