From the Wall Street Journal Dec. 2009
By JAMES R. HAGERTY
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Four years after the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble, flipping homes is back in fashion.
Jon Mirmelli, a Phoenix real-estate investor, learned late in the morning of Sept. 28 that a never-occupied custom house on the northern fringes of this Phoenix suburb was going up for auction around noon the same day. The six-bedroom home, built on a three-acre desert plot, has a kitchen with two dishwashers, four ovens, "antibacterial" copper sinks, and a master "spa" bathroom with space for a flat-screen TV visible from the tub.
Joshua Lott for The Wall Street Journal
Avraham Azoulay, left, and Donna Valva looked over their list of foreclosed houses outside the Maricopa County Court building during an auction in Phoenix, Dec. 3, 2009.
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The minimum bid, as set by a unit of Citigroup Inc., which had a $1.3 million mortgage on the home, was $379,900. After several minutes of bidding among investors and their representatives, some wearing shorts and flip-flops, Mr. Mirmelli won the home for $486,300. A week later, he agreed to sell it for $690,000 to a woman who moved in this month.
During the housing boom, millions of Americans tried to make money by buying and then quickly reselling new houses and condominiums. That kind of flipping stopped several years ago as home sales stalled amid a surge in foreclosures and curtailed lending.
Now, a different breed of flipper is proliferating: one who seeks bargains at foreclosure auctions. Unlike the boom-time flippers, the latest generation needs cold cash, lots of local-market knowledge and strong nerves.
Investors compete mostly with other full-time professionals who monitor foreclosure auctions at county courthouses across the country. The bidders often haven't had a chance to inspect the property or determine whether it's occupied by tenants, who may be hard to evict.
Sometimes "you have half an hour to make a half-million-dollar decision," says Damon Lines, an executive at PostedProperties.com, a Phoenix firm that provides information to foreclosure investors and bids on their behalf. "That's something most people can't or aren't willing to do."
In the states where home prices have fallen the most, many local real-estate markets are dominated by foreclosed property, dragging down the value of neighboring homes. Barclays Capital estimates that banks and mortgage investors have 639,000 foreclosed homes for sale across the U.S., largely concentrated in Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada. That's equivalent to more than 10% of expected U.S. home sales this year.
“ Don't try this at home kids. It's still a risky business. ”
— Charlie Rose
Flippers swoop in at public auctions of foreclosed homes, known as trustee or sheriff sales. In many states, the lender sets the minimum bid, and takes possession of the property only if no one bids more. In the past, the minimum generally was about equal to the mortgage balance due. But in today's market, in which many home values have dropped far below the loan balance, lenders wouldn't attract investors if they set the minimum at that level.
So lenders, or the loan-servicing firms that represent banks and investors, are increasingly likely to set the minimum much lower. Their goal is to tempt others to buy the house and spare banks the headaches and costs that come with taking possession