Foreclosures are on the decline in lockstep with an improving economy and real estate market.

Foreclosure filings hit a seven-year low in February according to RealtyTrac’s monthly foreclosure report, as reported by Housingwire. “There were 112,498 foreclosure filings in February, a 10 percent decrease from January and a 27 percent drop from the same time in 2013.” These numbers mark the lowest monthly totals for foreclosures since December 2006.

Current rates for foreclosures in California according to RealtyTrac are one in every 1,047 homes. Nationally that number is one in every 1,170 homes. That may sound like a needle in a haystack, but there are still deals to be had. “Buying a foreclosure can be a great way to get a home for less, whether you’re planning to live in the property or rent it out,” said MSN.

If you’re in the market for a foreclosure, here are a few tips to put you in the know before you buy.

1. Beware the property that has been “lingering in the foreclosure process for years,” said MSN.

Houses that are vacant or have been taken over by vagrants are still out there, and a distressed property of this nature will be hard to take possession of and bring up to market standards. “One in every five homes in the foreclosure process nationwide has been vacated by the distressed homeowner. “These properties drag down home values in the surrounding neighborhood and contribute to a climate of uncertainty and low inventory in local housing markets.”

2. “Forget auctions,” said Time.

Are they tempting? You bet (especially if you watch shows about flipping houses on a loop like we do over the weekend). But for those who are buying a distressed property for the first time, something with less potential for risk might be advisable. “The (auction) process has risks that can snag even seasoned bidders,” said Time. “Prospective buyers can’t inspect the home to determine if there’s any damage — highly likely if the house has been vacant for a while — or find out if there are any senior liens (such as outstanding taxes owed on the property). A purchase could turn into a Pandora’s box of expensive repairs or payments to creditors.”

3. Tread lightly on current owners and residents.

Everyone has heard stories of trashed houses or houses that have been stripped of everything of value when a homeowner is forced out. You don’t want to be the one trying to do the evicting. “If the homeowner who defaulted is still living in the home when the auction takes place, the buyer has two potential headaches to worry about: evicting the former owner, and the potential for vandalism,” said TIME.

4. Get pre-qualified.

Foreclosures are no different than tradition home sales except that the market for a perceived deal is even more competitive. Trying to buy before you have spoken to a lender and received a pre-qualification for a mortgage is akin to showing up at the hospital to have a baby when you haven’t yet conceived.

5. Be patient.

Finding a deal in a crowded market may not happen over night. You might be outbid or outplayed by someone with more experience and more cash. You can up your odds by working with a Realtor who specializes in foreclosures.

6. Don’t have unrealistic expectations.

“Buying a foreclosure property doesn’t always mean you’ll get a bargain,” said Front Door. “Finding a turnkey property in the foreclosure market is rare. Oftentimes, the home will need some renovation. Crunch the numbers first to make sure you really are getting a deal.”

7. Look out for online listings.

If you just want to get a general idea of what’s out there, a site that lists local foreclosures is fine. But sites like this are often not updated in real time or reserve real-time listings for subscribers. A better bet is to contact your Coldwell Banker real estate professional, who can get you the information you are looking for, or can put you in touch with someone who can.

8. Flipping? Have your team in place.

If you are looking to flip a home and need to make a profit quickly, make sure you have your contractor and any subs in place at the time of purchase. You don’t want to be sitting on a property, making a mortgage payment on a property that isn’t ready to sell because your team is off on another job.

9. Or, reconsider that flip.

Rising prices, lower foreclosure numbers, and more competition from investors means it’s harder today to find a foreclosure worthy of flipping. “If you don’t get a steep enough discount or spend too much on repairs or don’t find a buyer quickly, what looked like a great deal can become a cash drain,” said MSN. Which is why investment trends in real estate are leaning toward longer-term investment strategies like rentals over a period of seven to 10 years.

10. Budget, budget, budget.

Yes, you’ve been saving your pennies, but you can never predict needed repairs in a foreclosed property. “Troubled properties that are too run-down to qualify for Federal Housing Administration or even conventional mortgages” could mean you have to come up with extra money,” said MSN. And areas of serious disrepair could push a property out of escrow.

Even if you successfully close on the home, repairs and updates could push your budget way past your comfort zone. “Some properties simply need too much work to make much financial sense,” said MSN. A foreclosure might be $15,000 less than a comparable property, for example, but may need $30,000 in repairs and improvements to make it habitable. In such a case, the more expensive property “is a better investment, because the work is already done for you.”