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By Monica Hatcher

RISMEDIA, August 19, 2008-(MCT)-Interest in buying foreclosed homes has probably never been keener, yet would-be homeowners still warily eye so-called distressed properties as possible money pits.

In recent months, several South Florida agents have started offering bus tours as a way to dispel myths about buying foreclosures while capitalizing on consumer interest in bank-owned property.

For Kimberly Castellotti, a Wellington-based real estate broker who, with her husband, started Foreclosure Finder Real Estate Tours earlier this year, it’s one way for agents to drum up business in a slumping market.

Different Track

“Five years ago, we took orders: It was ‘Which one do you want and when do you want to close? ‘ That’s all we did. But now, in order to be successful you have to be different from every other agent out there,” Castellotti said.

The bus tours are free, so they don’t generate money directly. But “it’s a low-pressure way to introduce people to what is out there and for people to learn more about the process of buying one of these homes,” said Julio Sanchez, who, with a partner, launched Miami Home Tours in March.

A typical tour, which may include 10 or 12 homes, starts with breakfast. On the bus, the passengers are introduced to the crew-title agents, mortgage brokers, home inspectors and contractors. Between stops, the crew teaches buyers about the ins and outs of the process, which differs from the purchase of a conventional home.

Sanchez said each of his tours costs about $1,500 in rental fees, printing costs and food, money he hopes to recoup when he sells a home.

He hasn’t brokered a sale from a tour yet, but has recruited prospective buyers.

Not every tour guide is meeting with success, though.

No Takers

Roy La Fontaine, a broker and vice president of BayTrust Real Estate Services, said he scheduled and advertised a bus tour. The tour required buyers to pay $25 to get preapproved for a loan. He abandoned the idea.

“I thought we would be overwhelmed with calls on it and the response was anything but,” La Fontaine said.

Sanchez, on the other hand, hopes to schedule another tour this month in the Brickell area. ‘Basically, it’s just, ‘Get on the bus so you can get a deal.’ And they take a look at property that is 60 percent off,” Sanchez said.

Copyright © 2008, The Miami Herald
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.