Foreclosure sleuthing using public records, newspapers

Business,Real Estate,Patrick Crowley

Foreclosed houses are a stark reminder of the devastating fall of the housing market the nation and region continue to struggle through.
But in a capitalistic society, one person’s loss can be another’s opportunity, and foreclosed homes present some of the best buying opportunities on the housing market.
Is there a way local buyers and investors can learn about upcoming foreclosures or houses that have been recently taken over by a lender? Or homes that are not yet for sale in the traditional sense of a sign in the yard and a listing with a Realtor?
Local real estate experts say in some cases, yes — with the information available in the courthouse and the back pages of local newspapers.
But you have to know what you’re looking for and where to look.

In none of the region’s jurisdictions are preforeclosure steps part of a public court proceeding. But in the District, there is a public record filed that often precedes a foreclosure, said Ray L. Kaufmann, a lawyer with Jackson & Campbell and the chairman of the D.C. Bar Association real estate section.
“When a borrower is delinquent, a lender can file a foreclosure notice at the D.C. Recorder of Deeds,” Kaufmann said. “The foreclosure will take place 30 days after that. There can also be a 30-day extension.”
Records maintained by the D.C. Recorder of Deeds are open to the public and available online at Kaufmann said the site has a search feature, but searches are conducted by “lot and square,” not by address.
“The lot and square can be easily matched to a street address at the Web site maintained by the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue,” he said. That site is at
In Virginia and Maryland, about the best and only public way to learn about foreclosures is by checking the legal notices of local newspapers, according to area real estate lawyers.
“There is nothing in Virginia that requires any sort of public filing of a foreclosure, other than a notice in the newspaper,” said lawyer Vincent Keegan of Keegan & Associates in McLean. “Look in the legal notice section, and look for the trustees notice of sales of real estate.
“That’s the official advertisement placed by the trustee appointed by the bank in a foreclosure,” Keegan said. “That will generally contain terms of the sale and when the property is going to sale.”
Firms that advertise foreclosed homes for sale, and purport to have inside knowledge about foreclosures, typically find their information in the paper, he said.
“They say they have inside information, but I don’t know where they are getting it,” Keegan said. “The only, and simplest, way I know of getting that information is reading the paper.”
Howard Birmiel, a real estate lawyer in Burke, said obtaining advance information about foreclosures was difficult if not impossible because of privacy laws.
“Lenders won’t talk about it,” he said. “You might be able to get information from the borrower who has a direct interest in the property or in the loans, or somebody adversely affected by it. But you won’t see a public record prior to the sale.”
Divorces, wills and tax liens on property that can also foretell a sale can be found in county courthouses, said Falls Church lawyer Frank Sofocleous. If you are interested in a property that you have heard might be coming up in foreclosure, you can find out who holds the loans on the house, and therefore who to contact, by looking at the lien information.

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