Short sale is an option

by Dan Krell

Simply put, a short sale is asking your lender to take a lower payoff and “forgive” the difference. In today’s market, where home values have depreciated significantly in some areas, the short sale is a viable option for many home owners who need to sell their homes but find themselves “upside down.”

Although the concept is simple, the process can be lengthy and full of surprises. You should consult an attorney about your options (which may include and is not limited to a loan workout or modification, forbearance, deed-in-lieu, or bankruptcy), because the process is not a guaranteed sale and your lender may still foreclose if you have not paid your mortgage.

If you decide to go through the short sale process, you should know that your sale will be subject to your lender’s approval. The lender will decide what they will accept to pay off your loan based on the home’s “fair market value.” They will review a proposed settlement sheet that will include all liens to be paid as well as any unpaid taxes and Realtor commissions. If the net is acceptable, then they will issue an approval. If the net is not acceptable, they will most likely counter the home buyer’s offer to increase their net proceeds.

Additionally, if you enter into the short sale process, you can expect your lender to pry into your personal life by asking for your income and financial documents, a hardship letter outlining your need for a short sale, and any supporting documents.

The pros and cons of going through a short sale include forgiveness of debt, credit reporting, and tax liability. By going through the short sale process, your lender essentially accepts a lower payoff for your mortgage. This differs from a foreclosure, when your lender may serve you with a deficiency judgment to repay any shortage they incur when they sell your home in a foreclosure sale.

Additionally, your credit will most certainly be affected by foreclosure as well as a short sale. However, experts have debated that having a short sale may be the lesser of the credit evils, as there may not be late mortgage payments nor reported judgments or other foreclosure related credit damage.

You also need to know that your lender will most likely issue you a 1099 whether your home is sold at foreclosure or short sale. What an awful surprise for you during your hardship to find out you have a tax liability! If you decide to go through the short sale process, consult with your accountant about your tax liability and if you qualify to file the little known IRS hardship form.

Finally, once you begin the short sale process, you should keep records of documentation of your correspondence with your lender, which includes phone calls, emails, financial packages you complete, and all supporting documentation.

If you owe more on your mortgage than your home’s value and you need to sell your home, the short sale process will allow you to sell your home for less than what you owe your lender without having to pay the difference at settlement. A short sale is a “win-win” for all involved, but there are many considerations. Before you enter in such an arrangement, you should consult with an attorney to understand your options.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of October 27, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.