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WHAT EXACTLY IS A SHORT SALE?

Short Sales have become the most popular and most successful alternative to foreclosure. A short sale allows the homeowner to sell their property and avoid the negative aspects and damage to their credit of foreclosure and eviction. Your lender is under no obligation to agree to or even consider a short sale. Therefore, you must request a short sale and negotiate the terms with your lender and all other liens or encumbrances that affect the home (i.e. HOA liens, child support, judgment liens). There are serious legal (and tax) consequences to a short sale which is why you should use an Attorney/Realtor® to complete your short sale. You want to be certain that the settlement agreement offered through the short sale (i.e. the short sale approval letter) is reviewed by an attorney and that you are free from all liability after the sale is completed.

A short sale occurs when your lender(s) agrees to the sale of your home for an amount less than the outstanding mortgage balance (the sale is “short” of the mortgage payoff). Your lender’s approval is required because it has a lien on your property that must be released to allow for the transfer to the buyer. In a “regular” sale, the mortgage would be paid in full and the lien would be released, but in a short sale, there isn’t enough money to pay off the mortgage. Therefore, without approval from the lender to release the lien “short” of the full payoff, the sale wouldn’t be possible. This process is a legal negotiation with the settlement of legal claims and requires the review and analysis of a real estate attorney.

 

WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR SHORT SALE?

To qualify for a short sale, you must owe more on your mortgage than the property is worth and have a documented hardship which has made the mortgage unaffordable (or has caused your inability to pay). Some examples of acceptable hardships for a short sale include a decrease in pay, job loss, medical problems, death, divorce, significant interest rate increase, or other similar change in circumstances that makes it extremely difficult to pay your mortgage.

 

SHORT SALE BENEFITS TO THE BORROWER

A short sale can provide you with a number of benefits:

  • You will remain in the property during the negotiation and short sale process (which can be as long as 4 – 6 months).
  • You will have time to save money and make other living arrangements.
  • You will avoid foreclosure and eviction.
  • You will be able to negotiate deficiency issues (more on this below).
  • You will limit the damage to your credit (as compared to a foreclosure).
  • It won’t cost you anything (and with Lawyers Realty Group, you will have free legal advice and representation during the process).
  • You could be eligible for significant cash incentives from the bank (ranging from $3,000 up to $30,000).

 

SHORT SALE BENEFITS TO THE LENDER

The foreclosure process is costly and time consuming for the lender. A short sale allows the lender to avoid those costs and wasted time, and can also limit certain legal risks to the lender like a borrower filing bankruptcy or renting out the home. A short sale lets the lender avoid becoming the owner of the property post-foreclosure which would require them to maintain and insure the home. The lender would prefer a quick sale while you are still the owner rather than taking the property back as an REO and having to sell in a difficult market.

 

IS A SHORT SALE RIGHT FOR ALL BORROWERS?

There are a number of situations where the legal consequences of a short sale can put the borrower in a much more precarious position than following another option. Most of these issues can be avoided by properly negotiating with the lender, but in certain limited situations, a borrower is better served by allowing a foreclosure to continue. Each situation is distinct and only a real estate attorney can make the legal determination whether a foreclosure provides more protection for the borrower. You must seek the advice of a real estate attorney and CPA to determine if a short sale would negatively affect your situation. Lawyers Realty Group can help you make this determination and evaluate all your options at no cost to you.

 

BREACH OF CONTRACT/LEGAL NEGOTIATIONS

It is very important to understand that once you have defaulted on your loan, you are in breach of contract. The short sale process involves legal negotiations and settlement of claims in resolution of your breach and a limitation on your future liability. In fact, you are assisting in the mitigation of damages to the lender by cooperating in the disposition of the home in a short sale. Because of the legal nature of this settlement negotiation, we believe you are ill-served if you forego legal representation in the process. We also understand that most people facing financial difficulty simply don’t have the money to retain an attorney. That’s why we formed Lawyers Realty Group. You get an Attorney/Realtor® without charge. Your lender has a lawyer, and you should too!

 

DEFICIENCIES AND DEFICIENCY JUDGMENTS

With a successful short sale, you will be released from your obligations under the mortgage. If the short sale doesn’t close, you could be exposed to foreclosure, eviction and future legal action for the collection of amounts owing on second liens and HOA fees. An outstanding, unaddressed deficiency balance post foreclosure is a ticking time bomb. In California, a lender may have as long as 4 years to commence legal action against the borrower after the original default (search our website for “Second lien liability”). This means the borrower is in jeopardy for years after foreclosure. Once the lender obtains a Deficiency Judgment from a court, they can start drastic collections procedures such as garnishing wages or attaching (taking) bank account balances.

