Thursday, August 28, 2008
A short sale is when a 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 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 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 climate and the individual borrower's financial situation.
A short sale typically is executed to prevent a home foreclosure. Often a bank will choose to allow a short sale if they believe that it will result in a smaller financial loss than foreclosing. For the home owner, the advantages include avoidance of having a foreclosure on their credit history and the partial control of the monetary deficiency. Additionally, 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.
Creditors, their surrogates, and those who politically benefit from the mortgage industry -- especially those in the real-estate, mortgage servicing, and banking -- wrongly portray short sales as difficult to complete or morally questionable. This is simply untrue if the value of the underlying asset, a home, has fallen dramatically and the debtor has limited assets. Short sales are extraordinarily 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.
Lenders have a department (typically called a loss mitigation department) that processes potential short sale transactions. Typically, lenders do not accept short sale offers or requests for short sales until a Notice of Default has been issued or recorded with the locality where the property is located.
Lenders have a varying tolerance for short sales and mitigated losses. The majority of lenders have a pre-determined criteria for such transactions. Other distressed lenders may allow any reasonable offer subject to a loss mitigator's approval. "Red tape" is very common in short sales, requiring potentially multiple levels of approvals and conditions. Junior liens - such as second mortgages, HELOC lenders, and HOA (special assessment liens) - may need to approve the short sale. Frequent objectors to short sales include tax lieners (income, estate or corporate franchise tax - as opposed to real property taxes, which have priority even when unrecorded) and mechanic's lien holders. It is possible for junior lien holders to prevent the short sale.
Recent Changes to Federal Laws Affecting Mortgages
When the lender decides to forgive all or a portion of a borrower's debt and accept less, the forgiven amount is considered as income for the borrower and is liable to be taxed.
However, after the signing of The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, amendments have been made to remove such tax liability and allow the borrower and lender to work freely together to find a common solution that is beneficial to both parties. This protection is limited to primary residences -- rental properties are ineligible for relief -- so consultation with a tax advisor is necessary to ensure that a borrower qualifies.
More recent legislation provides for a specialized type of refinancing option, available for mortgages made after in 2006 or later, for owner-occupied homes. Under this program a debtor provides information similar to that necessary for a short-sale but rather than selling the house to a third-party an FHA guaranteed loan at a fixed-rate is available if the original lender is willing to write-off all but 85-percent of outstanding of the debtor's obligations (including principal, interest, late-fees, prepayment penalties, and all other fees). FHA-backed refinance packages are available beginning October, 2008, and carry a fee equal to 1.5% of the value of the house. Debtors who exercise this option must sacrifice 50-100 percent of equity that builds in a house, and may not participate in home equity loan programs. This program is only available to owner-occupied residences. This program requires consent from a lender: consent is not automatic and may be freely withheld, though withholding consent can result in a foreclosure with adverse financial results.
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.
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 to reflect a zero balance after a short sale. However, willfully misrepresenting information on a credit report constitutes libel in many states, and lenders may be sued in civil court for engaging in this behavior.