Grace has given a great overview of the courthouse auction process. There is one point she made that I would like to expand on. Most homes in this area that are going through foreclosure are not worth as much as the loans on them. Because so many people were able to get 100% loans on properties, and values have gone down 20-25% you can see that there is a problem. You have to pay off all lien holders at the auction, or the lender holding the first gets the property back. If the owner had equity in the property they could have sold it themself and saved the foreclosure process. There is no equity on these foreclosed properties so there are no deals.
Good luck on your home search.
Are you referring to the Trustee Sales conducted by the Sheriff's office for homes that are in foreclosure? These sales are conducted weekdays at the entrance to the San Mateo County Hall of Justice at 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA. Notices are published in newspapers by the banks to alert homeowners to sales in their city. Check your local newspaper in Menlo Park to see if and when a home should be auctioned. It isn't often that a home in Menlo Park goes to foreclosure--most of short saled--so keep scanning the papers for any published notice of impending sale.
Although the allured of buying a home at the "courthouse steps" is great for many frustrated buyers, I will caution you that buying a home in this manner has risks and should not be undertaken by anyone without the proper knowledge or training. Sales of this type require the buyer to buy the home (often sight unseen) for cash or certified checks (no loans or promissory notes) at the courthouse. Experienced buyers of foreclosure properties are often Realtors with access to information not normally available to the average homebuyer--such as comparables, past sales information, often pictures and information of the home's last sale, and the name of the bank holding the mortgage. Also, these individuals arrive to the auction with certified checks in various denominations to pay for the home--often more than $1 million in cash. Most have an excellent idea of the true value of the home, so if a home comes to auction and no one is buying or offering to pay for the property other than the lender, there is often a solid reason why.
So before venturing out to buy foreclosure homes at the courthouse, please take a few hours to thoroughly research the subject on the web, visit an action at San Mateo County and read books to ensure that you know and understand the risks, as well as the rewards, of purchasing a home through auction.
Grace Morioka, SRES, e-Pro
Area Pro Realty
San Jose, CA