 

If you are pursuing a short sale, make sure you have representation that understands Recourse & Non-Recourse Loans, Judicial & Non-judicial foreclosures, the California anti-deficiency laws (CCP 580b, CCP 580d, CCP 726) and their application to your loan(s). Real estate agents are barred by California law from discussing ANY of these issues with you. In fact, the California Association of Realtors has admonished its members by stating “Realtors should avoid giving a client a definitive answer as to what is best [short sale or foreclosure]… It is ultimately up to a client to decide, based on the various legal, tax, credit, and other consequences” (Oct 2011, California Real Estate Magazine, “The Devil’s in the Legal Details”). You must engage an Attorney/Realtor® to receive the protections you need in the short sale process.

 

One of the greatest benefits of a short sale is the ability to negotiate away all obligations associated with your property (including second liens and HOA fees). A short sale provides the best opportunity to address these obligations. Don’t leave this legal task to a “local” real estate agent; reach out to us and we will show you the Attorney/Realtor® short sale advantage.

 

TAX CONSEQUENCES OF A SHORT SALE

Both a short sale and a foreclosure can result in taxation, either in the form of capital gains or as cancellation of debt income. A taxable capital gain can occur where the amount of the short sale (or the fair market value in a foreclosure) exceeds your basis in the property (the purchase price plus any improvements in your home). Additionally, in any situation where the lender is not able to collect the outstanding balance of the mortgage (whether voluntarily or by law), you could have taxable cancellation of debt income. When a lender cancels any portion of recourse debt, they will issue a 1099-C. The IRS views canceled recourse debt to be INCOME to you (you received money at some point and no longer have the obligation to pay it back). This is known as “Phantom Income” because you don’t actually receive any money at the time you suffer the obligation to pay taxes, but you must report it as ordinary income on your tax return. There are exemptions to taxation resulting from a capital gain or cancellation of debt income. Some examples include the principal residence exemption to capital gains, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 and IRC 108 insolvency. Real estate agents almost universally misstate the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and, in fact, they have no legal authority to even discuss that law with you. Contact us for more information on the exemptions to taxable income from a short sale.

 

CREDIT CONSEQUENCES OF A SHORT SALE

While it is impossible to determine the exact impact of either a foreclosure or short sale on your credit score, it is clear that both cause a substantial negative result. Additionally, late payments in either situation will have a severe effect on your credit score (no matter the final outcome). However, there are a number of reasons why a short sale is preferable to foreclosure. First, a short sale indicates that you cooperated with your lender in the process and should be looked upon more favorably by future creditors. Credit applications will inquire about whether you have been through a foreclosure and you will need to disclose such information no matter how far in the past the foreclosure occurred (and regardless of whether the foreclosure has dropped off your credit report). Typically, credit applications do not specifically ask about short sales. With regard to a future home loan, many lenders have indicated that you would be eligible for a new loan in as little as 2 years after a short sale, whereas you would be barred from a new loan for 5 – 7 years following a foreclosure.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

A short sale is a very difficult real estate transaction that requires a significant amount of paperwork and extensive negotiation with your lender(s). Almost all of the issues raised in a short sale have serious legal and tax consequences. You only have one chance to make a short sale work. If you have a real estate agent who makes a mistake or misses an important legal issue, you could end up losing the home to foreclosure and facing eviction and a deficiency judgment. Alternatively, if your short sale closes, you might find that you have a whole new set of liabilities because of the terms in your contract.

 

No matter how much training a “local” real estate agent may have (e.g. Certified Distressed Property Expert, Certified Foreclosure and Short Sale Expert, or any other weekend certification course currently being offered to agents), they simply don’t have the authority to give you legal advice about the short sale contract, the approval letter/settlement agreement, deficiency liabilities, tax implications or the resolution of your breach of contract with the lender. Traditional real estate agents can’t speak to those issues, BUT THOSE ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES YOU FACE. The real estate sale is ancillary to the legal settlement of your loan default. How can you feel comfortable in a situation where your representative can’t speak about 90% of the issues that are important to you?

 

We know how the lenders work. We have worked with and represented lenders for years. We know how to get short sales approved while looking out for your best interest. We understand the tax and legal implications of a short sale, and, more importantly, we can actually provide you with advice and counsel during your short sale transaction. This is something a traditional real estate agent can’t do.

 

Your lender has a lawyer, you should too. We feel that anyone wishing to complete a short sale should have an Attorney/Realtor® without cost. That’s why we formed Lawyers Realty Group.

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