Investing in Real Estate

Investing in Hawaii Real Estate

Foreclosures

Are foreclosures a good investment?

A foreclosure property is a home that has been repossessed by the lender because the owners failed to pay the mortgage. Thousands of homes end up in foreclosure every year. Economic conditions affect the number of foreclosures, too. Many people lose their homes due to job loss, credit problems or unexpected expenses.

It is wise to be cautious when considering a foreclosure. Many experts, in fact, advise inexperienced buyers to hire an expert to take them through the process. It is important to have the house thoroughly inspected and to be sure that any liens, undisclosed mortgages or court judgments are cleared or at least disclosed.

Are there different types of foreclosures?

Judicial foreclosure action is a proceeding in which a mortgage, a trustee or another lien holder on property requests a court-supervised sale of the property to cover the unpaid balance of a delinquent debt.

Non-judicial foreclosure is the process of selling real property under a power of sale in a mortgage or deed of trust that is in default. In such a foreclosure, however, the lender is unable to obtain a deficiency judgment, which makes some title insurance companies reluctant to issue a policy.

How do I find a foreclosed property?

In most states, a foreclosure notice must be published in the legal notices section of a local newspaper where the property is located or in the nearest city. Also, foreclosure notices are usually posted on the property itself and somewhere in the city where the sale is to take place.

When a homeowner is late on three payments, the bank will record a notice of default against the property. When the owner fails to pay up, a trustee sale is held, and the property is sold to the highest bidder. The financial institution that has initiated foreclosure proceedings usually will set the bid price at the loan amount.

Despite these seemingly straightforward rules, buying foreclosures is not as easy as it may sound. Sophisticated investors use the technique so novices may find themselves among stiff competition.

Can I get financing on a foreclosure?

One reason there are few bidders at foreclosure sales is that it is next to impossible to get financing for such a property. You generally need to show up with cash and lots of it, or a line of credit with your bank upon which you can draw cashier's checks. 

What are trustee sales?

Trustee sales are advertised in advance and require an all-cash bid. A sheriff, a constable or lawyer acting as trustee usually conducts the sale. This kind of sale, which usually attracts savvy investors, is not for the novice.

In a trustee sale, the lender who holds the first loan on the property starts the bidding at the amount of the loan being foreclosed. Successful bidders receive a trustee's deed.

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Bank Owned Properties (REO)

What is an REO?

An REO (Real Estate Owned) is a property that is repossessed by a bank or lender after an unsuccessful foreclosure auction.

Where can I find REOs?

There are several ways to locate bank-owned REO properties. First, investors can search for bank-owned properties online on sites like www.HawaiiMoves.com. Another way to locate REOs is to go directly to lenders themselves

Each lending institution, however, handles REO properties differently. Some lenders post bank-owned real estate lists on their websites. Smaller local banks usually have one individual who is in charge of the bank's REO inventory. Larger regional and national lending institutions, on the other hand, have large departments that deal exclusively with selling bank-owned properties. Frequently, this department is referred to as the loss mitigation department. The job of the loss mitigation department is to mitigate the loss or minimize the damage caused by loans that have defaulted, which lenders call non-performing loans.

How can I buy an REO property?

Anyone can buy a bank-owned REO. The challenge for real estate investors is to reach the person who can make the decision to sell the bank-owned REO property. Each lending institution has different rules and requirements on how they sell bank-owned REO properties. Contact the lender and find out what they require to purchase an REO property, or contact a real estate agent to help you out.

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Fixer-Uppers

Is it smart to even consider a fixer-upper?

It depends. Distressed properties or fixer-uppers can be found anywhere, even in wealthier neighborhoods. Such properties are poorly maintained and have a lower market value than other houses in the neighborhood.

Many experts recommend that before you make such an investment, first find the least desirable house in the best neighborhood. Then do the math to see if what it would cost to bring up the value of that property to its full potential market value is within your budget. If you are a novice buyer, it may be wiser to look for properties that only need cosmetic fixes rather than run-down houses that need major structural repairs.

Is there a tax break for a fixer-upper house if it is considered historical?

Qualified rehabilitated buildings and certified historic structures currently enjoy a 20 percent investment tax credit for qualified rehabilitation expenses. A historic structure is one listed in the National Register of Historic Places or so designated by an appropriate state or local historic district also certified by the government.

The tax code does not allow deductions for the demolition or significant alteration of a historic structure.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 203 (K) rehabilitation loan program is designed to facilitate major structural rehabilitation of houses with one to four units that are more than one year old. Condominiums are not eligible.

The 203(K) loan is usually done as a combination loan to purchase a fixer-upper property "as is" and rehabilitate it, or to refinance a temporary loan to buy the property and do the rehabilitation. It can also be done as a rehabilitation-only loan.

Plans and specifications for the proposed work must be submitted for architectural review and cost estimation. Mortgage proceeds are advanced periodically during the rehabilitation period to finance the construction costs.

For a list of participating lenders, call HUD at (202) 708-2720.

If you are a veteran, loans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also can be used to buy a home, build a home, improve a home, or refinance an existing loan. VA loans frequently offer lower interest rates than ordinarily available with other kinds of loans. To qualify for a loan, the first step is to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility.

Are there special loans for fixer-uppers?

If you need a home loan to buy a "fixer-upper" and remodel it, look at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 203(K) loan program. The program is designed to facilitate major structural rehabilitation of houses with one to four units that are more than one year old. Condominiums are not eligible.

A 203(K) loan is usually done as a combination loan to purchase a "fixer-upper" property "as is" and rehabilitate it, or to refinance a temporary loan to buy the property and do the rehabilitation. It can also be done as a rehabilitation-only loan.

