The Smart Buys in a Scary Market

We know: Between the topsy-turvy prices and the subprime mess, it's a real estate nightmare out there. But after grilling dozens of brokers and hundreds of industry experts, we're pleased to report there are some bright spots for jittery house-hunters (and owners). A road map to 29 neighborhoods and towns that are holding their value, or are poised to be big winners when the next boom rolls around.

The Bright Side of Foreclosures

Yes, it’s bad news for those losing their home. But their loss could be your way into a prime neighborhood. 

In some of Boston’s most manicured suburbs, foreclosure petitions are sprouting like crabgrass: Last year there were 76 in Newton, 34 in Wellesley, and 16 in Concord. For the opportunistic, the trend is a chance to get into a premium community at a cut-rate price—if you know how to work the system.

While many foreclosures are sold through a real estate agent, some of the best deals come via auction. Since newspapers list them only a week or two in advance, for more notice, subscribe to Banker & Tradesman, which publishes details of proceedings as soon as banks initiate them. Once you find a house you like, you’ll need to make sure there are no liens against it—from the unpaid kitchen contractor, for instance—as those liabilities fall to the purchaser. You’ll likely be asked to provide a certified check for a down payment, and possibly proof of financing. You may also be expected to purchase the property without seeing the inside (but crafty shoppers often offer the current owner cash for a sneak peek).

Before you pull out your checkbook, there’s one more thing you should do, suggests Bob Imperato, a Boston-based Realtor. “I would advise anyone thinking of trying this to go to two or three auctions first,” he says, “just to see how it’s done.”