First, let me congratulate you on using Realtor.com - other than working directly with a Realtor, it is the most up-to-date and accurate source of information on the Internet.
When it comes to foreclosures, the timeline for when a property will first be ready for sale can be estimated via the use of the â€œRule of 3". Once a Notice of Default has been filed you have about 3 months before they send a Notice of Sale. Once the Notice of Sale is initiated you have about 3 weeks until the actual sale date. And I think it's 3 days just before sale date that you can still pay off all your debt. In any case, you can estimate when a property might become available by noting the number of days it has been on RealtyTrac
You will not be able to tour the property until it is offered for sale, unless of course you are inclined to go knocking on someone's door that just received a Notice of Default.
RealtyTrac's postings are very misleading because the price shown is NOT representative of what the property will be when priced for sale, which is current market value. Most all properties foreclosed upon are listed on an MLS, if, they are not sold on the County Courthouse steps during the Trustee Sale (many time the trustee buys the property and then places the property on the MLS via a Realtor).
If you are looking at â€œdistressed propertiesâ€ you may also be considering Auctions. Auctions are a different thing all together and they do not want any possibility that the house they just sold does not close escrow due to any last minute lender issues. There are really two types of Auctions.
Type 1: Trustee Sale (post Notice of Default) - If you are looking for actual Trusteeâ€™s Sale auctions, they are published in the newspaper on a weekly basis under â€œpublic notices.â€ Notices are also typically posted at the entrance of the County courthouse. "Loans" need not apply: California state law requires liquid funds when your bid is accepted. The Trustee accepts cash or cashierâ€™s checks (and nothing else). Most who do this on an ongoing basis will go to the auction with several denominations of cashierâ€™s checks up to the amount they are willing to pay for the property of interest. Any set cashier's check overage will be returned to you. Condition of the property is a major concern.
Type 2: Auction Company â€“ Each auction company will have their individual process posted on their website to tell you about deposit requirements and how to view the homes. You have to have a cashiers check for deposit at a public auction. Seasoned bidders will have multiple cashiers checks of different denominations to make up a particular bid of a home. These auctions allow the bank(s) to unload lots of properties faster in this "bid-up" environment. It's really more of a pressure sales environment. I'd stay clear of these sales-oriented auction properties. Although you do get some time to do inspections, this is really a process for someone who can walk into a house and know what it will cost to place it back into shape. You can pay to have inspections done, but this might cause you to bid up the price of the home during auction time so you don't waste your money paid for the inspections. Really, there's no reason to be in an environment whose sole purpose is bidding-up a property's price in these times.