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Real estate road trip scouts troubled markets
(Washington Post) – A new form of sightseeing is catching on in the Washington suburbs, offering investment advice, free cookies and some eye-opening discoveries among the empty ramblers and forsaken townhouses of the region.
They are known as foreclosure tours or home buyer tours. One that originated yesterday at a Northern Virginia Long and Foster office was labeled “The Centreville Gateway Foreclosure Tour of Homes.” More than 30 “tourists” squeezed onto a green passenger bus for a three-hour spin through parts of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Some said they were looking for their first home, others were looking for a good investment, and some were just looking.
“I figure it’s probably a good time to get into the housing market,” said Anita Walter, a Centreville resident who saw an ad for the tour in a community newspaper. “I’m curious to see what’s out there, but I want a home that will be my home.
“I’m not trying to turn around and make a quick buck,” she said.
For homeowners and investors worried about the state of the housing market, the tours and their growing popularity are a sign that falling housing prices are attracting an increasing number of potential buyers — including those willing to travel in packs. Long and Foster offices have staged similar tours in Manassas, Gainesville, Alexandria and Mount Airy. Ones are planned in Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland.
“The general public doesn’t know how to find foreclosed properties,” said Pat Bogenn, a Long and Foster real estate agent. “There are deals out there, but there are also pitfalls.
“With bank-owned properties, most people don’t know that they’re buying ‘as-is,’ ” she said. Potential buyers might need to have utilities reconnected just to find out whether pipes are broken or the septic system works, Bogenn said.
The main draw of the tours is that they are a kind of rolling foreclosure seminar, counseling participants in everything from financing to property inspection to legal concerns.
“The benefit of this is that everyone is here at one time,” said Debbie Jeffries, a Centreville resident who was hunting for something with enough garage space for her mint-condition 1985 Lincoln Town Car. “I want rock-bottom prices.”
There was a home inspector on board to point out maintenance concerns and estimate repair costs, as well as two lenders and a real estate attorney. All of the homes on the tour were vacant and bank-owned, which eased some of the ambivalence participants felt about taking over a property its previous occupants might not have parted with willingly.
“It’s unfortunate that foreclosures have happened, but they can’t be reversed,” said Alex Bogenn, a real estate agent and Pat’s husband. “By filling the empty houses, we’re ensuring the integrity of the neighborhood, and it’s bringing money back into our economy.”
Kellian McIlwrath, a loan officer from Wells Fargo-affiliated Prosperity Mortgage, told tour participants it was the first time in memory that property shoppers could reap the benefits of both low prices and low interest rates.
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