Investors must put 15 percent down while owner-occupants are required to come up with only 3 to 5 percent. HUD requires that a minimum of $5,000 be spent on improvements.

Two appraisals are required. Plans and specifications for the proposed work must be submitted for architectural review and cost estimation. Mortgage proceeds are advanced periodically during the rehabilitation period to finance the construction costs.

What are building codes?

Building codes are established by local authorities to set minimum public-safety standards for building design, construction, quality, use and occupancy, location and maintenance. There are specialized codes for plumbing, electrical and fire, which usually involve separate inspections and inspectors.

All buildings must be issued a building permit and a Certificate of Occupancy before it can be used. During construction, housing inspectors must make checks at key points. Codes are usually enforced by denying permits, occupancy certificates and by imposing fines.

Building codes also cover most remodeling projects. If you are buying a house that has been significantly remodeled, ask for proof of the permits involved before you purchase to avoid future liability for fines.

How do I look for fixer-uppers?

You can find distressed properties or fixer-uppers in most communities, even wealthier neighborhoods. A distressed property is one that has been poorly maintained and has a lower market value than other houses in the immediate area.

Ascertaining whether the property you're interested in is a wise investment takes some work. You need to figure what the average house in a given area sells for, as well as what the most desirable houses in that area are like and what they cost.

Some experts suggest that buyers who take this route try to find a "cosmetic fixer" that can be completely refurbished with paint, wallpaper, new floor and window coverings, landscaping and new appliances. You should avoid run-down houses that need major structural repairs. A house price that looks too good to be true probably is. A smart buyer will find out why before buying it.

The basic strategy for a fixer is to find the least desirable house in the most desirable neighborhood, and then decide if the expenses needed to bring the value of that property up to its full potential market value are within one's rehab budget.

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Condos, Townhomes & Single-Family Homes

What are the differences between condos, townhomes and single-family homes?

Using appreciation as a measure, condominiums and townhomes in some areas have been as profitable an investment as single-family homes in the past five years. And in some markets, have appreciated even more, according to some experts.

While single-family homes have been the preferred investment by homebuyers, changing demographics are helping make condos and townhomes more popular, especially among single homebuyers, empty nesters and first-time buyers in high-priced markets.

Also, the condominium and townhome communities have worked hard in the last few years to overcome image problems brought on by homeowners association and developer disputes as well as all too frequent construction-defect litigation.

Condos vs. Townhomes vs. Single-family homes

The purchase price may be lower for a condo or townhome, but there are also homeowner association fees and restrictions. In actuality, they are just different measures of assuming the responsibilities of homeownership. However, it can have an effect on the mortgage amount for which you qualify and, in some ways, your lifestyle.

When you are approved for a mortgage, you will be approved for a maximum monthly payment. Your monthly payment typically includes homeowner’s insurance, but not the cost of utilities and maintenance. When buying a townhouse or condo, your maximum monthly payment includes your association fee which typically covers some, if not all, of your utilities and maintenance costs.

Truly, all three kinds of investments are good options; it’s just a matter of finding the best fit for you. While a house gives you more independence, it also has greater responsibility. A condo or townhome has the care of more regular expenses and freedom from some, if not all, utilities, as well as outside maintenance.

How do homeowners associations work?

Learn everything you can about the homeowners association before you buy into a development governed by one. The association's financial, political and legal conditions are very important to your investment and quality of life.

When run properly, homeowners associations maintain the common grounds and keep civility in the complex. If you follow the rules, the association should not intrude on your privacy or cost you too much in association dues.

Poorly managed associations can drag down property values and make living there difficult for residents. Start by studying the association's covenants, codes and restrictions, or CC&Rs, and find out if you can live by them

. For example, if the rules prohibit loud music after a certain hour and you like to play your CDs late at night, this may not be the place for you. Don't move in thinking you can get away with violating the rules or change them later because you may find yourself in turmoil with determined neighbors firmly in control of the association board.

Find out all you can about the association's finances. Beyond revewing the budget, talk to the association treasurer and find out if dues are expected to increase and if any special assessments are planned. Ask if special inspections have revealed problems with roofs or plumbing that may cause a dues hike or special assessment later on.

Call and meet with the association president. If you are the type of person who despises intrusions into your private life and the president seems more interested in gossip about the residents than maintaining the property, this may not be the right condo complex for you.

Speak with residents to get their views on the association's finances, its property manager, how it operates and any politics. Associations are volunteer organizations with elected boards, like a mini-government, so politics can enter the picture and spoil a good thing.

Lastly, take some time to understand how homeowners associations are organized and how they conduct business. Like all real estate investments, the more you know the better off you are.

Is it difficult to project rents on rentals?

If you are buying a rental income property and applying for a loan to do so, the lender will require an area rent survey by a certified appraiser. The amount a landlord can expect to receive in monthly rent largely depends on what the property has rented for in the past, the condition of the building, its location and the current housing market.

Lenders also look at other cash-flow considerations. They want to know if you have enough reserves on hand to cover predictable and unforeseen expenses, such as property insurance, taxes, regular maintenance and repairs.

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Vacation Homes

Are vacation homes a good investment?

You can buy a vacation home today for investment purposes as well as enjoyment. And yes, there are tax benefits.

Some people buy a vacation home to use as a permanent retirement home later, which allows them to get ahead on their payments. Another benefit is that the interest and property taxes on a vacation home are tax-deductible.

Some real estate experts predict that vacation homes will appreciate in value due to rising demand from the aging Baby Boom generation. You also can depreciate the property if you live in the house less than 14 days a year. 

You also need to consider whether you can afford to carry two mortgages, pay for the extra utilities and maintenance costs, and how this investment fits into your total personal finance picture.

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