If you owe more than your house is worth and can’t afford your payments, you might be able to sell it for less than you owe — without having to pay the lender the difference.
If you can no longer make your mortgage payments and your home is now worth less than you owe on it, foreclosure may not be your only option.
A short sale, in real-estate terms, is the sale of a house for less than what the owner still owes on the mortgage. If the lender agrees to a short sale, the rest of the homeowner’s debt typically is forgiven. Lenders sometimes agree to the procedure in order to take a small loss and avoid the lengthy and costly foreclosure process.
While there are some significant negative consequences to a short sale, an ever-increasing number of properties are being advertised with that label.
Short sale: Win-win-win situation
The beauty of short sales is that they can be a win-win-win situation for seller, buyer and lender. Here’s how:
The seller gets out of the mortgage liability without facing bankruptcy.
The buyer gets the home at a reduced price.
The lender agrees to a loss it considers minimal without going through a foreclosure and being saddled with an unsalable property.
While it may seem surprising that lenders would agree to accept less than what they are owed, they benefit from the process, too.
“The lender benefits by not having to go through the protracted process of foreclosing on the borrower and then having to put the property on the market and go through the whole marketing process,” says Stuart Wilson, a real-estate agent with Paragon Real Estate in San Francisco.
A market saturated with foreclosures can cost lenders billions — and as much as $50,000 per foreclosure — according to a study by the congressional Joint Economic Committee.
A buyer’s dream
For a buyer, a short sale is a boon since he or she is getting a property at a reduced price. However, the process of waiting for a lender to decide whether to agree to a short sale can make a lengthy home-buying process longer and more arduous.
Wilson, who has represented both buyers and sellers in short-sale deals, advises working with an agent who’s familiar with short sales.
He also suggests that buyers looking to negotiate a short-sale deal come armed with enough documentation to convince the lender that settling for the lower price is the best option.