Have We Hit The Bottom Yet?

This Article was in the Star-Tribune today:

North Side home sale clears nothing but the books

Last update: March 30, 2009 – 11:59 PM

The market for foreclosed and stripped houses has gotten so bad on the North Side of Minneapolis that lenders are walking away from some closings barely clearing any money when they unload a house.

Just ask real estate agent Scott Ficek. He represented investors at a closing Friday at which the lender walked away with a grand total of $69.60.

That’s because normal closing costs plus city assessments against the property at 1914 Russell Av. N. nearly ate up the entire $12,500 sales price.

Ficek said he’s seen banks walk away with as little as a couple thousand dollars before, but he found this closing so unusual that he featured it on his real estate blog. “This one happened to catch my eye,” he said.

Get ready for more, said neighborhood activist Roberta Englund, who tracks North Side real estate patterns. She said she knows of more than 30 houses in the two north Minneapolis ZIP codes listed for less than $30,000. “I think in many cases the banks are clearing nothing except their books,” she said.

The squeezed margins come after banks already have discounted sales prices heavily. The three-bedroom Russell Avenue house sold for $189,900 early in 2006. But after a year and half on the market, it had been stripped of its copper pipes and its radiators. It was listed for $35,300 when Ficek approached the agent representing owner Fannie Mae. He offered a mere $8,000.

Ficek had a powerful negotiating tool on his side. The city already had assessed $6,000 against the house, which represented an unpaid fee from 2008 that the city imposes on houses registered as vacant and boarded. With the same fee due to be imposed next month for 2009, Fannie Mae had a strong incentive to unload the house now.

There is a lot of this going on right now.

I’ve working with a few cash buyer/investors who are looking at homes at prices that would have been unimaginable just two years ago (think $25,000 for a “habitable” home), bidding lower then asking prices and getting it.

Banks can’t be clearing anything on these deals, just getting these properties off their books, and avoiding further fees from the city on boarded-up properties.

I’ve seen investors update these homes, which in the case of a boarded house means EVERYTHING has to be brought up to code (a  tall order in a century plus old home), and turning it for over a $100,000 more then what they bought it for.

Some of these homes are gorgeous, even before they are renovated, but the work involved in replacing all the plumbing and electrical can be daunting.

Tread cautiously.

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