Foreclosures and Short Sales: Are They Good Buys?

There’s a general belief that foreclosures and short sales represent good values. Especially in today’s market, a growing number of buyers are asking their Realtors to find foreclosures or short sales for them. Even–perhaps even particularly–first-time buyers assume that a short sale or foreclosure must be a bargain.

But are they the bargains many assume them to be?

Sometimes yes. Often no.

Let me get very specific. There’s a house that’s active right now in Woodbridge, Virginia. I ran across it when checking comps on a property recommended by an investor. (More about that in another post. That lesson, in brief: Always, always, verify claims as to value.)

The house that I ran across is a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath townhouse. It was bought on January 18, 2006 for $285,000. In early 2007, it was on the market as a short sale at $198,900. Was that a good deal? Well, gee, that’s a 30% discount, right?

The bank foreclosed and took it back on July 3, 2007. It’s now an REO (“real estate owned,” or bank-owned), listed at $186,900. Now, THAT must be a bargain, right? That’s a 34% discount from the $285,000 purchase price. Ready to write a check? I hope not.

I ran the comps on that neighborhood today. There were 34 comps–3 bedroom, 1.5 bath townhouses in that subdivision–properties that had been listed for sale within the past 180 days. Of those 34, 4 had sold. Here’s the information on those 4…the only 4 to have sold. (Note the downward price trend):

4610 Whitaker Place
Close Price: $130,000
Seller Subsidy: $3,900
Close Date: April 14, 2008
Days on Market: 278

4747 Hedrick Lane
Close Price: $140,000
Seller Subsidy: $5,600
Close Date: March 26, 2008
Days on Market: 230

4682 Hercules Lane
Close Price: $172,000
Seller Subsidy: $13,760
Close Date: March 15, 2008
Days on Market: 71

4666 Prather Place
Close Price: $180,000
Seller Subsidy: $5,400
Close Date: December 10, 2007
Days on Market: 113

There are two houses in the subdivision under contract. Because they’re under contract, we don’t know the sale price or whether any seller subsidy was involved. However, we can assume that the effective sales price is below what the properties were listed for:

4646 Charlton Ct.
List Price: $134,900
Days on Market: 6

4728 Still Place
List Price: $94,000
Days on Market: 344

Among the active listings:

4667 Charlton Court
List Price: $120,000
Days on Market: 143

4645 Charlton Court
List Price: $125,000
Days on Market: 167

4675 Whitaker Pl.
List Price: $125,910
Days on Market: 65

So what’s that tell us? The fair market value of that REO at $186,900…that had been a short sale at $198,900…is probably in the neighborhood of $110,000.

And notice the “days on market.” Even the houses that are selling are taking months to sell.

Now, most of the other REOs in the neighborhood aren’t as badly overpriced. But others are priced at $139,000, $135,900, $129,900, and another at $129,900.

Are those good deals? Well, maybe when compared to what they sold for a few years ago. Maybe when compared to what they’ll sell for 5 years from now. But not when they’re compared to what’s selling…and not when you taken the downward price slide into consideration.

So: Don’t assume that just because a property is a foreclosure or a short sale, that it’s a good value. It may not be. Always check the comps.

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3 Responses to Foreclosures and Short Sales: Are They Good Buys?

  1. estewart6 says:

    That’s excellent information and you’re absolutely right. Foreclosures and short sales may be good deals but the research has to be thorough as you’ve done. The price is discounted but the value is, too. It’s only worth what someone will pay for it. If properties were selling at $285k then she would ave been a great deal. Unfortunately she’s not. I found a Google Maps/MLS mashup that lists Illinois homes for sale and discounted properties across the nation. It’s also good for checking comps.

  2. Are short sales the best buys?? What a pain to close the deal though.. 180+ days to get to closing & up to 8 weeks to just hear back on a counteroffer.. What a nightmare.. Great bargains, but a pain to close..

    Justin @ http://WWW.TheSarasotaDeed.COM

  3. Mr. Tony says:

    Do you think the new HAFA program is going to help homeowners

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