When a homeowner can’t pay their mortgage and a resolution is not possible, the property may eventually be seized and sold by the bank. This process is called foreclosure, and it can create opportunities for buyers in the real estate market. One particular type of property you might come across is known as an “REO,” which stands for “Real Estate Owned.” These are properties that the bank or lender owns because they didn’t sell at a foreclosure auction. 

What is REO Foreclosure? If you’re currently looking to buy a home, understanding how to find and assess REO foreclosures in your area can be very beneficial. It helps you spot potential deals and also understand the risks involved in buying these kinds of properties, so you can go in with your eyes open and make the best decision for a secure future for you and yours.

Understanding REO Foreclosure

REO Foreclosure refers to properties that are owned by a bank or lender after failing to sell at a foreclosure auction. This situation typically arises when the amount owed on the home is higher than its market value, and as a result, buyers aren’t interested during the auction.

How Does a Property Become an REO?

  1. Missed Payments: It all starts when a homeowner fails to make their mortgage payments. This can happen for various reasons like financial hardship or unexpected life events.
  2. Foreclosure: After several missed payments, the lender initiates foreclosure, which is the legal process they use to take control of the property.
  3. Auction: The lender then tries to sell the property at a public auction to recover the money owed.
  4. REO Status: If the property doesn’t sell at the auction, it becomes an REO. The lender, often a bank, takes ownership of the property and handles its sale.

REO vs. Other Foreclosures

  • Standard Foreclosure: Involves a property sold directly through an auction.
  • Short Sale: When a property is sold for less than the amount owed with the lender’s approval before it goes to foreclosure.
  • REO Foreclosure: No sale at auction leads to the lender owning the property.

Understanding these terms and processes can help you as a buyer recognize different opportunities and challenges in purchasing foreclosed properties.

What is REO Foreclosure Process?

Understanding the REO foreclosure process is key to navigating potential purchases efficiently and effectively. Here’s what happens once a property becomes an REO and how it moves from bank ownership to being available for purchase:

Step-by-Step Guide to the REO Foreclosure Process

  1. Bank Takes Ownership: After a property fails to sell at auction, it becomes an REO. The bank or lender now officially owns the property and will handle the sale process.
  2. Property Management: Initially, the bank will secure the property. This includes changing locks, maintaining the lawn, and making minor repairs to ensure the property is safe and presentable.
  3. Assessment and Valuation: The bank assesses the property’s condition and determines its market value. This often involves hiring professionals to conduct appraisals and inspections to set a competitive price that reflects the property’s state and market conditions.
  4. Listing the Property: The bank lists the property for sale, typically using real estate agents who specialize in REO properties. These listings are available on multiple real estate platforms, making them accessible to potential buyers like you.
  5. Offer and Negotiation: As a buyer, you can make an offer through your real estate agent. Banks are usually keen to sell these properties quickly to recover their costs, which can give you some leverage in negotiations.
  6. Closing the Sale: Once an offer is accepted, the closing process is similar to any other real estate transaction. However, buying an REO can be quicker since the bank is motivated to sell and there are no homeowner occupants to move out.

What to Expect When Buying an REO

  • As-Is Condition: REO properties are typically sold “as-is,” meaning the bank makes no warranties regarding the property condition.
  • Potential for Savings: Although ‘as-is’ can mean more risk (the property could require significant repairs), it also might allow you to purchase below market value.
  • Efficiency: The absence of a typical homeowner selling the house can reduce emotional negotiation factors, potentially streamlining the process.

Understanding these steps can help demystify the process and prepare you for what to expect when considering an REO property.

Laws Regarding REO Foreclosure in California

California has many resources, as well as many specific laws that impact the process and rights associated with REO foreclosures. Understanding these can help you navigate potential legal pitfalls and recognize your rights as a buyer.

What is REO Foreclosure in California?

  • Foreclosure Process Requirements: In California, lenders must follow specific procedures before foreclosing on a property. This includes contacting the homeowner to discuss options for avoiding foreclosure at least 30 days before issuing a notice of default. These regulations ensure that the foreclosure process is fair and that homeowners have opportunities to retain their homes.
  • Notice of Sale: Once the property becomes an REO, the lender must post a notice of sale in a public place and publish it in local newspapers. This notice must be issued at least 20 days before the sale, providing public transparency and allowing potential buyers like you to prepare.
  • Redemption Period: Unlike some states, California generally does not offer a redemption period after the sale of a foreclosed property. Once an REO property is sold, the previous owner cannot reclaim it by paying off the debt, which can streamline the purchase process for buyers.
  • Tenant Rights: If the REO property is occupied by tenants, California laws provide protections, including the requirement for the new owner to honor existing lease terms or provide a minimum notice period before eviction. Understanding tenant rights is crucial if the REO property you are considering is not vacant.
  • Disclosures: California requires sellers, including banks selling REO properties, to disclose specific information about the property’s condition. Even though REOs are sold as-is, banks must inform buyers of known structural issues, presence of hazardous materials like asbestos, or other significant factors.

Impact of These Laws

These regulations ensure that the REO foreclosure process in California is conducted transparently and fairly, providing protections for all parties involved. As a buyer, these laws can affect the timeline, your rights during the buying process, and your responsibilities after purchase.

Benefits and Challenges of Buying an REO Property

Purchasing an REO property can be an attractive option for many homebuyers and investors, but it’s important to weigh the potential advantages against the challenges.

Benefits of Buying an REO Property

  • Price Advantage: One of the most compelling reasons to consider an REO property is the potential for a lower purchase price compared to traditional listings. Banks are usually motivated to sell these properties quickly to recover the unpaid loan amount, which can lead to below-market prices.
  • Less Competition: Since REO properties require more effort and understanding of the foreclosure process, there might be less competition from other buyers, especially those looking for move-in-ready homes.
  • Clear Title: Buying an REO property typically comes with a clear title, meaning the bank has resolved any liens or encumbrances that might complicate the sale.

Challenges of Buying an REO Property

  • Property Condition: REO properties are often sold “as-is,” which can mean inheriting problems from the previous owner. It’s crucial to conduct a thorough inspection to assess potential repairs and maintenance issues.
  • Negotiation Process: Negotiating with a bank can be different from dealing with individual sellers. The process can be less personal, more bureaucratic, and potentially slower, depending on the bank’s response time.
  • Additional Costs: While the purchase price might be lower, the total cost may increase due to necessary repairs, property taxes, and insurance. It’s essential to budget for these potential expenses.

Tips for Navigating These Challenges

  • Conduct a Detailed Inspection: Hire a professional inspector to evaluate the property thoroughly. This can help you avoid costly surprises after purchase.
  • Prepare for a Lengthy Process: Be ready for a potentially extended buying process. Patience and persistence are key when dealing with institutional sellers like banks.
  • Consult with Professionals: Engaging a real estate agent experienced in REO transactions and a lawyer familiar with local property laws can provide valuable guidance and representation.


What is REO Foreclosure? It’s a unique opportunity for savvy homebuyers and investors. With lower purchase prices and less competition, REO properties can be a great addition to your real estate portfolio or an affordable way to enter the housing market. However, the process involves complexities, from understanding the condition of the property to negotiating with a bank. This is where having the right support and expertise becomes invaluable.

If you’re considering the purchase of an REO property and are in need escrow services, contact Bay Area Escrow, we’d love to help.