Let’s learn About Real Estate Foreclosure Lists

Q: Why do I have to pay for a list of foreclosure properties? Isn’t this public information?

A: The answer is yes and no. The transfer of real estate property is always recorded in the county courthouse where the property is located. That makes it public information.

A list publisher, or consumer for that matter, must request a list of foreclosed properties from participating lending institutions. Why request? Because there is no law stating that the lender must make this information widely available, just as there is no law requiring you to make public a list of your personal possessions for anyone who may demand it.

You can, if you so choose, visit your county courthouse, go through all the deed and mortgage books and locate one property at a time, those that have been transferred to the lender. This would be an arduous process at best.

Another alternative would be to go to every single auction, in every county you have interest in, and watch which properties go back to the lenders.

So, in buying a list, what you’re mostly paying for is content and convenience. By yourself, it would take hundreds of hours and a lot of money to compile the data you need.

Q: How is it that some foreclosed properties are already sold or otherwise not available on the list I just received?

A: In fairness to all list publishers, many lenders do not update their lists frequently enough. Some real estate properties may already be sold. Some may even have been off the market for quite some time. No list of REO properties can be 100 percent accurate.

Remember, there is no national network. The proper accumulation and recording of this data is an imperfect science. Data quality and integrity is dependent on the source and the method of reproduction used by the provider.

Q: Can’t I just call a bank and get a list of foreclosed properties for free?

A: Yes and no. Most consumers have a difficult time trying to reach the right party at the bank in an attempt to get a list of foreclosed real estate. Some lenders are more cooperative than others.

Citibank, for example, now charges $50 for a list of their properties. While we disagree with this policy, we understand their reason. Too many uninformed buyers call the banks in an attempt to buy properties for 30 cents to 50 cents on the dollar. This charge is most likely an effort to separate the know-nothings from the serious investor. The bank does not want to be bothered by those who do not understand the process or by those who make absurd offers ultimately wasting the banker’s time.