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foreclosure-webRISMEDIA, May 23, 2009-(MCT)-Value-conscious, first-time buyers have become key to the housing market’s recovery, and they are snapping up priced-right foreclosures despite the warts-and-all, sold-as-is condition of the properties. Half of the sales made in the year’s first quarter were to first-time buyers and almost half of all these sales were distressed properties, the National Association of Realtors reported. Distressed properties include foreclosures and short sales, which are private transactions in which a homeowner sells the property for less than the amount owed on a mortgage.

The glut of foreclosures has pushed down home values, so heightened interest in buying them benefits the immediate neighborhood and the overall housing market.

“It’s a very good first step,” said Lance Ramella, a principal at RW Real Estate Advisors in Oakbrook Terrace. “The first step is selling the most value-conscious units and those are the foreclosures. We’re not going to see any real sustainable price appreciation until we move the foreclosures off the inventory list.”

Moving homes off the foreclosure inventory list may take a while though. With the lapse of several industrywide foreclosure moratoriums, lenders nationwide are initiating foreclosure proceedings again. Government-led efforts to refinance or modify troubled loans can’t help the rising number of people unable to pay their mortgages because they’ve lost their jobs.

In Illinois, more than 7,300 homes became bank-owned during the year’s first quarter, according to RealtyTrac. It’s impossible to determine how many of them are listed for sale, or sold, at any one time because the area’s real estate listing service doesn’t require a property to be listed as a foreclosure.

To capture new interest in home sales thanks to lower interest rates and a first-time-buyer tax credit, a growing number of lenders and asset management companies that own foreclosed homes now appear more willing to drop prices. Banks used to hold fast on pricing and held back properties so they didn’t flood the market, but that has changed, said Susan Sirles Fidler, an agent at Re/Max 10 in Oak Lawn who works with lenders.

Attractive pricing is causing a noticeable increase in multiple offers. In just the past two weeks, a two-bedroom, two-bath Lincoln Park condo listed at $289,000 garnered 60 showings in two days and 20 offers; it sold for just over $330,000. A vandalized East Village penthouse that needed at least $80,000 in repairs was listed at $159,000 and sold for $245,000. In Northbrook, a foreclosed home listed at $719,000 received multiple offers and sold for $730,000.

A bidding battle on a foreclosure with potential “is not the exception,” said Henry Torn, a buyer’s agent at Chicago Realty Partners.

The uptick in interest is encouraging to lenders as well. “That’s what gives us hope,” said Sanjiv Das, chief executive of CitiMortgage. “It’s positive, healthy activity. We’re actively lending to that end of the market, the owner-occupant.”

Finding diamonds in the rough can be a test of stamina, determination and an ability to hold one’s breath. There can be evidence of vandalism, water damage, multicolor mold and squatters who didn’t have access to bathroom facilities because the plumbing fixtures were stolen.

“This is not for the faint of heart,” said Marki Lemons, an agent with Rubloff Residential Properties, who carries a flashlight into properties and keeps paper masks in her car. “You have to be patient, be non-judgmental and have some vision. You have to decide if you can stomach this.”

Others are in decidedly better shape, in part either because companies are offering departing homeowners cash for keys and a clean property or they are sprucing up the properties before they put them on the market.

“These asset managers are at a point where they’re writing checks and trusting the Realtor to get the work done and put it on the market,” said Dean Rouso, owner of Prime Property Partners in La Grange. “We’re helping the neighborhoods because instead of having this comparable property out there for $99,000, we now have a comp for $150,000.”

Not all buyers, however, find themselves on the winning end of foreclosure deals, and that is causing them to look for value in the traditional market.

Copyright (c) 2009, Chicago Tribune
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.