The Long Story on Short Sales
Everyone likes a story with a happy ending: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. The story is a little longer if boy and girl try to buy a short sale house and then live happily ever after. That story is not as simple. Patience is the main ingredient in any story involving a short sale. First of all, a short sale is when the seller owes more than house can be sold for and the lender agrees to accept a loss on the house. President Obama recently announced further measures to help beleaguered homeowners, including encouraging lenders to accept short sales.
The benefit of a short sale is that homeowners avoid foreclosure and the completely ruined credit that goes with it. However, the "short" in short sale refers to the loss to the bank, not the quickness of the sale. Because buyers are dealing with the seller's lender as well as the seller, paperwork does not move quickly. "The problem is it's never clear who in a bank has the authority to approve a short sale," said Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry consultant in Washington and a former HUD official in a recent Associated Press article. Federal standards "would speed the process for buyers and sellers by making it more efficient."
The number of foreclosures continues to accelerate across the country. The AP reported that number of foreclosures was up 32 percent in April compared with the same month last year. Of course, the Austin foreclosure rate is not that high, but Central Texas is facing its fair share of the housing crisis. The number of short sales, pre-foreclosure homes, on the market is likely to increase in the months ahead as the economy continues to be shaky. A short sale may be a good deal for a buyer, as in most cases the owner has stopped making payments and the home is vacant.
It is in the lender's best interest to get the defaulted loan off the books and accept an offer, but that doesn't mean they will jump at any offer. It can't be stressed enough the importance of having a qualified real estate agent, and that is certainly the case when dealing with short sales. If a buyer decides to make an offer on a short sale home, the real estate agent needs to do a little research. First, a title search will indicate how much is owed to the lender, who the lender is and whether there is more than one mortgage on the house. A buyer should know that complications can arise if more than one lender is involved.
Another thing the real estate agent needs to determine for the buyer is comparable recent sales in the same neighborhood. These, more than anything else, will help determine the best offer price for the house. For example, if a home is listed for $200,000, but the last sale in the neighborhood was for a home with the same square footage for $175,000, then the buyer can be confident in making a lower offer. The agent should include comparable sales in the offer package sent to the lender. Although a short sale home is still in the seller/owner's name, everything from the offer to any repair addendum to the final close has to be approved by the lender.
It is crucial that the seller's agent has good lines of communication with a lender representative, usually someone in the loss mitigation department, to move the process along. There can be a happy ending with short sales for both the buyer, who can get a good deal, and the seller, who can be saved from foreclosure. The story on short sales, however, can be a long one.