Foreclosures in many parts of the country re at near-record levels, and recent declines in both property values and employment mean that more homeowners will land in foreclosure this year.

That leaves many people wondering either how to buy a foreclosed property or how to get help if they’re facing foreclosure.

A dizzying variety of radio ads, infomercials, seminars and even hand-lettered signs next to freeway exits promise to teach you about some aspect of foreclosure-buying or foreclosure-avoidance. But starting your research online is much more sensible than signing up for an expensive seminar or calling the number on the “We Buy Houses” sign next to the interstate.

As a San Jose Mercury News reader put it when she called the paper recently to ask where to turn to learn about buying foreclosed properties, “Where could a regular buyer find out about foreclosures? I just don’t know where to start to get a ‘master list,’ so to speak.”

With her question in mind, the following is a brief guide to finding some of the most useful, timely information available online to help you buy a property, or try to avoid foreclosure.

To find the right online sites for researching a “foreclosure” purchase, you need to be clear about what you want. Do you want to bid on a home at a courthouse-steps auction on the day that it is foreclosed upon, possibly getting a great deal, but also taking ownership of a house you’ve probably never inspected that might be inhabited by past owners or tenants you must evict? Or would you be more comfortable buying a “bank-owned” property that’s already been foreclosed upon, the residents kicked out and the place cleaned up a bit by the lender’s real estate team?

Sites to turn to for nationwide pre- and post-foreclosure home listings include Foreclosures.com, which focuses on training real estate investors and includes a “gurus to avoid” page, Foreclosure.com and RealtyTrac.com. All have free introductory periods.

The monthly charge thereafter on Foreclosures.com. is $49.95. Foreclosure.com. charges $39.80 monthly. RealtyTrac charges $49.95 monthly with a four-month minimum. If you’re looking for a bank-owned (or “REO”) home that’s already been foreclosed upon and listed for sale with a real estate agent, the online search options are many. (REO stands for “real estate owned” by lenders.)

Cyberhomes (www.cyberhomes.com) also provides a good online search option that includes both bank-owned properties that have been listed with a Realtor and those that have not yet made it to the MLS.

If you are having trouble making your mortgage payments and are at risk of foreclosure, you can also start your search for help online, but be prepared to have phone or in-person conversations with lenders, mortgage counselors and others as you seek a solution.

A good place to begin investigating your options is at www.hud.gov., the Web site for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It includes advice on avoiding foreclosure and warnings about foreclosure-related scams, and links to resources in each state. Especially important is the link to a list of local HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, which in Silicon Valley include Neighborhood Housing Services (www.nhssv.org) and Project Sentinel (www.housing.org).

For information about the Obama administration’s programs for refinancing and loan modification, visit www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov.

Cyberhomes.com also offers useful guides to the foreclosure process, with links to state-specific information.

Options for those who want to discuss foreclosure issues with others include the “Q & A” feature at real estate search engine Trulia (www.trulia.com) and the “Answers” feature at Yahoo! Real Estate (realestate.yahoo.com). For investors, there’s BiggerPockets (www.biggerpockets.com) and ForeclosureTruth.com.

Some people answering questions on such sites are self-proclaimed “experts” and others are fellow potential buyers and sellers. In either case, it’s wise to take their advice with a grain of salt unless you can verify it independently.


(c) 2009, San Jose Mercury News. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.