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Foreclosure tours unearth housing market steals in Hernando

Realtor Sue Benson, center, shows off a home to prospective buyers on a recent foreclosure tour in Spring Hill.

LOGAN NEILL | Times

Realtor Sue Benson, center, shows off a home to prospective buyers on a recent foreclosure tour in Spring Hill.

SPRING HILL — From the outside, the home looked nice, save for some peeling paint. Inside however, it was another story.

Before abandoning the house, the former owners took with them everything they could haul off: Appliances, light fixtures, ceiling fans, even the kitchen sink.

"It's a real fixer-upper," Sue Benson told the potential buyers with a smile. "And it's bargain priced."

Indeed, the three-bedroom, two-bath home on Deep Creek Drive is listed at $71,000. In 2006, just before the housing market collapsed, it sold for $225,000.

"There are some great deals out there, but not everyone knows how to look for them," Benson said. "Foreclosure tours are a great way to do that. For us, it's part business, part fun."

Benson has been trying to generate some deals by taking potential buyers on tours of foreclosed homes in the Spring Hill/Brooksville area. She and her team include an inspector and a mortgage broker to answer questions about the homes.

She and her associate, Shawnia Meuser, admit they like conducting the tours with a little style. On Saturday, the women greeted a half dozen tour guests at their office with bags of fresh, homemade cookies. Dressed in a stylish pink dress, Benson invited visitors to climb aboard an RV to look at properties.

No one knows better than Benson that these are challenging times in the Hernando County real estate business. A marketing specialist with Remax in Spring Hill, she's watched the housing market swing from its peak in 2005, when 4,331 homes were sold, to its lowest point in 2007, when just 1,790 listed homes found buyers.

Although the market has shown steady improvement since, the area still has a glut of distressed and foreclosed properties. In fact, 35 percent of the homes now on the market are bank-owned.

Moving those white elephants has become a priority for the 35-year-old Benson, who, for the past two years, has been organizing foreclosure tours to showcase distressed properties to prospective buyers looking for a bargain.

For Benson, it's not a matter of trying to make an immediate sale. Rather, it's about getting customers more comfortable with an unfamiliar market.

For the tours, Benson usually picks between seven and 10 homes, ranging in price from about $50,000 to just over $100,000. Expensive homes don't normally attract the same interest from potential buyers, she said.

While most homes on the tour are move-in ready, Benson likes to include homes that need some work as well.

"It's best to have a open mind when it comes to buying foreclosed property," Benson said. "But in the end, people have to weigh what they want with what they are willing to pay. A good deal isn't a good deal if you're not happy with what you're buying."

Landing a sale, of course, is Benson's ultimate goal. Fortunately, owners of distressed property are motivated to sell, and often pay agents a hefty bonus at closing.

But transforming lookers into buyers often means educating them as well.

"When you're dealing with foreclosures, you're always going to have some skepticism," she said. "The whole purpose of this is to make people as comfortable as possible. The more they know, the more comfortable they'll be."

Benson said that while some of her clients are interested in foreclosure homes as an investment, she's seen a recent upswing in people wanting to make the area their permanent home.

"We live in an area that's always been attractive to people," she said.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Foreclosure tours unearth housing market steals in Hernando 06/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 9:06pm]
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