HUD Homes: Houses of Horrors or Bargains?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Midway into the summer, Atlantan Lance Payne knew he did not want to spend another season in the heat and humidity of Georgia, but, as a retiree, he also knew he was in no position to go shopping for vacation getaways in pricey locations.

The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inventory of foreclosed homes solved his problem when he found a condominium - in reasonably good condition - for $27,500 in Spokane, Wash. He paid cash, then he painted, put down new floor covering and now is installing new kitchen appliances. To boot, said Payne, for well under $35,000, he will have a perfectly nice unit in a decent part of town.

Payne is not alone. HUD is where homes can be bought with cash advances on credit cards and that is no lie. Every day HUD has for sale many thousands of foreclosed homes at prices that sometimes are in the hundreds of dollars. Rarely are prices over $200,000. Many condominiums and free-standing homes sell for well under $50,000.

What's the catch?

Good question, because there are several, said professionals who have been mining the HUD marketplace for many years.

One fact: rarely are homes found in the best neighborhoods, mainly because those typically are snapped up long before they could find their way into the HUD inventory. If your heart is set on Manhattan, this isn't for you. Exactly zero homes in Manhattan were in the HUD inventory in a recent check. Same for Venice Beach, Calif.

"It's the average to low end homes that typically show up in the HUD inventory," said Erica Ramus, a Pottsville, Penn. realtor who has handled numerous HUD deals.

"Most HUD homes are in average to poor condition," she added. "There are bargains, but you have to be very careful in your shopping."