Friday, September 11, 2009

Sean O'Toole with PropertyRadar #139

Bruce Norris is joined this week by CEO of, Sean O'Toole. He is a real estate investor and the founder and CEO of

Bruce bought a trustee sale recently using Sean's website. Bruce asks Sean how has being an investor influenced the content of his website? Sean says that he built the site for his own use, and that he had not planned on making it a public site. Bruce believes that no one could have put Sean's site together unless they new the real estate business. More experienced people are able to recognize the small things that make big differences.

One of the tools on that has helped Sean is the transaction history of a property. You can use this tool to discover how the previous owner of a home bought and lost it. When you are looking at 100 properties every day, in the hopes of gaining just 5, the ability to quickly observe a property is of critical importance.

Foreclosure Radar started in California, and it has recently expanded into Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon. Foreclosure Radar publicly launched in May of 2007.

Bruce asks Sean how the quantity of foreclosures has changed since 2002. The change has amazed Sean. Sean started working in just a couple counties, but he was having trouble finding deals, so he started expanding. In 2006, the number of foreclosures being filed increased dramatically, so Sean realized that he could not afford to do research on all of those properties.

Bruce asks if the process of getting information is physically obtained, or if it is now computerized. All the documents and information must be physically obtained, and then typed into a computer. Sean thinks that this is a problem.

There is a tutorial on the website. Bruce asks Sean what the section FLX is for. That section is aimed at realtor customers. Sean wanted to make the website more interactive with photos and more search capabilities. If you go to a Realtor’s website, they have something called an IDX search in which you can search for properties with different types of bedrooms and baths. Sean wanted Foreclosure Radar to be the foreclosure MLS. FLX allows customers to show foreclosures on their own website. Consumers do not have many options for foreclosure information besides RealtyTrac and, so Sean wanted people to be able to access that information for free.

Sean’s clients consist mostly of realtors, professional investors, and government users. Our local and county governments are looking for new revenue opportunities. They are now able to fine lenders up to $1,000 dollars a days for not maintaining their REO properties. Every time Bruce closes an escrow he always checks to see if it is an REO. A trustee sale is safer, because the fine does not begin until the property transfers.

Bruce asks if Sean has considered training people in real estate. Sean has decided to stay out of the training business because he has learned that there are many different approaches and he wants to support everyone.

Bruce asks Sean to compare the default numbers occurring between now and one year ago, in California. The default numbers have remained mostly flat. In July there were 45,000, and in June there were 46,000, and Sean believes that there was a drop in August. Last year, the default numbers were around 42,000 to 40,000. The people who are late on their payments have almost doubled within the last year. Bruce asks if Sean has any explanation for why the default notices have not reflected that. During September of last year, Fannie and Freddie went into conservatorship, the moratoriums began, and Paulson announced that he was seeking TARP. What Paulson’s message told the market was that these assets are being sold in distress, it is a temporary problem, if these loans are not forced into foreclosure then there will be no losses, and we should use funds to buy these assets from banks. This told the banks, if you have band loans, we will help you out, but if you have bad homes, then you will have to take the loss.

Last time this kind of problem occurred, the lenders responded the same way. They chose not to foreclose on properties. In 1995, a rule was passed that required lenders to foreclose on a property after 100 days. Bruce finds it interesting that the government was once forcing lenders to foreclose, but now they are helping them delay the process. The FDIC is now promoting loan modifications and Sean thinks that is just delaying the inevitable.

Bruce asks if Sean sees loan modifications taking a chunk out of the price. Sean believes that this is occurring. Last year, in California, we had 65,000 properties scheduled for foreclosure auction, and nearly 29,000 properties were foreclosed on. This year, we will have 130,000 scheduled for sale. We have doubled the number of properties being scheduled for sale, yet only 17,500 of those properties have actually been foreclosed on. The new home affordability program has a 3 month trial period, so they are putting people into foreclosure and starting this trial period, but they do not actually foreclose on them. What Sean is waiting to see is whether or not the cancellations of these foreclosures sales are going up. If this occurs then we will know that the modifications are working. So far, Sean has not seen any sign that these modifications are working.

130,000 scheduled sales are 6 to 9 months of inventory. History has shown that modifications do not work very well. However, more recent modifications seem to be working better than the previous ones. The average property that makes it through the foreclosure process is about 200,000 dollars upside down.

A new term has come up called a “strategic foreclosure”. This means that a person is capable of making their payments but they are deciding not to do so. Bruce asks if these people are adding to the pile. Sean believes that this makes sense on many levels. If a person makes a bad investment in a property then they can choose to walk away from it, and declare bankruptcy in the worst case. Right now, there are so many people making the decision to walk away from their homes that people no longer feel morally responsible to make their payments.

Sean O'Toole is Founder & CEO of, the only company that tracks every foreclosure in California with daily updates on all foreclosure auctions. Prior to ForeclosureRadar Sean spent 15 years building and launching software companies before entering the foreclosure business in 2002 where he has successfully bought and sold more than 150 foreclosure properties.

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