How to Find Foreclosures and Government-Seized Homes

Guidance and Home Listings

Exterior View of Home with Foreclosure Sign
••• DreamPictures / Getty Images

Finding foreclosures is easy in depressed markets, but it's also possible in strong real estate markets. You'll find a greater number of foreclosures in falling real estate markets.

Many pre-foreclosure homes that were once offered as short sales end up as foreclosures, which are eventually deeded to the bank. The reason why purchasers may refuse to buy a short sale home could be any of the following:

Finding and Buying Foreclosures

Not every foreclosure is a bargain, and some can morph into unexpected nightmares. There are drawbacks to buying foreclosures. Still, some foreclosed homes are diamonds waiting to be polished. Inexperienced foreclosure buyers might want to hire a real estate agent for guidance and assistance. There are several ways to find foreclosures described below.

Real Estate Agents

Agents have direct access to tools that consumers don't, like the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which they use to share information about properties.

You can also ask your buyer's agent to search for REOs, real estate owned by lenders. If you see a listing agent's name over and over, pull up that agent's profile and look at his or her listings. You will probably find a ton of foreclosures at your fingertips.

Real Estate Signs

Driving through distressed neighborhoods where you want to buy is another great way to find foreclosures. The signs might read:

  • Foreclosure
  • Bank-Owned
  • Bank Repo

Call the agent whose name is on the sign and inquire about other foreclosure listings that may be coming on the market. Agents who specialize in foreclosures sometimes wait weeks while bank management approves the list price, so you can get a jump on other buyers by asking about new foreclosures not yet listed. If you are working with a buyer's agent, you can ask your agent to obtain this information for you.

Major Bank Websites

Many banks maintain online lists of foreclosed properties. Not every bank will sell to individual buyers. A more common practice among the large lenders to dispose of REOs is to bundle them into a package and sell that package at a discount to investors.

A few national lenders who maintain websites of bank-owned properties are:

  • Bank of America
  • Chase
  • U.S. Bank
  • Wells Fargo

Asset Management Companies

Some lenders hire an asset management company to handle foreclosures on the lender's behalf. Wells Fargo uses Premiere Asset Services. Keystone Asset Management is a national agency that deals with defaults.

Government Agencies

Some government agencies require you to retain the services of a real estate broker to make an offer to purchase. Others will let you submit offers on your own.

Auction Houses

Auction companies hold huge auctions, sometimes selling as many as 100 homes or more in a single day. While many experts agree that auction companies often get higher prices due to the auction frenzy created among its bidders, sometimes you can find a gem in their inventory.

  • Real Estate Disposition Corporation
  • J. P. King
  • United Country Auction Services
  • Williams & Willaims
  • Bid4Assets

Internet Foreclosure Companies

  • Web-based foreclosure companies charge a fee for providing you with a list of foreclosure properties. The reason they charge is because t it takes time, trouble, and expertise to locate and assemble accurate national foreclosure lists. You may find it's worth it to let companies like Foreclosure.com and RealtyTrac search for you. 

Courthouse Steps Auctions

You might also want to try your hand at bidding for a foreclosure on the courthouse steps. Beware that professionals often rule these premises. The downside is you generally are required to pay cash and buy the property sight unseen, and you could be assuming liens or judgments and be forced to pay delinquent property taxes.