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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Should I Just Walk Away From My Mortgage?

...well, only if it were that simple. Here is another option:

A “short sale” is a handy term for a situation in which a homeowner’s debt on his or her property is greater than the amount for which the property can be sold.

Here’s an example: Assume a homeowner has an unpaid loan balance of $110,000, but the property will only sell for $100,000. The unhappy lender accepts that $100,000 as full payment from you or another investor. This is obviously “short” of the full $110,000 amount, thus the name “short sale.”

Let’s be clear – lenders don’t like short sales and often will go through them only as a last resort. After all, they’re not in business to lose money! In many cases, they’ll prefer the option of foreclosure since that choice makes more financial sense.

However, there are instances in which lenders accept short sales and, if you’re “Johnny-on-the-spot,” you can make a very good profit – if you’re willing to brave a complicated process!

Why Is a Short Sale More Complicated Than a Normal Real Estate Transaction?

Simply put, it’s complicated because there are so many factors involved:

- the loan mitigation policies of the lender and third-party investors
- the financial condition of the lender and third-party investors
- financial condition of the borrower
- the property’s as-is value
- the cost to “repair” the property to put it into saleable condition and market it, etc.

On top of these factors, approval for short sale has to come from the investor who actually owns the loan. And then, if the lender is a government-sponsored institution like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, approval can eat up a lot of time. After all, you’re dealing with government bureaucracies!

When Will Lenders Accept a Short Sale?

There are a variety of situations in which lenders accept short sales. For example, homeowners experience a devastating illness that eats up all their financial resources. Or they may be military personnel called up to active duty for extended periods of time, and they lack the income to continue mortgage payments.

Other examples include anyone who falls into the “hardship” category—disabling, permanent injuries; financial insolvency; convictions; lack of employment due to economic conditions beyond the homeowner’s control, etc.
In these instances, lenders are willing to consider a short sale.

How Do I Find Out If A Property Qualifies for a Short Sale?

You’ll have to do some digging and gain knowledge about the lenders in your area. In order to acquire that knowledge, complete the following tasks:

Task 1: Talk to the lender and find out their loss mitigation policy. If they seldom or never do short sales, don’t bother with them. Find another lender with a better record in this area.

Task 2: Find out the number of liens recorded against the property title and the total amount of money in those liens.

Task 3: Know the borrower’s present financial condition.

Task 4: Know the type of loan that’s in default and its current status.

Task 5: Know both the property’s as-is market value and its as-repaired value.

Task 6: Be aware of the state of the local economy and the current real estate market conditions. Analyze all this information to determine if a short sale is worth pursuing.

Okay, let’s assume you’ve completed all those tasks and know the short sale is worth pursuing. What’s next?

How to Pursue a Short Sale

First, have the homeowner sign an authorization to release the loan information. Next – and this is very important! - you must have cash on hand. Why? Because all short sales are cash transactions! What’s more, you also need verifiable proof that you possess the money!

Also very important - short sales can’t be made to relatives, family members, or close friends of the homeowner. In real estate, this is called an “arm’s length transaction.” What happens if you do this and the lender discovers that you’ve done an arm’s length deal? The lender can file a lawsuit to have the sale overturned!

As you might expect, the property owners themselves can complicate the process. After all, they can’t receive any of the money from a short payoff sale. That means not much of an incentive for them to do a short sale.

And one last negative - the debt that’s canceled by the short sale payoff of a mortgage or deed of trust is subject to federal income tax as ordinary earned income. This is not true of a bankruptcy or insolvency.

How to Start the Short Sale Process

Follow these steps (yes, there are many):

- Get in touch with the homeowner who’s in foreclosure.
- Determine the homeowner’s financial condition.
- Analyze the condition of the property.
- If both the financial and property condition are suitable, ask the homeowner for written authorization to communicate with the loan loss mitigation department of the lender.
- Get in touch with the decision-maker in the loan loss mitigation department of the lender and provide them with a copy of the written authorization.
- Contact the decision-maker to discuss the short sale and request that the decision-maker send the appropriate short-sale documents to the homeowner.
- Ask the homeowner gather all documentation to provide support for financial hardship case.
- Get repair cost estimates from a minimum of three licensed home improvement contractors.
 - Do a comparable value study by assessing the value of three similar neighborhood properties sold in the last six months.
- Return the short sale proposal to the lender’s decision-maker. It should include a signed purchase agreement for a percentage less than the amount owed to the lender; e.g., 20%, 30%, 40% less, etc. Include a HUD 1 Settlement Statement in your proposal. You can download the statement in PDF form here.
- The lender’s decision-maker reviews your proposal and orders a BPO to determine the property’s as-is and as-repaired values.
- The decision-maker either accepts your proposal or rejects it.
- If the decision-maker feels a short sale is appropriate, they’ll make a counteroffer.
- You then accept or reject the counteroffer.
- If you accept the counteroffer, you close on the transaction within 30 days.

I hope this brief introduction to short sales gave you enough information to decide whether or not you want to pursue this type of transaction. If you have more questions, please contact me today at 215-504-7573 and we can discuss this topic or any other area of real estate.

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