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A creepy, old and aged abandoned wooden house in a field under the blue sky

What is a distressed property? What do I need to know before and after buying a distressed property?

Whether you’re hunting for a new home sweet home or aiming to expand your investment collection, the sticker shock from sky-high house prices might leave you feeling sidelined. With real estate costs soaring, it’s easy to feel priced out of the market. But fear not! If you’re on the hunt for a budget-friendly option, distressed properties could be your saving grace.

Despite their associated risks, distressed properties might just be the ticket for certain buyers. So, let’s dive into what exactly a distressed property entails and when taking the plunge into buying one makes sense.

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What is a distressed property?

A distressed property is a piece of real estate that is in poor physical condition or is facing financial difficulties. These properties are often sold at a lower price than market value because they require significant repairs or because the owner is experiencing financial hardship. Distressed properties can include houses, apartments, commercial buildings, or land.

There are several reasons why a property may become distressed:

  1. Financial Problems: The owner may be unable to pay the mortgage, property taxes, or other expenses associated with the property. This can lead to foreclosure, where the lender takes possession of the property and sells it to recover the debt owed.
  2. Physical Damage: Natural disasters, neglect, or vandalism can cause damage to a property, making it unlivable or unsafe. In some cases, the cost of repairs may exceed the value of the property, leading the owner to sell it at a discounted price.
  3. Legal Issues: Legal disputes, such as boundary disputes or zoning violations, can also lead to distress. These issues may make it difficult to sell the property or obtain financing, causing financial strain on the owner.
  4. Market Conditions: Economic downturns or changes in the local real estate market can also contribute to property distress. When demand for real estate is low, properties may sit on the market for extended periods without attracting buyers, leading to price reductions and financial difficulties for the owner.

Distressed properties are often sold through foreclosure auctions, short sales, or directly by the owner. Investors and homebuyers may be attracted to distressed properties because of the potential for a bargain. However, purchasing a distressed property comes with risks and challenges:

  1. Repair Costs: Distressed properties typically require extensive repairs and renovations, which can be costly and time-consuming. Buyers should carefully assess the condition of the property and budget for repairs before making an offer.
  2. Legal Issues: Distressed properties may come with undisclosed liens, encumbrances, or title defects that can complicate the purchase process. Buyers should conduct thorough due diligence and seek legal advice to avoid potential legal pitfalls.
  3. Financing Challenges: Traditional lenders may be hesitant to finance distressed properties due to their poor condition or uncertain market value. Buyers may need to explore alternative financing options or pay cash for the purchase.
  4. Market Volatility: The real estate market can be unpredictable, and the value of a distressed property may fluctuate depending on various factors such as local economic conditions, supply and demand, and government policies.

Despite these challenges, investing in distressed properties can be lucrative for savvy buyers who are willing to do their homework and take calculated risks. By carefully evaluating the potential risks and rewards, investors can identify opportunities to purchase distressed properties at a discount and turn them into profitable investments through renovation, resale, or rental income.

View of old Abandoned houses in the field, close-up photo.Dalniye Zelentsy, Kola Peninsula.

What are the different types of distressed properties?

Distressed properties come about for various reasons, leading to three main types of distressed sales. Let’s delve into each one:


A common cause of distressed properties is foreclosure or preforeclosure. This occurs when a homeowner falls behind on mortgage payments or property taxes.

When mortgage payments are missed, the lender or loan servicer may reclaim the property. Sometimes, the lender may accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure to take over ownership.

In a foreclosure, lenders are required to sell the property following state laws. Typically, these homes are sold through foreclosure sales or auctions.

Real Estate Owned (REO)

Properties Properties that don’t find buyers at the initial auction are labelled as real estate owned (REO) properties, also known as bank-owned properties.

Lenders usually prefer not to deal with the upkeep or repairs of these properties and may be open to selling them at a reduced price. If you’re savvy in your search, you might score a bargain by purchasing an REO property.

Short Sales

Facing foreclosure, homeowners might opt for a short sale. This often occurs when a homeowner owes more on their mortgage than the current value of the home, known as an underwater mortgage. In such cases, a short sale can be a preferable route for the owner.

In a short sale, the distressed property is sold for less than the homeowner’s outstanding mortgage balance. This enables the owner to avoid foreclosure, and for buyers, short sales sometimes present excellent opportunities for a good deal.

Abandoned House in Field

What do I need to know before buying a distressed property?

