Have a little money saved up? A few hours to kill? Why not take a new kind of tour — to peruse the bank-seized properties of homeowners fallen on hard times?
The tour is free, soft drinks and donuts are included, and you just might make a killing on the wounded US real estate market.
“Hi, how is everybody doing today? I am Tommy and this is Sheri,” said Tommy Burch, a real estate agent, who, with his wife, has been conducting three-hour “Foreclosure Bus Tours” every weekend for the past four months.
“We have got about 12 to 14 properties we are going to see today. We are going to try to keep moving very quickly,” he said to the passengers from the front of the 12-seat bus, just like a tour guide.
The Burches have an unusual criteria for selecting properties to show — all of them have been seized by the bank.
Months, maybe weeks ago, these homes were still inhabited by families who fell victim to the inflated prices and risky lending practices of the US real estate boom.
Now the banks that repossessed them, in a desperate search for cash, are selling them for a song.
Buyers are making out like bandits, said Tommy Burch, who has been in real estate about a decade. The prices of properties on his tour have plunged 40 percent in one year.
“I had no idea that in such a nice location, I could get a house for a price that is half of what it was just three years back,” said Pankaj Giroti, a management consultant in search of a deal.
The idea for the bus tours came to the couple when they themselves were looking to buy one of the spacious homes in this far-flung Washington suburb.
“A lot of these foreclosures don’t even have signs up saying that they are foreclosures, and they are gone in a day,” Tommy Burch said. “So, it’s difficult to find them, and when we do, it’s hard to work with the banks to get our contracts approved. So, we decided that if it was that hard for us to do, how hard it was for everybody else to do it.”
Real estate data from RealtyTrac shows that 2.2 million foreclosure procedures were filed last year. And foreclosures soared by 121 percent during April to June this year compared to the same period a year ago. The Burches visit up to 80 properties before a tour, compiling photos and data on selected houses into brochures for their tour participants.
During the tour, they answer questions and educate would-be buyers on how to go about buying a home from a bank.
“They make it very organized and it’s kind of fun, you know, to go on the buses to see all the properties,” said Eva Chen, who came with her husband and son.
“It does save me a lot of time instead of actually contacting all the agents to go through these properties,” said Gary Chu, Eva’s husband.
One or two contracts are signed after each tour, Tommy Burch said.
The Burches’ bus is red and blue, with a caricature of the couple painted on its side: her, blond and blue-eyed with pig-tails; him, a brunette with a brush cut, holding a tiny house with a smiling face and outstretched arms.
They are trying to add a lighter touch to what otherwise might be seen as a morbid fire sale.
“If you put it into a light where you look at this house, and you say, somebody used to live there and they lost their home and they lost everything, it’s really hard,” Tommy Burch said.
“But we want to make it an enjoyable experience, and fun, and a great opportunity for new people to have a home themselves that maybe couldn’t afford a home three years ago,” he said.