While REO properties (“real estate owned” bank foreclosures) can appear on the surface to be great deals, make sure you’re aware of these potential pitfalls that could mean unexpected gargantuan costs down the road. These hazards should normally be avoided even when acquiring non-foreclosed investment properties. However, there is an even greater danger with REO’s. In many instances, water and electricity have been turned off by the bank that owns the property. This safeguards them from further property damage in case of any leaks or winter freeze-ups.
However, banks that own REO’s tend to be sticklers in the adage “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) when they place their inventory of foreclosed homes for sale on the market – and they require all offers be in “as is” condition. Also, they usually refuse to turn the water and electricity back on prior to closing. So you’ll be in the dark, quite literally, regarding your house inspection.
When buying a foreclosed home, make sure you get a very experienced house inspection company to go over the property in tremendous detail. If they can’t make a determination about some of the following major hazards, you’ll have to build in a slush fund for the probability that one or more of these hazards are present. Crunch your offer numbers accordingly…
Buying a property with mold is a major headache. While the reasons for the mold problem itself is usually an easy fix, mold remediation is not. In addition, trying to get a mortgage on a foreclosure with mold present is going to be problematic, since the lender will want it removed prior to your closing on it. (I am currently representing a buyer in the purchase of a ranch house with mold in the unfinished attic. The seller foolishly had bathroom fans on the first floor empty hot, humid bathroom air without venting of any kind directly into the attic space…You can’t make this stupidity up. The situation had apparently been this way for years. In winter, the attic space would actually develop frost, according to one current tenant of the building. Naturally, there is an accumulation of mold throughout the attic now. And in order to sell the property, the seller must address the issue. And to do so properly, a specialized mold abatement company, licensed by the state, needs to be called in to properly remediate the problem.) So make sure there is no evidence of mold anywhere in any REO you’re considering purchasing. Especially since banks will still expect you to be making an offer on their property in “as is” condition only.
Any foundation cracks need to be inspected for size, shape and duration for how long they’ve been there. Different cracks mean different things. Let your house inspector make the call as to how big a potential problem any given crack could represent in the future of the property. If it’s simple settling over a long period of time – not a big problem. But if the issue means a total rebuilding of the foundation – well, obviously, this will be a major costs that could run tens of thousands of dollars.
Any good house inspection company will be able to ascertain very quickly the presence of pest infestations. Termites tend to be number one on the potential list. If evidence of past termite infestations is old and not active, and the damage to the house sills have been minimal, or repaired, there shouldn’t be a problem moving forward. But if the damage is active and extensive, calling for sill replacement, this could also pose a potential cost you didn’t expect that could run in the thousands of dollars. Be very wary when confronted with the evidence of termite damage in foreclosed homes.
If the water has been turned off, you really won’t be able to get a good idea of any potential problem lurking in the house, especially if there is the presence of much older piping in place. In this case, you must plan for the worst – and expect the pipes to have burst or leaked at some point in the past. Using “caveat emptor,” you’ll need to either plan on a very expensive renovation of all plumbing in the building. Or simply be prepared to walk away. And make an offer on another property in the foreclosure process instead.
Likewise, if an REO has no electricity on, it is impossible to ascertain the integrity of the entire electrical system. Are some wires old? Are some fixtures shorting out? A house inspector won’t be able to inspect anything that’s hidden behind the walls. They must have the electricity turned on to determine the potential hazards. With REO’s, just like with plumbing when the water has been turned off, expect the worst. You’ll have to decide if you’re prepared to rewire the entire house – or move on to another offer. Just be aware of the potential hazards.
photos courtesy of bestlongislandhomeinspectors.com, homesinspectors.com, 203krehabnow.com, 24dash.com