Buying a repossessed property: How to and should you?

author-avatar By on December 18, 2019
Buying a repossessed property: How to and should you?

Photo by Alex D'Alessio on Unsplash

Home repossession is typically a negative affair, but for switched on buyers, it can provide a unique opportunity.

Research from Digital Finance Analytics in April estimated that 66,700 Australian households were at risk of experiencing a 30-day default within 12 months. This suggests there could be thousands of properties in Australia at risk of being repossessed by lenders

No one should be forced out of their home, but it can be a necessary evil for all stakeholders (the former owners, the lender and the market) to move forward. The sale of a repossessed property allows the previous owner to repay their loan and move on, while on the flip side, the new buyer is potentially getting a house for below market value.

Buying a home or looking to refinance? The table below features home loans with some of the lowest variable interest rates on the market for owner occupiers.

Base criteria of: a $400,000 loan amount, variable, principal and interest (P&I) owner-occupied home loans with an LVR (loan-to-value) ratio of at least 80%. If products listed have an LVR <80%, they will be clearly identified in the product name along with the specific LVR. Monthly repayments were calculated based on the selected products’ advertised rates, applied to a $400,000 loan with a 30-year loan term.

What is mortgage repossession?

When a borrower falls behind on their home loan repayments, known as falling into arrears, the lender has certain rights to retrieve the money it’s owed. The lender can issue a default notice which can give the borrower 30 days to catch up on the missed repayments or apply for a hardship variation. If no effective action is taken within the period specified by the lender in the notice, the lender will seek the recovery of the full outstanding loan amount owed. To do this, the lender will apply to the courts to have an eviction notice drawn against the borrower.

Once vacated, the property is offered for sale via a real estate agent acting for the lender (not the borrower) and the funds from the sale together with lenders' costs are deducted by the lender and the balance, if any, is forwarded to the borrower.

If there’s a shortfall to the lender, the borrower remains liable and is required to reimburse the lender for everything owed under the contract, including interest, costs and fees. This is because mortgages in Australia generally give lenders full recourse against borrowers for losses incurred, unlike in the US where many mortgages are non-recourse - meaning lenders cannot go after a borrower's savings or assets to recover the debt.

So for example, if a borrower’s property is repossessed and they owe $500,000, and the lender sells the house for $550,000 the lender is repaid $500,000 while the borrower receives the remaining $50,000.

However, if the house were to sell for $450,000 the borrower would still be liable for $50,000 so the lender can get its $500,000 back.

Foreclosure vs repossession: what’s the difference?

Statistically and historically, a percentage of all mortgages will fail, so mortgage repossession is a necessary protection for lenders. You might have heard of foreclosure being used interchangeably with repossession, but they’re slightly different.

With a foreclosure, the lender goes through the legal process of getting the borrower off the property title and putting themselves on as the owner, whereas with repossession the lender just gets a court order to take over the property and sell it, but the owner remains on the title.

In Australia, lenders prefer to go through repossession as it’s simply more efficient and cost-effective than pursuing foreclosure.

Why buy a repossessed property?

Mortgage repossessions are generally properties that represent greater profit potential for investors and home buyers. They're often sold under market value, and for this reason usually have a greater profit margin when resold.

The ethical issue faced by many investors and home-buyers when faced with these opportunities is a personal dilemma. The simple fact is that the property will be put up for sale and is highly likely to be sold, but that house still used to belong to people who faced financial difficulty. But it doesn’t need to be such a hard decision, as buying a repossessed property can actually benefit each different party.

The borrower relies on the sale to repay the loan and move on, while the lender seeks to recover its funds. It’s a process of the market that sometimes seems unfair for homeowners in financial difficulty, but the circumstances could be even worse if the property doesn’t get sold.

When these properties don’t sell the impact on local values for all homeowners in the area and surrounding suburbs can mean lower values and greater pressure on equity. In addition, the costs to the borrower can escalate beyond the borrower’s equity.

Tips on buying a repossessed property

There are a number of things to know before buying a repossessed property, as the sale can be quite different from buying a regular property. Check out these tips for successfully purchasing a repossessed property,

1. Use an agent

Repossessed properties can be a real mixed bag and as a result, finding one that’s a good investment isn’t always an easy task. Repossessed properties also tend to sell notoriously quickly, so keeping tabs on them can be difficult. Getting a local real estate agent to step you through the process, immediately inform you when there’s one that meets your requirements, and helping you with the buying process is money well spent. They can also provide valuable insight into property values, rental demand and trends in the area.

