Everyone wants to find an amazing deal in real estate. To the untrained and inexperienced they imagine this process is quite easy, but it certainly isn’t. The canceled homes in the auction and the difficulty and time intensive work it takes to complete a short sale home buying process. We are here to give you some ideas as to what the different routes mean to you. The plus and minus to each route before you choose to take it.
Short Sale FAQs: Understanding the Short Sale Process
What Is A Short Sale?
A short sale is the sale of a property for less than what the owner still owes on the mortgage. A short sale is an alternative to foreclosure when a homeowner needs to sell and can no longer afford to make their mortgage payments. The lender agrees to accept less than the amount owed to pay off a loan now rather than taking the property back by foreclosure and trying to sell it later. Lenders agree to a short sale because they believe it will net them more money than going forward with a lengthy and costly foreclosure process.
Can Any Real Estate Agent Effectively Handle My Short Sale?
No. A short sale is a very complicated real estate transaction and one that has very important implications for you. More than any other type of residential real estate transaction, a short sale should be handled only by a real estate broker who has substantial experience with the short sale process, and a strong track-record of success in negotiating short sales for their clients. You wouldn’t have your family doctor perform heart surgery. And, you shouldn’t expect any real estate broker to be qualified to handle this highly complex real estate transaction for you.
Why Should I Choose A Short Sale Over Foreclosure?
Whether you should do a short sale or let your property go to foreclosure depends on several factors. In most instances, a short sale makes more sense than foreclosure. In general, when you want to obtain a loan to purchase a property in the future, more opportunities will be available to you if you do a short sale. And, contrary to popular belief, you can be current on your payments and still do a short sale. In fact, if you are current on your mortgage through a short sale, you can qualify for an FHA loan afterward without any waiting periods. The same option will not be available following a foreclosure.
While doing a short sale will negatively affect your credit, there are many benefits to choosing a short sale over foreclosure. With a short sale, you are in control of the sale, not the bank. You may sleep better at night knowing who is buying your home, and you can spare yourself the social stigma of foreclosure.
Every homeowner’s situation is different, so we always recommend that you speak with a real estate attorney that can advise you on the legal and tax implications for your circumstances.
How Do I Know If I Qualify For A Short Sale?
If you owe more than your house is worth and can’t afford your mortgage payments, you may qualify for a short sale. Every situation is unique, but in general the basic criteria for qualifying for a short sale are:
- You need to sell your home.
- You owe more on your mortgage than your home is worth.
- You have a personal financial hardship that will prevent you from making future payments. (Examples of hardship include loss of job, divorce, death of a spouse and medical emergency or illness.)
When calculating if your house is worth less than the amount owed on the loan, you should deduct out what you would pay in real estate commissions, closing costs, and state excise taxes to sell your home.
Will I Get Any Money From The Sale?
Unless specifically authorized through a federally-sanctioned program such as HAFA, when a lender approves a short sale, they typically require that the borrower (seller) not receive any money from the sale of the property since the lender is going to take a loss on the loan.
How Long Does A Short Sale Take?
The short sale process is complicated and time-consuming. It can take several weeks, or even months, to get a short sale approved. Many lenders have several layers of management, insurers, and investors that will have to be satisfied before a short sale is approved. As a homeowner, it is important to be patient during this long process. It is also critical that you work with a short sale negotiator who is familiar with the various requirements of individual lenders to ensure that the process moves as quickly as possible.
Is There Enough Time To Do A Short Sale Before A Foreclosure?
Maybe, maybe not. Just starting a short sale will not automatically stop a foreclosure. However, many times a lender can be convinced to postpone the foreclosure to let a short sale negotiation take place. So, while there are no guarantees, it does not hurt to try.
Does A Short Sale Always Work?
No, there is no guarantee that this will work. Once you fall behind on your loan, the lender can proceed to foreclosure if they choose to. But typically, lenders prefer not to foreclose and, if effectively presented with smart alternatives, they will often agree to a short sale rather than foreclose. If a short sale is attempted but doesn’t work, your house will likely go to foreclosure.
I Have More Than One Mortgage On My House. Can I Still Do A Short Sale?
Yes. Each mortgage can be negotiated individually. However, multiple mortgages make a short sale more complicated and time-consuming. Not only do you need the cooperation of the first lender, the second mortgage holder needs to agree to a short sale as well.
What Is A Release?
A lender may offer to “release” its security interest against the property in exchange for less than the total amount of the note. A release will allow the property to be sold without paying off the obligations of the note. However, the note is not satisfied. The advantage of a release is it allows the property to be sold and helps you avoid a foreclosure. The disadvantage is the remaining debt on the property (sometimes called a deficiency) still exists. You are still liable for the note. In other words, you still owe the money. In reality, it’s not likely that the lender will pursue the deficiency unless you have other significant assets. Furthermore, if you don’t attempt a short sale and the property goes to foreclosure, you can be liable for the full amount of remaining debt on any additional mortgages beyond your first mortgage.
What Is A Satisfaction?
A lender may agree to accept less than it is owed as complete and total satisfaction of the debt and release its lien against the property. Your note and obligation to the lender are satisfied for less than you owe. When the property is sold, the debt is paid off completely. Sometimes short sale negotiations are successful in obtaining complete satisfaction. Sometimes all that can be obtained is a release.
Are There Tax Consequences?
