CALIFORNIA REAL ESTATE PRIMER – Buyer’s Short Sale FAQs

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Over the course of time, we have fielded a lot of questions from buyers regarding short sales and some of those questions are more frequently asked than others. The questions below are the more frequent ones we’ve been asked:

 1. What is a short sale?

A short sale is the process by which homeowners can sell their home for less money than they actually owe on the mortgage(s). This is accomplished by providing proper documentation to the lender(s) to convince them to reduce the mortgage balance to allow the sale. If the sale is approved, the mortgages lender(s) will actually take a loss on the mortgage.

If a bank approves the discount of a mortgage, the home can be sold for a price lower than the total debt on the property without the seller having to come up with cash to cover the shortfall. The mortgage is satisfied and any foreclosure process stops.

2. Why would a bank or mortgage lender want to cooperate with a short sale?

A common saying is that banks are in the business of lending money and do not want to own real estate. While this is a little misleading, it is essentially true. When banks foreclose on a property it is a long and expensive process and generally means holding the property in their inventory as a non-performing asset. Banks have a limit to the amount of non-performing assets they want to hold. Once this limit is exceeded, they have strong incentives to get rid of the properties at discount prices.

For a lender, agreeing to a short sale avoids many of the costs associated with the foreclosure process. Attorney’s fees, delays from borrower bankruptcies, damage to the property, costs associated with resale, property tax, insurance, etc., must all be paid by the bank during a foreclosure. In a short sale scenario, the lender is able to cut its losses by getting rid of the property faster and at a lower cost.  The most important element in the lender’s decision process is whether or not the property is “underwater.”  If so, then it can’t be sold for an amount equal to or greater than the mortgage and a short sale may be a viable solution.

3. How does a bank determine the price it will accept on a short sale?

Every bank has a specific method of deciding how much they’ll accept on a short sale. Give me a call, Mikey Hall, at 949-887-1625 and I’ll explain it to you.

 4. Can I really get a deal on a short sale home?

Yes, you can, but not every short sale is a deal. You still have to do your research and estimate the current market value of the home. This is one of the areas where a knowledgeable real estate agent’s level of experience really pays off.

5. Who pays the real estate commissions on a short sale?

In a standard sale, commissions are subtracted from the seller’s funds and paid out of escrow to the Realtors. In a short sale, the seller has no funds in escrow which means the commissions end up being subtracted from the monies that would go to the lender. So, the lender ultimately is the one paying the entire sales commission.

6. Are short sales guaranteed to work?

No. All of the criteria must be met before a bank will even consider a short sale. Even then it isn’t easy to convince a bank that the market value of the home is lower than what they are owed.

Even if all the paperwork has been correctly completed it can take several weeks, or even months, only to be denied. If the lender does not approve the short sale, no transaction occurs. The Purchase Agreement becomes void and the listing continues. There are, however, ways to put a time limit on the lender’s time to issue approval.

In a rising market the delay in a short sale approval runs against the buyer for at least two reason 1) The buyer’s purchasing power decreases as prices increase; and, 2) there is no guarantee the lender will approve the sale and the delay may cause the buyer to be priced out of the market.

A falling market has just the opposite affect because a buyer’s purchasing power increases as prices decrease.

7. How long does a short sale take to complete?

From a few weeks to several months.

8. What if the house I want needs repairs.

Remember, when an owner short sells their home it’s because they are suffering a financial hardship. This means there is no money for repairs and as a buyer you can’t reasonably expect the seller to do much in the way of repairs. The good news is we have had some success convincing lenders to repair termite damage and to make reasonable repairs relating to safety. But, this type of cooperation is dependent on the expense involved, the nature of the repair, the purchase price being paid and the direction of the market.

9. What if the house I want has liens on it?

Liens can complicate matters because the owner will not have the financial capability of removing them. Depending on a number of factors, including the real estate market and the purchase price, the lender might be persuaded to clear the liens. Or, sometimes the lien holders themselves might be convinced to reduce their liens. A short sale in this circumstance will take substantially longer.

10. I’m an investor, can I buy a short sale?

The simple answer is yes, you can. However, there can be serious complications.

11. Can I buy the short sale for the price stated in the listing?

An experienced Realtor can quickly tell you whether or not the property is priced unusually low. If so, the home was probably intentionally priced that way to attract offers which might prompt the lender into letting the Realtor know what price it will accept. In which case, the chances of buying the property at the asking price may not be very good.

On the other hand , the property might be priced correctly and your chances of getting the property at the asking price will be reasonably good.

12. How long will it take to get bank approval of my offer?

The answer to this question depends on the expertise of the listing agent, which bank is involved, and how many loans are on the property. Once approval is obtained, the property can go into escrow which takes no longer than a standard sale.

14. Will the banks negotiate on price?

Yes.  More in down markets and less in up markets.

15. Do I get title to the property when I buy a short sale?

Yes, title is transferred to the buyer at the close of escrow, just like in a standard sale.

16. Are my property taxes based on the amount of debt that was on the short sale property?

No. In California, your property taxes are based on the purchase price of the home.

17. Can I transfer my property tax base to a sale short?

Possibly, depending on whether or not you meet the requirements. You might want to read our article entitled, “Transfer Your Property Tax Base Year Value To Your New Home“.

As the housing markets recover, fewer and fewer homes will be underwater until finally the short sale will again become an unusual event.

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