Most of the websites are aggregators and pull together all available listings to make it easier for you. Others before have pointed out good sources for finding listings for free like county courthouses and clerks. However, one thing that hasn't been mentioned that you may consider is simply how valuable your time is. If using a website will save you 2 or 3 hours of making initial phone calls to county and city offices and or driving down there and looking through their listings, are those 2 or 3 hours worth the 19.95 membership? Maybe yes, maybe no. You're the only one who can answer that.
Regardless if you find a listing on a website or at a courthouse, you still need to pick up the phone once something sparks your interest. Websites will never tell you enough info on the property, but can be a good step 1 in a multi step process.
If one is looking from the aspect of sheer volume of listings, http://www.hud.gov will take you to a decent number of foreclosure listings that are offered by HUD and the VA. Many banks have their own foreclosure listings and the larger banks may have as many homes offered as HUD at a given time. A convenient choice for some is to utilize the services of say realtytrac.com or foreclosures.com, but you're right those types of sites charge monthly service fees and often show expired listings, which if you have a buyer with the fever to by a house to flip can cause major disappointment not to mention the fees these types of sites typically charge can run between $19 & $39 a month.
Many people pay this because they don't have a good handle on where to look for foreclosure properties, but if all foreclosure listings were centrally located for free than those sites would have no purpose.
The vast majority of these listings is out there for free, one just needs to know where to find them. If a bank is sitting on a property it is in their best interest to unload the property and get it off the books. There is a site out there that will provide a list of the top 50 websites. They charge something like $5 or $6 for the list, but I found the list well worth the money because it could have taken me hours to find all those sites and quite frankly my time is worth a lot more than $5.
Web Reference: http://www.homeforeclosuresfound.com/
Without a doubt, the absolute best way to identify, track, and purchase distressed sales is via the support of an experienced reaql estate professional. As a buyer, there is no expense and one greatly increases their chances for success.
The fact is there are many sources where you can find current and up to date foreclosure listings and some are in fact free. Take a look at a site like re4close.com that is legitimate and doesn't bombard you with sales come-ons for good sources of foreclosure listings.
Sites like.... http://www.wamuproperties.com/ .... http://www.hud.gov/homes/index.cfm
https://www.citimortgage.com/Mortgage/Oreo/SearchListing.do ... http://www.homepath.com/
The links to these Bank and Gov. sites can be found here.... http://www.mortgagenewsdaily.com/wiki/REO_Database_List.asp http://www.biggerpockets.com/bank-reo.html
If it's Tax sales you're interested in then you may find this search engine useful...
Contact a local Trulia agent provide your specifications, and lender approval amount . Realtor can do an automatic search via MLS of all foreclosures forward to you moment it hits MLS. IT IS FREE. Will have correct information potential up 10 photos description .
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Sam - information on foreclosures is tricky business. The problem is, it's a lengthy process, and there's a lot that can happen during that process that can hang things up a bit when viewed from the perspective of a potential buyer.
When dealing with sites like RealtyTrac - or other aggregators that spew foreclosure info, because of the lengthy process, and all that can happen between the lender and owner - thier information is sketchy at best. Foreclosures require a bit of public disclosure to get the ball rolling, but really nobody wants to give out a lot of private info beyond the basic public filings. That makes getting any solid actionable information even more difficult.
Best bet - don't rely on websites too much. Sites like RealtyTrac will give you updates about public notices of default and stuff like that - and if you want to use that to augment research that you're doing, that's great - but most of the aggregators out there simply aren't up to speed yet.
Once a property is foreclosed and is owned by the bank, getting the info is considerably easier to come across. It will typically end up being listed for sale, and if you can find an agent who has developed contacts with various lenders and institutions - you can get an inside track through them.
Be prepared to put in a lot of work and face a good amount of rejection here and there if you're looking at bank owned property though. It's a bit of a different process then dealing with your average resale, or even short sale.
Buying a foreclosure is not an easy deal. It would be wise to develope a relatioship with an area Realtor. My daughter and I are a Realtor Team in Ulster County. We would be happy to guide you through the process. You can check out our website and email us if you like- UlsterHomes@yahoo.com