When a lender cancels or forgives your debt, the tax laws may consider the forgiven debt as taxable income. If a lender agrees to a satisfaction, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 provides that debt forgiveness of up to $2 million is not considered taxable income if:
- The house has been used as your principal place of residence for at least two of the previous five years.
- The debt has been used to buy, build, or make substantial improvements to the home.
Home equity loans where the money was not used to buy, build, or improve the home do not qualify for the exclusion. Neither do mortgages for second homes or rental properties. The law has been extended to include debt forgiven through 2013.
There are additional tax considerations to keep in mind. A debt cancellation will affect your property’s cost basis. Insolvency or bankruptcy may also alleviate some of the tax burdens of a debt cancellation resulting from a short sale. You should always confirm tax matters with your tax professional.
Can I Keep The House Through A Short Sale?
The purpose of a short sale is to get the property sold, so you do not keep the house. Just as in a normal sale, you will be moving, typically when the sale closes. Some sellers choose to move before the house closes. You will not be allowed to remain in the house. If your intention is to remain in your house, you should consider other options besides a short sale.
What Is a Foreclosure?
Home buyers who want a good deal in real estate invariably think first about buying a foreclosure. They think, sure, I’ll do a little work to get a cheap price. They believe banks are desperate to dump these awful homes, and that’s not true, either.
Some well-meaning buyers have this picture in their mind of a cute little house, surrounded by a white picket fence that is owned by a widowed mom who fell on hard times, but that scenario is generally far from reality.
The real picture is often ugly.
A foreclosure is a home that belongs to the bank, which once belonged to a home owner. The homeowner either abandoned the home or voluntarily deeded the home to the bank. You will hear the term the bank taking the property back, but the bank never owned the property in the first place, so the bank can’t take back something the bank did not own. The bank foreclosed on the mortgage or trust deed and seized the home. There is a difference.
Why Do Sellers Go Into Foreclosure?
Sellers stop making payments for a host of reasons. Few choose to go into foreclosure voluntarily. It’s often an unpredictable result from one of the following:
- Laid-off, fired or quit job
- Inability to continue working due to medical conditions
- Excessive debt and mounting bill obligations
- Squabbles with co-owner, divorce
- Job transfer to another state
- Maintenance issues they can longer afford
During the market crash from 2005 through 2011, many home owners simply walked away from their homes because the values had fallen and they owed more than their homes were worth.
This was not the best solution, in most cases, but it was immediate relief for homeowners.
Negotiating Directly with Sellers in Foreclosure
Investors who specialize in buying foreclosures often prefer to purchase these homes before the foreclosure proceedings are final. Before approaching a seller in distress, consider:
- Foreclosure proceedings vary from state to state. In states where mortgages are used, home owners can end up staying in the property for almost a year; whereas, in states where trust deeds are used, a seller has less than four months before the trustee’s sale.
- Almost every state provides for some period of redemption. This means the seller has an irrevocable right during a certain length of time to cure the default, including paying all foreclosure costs, back interest and missed principal payments, to regain control of the property. For more information, consult a real estate lawyer.
- Many states also require that buyers give to sellers certain disclosures regarding equity purchases. Failure to provide those notices and to prepare offers on the required paperwork can result in fines, lawsuits or even revocation of sale.
- Determine whether you’re the type of person who can easily take advantage of a seller’s misfortune under these circumstances and/or put a family out on the street. Oh, critics will argue it’s just business and sellers deserve what they get, even if it’s five cents on the dollar. Others will feign compassion and trick themselves into believing they are “helping” the home owners avoid further embarrassment, but deep inside yourself, you know that’s not true.
Buying a Home at the Trustee’s Sale
Check with your local county office to find out how sales in your area are handled, but common denominators among those I see in Sacramento are:
- No loan contingency
- Sealed bids
- Proof of financial qualifications
- Sizeable earnest money deposits
- Purchase property “as is”
Sometimes buyers are not allowed to inspect the house before making an offer. The problem with buying a house sight unseen is you can’t calculate how much it will cost to improve the structure or bring it up to habitable standards. Nor do you know if the occupant will retaliate and destroy the interior. On top of that, you may need to evict the tenant or owner from the premises after you receive title, and eviction processes can be costly.
Another drawback could be liens recorded against the property that will become your problem after title transfer.
Some investors who buy at trustee sales pay for a title search in advance to avoid this problem. These guys who show up to bid on the courthouse steps are professionals, and they buy foreclosures at auction as a business. They hope to buy the foreclosure at a low price to make a nice profit when they later flip the home. You do not need to hire a real estate agent to buy a foreclosure at the auction, but you do need to know what you are doing to compete with the pros.
Buying a Foreclosure From the Bank
Many banks do not sell homes directly to investors or home buyers. If a bank is willing to sell homes individually and not in bulk sales, the bank will generally list the home through a real estate agent. There are REO agents who specialize in foreclosure listings.
It is more common to buy a foreclosure directly from the bank in a bulk sale purchase. In bulk sales, the banks will package a bunch of properties into one transaction and sell them all at once to one entity. That is the best way to buy a foreclosure, if you can afford it, because the discounts are typically the steepest.
Most people know Warren Buffett as the guy that made his money by buying huge companies.
Unfortunately, that’s out of reach for most people.
I was sitting at the bar
“I’d buy up a couple hundred thousands single-family homes if I could.”
“Houses are even better than stocks.”
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”
“Diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing.”
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