How to buy a foreclosure

How to buy a foreclosure
Many buyers, especially first-timers, hope to purchase a foreclosed property at a bargain price.  While purchasing a foreclosed home can be a wise choice for some buyers, it is important that buyers understand the differences in buying at different stages of foreclosure and be prepared to take on the challenges typically associated with each.

MAKING SENSE OF THE STORY FOR CONSUMERS

  • There are three basic stages of foreclosure in California: Pre-foreclosure, trustee’s sale, and repossession, often called an REO or real estate owned by the bank.
  • Pre-foreclosure homes are in the foreclosure process, but have not yet been auctioned.  Owners of pre-foreclosed homes often try to sell the properties because they are “underwater,” meaning they owe more on the mortgage than the home currently is worth.  Many homeowners attempt to sell via short sale, where the lender must agree to accept less than the amount owed on the mortgage.  Buying at this stage of foreclosure often is a complicated and slow process. However, buyers of pre-foreclosed properties often are given the opportunity to inspect the home prior to purchasing, whereas this is not always the case when buying at other stages of foreclosures.
  • The second basic stage of foreclosure is the public auction at a trustee’s or foreclosure sale.  Homes in this stage often are well priced, but also come with challenges to buy.  These homes may not be available for inspection and buyers may later discover the property needs numerous repairs.  As a result, many of the homes at auction are purchased by investors and contractors who have experience working with homes needing numerous repairs, or taken back as REO by the foreclosing lenders.
  • If a home does not sell to a third party at the trustee’s auction, the bank takes the property (REO Property)–the final stage of the foreclosure process. Although homes in this stage typically do not offer buyers the best prices, buyers generally can perform a thorough inspection of the property prior to closing.

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NO MORE STATE TAX ON FORGIVEN DEBT

Distressed homeowners no longer have to pay California state income tax on debt forgiven in a short sale, foreclosure, or loan modification.  Enacted into law yesterday, Senate Bill 401 generally aligns California’s tax treatment of mortgage debt relief income with federal law.  For debt forgiven on a loan secured by a “qualified principal residence,” borrowers will now be exempt from both federal and state income tax consequences.  The existing federal exemption is for indebtedness up to $2 million, whereas the new California exemption is for indebtedness up to $800,000 and forgiven debt up to $500,000.

“Qualified principal residence” indebtedness is defined as debt incurred in acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving a principal residence.  It includes both first and second trust deeds.  It also includes a refinance loan to the extent the funds were used to payoff a previous loan that would have qualified.

The tax breaks apply to debts discharged from 2009 through 2012.  Californians who have already filed their 2009 tax returns may claim the exemption by filing a Form 540X amendment.
 
Taxpayers who do not qualify for the above exemptions (e.g., second home or rental property) may nevertheless be exempt under other provisions.  Most notably, taxpayers who are bankrupt are exempt from debt relief income tax.  Also, taxpayers who are insolvent are exempt from debt relief income tax to the extent their current liabilities exceed current assets.

For more information about mortgage forgiveness tax consequences, go to California Franchise Tax Board’s Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Extended webpage and the Internal Revenue Service’s Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation webpage.  The full text of Senate Bill 401 is available at www.leginfo.ca.gov.

This article was provided by CAR.

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