Buying a bank owned home is no cakewalk
From Inman News and Tara-Nicholle Nelson

Q: I'm in the middle of buying a house that is a bank-owned foreclosure. It seems like every step of this escrow has been problematic, and I'm wondering if this is a sign that I should not buy this house. For example, we were supposed to close escrow in 30 days, but it's been more than 45 days since the listing agent told us that our offer was being accepted, and I'm just now signing documents. Now they're saying the bank still could take weeks to sign their documents. Is this normal?

A: All across America, Realtors are hearing a low, anguished drone -- like a really loud, really bad case of tinnitus. That sound is the wailing and gnashing of teeth of untold numbers of innocent home buyers in escrow, those brave (but smart) souls who have gotten past their "buyer's block" and decided to take advantage of this buyer's market. What is causing all this toil and trouble? The dramas and traumas of doing a deal with the bank: buying REO properties (foreclosed homes now owned by the bank).

If you are buying anything but a luxury home, REO listings comprise a huge proportion of the homes available for sale in almost every geographical market. So are short sales, but many buyers and Realtors simply refuse to consider short-sale listings (whether this is right is an issue for another column) because they have a relatively low probability of closing and the elements that increase the likelihood of closing are largely out of the hands of the buyer and buyer's broker.

Expect that the bank will not negotiate on price or repairs after your offer is accepted. Expect that the bank's escrow company or closing attorneys will be inefficient and make mistakes, requiring total and complete vigilance on the part of you and your representatives.

Expecting a tumultuous transaction not only prevents surprises, it serves at least two other purposes. First, it will stop you from obsessing over whether your transaction is "normal" and incessantly wondering why your transaction is so rocky, trying to detect some cosmic or karmic significance of the delays and irritations that can be par for the course in REO home-buying. Secondly, it will force you to focus on the vision you are trying to manifest -- the vision of your life in the home after escrow closes.

As such, smart REO buyers obtain exhaustive inspections and really pay attention to their inspectors' reports. With that said, even the normally simple task of obtaining inspections can be a source of drama with REOs. It's common for the utilities to be shut off, and getting them back on can take time and coordination with an overwhelmed listing agent.

Unfair to you, the buyer? Yes. Want to buy an REO property? Then suck it up and live with it, just long enough to get through your escrow. And keep in mind that most REO sellers are amenable to working with first-time home buyers' programs, down-payment assistance programs, providing closing cost credits, taking 100 percent financed offers, and otherwise helping home buyers in ways that individual sellers may not, so the pros of buying an REO can be plentiful.

When REO transactions drag on and on because of the bank's representatives, I've heard buyers ask, "But I thought the banks want to get rid of these properties? I'm trying to take it off their hands -- why don't they want to make it happen faster?"

My reply? Yes, as an institution every bank "wants" to get REO properties off of their portfolio. That is, it is a formal goal of the institution to get them sold. However, any individual transaction relies not on the motivations of the corporate entity, but on the competence, urgency and day-to-day effectiveness of a bunch of individual humans who are not always hard-wired or being compensated in a way that aligns their motivations with the speedy completion of your particular escrow. Will it get done? Probably so. How fast? Depends on the individuals involved.

In the final analysis, if you make sure you're getting a good enough deal to be worth the possible extra stress, you can come out of an REO transaction like a mom coming out of labor -- feeling the effects, but knowing it was well worth it!