How to buy bank REO foreclosures

Here's the good news: More people than ever can buy a foreclosure or bank REO property for sale.

Now for the bad: It's going to take a lot of patience, restraint and some careful planning to get a foreclosure deal. That bank loan officer sitting across the table won't look kindly on the new boat you bought or the credit card bills from gambling online.

To pull the house purchase off, try heeding some of the guidelines below that foreclosure experts suggest. It may not always be fun, but doing so will help you get where you want to go.

Pay your bills and start saving
Number one, pay your bills on time. There is no single element that can so dramatically impact the success of an application as your past 12 months credit history. Another thing, of course, is savings. People should have a good disciplined savings pattern.

Everybody comes into the foreclosure market with a different perspective and level of experience. The fact that online mortgage applications and lower interest rates are competing for attention these days makes it all the more difficult to get foolproof advice. But some general rules apply to pretty much anybody when it comes to getting the money to buy a foreclosed house. So here are some of the do's and don'ts that buyers should consider.

Five do's:

  1. Make loan and other debt payments on time, especially over the 12 months leading up to the filing of your mortgage application. It sounds simple, but every 30-, 60- or 90-day delinquency on a loan or credit card is going to reduce the credit score the bank ends up considering as part of the loan file. That score, in turn, will determine how good a loan you get.
  2. If something has to be missed, miss the credit card payment first, followed by the payment on any installment loan you might have and finally, the payment for an existing mortgage. That's because credit scoring systems look at the performance of similar loans first when deciding what type of score to assign. It will give the most weight to the performance of another mortgage, then the performance of something like an auto loan, which features fixed payments and a fixed rate the way many mortgages do. Last, it would evaluate the payment performance of revolving loans, like credit cards, which feature variable payments that fluctuate with the outstanding balance.
  3. Consider paying off more debt and putting down a smaller amount at closing. The move leaves borrowers with larger mortgages, but it will allow them to replace non-tax-deductible, high interest rate debt with lower rate mortgage debt that features deductible interest.
  4. Get the foreclosed property first if multiple financial obligations are going to pop up in the near future. Numerous credit inquiries, such as new applications for credit cards, can hurt a borrower's credit score, especially if they're filed in the months prior to the foreclosure purchase.
  5. Increase the size of the down payment on a foreclosure by saving as much as possible. Don't put the savings into something volatile, such as an individual stock. But evaluate money market or other accounts that offer reasonable rates of return, automatic payroll deductions or other financial incentives to save.

While these are all good steps to follow, borrowers have to think of what they shouldn't do as well. Resisting the temptation to splurge or slipup in the credit arena are at the top of the list.

Five don'ts:

  1. First, don't make any big purchases. Besides the obvious fact that it makes less money available for the down payment, it might require you to get another loan. A significant debt such as a $15,000 auto loan will look bad to the mortgage lender's credit scoring systems. Plus, the underwriter won't want to see that you have added a couple of hundred dollars per month to your monthly expenses.
  2. Don't try shooting for that six-bedroom house in the Arboretum if it's going to be too much of a stretch in your current budget. Bank lenders consider what's known in the industry as "payment shock" when approving loans. Somebody who goes from a relatively small monthly housing payment to a large one either won't qualify for a mortgage or will end up having to cover too much loan with too little money. If you've paid all your bills on time, but you've been paying $450 in rent with a roommate and now you're going to have a $1,650 principal and interest and insurance payment on a house, how would you handle your monthly payment? You have to make sure you're comfortable about that kind of a debt load.
  3. Don't get just prequalified for a foreclosure property, get preapproved. To get prequalified, a borrower need only submit credit, income and debt information voluntarily to a mortgage lender. That means the resulting estimate of the maximum mortgage and home that's affordable is exactly that -- an estimate. Before they can get preapproved, however, home buyers must allow their lenders to pull credit reports, check debt-to-income ratios and perform other underwriting steps. That puts a borrower much closer to obtaining a loan and locking in an interest rate and term.
  4. Don't forget what kind of financial personality you have when buying a foreclosure or bank REO. By taking out a 30 year fixed rate loan rather than a 15 year mortgage and investing the money saved on monthly payments, you might earn a higher return on your money in the long run. But that approach won't work for people who spend any extra cash laying around on dinner and a movie twice a week. They can force themselves into saving and accumulating equity faster by going with the shorter term and higher payment.
  5. Last but not least, don't forget that foreclosures and bank REO's bring with them financial responsibilities and many burdens. The cost of defaulting on a house loan is much greater than the penalty of missing a credit card payment. Too many black marks on the financial history and it will be 23 percent interest credit card mailers that show up in the mailbox rather than the 9.9 percent ones your neighbor gets.


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