Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reality TV taps Phoenix-area foreclosures

Alaska has a reality show about ice truckers trying to survive deadly hauls. New York has Donald Trump's cutthroat competition to be his apprentice. And Georgia has Billy the Exterminator, who battles rodents and alligators.

Soon, Phoenix will be the setting for a new reality show about one of the region's most competitive and heart-racing activities - bidding on foreclosure homes.

Agents who work at Maricopa County's foreclosure auctions are in negotiations to appear on the show, which is planned to start airing on the Discovery Channel next year.

Filming for "Betting the House" is expected to begin in the next few weeks.

New York-based Sharp Entertainment, producer of the show, also created "Punkin Chunkin" for the Discovery Channel, "Man vs. Food" for the Travel Channel and "Extreme Couponing" for TLC.

Now, cameras will be filming outside the county courthouse in downtown Phoenix.

Although the company did not comment on the details of the show it is planning, the daily auction scene is one of colorful characters and sometimes intense bidding on the region's foreclosure homes.

As many as three auctioneers may be taking bids at once, and the agents and buyers who try to land good deals rush from auction to auction, placing offers, talking to their offices by cellphone and trying to make sure they don't miss a deal in the process.

At its heart, the attraction of the auction scene is the promise of a house - to be a home, a rental or just a quick investment - for an amazing deal.

Sharp picked three veteran bidders at Phoenix's foreclosure auctions to follow: Doug Hopkins of Posted Properties; John Ray of Bid AZ Foreclosures and Lou Amoroso of Easy Investments.

"It's a little nerve-wracking to think about seeing yourself do your job on TV, but at least it's not summer and I won't be sweating," said Hopkins, president of Posted Properties. "The foreclosure-auction market is more competitive than it's ever been. It's definitely entertaining to watch."

He said that final contracts with the Discovery Channel are being negotiated this week and that filming is expected to start within four weeks.

Lenders have been selling a record number of Phoenix-area homes at the foreclosure auctions known as trustee sales. In August, 1,500 foreclosure homes sold at auction.

"I have been on the fence about this reality show," Amoroso said. "The producers want drama, and they will get it at foreclosure auctions now. But I don't want this to be one of those crappy shows everyone makes fun of and that draws too many more bidders to an already crazy market."

Sharp confirmed the show is in the works but didn't give any specifics.

The three main characters have worked together to bid on foreclosure homes in the past but now are "friendly competitors" at the auctions.

They work as agents, identifying properties their clients want to buy and bidding in an effort to get their clients the best prices.

Hopkins won't actually be at the courthouse. He works out of his office and has two to three bidders in the field.

At the courthouse, the TV cameras are likely to capture a scene of what has effectively become the trading floor for the region's hottest commodity: foreclosure houses.

There, bidders are ready to jump a fence or run to another table when another auction starts. The regulars act like co-workers, with nicknames for one another.

A decade ago, when there were only about 50 foreclosures a month in metro Phoenix, only a handful of bidders regularly showed up at the trustee-sale auctions. The three men in the reality show made up most of the crowd then.

Since the housing market crashed, the growing number of foreclosures has drawn more bargain hunters and bidding services.

By Arizona law, when a homeowner falls behind on a mortgage, a lender must try to sell the home through a trustee sale. The trustee, usually an attorney, alerts the borrower and sets a date for the auction.

To bid at an Arizona trustee sale, potential buyers must bring a certified check for $10,000 and have a photo ID.

The money is used as a deposit on the house if a bidder is successful. The full amount of the bid must be paid in cash the next day.

Dan Mayes of AZ Bidder launched a real-time foreclosure-auction service for Phoenix in January. He was contacted by Sharp to be part of the show but decided not to pursue the opportunity.

"The characters and stories typically involved in reality shows like these are mostly dramatic, goofy or get-rich-quick in nature," he said. "Our customers are pretty straight-laced folks."

Trustee sales at the courthouse used to start at noon, but there are so many houses that lenders are trying to sell that the auctions have been moved up to 11 a.m. or earlier and still often go to 5 p.m.

But the frenzy can't last much longer.

Already, competition has driven bidding prices up too high for some investors. At the same time, foreclosures have been falling this year.

Notices-of-trustee sales, or pre-foreclosures, are half of what they were a year ago. The number of pending foreclosures in Maricopa County is down to 19,000, half of what it was two years ago.

"I doubt reality TV will shine a positive light on our housing market, although it should be entertaining," said Tom Ruff, real-estate analyst with Information Market.

His firm tracks foreclosures daily. "There are definitely some colorful personalities chasing foreclosure properties. Expect them to further Arizona's image as the Wild West."

by Catherine Reagor The Arizona Republic Sept. 16, 2011 12:00 AM

Reality TV taps Phoenix-area foreclosures

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