Legal Details You Need To Know About REO

With the housing slump, followed by the recent subprime market meltdown leaving a flood of foreclosures in its wake, lenders, brokers and agents have tried to rebound with real estate-owned (REO) properties. But breaking into the distressed property or REO market is difficult unless you know the ropes – and the competition for foreclosures, today, is fierce. Just ask Steele V. Propp, foreclosure specialist/loss mitigation consultant, for the Bank Owned Property Division of the Minneapolis-based Schatz Group, GMAC Real Estate.

“Last year, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area had an inventory of 600 foreclosed homes at any given time, and this year we will easily reach 900 homes,” Propp said.

“The days of only inner city broken down properties are over,” he said. “Some foreclosures are in gated and golf course communities. Anyone can have financial problems and a lot of people live close to the edge.”

“Being an REO agent seems to be the latest fad in real estate,” said Propp, a 26-year industry veteran who knows the ropes. “Everyone and their Dad have been asking about it.

“And recently a number of the guru real estate agent trainers out there have jumped on the bandwagon with so-called wonderful course material for becoming a foreclosure agent specialist,” he said. “I get e-mails everyday from these gurus who hawk their books and seminars about making a fortune in foreclosures.

“I am a bit leery of these ‘specialists’ since most seem more about you paying them money,” he added.

Break in with BPOs

“For the most part, the best way to get noticed is to offer to do the grunt work of the foreclosure industry — performing Broker Price Opinions or BPOs,” Propp said. “Agents who do this on a regular basis tend to get noticed.”

Harry C. Richardson, an independent broker and Realtor based in Albuquerque, said, “There is no substitute for experience.”

But prior to six years ago, Richardson had little experience in the REO market.

Although New Mexico has not experienced the housing market lows and highs of the Florida, California, Michigan and Ohio markets, Richardson read the signs and saw a bright future in the REO/foreclosure business.

To get a foot in the door, Richardson googled asset management companies and e-mailed BPO hiring managers for a chance. After six months of performing BPOs, he struck out on his own.

“It is important to accurately place a value on the asset (property) because the person (or bank) holding the REO is relying on you,” Richardson told Real Law Central.

Just like anything else, once you build a good reputation, word gets around.

FNF steps up

In August 2003, Fidelity National Financial launched its Web site dedicated to marketing bank-owned properties. opened with 7,000 REO listings which has grown to more than 25,000 post-foreclosure properties, thanks to Fidelity subsidiary Fidelity National Asset Management Solutions’ (FNAMS) relationships with 22 lenders and thousands of REO brokers with relationships to other lenders. recently featured more than 400,000 bankruptcy listings and nearly 230,000 post-foreclosure properties. At the same time, RealtyTrac offered multi-state searches for 550,000 foreclosure properties, and reported that one out of every 886 homes in the nation are in some phase of foreclosure.

Last year, Tom Di Mercurio, a veteran specialist in defaulted properties, launched Mercury Alliance which works with lenders in 15 U.S. markets dealing with homes, condos and other properties that go south.

Any significant increase in interest rates triggers a rise in lender-owned properties for resale – and opens the doors to more foreclosed homes, Di Mercurio said.

A rose by any other name

“There are no special legal requirements except to be licensed in the state jurisdiction in which you operate,” DiMercurio told Real Law Central. “A broker is a broker is a broker. It’s the same with a buyer’s agent.”

Be an aggressive, hard-working agent, he advised, adding that by law, all listings are the property of the ‘broker.’

“The documentation in typical residential mortgages and foreclosures/REOs should be similar, but since we are involved with the removal and elimination of property rights, there is a formidable body of civil law to protect owners/borrowers from the elimination of their property rights,” he said.

“Most residential brokers/agents seldom deal with eviction and cash-for-keys or the problems associated with a ‘botched’ foreclosure – where all the regulations have not been scrupulously followed,” Di Mercurio said. “Otherwise, not much is different.”

Rather switch than fight

The switch from traditional residential properties to REO’s does demand a different mindset, and you must cater to the schedule of the lender or client, he said.

“Doing REO’s is a 24/7 job including property management which gives rise to custodial liability,” Di Mercurio said. “After two years of operating, I am just now opening a ‘regular’ side to my REO brokerage with buyer’s agents and non-REO sellers’ agents.

“Understanding the deliverables of lender clients is a must – and while 90 percent of it is the same, managing the 10 percent difference can be difficult,” he said.

Wanted: Superhero

“What asset managers want is a cross between Superman, Wonder Woman and Spider Man,” Di Mercurio said. “REO agents become the eyes and ears of their clients.

“Too often, asset managers settle for easy things like inspections and BPOs on time rather than a thoughtful analysis of what the broker’s market intelligence and experience tells us about a property or a market,” he said.

“Asset managers should encourage a healthy dialogue of marketing ideas and be open to criticism,” Di Mercurio said. “If appraisers were always correct – or even often correct on REO’s, then formulating a listing price could be a computer program. Setting a list price is more art than science.

“What REO brokers want is a seller treated as a partner,” he said. “We want to know that someone is listening to us and that we are at the end of a long continuum that ultimately results in the liquidation of the non-performing asset.”

Waiting for payday

Unfortunately, “compensation is often only a possibility,” Di Mercurio said. “If listed too high and then re-listed with another broker, our efforts are all in vain. Brokers want some acknowledgement that we work very hard and sometimes in difficult situations for discounted commissions.

“For me, (the REO business) is a labor of love,” he added.

Di Mercurio recently offered a number of tips to agents and brokers trying to break into the REO market.

First, understand the basics before deciding to focus on the REO segment, he said. Everything about this business is time sensitive. The REO broker’s responsibilities are more similar to that of a relocation broker than a traditional residential brokerage.

There are many uncompensated activities required of an REO broker, and if a home does not sell in the normal listing period, it may be reassigned, Di Mercurio said.

Volume pricing has resulted in an average five percent commissions, he said, adding there is a host of services, responsibilities and liabilities assumed for the average two percent listing commission paid to the REO broker.

Most of Di Mercurio’s clients assign assets to him the day of the foreclosure sale, and these require a 24-hour occupancy check and weekly checks, thereafter, he said. Most properties are still occupied at the end of redemption, thus requiring extra work for the broker to negotiate with the tenant or former owner, attend lock-outs, obtain bids for repairs and supervise rehab, regular yard maintenance and winterizations.

Many lenders require the broker to arrange for pay and seek reimbursement within certain tight time frames, he said. The broker then becomes the “de facto” guarantor of the goods and services. Poor accounting will lead to losses in un-reimbursed legitimate expenses.

Brokers generally receive property assignment directly from the seller/lender or from a third-part outsourcing company which provides aggregated accounting, tracking, reporting, advice and evaluation to the actual lender or seller, Di Mercurio said. The actual owner of the property may have little or no say in how the REO properties are managed because of delegating those responsibilities under a servicing agreement.

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