How to Find Foreclosures and Government-Seized Homes

Mixed race real estate agent standing near house talking on cell phone
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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 previously were offered as short sales end up as foreclosures, which eventually are deeded to a bank. The reason why purchasers may refuse to buy a short sale home could be any of the following:

  • Sellers stripped the foreclosure home's assets and/or vandalized the property.
  • The bank refused to accept less than its present mortgage balance.
  • Buyers passed over the short sale in favor of a hassle-free purchase.
  • The location of the home and/or neighborhood was undesirable.
  • The listing was overpriced at its mortgaged amount.
  • The seller did not qualify for a short sale.

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t assume that every foreclosure is a bargain—some can be financial nightmares.
  • Inexperienced foreclosure buyers may want to hire a real estate agent to help them navigate the process.
  • There are several ways to find foreclosures, including through your agent, websites of bank-owned properties, and government agencies.
  • You can also try bidding for a foreclosure on the courthouse steps, but be aware that you’ll be competing with professionals.

Working With Real Estate Agents

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 may want to hire a real estate agent for guidance and assistance.

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

Real Estate Signs

Driving through neighborhoods where you want to buy is another great way to find foreclosures. The signs might indicate foreclosure, bank-owned, or bank reposession.

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 that are not yet listed. If you are working with a buyer's agent, you can ask them to obtain this information for you.

Major Bank Websites

Many banks maintain online lists of foreclosed properties, but not every bank will sell to individual buyers. One of the more common practices among large lenders to dispose of REOs is to bundle them into a package and sell it at a discount to investors.

National lenders that maintain websites listing bank-owned properties include Bank of America, CitiBank, and Wells Fargo.

Government Agencies and Other Options

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.

  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of its foreclosure homes.
  • The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) lists foreclosure homes through its HomePath website.
  • Department of the Treasury lists homes seized by the Internal Revenue Service.

Private-sector sources also are available to find foreclosure homes:

Asset Management Companies

Some lenders hire asset management companies to handle foreclosures on their behalf. Wells Fargo uses Premiere Asset Services. Keystone Asset Management is a national agency that deals with defaults.

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 bidders, sometimes you can find a gem in their inventories. Popular auction houses include Auction.com, J. P. King, United Country Auction Services, Williams & Williams, and Bid4Assets.

Internet Foreclosure Companies

Web-based foreclosure companies charge a fee for providing you with a list of foreclosure properties, because it takes time, trouble, and expertise to locate and assemble accurate national foreclosure lists. You may find that it's worthwhile 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 that you generally are required to pay cash and buy the property sight unseen, and you could be assuming liens or judgments and could be forced to pay delinquent property taxes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does "foreclosed" mean?

Foreclosure is the process lenders use to seize a home when the owner has defaulted on their home loan. Default is typically when the borrower has missed a specific number of monthly payments. A foreclosed home has been seized by the lender, who is attempting to sell it.

What is pre-foreclosure?

Pre-foreclosure is the initial stage of the foreclosure process. Once a homeowner has missed three months of payments, lenders typically consider them to be in default. The lender then sends a notice of default, which starts the pre-foreclosure process. The notice of default lets the borrower know that the lender is starting the foreclosure process. The homeowner can still work with the lender during that period to avoid foreclosure.