What are Short Sales

What is a Short Sale (in real estate) – Print and Save this!

References: Wikipedia; “Short sale (of house)” definition at Nolo.com

Many people can not sell their houses at present time as they owe several hundred thousand dollars more on their loans than their homes are worth at current time. One way they can sell their houses is called a short sale. A short sale is done by the bank agreeing to take a lesser figure than is owed in order to move the house. In other words, a short sale is when a lender accepts a discount on a mortgage to avoid a possible foreclosure auction or bankruptcy.

Instead of buying from a seller, you are purchasing the property directly from the lender for a discount. For example: A homeowner, who is facing foreclosure, has an existing first mortgage of $300,000. You write an offer to the lender for $220,000, which is accepted as full payment for the loan. This is a short sale.

A “Short Sale” is a sale of real property in which the outstanding obligations (loan balances) are greater than the amount that the property can be sold for. In other words, a short sale is a sale of real estate in which the proceeds from the sale fall short of the balance owed on a loan secured by the property sold. This is typically the case when home prices are falling, and the seller has financial distress from either a reduction in income or an increase in monthly loan payments such a re-casting of the existing rate.

At the time of this writing, foreclosures are at an all time high, which basically translates into more opportunities for you. Since foreclosures are increasing, this is the perfect time to jump into this because there will be more and more lenders discounting properties. It is safe to say that most lenders will accept a short sale, however, you may come across one or two lenders who will not discount. If the numbers work out for the lender they will do it.

Note: If you are looking to buy a house that is on short sale do not forget to bargain mercilessly as the cards are entirely in your favor because the banks know that houses are not selling very rapidly at current time and they will negotiate seriously because for every dollar of bad debt they hold equals three dollars they will be penalized by not being allowed to borrow from the government, this is important to the banks as they depend heavily on being able to borrow money from the government to stay in business.

It is best to do a short sale when the property is in the pre-foreclosure state. Yes, you can perform a short sale when the bank owns the property, however your profits will more than likely be smaller. There are two stages within pre-foreclosure. The first stage being those individuals who are behind on payments and the second stage are those who are behind on payments with a notice of default. In order for this to work properly and for you to successfully get a short sale, you must find the homeowners who are in the second stage of pre-foreclosure or more than 3 payments behind on their mortgage. Once the notice of default has been recorded, banks become motivated as well, so you are more likely to get a discount. Until that time, very rarely will a bank ever discount a mortgage that soon. Why would they? The homeowners still have time to cure the loan and make up the back payments.

It does not matter what type of house or condition it’s in, all mortgages can be discounted. The best properties to perform a short sale on are the houses that need lots of work and repairs because lenders will give you a bigger discount if they see they are “don’t wanters”. Properties that are over leveraged are also prime candidates. Most rookie investors who see a house over leveraged with an upside-down mortgage may think there is no hope for this property. On the other hand, this is a sweet deal to the savvy investor. Properties with large 2nd mortgages are also treated as gold because the 2nd mortgage is wiped out at the foreclosure auction. Lenders with a 2nd and 3rd mortgage position would rather have something than nothing.

(Note: A short sale is typically done during the foreclosure process, after a Notice of Default” has been filed. A short sale will stop the Trustee Sale which concludes the foreclosure process.)

In a short sale, the bank or mortgage lender agrees to discount a loan balance due to an economic or financial hardship on the part of the mortgagor. This negotiation is all done through communication with a bank’s loss mitigation or workout department. The home owner/debtor sells the mortgaged property for less than the outstanding balance of the loan, and turns over the proceeds of the sale to the lender, sometimes (but not always) in full satisfaction of the debt. In such instances, the lender would have the right to approve or disapprove of a proposed sale. Extenuating circumstances influence whether or not banks will discount a loan balance. These circumstances are usually related to the current real estate market and the borrower’s financial situation.

A short sale typically is executed to prevent a home foreclosure, but the decision to proceed with a short sale is predicated on the most economic way for the bank to recover the amount owed on the property. Often a bank will allow a short sale if they believe that it will result in a smaller financial loss than foreclosing as there are carrying costs that are associated with a foreclosure. A bank will typically determine the amount of equity (or lack of), by determining the probable selling price from a Broker Price Opinion BPO (also known as a Broker Opinion of Value (BOV)) or through a valuation of an appraisal.

For the home owner, advantages include avoidance of a foreclosure on their credit history and partial control of the monetary deficiency.

A short sale is typically faster and less expensive than a foreclosure. In short, a short sale is nothing more than negotiating with lien holders a payoff for less than what they are owed, or rather a sale of a debt, generally on a piece of real estate, short of the full debt amount. It does not extinguish the remaining balance unless settlement is clearly indicated on the acceptance of offer.

