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What is a short sale? Five things you need to know.

What is a short sale? Five things you need to know.

Is a foreclosure staring you in the face? For many Americans faced with foreclosure and, possibly, bankruptcy, a better option is often a short sale. Short sales, which are up 10 percent from the same period last year, according to RealtyTrac, are becoming an increasingly popular way to deal with homes and homeowners burdened with too much debt. However, many homeowners still aren’t clear what a short sale is and whether it is the best solution for them. Here are five things you need to know about short sales: 

A brand-new $1.1 million, 5,200 square foot home in Davie, Fla., is offered for short sale in this 2010 file photo. Often, lenders will agree to take a loss on a short sale because they would lose even more in a foreclosure. (J Pat Carter/AP/File)

1. What is a short sale?

Very simply, a short sale is when a lender agrees to take less than what he’s owed and allows homeowners to sell their property because they are facing financial hardship. Typically, the homeowner’s mortgage is worth more than his home and he’s having trouble making payments. So the homeowner sells the home and the bank marks down the value of the mortgage to the sales price, leaving the homeowner free and clear.

Lenders agree to do this because it makes financial sense for them. According to recent statistics, homes offered as short sales are bought for roughly 20 percent below their market value as opposed to 39 percent under market value for foreclosed homes. Lenders also save on costly foreclosure and maintenance procedures. Thus, the short sale is typically a better option for the lender as well as the seller.

2. How do short sales compare to foreclosures?

A foreclosure can be extremely damaging to an individual’s credit report and it can have long-term effects on anyone seeking credit. So, for several years after foreclosure, former homeowners can find themselves denied credit – or paying much higher rates to finance a car and other large items. A borrower would also have to answer yes on an employment application if she ever had a foreclosure. She could be denied employment.

And forget about taking out a mortgage to buy a home. In most cases, a lender won’t even consider you until five to seven years have passed, although lending guidelines are changing every day. A negative credit report can even make it more difficult to rent an apartment.

Short sales, by contrast, do far less damage to your credit report. Also, if a borrower has a home equity line of credit attached to their property, the rights to collect on that do not cease to exist.  They will remain open and sought. If borrowers reside in a recourse state (most Americans do), the lender also has a legal right to seek recourse against them. Foreclosure will sink a credit rating nearly as much as bankruptcy does.

3. How do short sales compare to bankruptcy?

When faced with foreclosure, some individuals turn to bankruptcy instead. In some cases, filing for bankruptcy can be less damaging to your credit profile than having a foreclosure on your record. Filing for bankruptcy will consolidate your debt and can wipe out your liabilities. But it will not prevent an eventual foreclosure if the bank has already started the process. A bankruptcy only delays a foreclosure. The property will eventually foreclose, which will also affect neighboring values by up to 28 percent.

However, if your home is the only debt that is creating your financial hardship, a short sale is probably your best alternative to bankruptcy. That’s because a short sale will be reported as a “settled debt” versus having to go the route of bankruptcy or foreclosure, which is far less damaging on one’s credit report. Although you can conduct a short sale while in bankruptcy, it requires strategy and a plan. It is best to consult with a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney and short sale real estate agent before making any decisions.

4. Are you qualified for a short sale?

One reason homeowners resist short sales is because they don’t understand if they qualify for the process. Though each short sale is unique, homeowners generally must show legitimate hardship. Common reasons include: death, divorce, loss of job, relocation, etc. Anytime a property is inevitably headed towards foreclosure, a borrower qualifies for a short sale.

Short sales are a way to mitigate the lender’s loss. They’re not a consumer bailout. Nevertheless, the consumer participating in a short sale will more than likely be able to walk away from all his debt and start over.

If you should happen to find yourself underwater, owing more on your home than the home is worth, find a proper real estate agent who is knowledgeable about short sales and has a proven track record. They are different than the average transaction, and it is important that you do your own research.

5. Consider all the benefits

One of the major benefits of a short sale is that it ends the financial and emotional nightmare quickly. After the homeowner accepts a contract, it usually takes no more than 120 days (and often much less time) for the sale to close. Losing one’s home is a painful process, but a short sale can help families reduce their frustration and their time in financial limbo. It can also help maintain their credit and allow them to move forward with their lives. As long as the housing crisis continues, short sales will continue to grow in popularity. Homeowners need to become educated and empowered to undertake the process.

Source: Mike Cuevas, a national short sale Realtor trainer and a partner of Exit Realty, a residential real estate firm in Chicago that also specializes in Short Sale nationally.

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