buy foreclosed homes onlineAverage Joe, seeking to save his house by getting a loan modification, knows that that process is about as easy as getting Congress to pass health care legislation. So imagine a scenario under which investors may, for $99.95 per month, peruse lists of foreclosed homes they can buy at bulk-buyers' costs, with the mere click of a mouse. How did that happen?

Starting this week, RebuildUS.com, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based company, is launching a Web site that allows buyers to purchase low-end properties online. No courthouse mob scene, no auction fracas. The homes for sale -- usually distressed and starting at about $4,000 -- are available courtesy of bulk buyers like James Odell Barnes, a well-known foreclosure investor. Barnes, of Leesville, S.C., buys vast quantities of homes over the phone, without inspecting them. Or, as he explained it once in an interview, "I will buy anything."

Well and good. But how do investors get in on this bonanza?

Bulk buyers -- the big boys who typically deal directly with banks and buy in volume -- list low-priced individual homes at RebuildUS.com. Then RebuildUS.com members, "resellers" who pay the monthly fee for lists of homes for sale, buy the properties in packages of five or more (mini-bulk buyers, as it were). Contracts are completed through a secure Web site. Those buyers then resell the homes to low-income buyers who may not qualify for a bank loan, offering them seller financing -- a payoff installment plan lasting at least 15 years.

"RebuildUS was created to do what the banks can't do: create house payments families can afford," says Benjamin Kim, co-founder and CEO of RebuildUS.com.

The company offers investors an array of options to buy and manage each home. The Web site also has links to firms that will, for a fee, do the legwork of selling or managing the properties. That's a heck of a lot easier than the usual scenario.

Typically, buyers seeking foreclosed properties rely on bank lists, the Multiple Listing Service, tax records and Web sites to find foreclosed properties for sale. Or they get tight with real estate agents who specialize in foreclosures, and pass along new listings to clients as they become available. Good luck with that.

Buyers with guts of steel take their chances on courthouse steps, where public auctions of bank-owned properties take place. The uninitiated often get in over their heads, overbidding during the fast-paced transactions, or neglecting to check public records first to find out if the properties have liens or other encumbrances. They also must bring cashier's checks in amounts matching at least the minimum bids. Some buyers go the private-auction route to landing a foreclosed property. Those, too, are sold sight-unseen, and buyers sometimes have to deal with evictions and severely distressed property conditions.

Bottom line: No matter how you purchase a foreclosed home, know what the heck you're getting into.

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