Deciding to buy a house that is in the beginning stages of foreclosure can be an intuitive way to find a deal on an investment property. Pre-foreclosures provide a unique and valuable opportunity for buyers and investors to potentially purchase a house below market value. However, the difficult part is knowing where to look to find a property in pre-foreclosure, and finding it before competitors who have a similar idea. While there are a multitude of paid resources that can help you locate these properties, there are also many ways that you can find pre-foreclosure listings for free. But, before we dive further into these resources, let’s first examine the basics.
What is pre-foreclosure?
According to Investopedia, pre-foreclosure refers to the initial phase of a legal proceeding that can ultimately result in a property being repossessed from a homeowner who has defaulted. Essentially, when a property enters pre-foreclosure, this means that the homeowner has fallen behind in their payments and the lender is beginning to take action. The lender may have issued a notice of default or started a lawsuit to officially begin the foreclosure process, but the foreclosure sale has yet to take place.
During this pre-foreclosure period, the homeowner usually has a certain amount of time to try to catch up on overdue payments, sell the house to pay off the loan, or work out an alternative with the lender, such as a short sale, mortgage modification, or deed in lieu of foreclosure.
What is the difference between foreclosure and pre-foreclosure?
The primary difference between foreclosure and pre-foreclosure is that foreclosure occurs when the bank decides to repossess your property. Because the lender wants money, they will generally attempt to sell your property in a public auction. The opening bid is usually based on the loan, liens, taxes, and sale costs associated with the house. In the end, your home will be awarded to the highest bidder (or the buyer most likely to close) who will get immediate possession.
Pre-foreclosure is the time between your notice of default on mortgage payments and the loss of your property to your lender or a buyer. If you have the ability to sell your home during pre-foreclosure, you don’t have to worry about your credit score being affected or securing a future mortgage. The process is especially fast and there’s no financing involved with a cash buyer.
Best Places to Find Free Pre-Foreclosure Listings
Now that we’ve discussed what pre-foreclosure is, as well as the differences between pre-foreclosure and foreclosure, let’s take a look at how to find pre-foreclosure listings for free. There are plenty of paid websites and resources where you can find these listings, but in this article, we’re going to focus on resources that do not require payment.
Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
One great place to find pre-foreclosure listings for free is a Multiple Listing Service (MLS). A Multiple Listing Service acts as a database of local properties for sale near you. While the MLS may seem like one large national database, it’s actually composed of over 500 regional databases. Your local MLS is usually the one of the most reliable sources of data, and it can help you pinpoint foreclosure and pre-foreclosure listings, along with detailed information on the properties.
MLSs are established, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Most of the time, access to MLS listings is provided to the public for free by participating brokers. The only data that isn’t publicly accessible includes information that has the potential to endanger sellers’ privacy or safety, such as seller contact information and times the home is vacant for showings.
The public records section at your county recorder’s office or online is another excellent resource for finding pre-foreclosure listings for free. You can look for Notice of Default, Lis Pendens, and Notice of Sale. These notices have been issued to the homeowner and are publicly recorded throughout the foreclosure process.
Public records often include details like the property owner’s name, the property’s address, the foreclosing bank, and how much is owed on the home. However, there is some important information that you will not have access to, such as a thorough property description, photos of the home, and liens owed on the home.
While finding pre-foreclosure properties through public records is a great initial step in the right direction, it is still important to check the property out for yourself to see its true condition, even if it’s only externally.
Going through public records can be a reliable and accurate way to find pre-foreclosure listings for free, however, it can be extremely time consuming and you are only given so much information to start with.
Real Estate Wholesalers
If you don’t have a ton of free time on your hands, it may be wise to connect with a professional who is consistently aware of pre-foreclosure leads, such as a real estate wholesaler. Real estate wholesalers serve as an intermediary between distressed homeowners and buyers or investors.
Their job is to find properties with below-market value and flip the contract to an investor for a profit. They do so by securing the contract at a discounted rate and then increasing the sale price and flipping the contract to you. You may not get as good a deal as if you found the property yourself, but you’ll still get the property for a reasonable price, and the wholesaler eliminates the time and effort needed to find it.
Just keep in mind that it is still important for you to do your own research on each property before deciding to make a purchase.
Local newspapers are yet another great, free resource for finding pre-foreclosure listings. They publish the addresses of houses entering the foreclosure process, and even publish “Lis Pendens” from properties that receive notices in the legal section of the newspaper.
Similar to public records, the newspaper does not provide photos or detailed descriptions of properties in pre-foreclosure, so you will have to do additional research to acquire this information.
One downside is that there may be steep competition for these leads, since the data goes public as soon as the property receives notice.
While there are a few drawbacks to this method of finding pre-foreclosure listings for free, and it may seem a bit outdated at times, the local newspaper is a reliable source with information that is updated on a daily basis.
One rule of thumb in the real estate industry? The more connections, the better.
Another great way to locate pre-foreclosure listings without having to pay for a premium service is to tap into your network. More often than not, you may have a friend, family member, co-worker, or acquaintance who can connect you with a pre-foreclosure listing, and you might not even know it. Don’t be hesitant to take advantage of the network that you’ve built and utilize it when you need to.
At the end of the day, the owners of homes undergoing pre-foreclosure are just members of your community who have fallen on hard times. There’s a good chance that you may be closer to pre-foreclosure leads than you initially thought.
You can also look at it as an opportunity to help a member of your community who is in need of selling their house quickly. Be sure to share your interest by word-of-mouth and on social media platforms so that others are aware of your business venture.
In conclusion, buying a property that is in the pre-foreclosure process can be a great way to find a deal on a home you want to buy or invest in. Homeowners of pre-foreclosed properties are usually eager to sell their home, as it will relieve them from a dire financial situation. As an investor, you are essentially guaranteed to turn a profit, since the pre-foreclosed home will be available for below-market value.
However, there are also a few drawbacks associated with purchasing a pre-foreclosure property. The majority of the listings you come across will be in poor condition and need to be renovated before they can be re-sold. Additional research for most properties will be required because of the lack of information provided by pre-foreclosure listing resources, which can be extremely time-consuming.
But, if you can overcome these hurdles, the effort that is required to find the right pre-foreclosure listing is 100% worth it in the long run. With the correct free resources, like Multiple Listing Services, public records, real estate wholesalers, local newspapers, and referrals through your network, the process of finding the right property can become much more manageable.
During the process of searching for listings, always remember to do your own research, and don’t rely solely on the information provided by just one resource. If you follow these steps and utilize the resources provided, you’ll be on your way to finding the right pre-foreclosure property in no time.
Adam Smith has spent the last 5 years in the Private Money Lending world helping real estate investors secure financing for their non-owner occupied real estate investments. When he’s not thinking about real estate, Adam is an avid Jazz music fan and fisherman.