Why aren't my bids on foreclosures getting accepted?

Men shaking hands

Q. I just finished reading your article on 10 smart moves for buying a foreclosure, and I had a question or two. I live in central California and have been bidding on foreclosed homes for about five months with no luck. It seems like the banks are listing the homes below market value and just collecting bids. Is it a regional situation or have I just been unlucky? For example, I bid $175,000 on a home that was listed at $185,000. I finally received a response from my real estate agent that there were offers above asking price so my bid was not accepted. I've also noticed that many of the homes that seem most appealing are sold by the time I get the listing. How can I get on the inside track?

A. Your impression is absolutely correct. It's the latest scheme banks have devised to move foreclosed homes in the most distressed markets -- and central California definitely qualifies.

Lenders start by offering a home with an eye-popping discount. If the median sales price in the market has fallen 30% over the past couple of years, lenders will advertise a home at 50% less than what it sold for just a couple of years ago.

The deals are so incredible that offers flood in, even in today's terrible real estate market.

The banks then choose the potential buyers with the best credit and most cash, and ask them to submit their "highest and best" bid.

In other words, they had no intention of accepting the fire-sale price.

The buyers -- mostly investors -- usually respond with higher bids and someone closes the deal.

"They're all doing it -- Countrywide, Wells Fargo, Chase," Sacramento real estate agent Erin Attardi told us. "They get multiple offers right away, the buyer they want to work with -- and the house sells fast."

As you might suspect, we're not big fans of this tactic because advertising a foreclosure for even 10% less than comparable homes just to attract attention further depresses already depressed property values.

If you think you're getting shut out of deals, you need to introduce yourself to the local real estate agents who specialize in foreclosures and tell them you're a serious buyer and want to see good properties as soon as they're released by lenders.

They'll want to know how much money you have and whether you'll be paying cash or have to obtain financing. If you have the means to close deals quickly, those agents will be happy to call and show you properties before they hit the MLS listings.

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