Real estate markets in most countries are not as organized or efficient as markets for other, more liquid investment instruments. Individual properties are unique to themselves and not directly interchangeable, which presents a major challenge to an investor seeking to evaluate prices and investment opportunities. For this reason, locating properties in which to invest can involve substantial work and competition among investors to purchase individual properties may be highly variable depending on knowledge of availability. Information asymmetries are commonplace in real estate markets. This increases transactional risk, but also provides many opportunities for investors to obtain properties at bargain prices. Real estate entrepreneurs typically use a variety of appraisal techniques to determine the value of properties prior to purchase.
Typical sources of investment properties include:
- Market listings (through a Multiple Listing Service or Commercial Information Exchange)
- Real estate agents and Real estate brokers
- Banks (such as bank real estate owned departments for REO’s and short sales)
- Government entities (such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other government agencies)
- Public auction (foreclosure sales, estate sales, etc.)
- Private sales (transactions for sale by owner For sale by owner)
- Real estate wholesalers and investors (flipping)
Once an investment property has been located, and preliminary due diligence (investigation and verification of the condition and status of the property) completed, the investor will have to negotiate a sale price and sale terms with the seller, then execute a contract for sale. Most investors employ real estate agents and real estate attorneys to assist with the acquisition process, as it can be quite complex and improperly executed transactions can be very costly. During the acquisition of a property, an investor will typically make a formal offer to buy including payment of “earnest money” to the seller at the start of negotiation to reserve the investor’s rights to complete the transaction if price and terms can be satisfactorily negotiated. This earnest money may or may not be refundable, and is considered to be a signal of the seriousness of the investor’s intent to purchase. The terms of the offer will also usually include a number of contingencies which allow the investor time to complete due diligence, inspect the property and obtain financing among other requirements prior to final purchase. Within the contingency period, the investor usually has the right to rescind the offer with no penalty and obtain a refund of earnest money deposits. Once contingencies have expired, rescinding the offer will usually require forfeiture of the earnest money deposits and may involve other penalties as well.