Time to Buy? Don't Miss the Boat, or the Bottom

In their search for fire-sale prices on foreclosed homes, one group of buyers doesn't want to miss the boat. Literally.

In a novel piece of marketing, a real estate company in this foreclosure-saturated community, which is criss-crossed with canals and waterways, has created an effective way to lure customers.

The Foreclosure Boat Tour is now a regular sales event for a Cape Coral, Fla., company that calls itself Foreclosures 'R Us -- like Toys 'R Us, but this is no game. Company owner Marc Joseph knows that this is serious business.

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"I'm telling you, it's location, it's timing -- the time is now, because banks are competing against each other -- and it's price," said Joseph as he stood at the bow of a boat carving its way through the waters of a canal here as a dozen prospective buyers shielded themselves from the sun and listened intently. "You're buying it below what it takes to produce it for."

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Joseph has been in real estate in the area for almost 20 years. It was exactly a year ago -- after the bubble burst -- that he reinvented his agency, selling only foreclosed properties. His pitch: The time to buy is fast approaching.

There is one question every buyer wants answered and Joseph anticipates it.

"Are we close enough to the bottom is the million-dollar question," Joseph said. "And I say yes. I say in six or eight months, if you are not here you may miss the absolute bottom. But you are close enough that you should be looking and taking advantage of the market. Am I telling you to buy now? Absolutely."

Cape Coral is a sleepy town of 160,000 people. Residents like to boast that the 400 miles of waterways carved out of Florida's Gulf Coast in the 1950s give Cape Coral more canals than Venice, Italy.

But today the town also holds a more dubious distinction: With 34,000 homes in foreclosure or facing foreclosure, Lee County -- which includes Cape Coral -- has been dubbed the foreclosure capital of America.

There were just four stops on the boat tour the morning "Nightline" went along, all, of course, waterside homes with direct access to the Gulf of Mexico.

'This Is the Time to Move'

Arriving at the first home on the tour, Joseph ran through statistics.

"This home has a total of 1,988 square feet of living [space] and just under 1,000-square-foot lot," he said.

But the numbers that really tell the story are the prices: In January 2006, the house sold for $725,000. Now it was listed at $279,900 -- a staggering 61 percent drop, and that's just the asking price.

Chris and Annie Loepker operate a big corn farm in Illinois, and with their daughter Jessica they are looking for a winter home in the Florida sunshine, if the price is right.

"Waterfront is what we were looking for, mainly," Annie Loepker said. "Waterfront, because we do boating."

She said they plan to live in the house during the winter months, "and then sell it five years from now when the market's back."

The Loepkers plan to pay all cash, which is a good thing, because if you don't have cash in this market, good luck getting a mortgage without a good down payment, a secure job and a great credit rating.

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