As Roland rightly pointed out, there're three stages of the foreclosing process:
1. Pre-foreclosure (Short Sale): because most likely it's still owner-occupied, showings are often by appointment only. Some owners may not even cooperate, and you never get a chance to see it. The short sale process is indeed very loooong! Depending on the hardship current owner is going through, their short sale filing needs to be agreed & approved by the bank, 60-90 days of wait is quite normal, so you just have to be patiently awaiting and hope the bank approve your offer price & terms. Even worse yet, if two banks are involved (i.e. first loan and secondary), they it could easily double the wait time.
2. If the property fails to sell during short sale, then goes to public auction (usually announced ahead on local media such as SJ Mercury, Los Gatos Weekly, etc). If you win, you must pay all cash.
3. If still doesn't sell, then bank foreclose upon and takes over as REO (real estate owned), from this point on, it's very much like a regular sale: you don't have to wait for approval any more, if your offer gets accepted by bank's authorized asset management, you enter escrow and close just like a regular transaction. You can still have your inspection contingency, loan contingency, etc. And you can get pretty good deals this way. The major disadvantage to you as a buyer is: REO has very limited disclosure other than some basic geo-reports, because remember, bank just took over, they didn't know much about what happened on this property in past years, right? So hiring an experienced inspector is crucial, check it out top-down and inside-out!
You may easily search for REO/Short Sales on our website:
Feel free to contact me if I could be any help, good luck :)