2. Do your own research

As with any property purchase, doing your research is vitally important, but this is perhaps more so the case with repossessed properties. Regardless of whether you decide to use an agent or not, your own research is incredibly important to understand whether you’re making a good investment.

Just because a property is a bargain, doesn’t mean you should automatically buy it. Consider whether there is positive growth in the suburb, find out if there have been multiple repossessions locally and investigate what employment opportunities are like in the area.

3. Decide what you’re going to do with the property

Don’t go blindly into buying a property just because you can; you should have a clear idea of whether you’re going to live in the property, rent it out or quickly flip it. This will allow you to build a clear budget prior to viewing or researching properties and should also prevent you from getting sentimentally attached to something that won’t be suitable.

4. Have your finances ready

Lenders aren’t typically in the business of being homeowners and consequently want repossessed properties sold as quickly as possible so they can have their funds returned. Every day the property isn’t sold is lost money to them. As a result, the sale of a repossessed property often goes through extremely quickly, so it’s vital you have your funds ready to go, should your offer be accepted.

Consider getting a pre-approval for a loan to help speed the process up even more.

5. Be prepared to repair

If a homeowner couldn’t afford their mortgage repayments there’s a good chance they couldn’t afford the upkeep on their property either. Be prepared to foot a hefty bill for repairs for the house and upon viewing, inspect every nook and cranny to see what you’re going to be liable for. You don’t want repair costs to outweigh the lower price you pay for the property.

6. Be wary of restrictive conditions

Due to the rapid settlement, buyers typically don’t have the option to negotiate conditions on the property’s contract. As a result, normal conditions like a builder’s guarantee or cooling-off period may be waived and changes to conditions may be void.

Consider hiring a solicitor to inspect the contract so you’re aware of the conditions and can make an informed decision as to whether you should proceed.

Benefits of buying a repossessed property

There are a number of benefits to buying a repossessed property. Here’s a list of some of the benefits according to nmddata.com.au, which lists such properties:

  • Repossessed properties can be bought 10-15% below market value, depending on condition and position
  • They can offer a lower entry point for first home-buyers
  • They can provide a better yield due to a lower purchase price
  • They’re generally offered as vacant possession
  • Investors can claim depreciation on fittings, fixtures and the improvements

Risks of buying a repossessed property

As with most property purchase, buying a repossessed property is not without its risks:

  • Overpayment - investors who don’t research local values can pay too much
  • It’s easy to overspend on repairs and renovations if you’re not careful
  • The property may be located in a stagnant or minimal capital growth area

Savings.com.au’s two cents

Repossessed properties often present a great opportunity to break into the home loan market for a below market value price. However, it’s important to note that they’re not a regular purchase; they can be hard to find, the settlement is rapid and repairs are highly likely.

When faced with the ethical issue of buying someone’s home they’ve been evicted from, remember that if you don’t buy it, someone else will. Furthermore, the purchase allows for the former owners to move on, and settle their debt with their lender.


Disclaimers

The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered which includes retail products from at least the big four banks, the top 10 customer-owned institutions and Australia’s larger non-banks:

  • The big four banks are: ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac
  • The top 10 customer-owned Institutions are the ten largest mutual banks, credit unions and building societies in Australia, ranked by assets under management in November 2019. They are (in descending order): Credit Union Australia, Newcastle Permanent, Heritage Bank, Peoples’ Choice Credit Union, Teachers Mutual Bank, Greater Bank, IMB Bank, Beyond Bank, Bank Australia and P&N Bank.
  • The larger non-bank lenders are those who (in 2020) has more than $9 billion in Australian funded loans and advances. These groups are: Resimac, Pepper, Liberty and Firstmac.

Some providers' products may not be available in all states. To be considered, the product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider's web site.

In the interests of full disclosure, Savings.com.au, Performance Drive and Loans.com.au are part of the Firstmac Group. To read about how Savings.com.au manages potential conflicts of interest, along with how we get paid, please click through onto the web site links.

*The Comparison rate is based on a $150,000 loan over 25 years. Warning: this comparison rate is true only for this example and may not include all fees and charges. Different terms, fees or other loan amounts might result in a different comparison rate.

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Alex joined Savings.com.au in 2019. He is passionate about providing Australians with the information and tools needed to make them financially stable for their futures.

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