From the Archives: Foreclosure Risks-Bank Addenda

I get a lot of questions on foreclosures. How could I not? Some neighborhoods are flooded with them (though some are not…see the graph in my post on Beyond Auctions.) Buyers want to know if they’re a good deal, what the risks are, and how they can get in on one.

I’ve decided to write a series of posts on the risks specific to buying foreclosures—trust me that there are too many risks to put into one post! Some risks can be mitigated, some can be eliminated, but most remain; that’s part of the trade off you make in deciding to buy a foreclosed property.

First, a quick overview on the process. (For a review of how a home moves from short sale to auction to REO, read the post “I want to buy a foreclosure.”) Once a home is foreclosed upon, also known as Real Estate Owned or bank-owned, it is usually listed in the MLS with a listing agent, similar to any other home for sale. It will usually be noted right in the comments that this is a “bank owned property” or “special addenda required.” What is this special addenda?

When you decide to make an offer on a foreclosure, you put together the offer using the standard regional forms, just like any other resale (though not the same as new construction—for those you use the builder’s contract.) You include any contingencies or other negotiables you want—home inspection, seller subsidies, etc. Then you send it off to the listing agent, who sends it to the bank. The bank’s representative may respond right away, they may throw it into a pile to see what else comes in, or they may not do anything. (So controlling the timing becomes a big risk of a foreclosure, but I digress.) Let’s say they get back to you and let’s assume they even agree to all of your terms. They’ll return it all with a copy of their own Bank Addendum. An addendum is simply the legal term for a condition that amends the main contract. Even “regular” resales have a half dozen addenda– for home inspections, appraisals, and to meet jurisdictional requirements. Bank Addenda are written by the bank’s lawyers to protect themselves during foreclosure transactions. Any guesses on which side they favor?

Every bank’s addendum is different, and it’s critical that you read and understand every clause prior to signing it. Because it’s an addendum, which amends the main contract, it doesn’t really matter what you think you negotiated—anything in the addenda trumps the main contract. Think you negotiated an inspection but the addendum says no? Or what if the addendum says you can inspect but not void? The addendum wins the day. A lot of good that inspection does you if the home inspector says the place needs to be demolished by you aren’t allowed to walk away.

Unless you sign the addendum, there’s no deal, so you can still get out if you don’t like what you read. Occasionally, on some clauses, you may be able to negotiate certain clauses, but that increases the likelihood of slowing down the process—after all, some guy in a cube in Idaho (no offense, readers in Idaho) has to get that change sent to the bank’s lawyers to review, and I guarantee that those lawyers have their hands full with all their other foreclosures right now. If you decide to live with the clauses, then once you sign the addendum, the contract proceeds as is more typical.

There are many examples of egregious clauses, but here are a few of my favorites:

The bank may not own the property and may not be able to go to settlement. You may be required to go to settlement even if the bank cannot deliver the deed at that time.

The bank may guarantee only insurable title, not marketable title (more on that in another post)

The bank may give themselves the right to change their mind and walk away at any time up to settlement for no penalty

There may be easements or restrictions on the property that aren’t recorded; if you find one, the addenda may prevent you from backing out of the contract as a result

There are many more, as these addendum often run about ten pages. Because they are written to apply nationwide, there are occasionally even clauses that are illegal in Virginia!

So read those addenda carefully, and caveat emptor on this foreclosure pitfall. It’s a doozie.

I’ll continue the series with future posts on these other critical risks:

Lack of control over turnaround and the dependent risks it creates for buyers (and not just your move date)

Inspections, repairs, and warranties

Financing complications (Don’t rely on using an FHA loan!)

Title and deed issues

Condo/HOA docs

Have another risk you want addressed? Add it in the comments and I’ll write about it.

Are you thinking about buying a foreclosure and want to know the risks you’ll face? Contact me to discuss the risks and some mitigation strategies.

Read the second post in the series, about the challenges in controlling the timing of a foreclosure transaction, here.

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