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Preventing Foreclosure: The Short Sale

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In the Preventing Foreclosure series, you’ve received an introductory look at how to stay in your home, either through bankruptcy proceedings or via negotiations with your mortgage lender, with later discussions specifically devoted to how Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings can force creditors to end their collection activities and delay a foreclosure sale.

In Part II of this six-part series, we elaborated on the ins and out of working with your mortgage lender, including timelines, terms, and trends, including forbearance, mortgage modification, loan reinstatement, and the short sale. Here, we’ll expand on the process behind the real estate concept of a  “short sale,” including the ins and outs of this option for homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure and settle with their lender.

Part V – The Short Sale

If you’re one of many mortgage holders in arrears due to a recent job loss, extended unemployment, medical costs, divorce, or just an adjustable rate mortgage that’s on the rise, you may be facing foreclosure. But, foreclosure can ruin your credit and make it impossible to acquire a new home, leaving you without your biggest and best asset in an uncertain economic climate.

You may have heard of one alternative to foreclosure: the short sale. A short sale occurs when the outstanding loan against your home is greater than what the property can be sold for. For some homeowners, this may be a viable solution. However, for many, it's just a false glimmer of hope that may leave the homeowner worse off than before the short sale. Here's a brief overview of the necessary steps of a short sale:

Verify Your Property Value
If you’re using a real estate agent, they’ll provide you with an estimate of market value. If you are selling the property yourself, do your own homework, assessing the market in your area for a proper property price.

Calculate the Costs
Add up all the costs of selling your property, including the closing costs. If you are selling the property on your own, a real estate attorney can help.

Assess the Amount Owed
Determine the amount owed against the property, including all loans, minus the total amount owing against the property from the estimated proceeds of the sale—ultimately a negative number.

Locate Your Lender
Contact your mortgage lender or lenders for their particular short sale procedures. Some lenders are willing to work with you by reducing the amount owed or making other arrangements.

Sell the property
If your lender agrees to a short sale, the next step is hiring a real estate agent—one willing to work for a smaller commission. At the same time, you’ll also need to scale back your own spending as another sign of good faith to your lender. Once a buyer is secured, you can then sell the house for a loss, and, with the lender’s permission, they agree to call it even, with no damage to your credit or ability to procure a new home in the future.

Review the Risks
In addition to the potential that your lender will deny you a short sale, the short sale process does have consequences. Your lender may not be willing to eat the loss, leaving you on the hook for the difference. Make sure they are willing to give you complete forgiveness of the debt, and that they will not hold you personally liable for the difference between what the property sells for and what you owe. Get this in writing. Even if your lender does absorb the loss, the IRS may treat this difference as taxable income, leaving you with a significant chunk to cover come tax time.

As a result, the best alternative is, of course, keeping your home—either by restructuring or reinstating the loan.  Your best bet is contacting a bankruptcy attorney as soon as you start feeling pinched to make the mortgage payment. Chances are you have other unsecured debt that can be eliminated, freeing up more money to pay your mortgage. If you have two mortgages and your home is now worth less than what you owe on the first, a bankruptcy can get rid of the 2nd. That's right, you may be able to eliminate your 2nd mortgage.

In Part VI, we’ll conclude the Preventing Foreclosure series with a broader look at your bankruptcy options.  And, as always, to learn more about your options, contact the experts at The Law Offices of John T. Orcutt.

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