BuyingReal Estate Tips March 21, 2024

What Buyers Must Know About Buying a Foreclosure in Westchester County

Ever since I got in to real estate in the 90s, the public has had a bit of a preoccupation with buying foreclosures. The perception that a bank owned property is a bargain is hard to argue with, but it’s not always a simple or straightforward process. Having specialized in distressed properties for decades, I’ll share some things that buyers really need to know before they purchase something around these parts, because New York is a different animal, and Westchester and the surrounding counties are not like upstate either.

  1. The decision maker is an asset manager at the foreclosing lender. Asset managers have quotas, deadlines, no small amount of pressure to dispense with non-performing loans, and are not touchy-feely. You will never be able to call the asset manager on the phone and talk to them.
  2. The terms of the contract are not open to discussion like other contracts. In a regular transaction, the lawyers often “mark up” proposed contracts until a consensus is reached and the buyer attorney meets with the clients to sign. Sometimes it can take a week. In a bank owned transaction, the attorney for the seller will not remove a comma. This is particularly true in times like we are seeing now where the seller has multiple offers and can just go to the next buyer if the current purchaser’s attorney attempts any pushback.
  3. The home is devoid of the history that would otherwise be available when buying from a seller that has, for example, lived there for 20 years. If a wall appears to once have a doorway, no one can explain what happened. If there is a water mark on the ceiling, you can inspect all you want, but there is no current occupant to share that the source of the leak was remedied. More of a concern is what may not be visible to the naked eye; I have seen instances where the former owner sabotaged the property in some way that’s not visible, like damaged pipes behind walls or some foreign object in the chimney. Inspections are paramount.
  4. Typically the bank will allow you 10 days from contract signing to perform your inspections. These are typically “as is” sales for many reasons, but if there is a serious health or safety issue the lender may be open to addressing it with either a small price adjustment or documented work. But do understand that the vast majority of your findings will simply be on the to do list for when you take ownership.
  5. Deadlines are rigid. The bank attorney might grant a mortgage or closing extension if they have good communication, but even then there could be a per diem charge. I have seen deals get cancelled for missed deadlines.
  6. You will pay the state or municipal transfer tax that the seller would typically pay in a regular transaction. The state transfer tax is $4 per thousand in price, so a $500,000 house would have a transfer tax expense to the buyer of $2,000.

This should go without saying, and I would never impugn the good name of any listing agent on a foreclosure, but you should always use a good buyer agent in a transaction like this. The listing agent works for the seller, and the amount of advocacy needed in a distressed property is much higher than a typical property. A purchase of this magnitude should never be a do it yourself project.