Short sales are common in standard business transactions in recognition that creditors are not doing debtors a favor but, rather, engaging in a business transaction when extending credit. When it makes no business sense or is economically not feasible to retain an asset, businesses default on their loans (called bonds). It is not uncommon for business bonds to trade on the after-market for a small fraction of their face value in realization of the likelihood of these future defaults.

Be advised, when lenders agree to do a short sale in real estate, it means the lender is accepting less than the total amount due. Not all lenders will accept short sales or discounted payoffs, especially if it would make more financial sense to foreclose; moreover, not all sellers nor all properties qualify for short sales.

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “Why in the world would a bank agree to a short sale?” The answer is fairly simple:

Banks are in the business of lending money and not owning real estate. If a home is in foreclosure because the borrower is in default, that’s called a non-performing loan. Federal Reserve guidelines state that the bank must put aside two to eight times the amount of the non-performing loan to cover the bad debt. If this money is sitting in reserve, it obviously can’t be loaned out to new customers to make the bank more money. As a matter of fact, there are strict federal guidelines as to how many bad loans a bank can even have on their books at any given time. If a certain percentage of their outstanding loans are considered bad debt, they can be fined, sanctioned and even federally regulated. So you see, they are quite eager to get rid of a property before they have to take it all the way to a Trustee Sale and possibly take it back as an REO (which by the way stands for Real Estate Owned.) Not to mention the fact that the foreclosure process is long and expensive for the lender involved.

A short sale is accomplished by sending the lender a “Short Sale Package” which includes many documents supporting the fact that the borrower can no longer pay their mortgage and must sell the property at a loss to the lender, and the only other alternative is foreclosure. Things included in the short sale package include: financial statements, pay stubs, medical bills, divorce decree, etc. Also included will be a detailed letter from the homeowner, called the “Hardship Letter,” explaining why they can’t make their mortgage payments anymore. The most important part of the package will be making an offer! True, the lender will most likely not even look at a short sale package if it does not have an actual written offer from an interested buyer.

Why are the Banks willing to take such a discount? Several reasons. First of all, banks do not like excess inventory and bad loans on their books; therefore, if they see an opportunity where they can sell the property without a huge loss, they will do it. Secondly, lenders know they could lose a lot more money if the property goes to auction. There are so many fees involved if the property goes to auction, that they would be better off taking the discount beforehand and be finished with the headache of it all.

At the time of this writing, foreclosures are at an all time high, which basically translates into more opportunities for you. Since foreclosures are increasing, this is the perfect time to jump into this because there will be more and more lenders discounting properties. It is safe to say that most lenders will accept a short sale, however, you may come across one or two lenders who will not discount. If the numbers work out for the lender they will do it.

Note: If you are looking to buy a house that is on short sale do not forget to bargain mercilessly as the cards are entirely in your favor because the banks know that houses are not selling very rapidly at current time and they will negotiate seriously because for every dollar of bad debt they hold equals three dollars they will be penalized by not being allowed to borrow from the government, this is important to the banks as they depend heavily on being able to borrow money from the government to stay in business.

It is best to do a short sale when the property is in the pre-foreclosure state. Yes, you can perform a short sale when the bank owns the property, however your profits will more than likely be smaller. There are two stages within pre-foreclosure. The first stage being those individuals who are behind on payments and the second stage are those who are behind on payments with a notice of default. In order for this to work properly and for you to successfully get a short sale, you must find the homeowners who are in the second stage of pre-foreclosure or more than 3 payments behind on their mortgage. Once the notice of default has been recorded, banks become motivated as well, so you are more likely to get a discount. Until that time, very rarely will a bank ever discount a mortgage that soon. Why would they? The homeowners still have time to cure the loan and make up the back payments.

It does not matter what type of house or condition it’s in, all mortgages can be discounted. The best properties to perform a short sale on are the houses that need lots of work and repairs because lenders will give you a bigger discount if they see they are “don’t wanters”. Properties that are over leveraged are also prime candidates. Most rookie investors who see a house over leveraged with an upside-down mortgage may think there is no hope for this property. On the other hand, this is a sweet deal to the savvy investor. Properties with large 2nd mortgages are also treated as gold because the 2nd mortgage is wiped out at the foreclosure auction. Lenders with a 2nd and 3rd mortgage position would rather have something than nothing.

Credit Reporting Impact from a Short Sale

A short sale in real estate is not always a pleasant transaction. There are many ways to lose a home but signing away ownership in a manner that destroys credit, embarrasses the family and strips an owner of dignity is one of the hardest. For owners who can no longer afford to keep mortgage payments current, there are alternatives to bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings. One of those options is called a “short sale.”

Successfully completing a short sale may have a far less negative impact on the seller’s credit and tax circumstances than a foreclosure would. However, a short sale does adversely affect a person’s credit report, though the negative impact is typically less than a foreclosure. Short sales are a type of settlement. Like all entries except for bankruptcy, short sales remain on a credit report for seven years. Depending upon other credit information it is typically possible to obtain another mortgage 1-3 years after a short sale.

