RealtyTrac utilizes multiple free and fee based data sources and aggregates this info. If you seek information about foreclosure properties, your options are as follows:
1) Pay a service, such as RealtyTrac for the ease and convenience of an aggregated data source.
2) Engage the services of a REALTOR who has familiarity with the market niche you seek. A buyer agent who knows the area well who can access various data sources to value add to their neighborhood expertise.
3) Engage the services of a REALTOR who specializes in REOs who has expertise in foreclosures and can utilize tools to add any necessary neighborhood info.
4) Perform your own research. You can use 'free' tools only. In addition to internet searches, visit your local township offices for tax data and tax status (including items which are treated as tax beyond property taxes) county recorder for deed info, and courthouse for updates on legal proceedings.
Note: REALTORS do not rely solely on free tools via the internet. REALTORS utilize fee based tools through their associations as well as individually purchased tools. The information available to a REALTOR may supersede that which you can source on your own for free. If, however, you wish to invest the time and money, you would be able to find out the same facts and history on properties as would a REALTOR. At that point, utilizing - or not - a RELATOR becomes a choice based on whether you believe the experience and input from a trusted advisor has value.
Finding the right REALTOR, in my opinion, is the most efficient and cost effective route, while simultaneously reducing your risk since the input of a skilled REALTOR could help your outcome through better decisions.
However, in the alternative......... your sources are:
Township Offices - Tax data. Tax liens? Sewer liens? Past due water bills can become taxable liens against a property in municipalities where water is provided by the township. If water is provided by an independent water company, not so. Title transfers. History of taxes. Zoning office. Planning Office. Permits properly filed for all work performed?
County Offices - Deeds, liens filed? Scheduled sale dates? Postponements? Title transfers?
Courthouse - Updates on legal proceedings.