Before diving into purchasing a distressed property, there are several key factors you should consider to ensure you make an informed decision:

  1. Financial Readiness: Assess your financial situation and determine how much you can afford to invest in a distressed property. Consider not only the purchase price but also the costs associated with repairs, renovations, taxes, insurance, and ongoing maintenance.
  2. Market Analysis: Research the local real estate market to understand current trends, property values, and demand for distressed properties in the area. Consider working with a real estate agent who specializes in distressed properties and can provide valuable insights.
  3. Property Inspection: Conduct a thorough inspection of the property to assess its condition and identify any potential issues or repairs needed. Consider hiring a professional inspector who can uncover hidden problems that may not be immediately apparent.
  4. Legal Due Diligence: Investigate any legal issues or encumbrances that may affect the property, such as liens, zoning restrictions, or title defects. Consult with a real estate attorney to ensure you understand the legal implications of purchasing a distressed property.
  5. Repair Estimates: Obtain estimates from contractors or construction professionals for the cost of repairs and renovations needed to bring the property up to livable or marketable condition. Factor these costs into your budget and consider whether you have the time, resources, and expertise to manage the renovations yourself.
  6. Financing Options: Explore financing options for purchasing a distressed property, as traditional lenders may be hesitant to finance properties in poor condition. Consider alternative financing options such as hard money loans, private lenders, or cash purchases.
  7. Risk Assessment: Evaluate the risks associated with purchasing a distressed property, including market volatility, potential for unexpected expenses, and challenges with resale or rental income. Consider whether you have the risk tolerance and resources to weather any setbacks or delays.
  8. Exit Strategy: Develop a clear exit strategy for the property, whether it’s renovating and flipping for a profit, holding as a rental property for passive income, or selling to a long-term investor. Consider the potential timeline and return on investment for each strategy.
  9. Negotiation Skills: Practice effective negotiation techniques to secure the best possible deal on the distressed property. Be prepared to negotiate with the seller, lender, or other parties involved in the transaction to achieve favourable terms and pricing.
  10. Patience and Persistence: Buying a distressed property can be a lengthy and complex process, so be prepared to exercise patience and persistence throughout the transaction. Stay focused on your goals and be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances as they arise.

Taking the time to weigh all the factors and doing your homework can really pay off when it comes to buying distressed properties. If you play your cards right, with a solid plan and the right attitude, you can turn a tidy profit investing in these types of real estate deals.

View of an old wooden houses in abandoned fishing village, close-up photo.Ghost town.Dalniye Zelentsy, Kola Peninsula.

What do I need to know after buying a distressed property?

After purchasing a distressed property, your first steps are crucial for setting the stage for a successful ownership experience. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Secure the Property: Immediately after closing the deal, ensure the property is secure. Change the locks and secure windows and doors to prevent unauthorized access.
  2. Assess the Property’s Condition: Conduct a thorough inspection of the property to assess its condition and identify any immediate repair or safety issues. Prioritize repairs based on urgency and budget constraints.
  3. Address Safety Concerns: If there are any safety hazards such as exposed wiring, broken windows, or structural damage, address them promptly to ensure the property is safe for occupancy.
  4. Utilities Setup: Arrange for essential utilities such as water plumbing, electricity, gas, and Expert Pest Control to be connected if they’re not already active. This is important for conducting renovations and ensuring the property is habitable.
  5. Develop a Renovation Plan: Create a detailed renovation plan outlining the repairs and improvements needed to bring the property up to your desired standards. Consider hiring contractors or professionals for complex renovations and obtain necessary permits if required.
  6. Budget Management: Keep track of your renovation expenses and manage your budget carefully to avoid overspending. Factor in contingency funds for unexpected repairs or delays.
  7. Insurance Coverage: Obtain appropriate insurance coverage for the property, including homeowners insurance or landlord insurance if you plan to rent it out. Ensure your insurance policy adequately covers any risks associated with owning a distressed property.
  8. Compliance and Regulations: Familiarize yourself with local building codes, zoning regulations, and any other legal requirements that may apply to your property. Ensure your renovations and property management practices comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
  9. Documentation and Record-Keeping: Maintain organized records of all documents related to the purchase, renovation, and ownership of the property. This includes contracts, receipts, permits, and correspondence with contractors or service providers.
  10. Long-Term Planning: Consider your long-term goals for the property, whether it’s to sell it for a profit, rent it out for passive income, or use it as your primary residence. Develop a plan for achieving your objectives and monitor your progress regularly.

Taking the right initial steps after purchasing a distressed property can pave the way for success and enhance your investment’s value over time. With strategic planning, consistent diligence, and meticulous attention to detail, you have the opportunity to turn a distressed property into a lucrative addition to your real estate portfolio.

Pros & cons of buying distressed properties

Investing in distressed properties can be both a risky and rewarding endeavor. While these properties often come with discounted price tags, they also pose unique challenges that prospective investors should consider.

Here’s a simple breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing distressed properties:


Potential for high returns: Distressed properties are usually priced below their market value, offering investors the chance to reap significant profits when reselling.

Less competition: Due to the complexities and risks involved, there’s typically less competition for distressed properties compared to standard real estate investments.

Diverse options: From tax sales to abandoned homes, there’s a wide array of distressed properties available, providing investors with various investment opportunities.


Heightened risk: There’s a greater risk of encountering unexpected issues like undisclosed liens, structural defects, or legal complications.

Added expenses: Renovations and repairs can incur significant costs, especially for properties in severe disrepair.

Complex acquisition process: Purchasing distressed properties often involves navigating through legal proceedings and extensive paperwork, making the buying process intricate and time-consuming.

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