A foreclosure will severely damage the borrower’s credit score for the next 7-10 years, and rates on any future loans they apply for during that time will have interest payments based on about 3 times what prevailing interest rates are.

While it is frequent if not common for a lender to forgive the balance of the loan in question, it is unlikely that a lien holder that is not a mortgagee will forgive any of their balance. Further, it is common for a lender to omit updating mortgage balances zero balance after a short sale. However, willfully misrepresenting information on a credit report can constitute libel in some jurisdictions, and lenders may be sued in civil court for engaging in this behavior.

In Summary: A short sale is an often complicated process, and can be lengthy, sometimes taking upwards of 3-4 months to get the whole thing done, especially if the real estate agent doesn’t know what they’re doing. Therefore, much of the success or failure in accomplishing a short sale depends on the real estate agent involved. I specialize in foreclosures and short sales and have many unique methods for getting short sales approved quickly. I also work with a large number of homebuyers and investors who are ready to make offers on properties immediately.

I know that being in the middle of the foreclosure process can be very stressful and frightening, and that understanding the process and what your options are can shed some light on the situation and help you feel better about it. My goal is to truly help people get out of this terrible predicament and move on with their lives.

If you have any questions about your particular situation or about foreclosures and short sales in general, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Part 2 – If you are considering buying a short sale, there could be drawbacks.

For your protection, I suggest that all borrowers:

  • Obtain legal advice from a competent real estate lawyer
  • Call an accountant to discuss short sale tax ramifications

As a real estate agent, I am not licensed as a lawyer nor a CPA and cannot advise on those consequences. Except for certain conditions pursuant to the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, be aware the I.R.S. could consider debt forgiveness as income, and there is no guarantee that a lender who accepts a short sale will not legally pursue a borrower for the difference between the amount owed and the amount paid. In some states, this amount is known as a deficiency. A lawyer can determine whether your loan qualifies for a deficiency judgment or claim.

Although all lenders have varying requirements and may demand that a borrower submit a wide array of documentation, the following steps will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Call the Lender

You may need to make a half dozen phone calls before you find the person responsible for handling short sales. You do not want to talk to the “real estate short sale” or “work out” department, you want the supervisor’s name, the name of the individual capable of making a decision.

Submit Letter of Authorization

Lenders typically do not want to disclose any of your personal information without written authorization to do so. If you are working with a real estate agent, closing agent, title company or lawyer, you will receive better cooperation if you write a letter to the lender giving the lender permission to talk with those specific interested parties about your loan. The letter should include the following:

  • Property Address
  • Loan Reference Number
  • Your Name
  • The Date
  • Your Agent’s Name & Contact Information

Preliminary Net Sheet

This is an estimated closing statement that shows the sales price you expect to receive and all the costs of sale, unpaid loan balances, outstanding payments due and late fees, including real estate commissions, if any. Your closing agent or lawyer should be able to prepare this for you, if you do not know how to calculate any of these fees. If the bottom line shows cash to the seller, you will probably not need a short sale.

Hardship Letter

The sadder, the better. This statement of facts describes how you got into this financial bind and makes a plea to the lender to accept less than full payment. Lenders are not inhumane and can understand if you lost your job, were hospitalized or a truck ran over your entire family, but lenders are not particularly empathetic to situations involving dishonesty or criminal behavior.

Proof of Income and Assets

It is best to be truthful and honest about your financial situation and disclose assets. Lenders will want to know if you have savings accounts, money market accounts, stocks or bonds, negotiable instruments, cash or other real estate or anything of tangible value. Lenders are not in the charity business and often require assurance that the debtor cannot pay back any of the debt that it is forgiving.

Copies of Bank Statements

If your bank statements reflect unaccountable deposits, large cash withdrawals or an unusual number of checks, it’s probably a good idea to explain each of those line items to the lender. In addition, the lender might want you to account for each and every deposit so it can determine whether deposits will continue.

Comparative Market Analysis

Sometimes markets decline and property values fall. If this is part of the reason that you cannot sell your home for enough to pay off the lender, this fact should be substantiated for the lender through a comparative market analysis (CMA). Your real estate agent can prepare a CMA for you, which will show prices of similar homes:

Active on the market

Pending sales

Sales sold from the past six months.

Purchase Agreement & Listing Agreement

When you reach an agreement to sell with a prospective purchaser, the lender will want a copy of the offer, along with a copy of your listing agreement. Be prepared for the lender to renegotiate commissions and to refuse to pay for certain items such as home protection plans or termite inspections.

Now, if everything goes well, the lender will approve your short sale. As part of the negotiation, you might ask that the lender not report adverse credit to the credit reporting agencies, but realize that the lender is under no obligation to accommodate this request.

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