Just to add a little more info to what you are reading from others on this forum.
I have been the local RealtyTrac representative for over 4 years. Trulia gets their preforeclosure informaiton from RealtyTrac. RealtyTrac gets their information from data exchanges with filings at County Recorders offices accross the country, including our own in Ventura County. The data is just exchanged by computers there is no human review of the data. So, the information fhat is exchanged with RealtyTrac is accurate but may not reflect anything that is actually going to occur with the home. For example if the notice of default is filed for a second trust deed, it will look like there is a preforeclosure you can purchase for pennies on the dollar.
It is important to consider that while property lies nearly abandonded across our country, we have an inventory shortage in many areas of Ventura County, Simi Valley for sure. There are also Realtors and investors who watch these listings professionally. Should a homeowner fall into default, they will be approached by 3 dozen Realtors who do what Stever Gould describes. If they are realistic about their situation they are likely to list their home with one of those agents. Investors sometimes get involved at that stage or may go to the county courthouse steps to purchase a home with all cash when they are having the foreclosure action, these are just a few ways that homes in preforeclosure make their way into the market.
Working with RealtyTrac as a local representative in Simi, Moorpark and the Conejo for a while I can tell you that if you need to use financing to purchase your best, most time and price effective way to search is to start working with a Realtor. Look at everything in your price range, preforeclosures, foreclosures and regular sales. You never know who is going to have the home that most suits you, if you are purchasing your primary residence or are investing in a property that will require financing. About 75% of my buyers in the last two years have successfully purchased a preforeclosure or REO property but the other 25% or so, found the right home in a typical sale.
If you are looking to work with a Realtor who understands the importance of finding a good value - meeting much of your criteria including location, amenities and price, you wil appreciate looking with me. I would be happy to set you up with MLS Alerts which will provide you with up to the minute data about homes that come onto the market, preforeclosure, REO and regular sales, direct to your email address. The service is automatic, free and I promise not to pester you. Please contact me directly if that sounds good.