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A number of short sale clients have shown me letters, mostly from Chase, offering them an almost incomprehensible amount of money if they’ll do a short sale. It would seem hard to believe, in a world where short sale sellers typically walk from closing with the clothes on their back and no proceeds, that lenders would suddenly offer them tens of thousands of dollars to sell for less than what they owed the bank. But there, in real living color, I have been shown these letters, right at the kitchen table, with numbers to call for verification and everything.

We’ve looked into it. The ones from JPMorgan Chase are legitimate. In some cases, Chase is giving a $30,000 incentive to underwater borrowers to complete a short sale. I have verified it through attorneys, Chase, and several Chase officials, and the explanation has been the same: Chase wants to close out these assets and they’d prefer not to foreclose. In the cases I have seen, the loans were originally Washington Mutual mortgages acquired by Chase when they absorbed WaMu in 2008. Chase paid $1.9 billion for Washington Mutual’s assets in 2008 after they were shut down by the FDIC. They did not pay face value for these mortgages. They can afford to sell them at a loss and even pay an incentive to the borrower and still remain in the black- and safely distant from the robo-signing scandal headaches.

According to a senior VP at Chase I have known for many years, other banks are doing similar incentives. Wells Fargo bought Wachovia. Bank of America bought Countrywide. And they can, in house, offer a far better cash incentive in many cases than what sellers could get under the HAFA incentive of $3,000, which many people often do not even qualify for. Not only that, under the TARP rules, the banks can claim a loss on the face value of the loan on their taxes. And that appears to be what they are doing.

Not every letter a delinquent homeowner gets in the mail promising them cash, incentives, and other goodies is legit. As a matter of fact, much of the mail I have been shown by delinquent homeowners struck me as a scam. But I have to say, in the case of banks like Chase, those large incentives to complete a short sale are a fact.

WHATEVER you do, however, never do it alone. If you are in New York or Connecticut where I work, contact a lawyer and check everything out before you ever deal with the bank directly alone and without help. We have a team including lawyers and a CPA who can make sure that our clients make all the right moves and have their backsides covered. Forewarned is fore armed.

Originally Published on the Westchester Real Estate Blog

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Who would rent to someone who just did a short sale on their house? This question has been asked many times, and I understand the concern. The presupposition, that one’s credit is so compromised after a short payoff that no landlord would accept them, is not quite that accurate. In spite of what some say, the hit to a FICO score from a short sale is not as severe as with a bankruptcy or foreclosure.

And yet, how many people live somewhere after a foreclosure or bankruptcy? All of them.

Since virtually no one can buy after one of these transactions, our job has been, with the exception of those moving elsewhere, to also help them secure a home for rent. The most successful strategy has been to tell the compete truth. Landlords don’t care so much about credit ratings, they care about getting paid the rent. If a client can demonstrate that while they have one adverse trade line (their home loan) on their credit, but many others that are in good standing, a solid history of paying other bills, and show that the rent is lower than the mortgage payment they just sold off, they have excellent chances.

In many of our cases, we have shown that the rent was considerably lower than the prior mortgage payment, we’ve included the client’s job and salary on the application, and we’ve stressed all the other bills that were paid on time. Landlords often also know that most banks require a default to approve a short sale. If they don’t, we tell them.

Have there been rare cases where the landlord rejected our client? Yes. Rare cases. Who would want a puritanical jerk like that for a landlord anyway (did I say that out loud?).

In some cases, the biggest headache was pets. If you own your own place, you didn’t have to worry about the landlord accepting your pet. You were the landlord. So we have offered an extra security deposit in the rare case of a skeptical landlord. But all of our clients have gotten new housing with dignity, and as time goes by and they re establish credit, they can go back to the housing market again.

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Just about every home sale is stressful on the seller. A short sale, given the higher stakes and financial ramifications, often has even more stress for the seller than a typical transaction. On a few occasions, I have had a short sale client lament that they are “left out” in a way, in that everyone is going to walk away from the closing with money except them. Short sale sellers realize no proceeds at closing.

I recall the first instance where this occurred; the seller didn’t really want to sell, and was dismayed at what her perceived as a feeding frenzy around him over his loss. The agents were making a fee, the lawyers were getting a check, and he’d lose his house. It didn’t seem right to him. The listing expired unsold 3 years ago, and it remains unsold with the 3rd listing agent. I don’t think the people could let go.

So what it in it for someone to do a short sale when they don’t get any money? Quite a bit if you ask me.

You avoid a foreclosure. A good point was made by the Distressed Property Institute in the CDPE course: negative trade lines lose their punch and fall off over time, but the one question on every mortgage application is “have you ever had a foreclosure?”

You leave your home with dignity. That goes for you and the neighborhood. Anyone who sells their home moves out on their own terms. Nobody evicts them, and nobody knocks on the door informing them he represents the lender and the house is now theirs. Short sale sellers pack their things and move to their next home like anyone else. And the neighborhood avoids the blight of a bank owned REO and all the baggage that comes with it.

You minimize the impact to your credit. A foreclosure is a nuclear event in credit. I could name nothing worse. While many people who do sell short have late payments, if they manage things correctly they can often be qualified to buy again in 24 months.

You avoid a deficiency judgment. A properly negotiated short sale typically results in the waiver of any deficiency. The slate is wiped clean. As I told my former client, if he just let the house go to foreclosure he wouldn’t get any money either. Worse, a deficiency judgment could haunt him thereafter.

I suppose there are other reasons, but to those who view a short sale as unpalatable, I would ask what they’d propose as a better option. Sometimes you have to choose your poison. Banks aren’t modifying loans these days- as a matter of fact, many of my clients came to me after they were turned down a 2nd and 3rd attempt to modify. You may not walk away with money in a short sale these days. But in a successfully negotiated short sale, do do get something few people consider: a second chance.

To add one more point, there are programs coming into prominence that do offer sellers a small stipend in a short sale, some as much as $7,000. I saw a letter from Chase today referencing up to a $20,000 credit for a short sale. I am sure the small print is copious for that, but HAFA is the first place we are going with our clients in short sales so they can get a credit from their lender at closing. Not every short sale broker is alike. You need a good one who knows how to get the debt discharged and the deficiency waived.

 

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I just finished my first day of CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert) class, and am reflecting on one of the more profound insights given by the instructor, Mark Boyland. Mark, who is an excellent presenter, compared the difficult issues we have to sort out with distressed homeowners with the rather matter of fact way a doctor handles another rather touchy thing:

“Please take off your clothes. ”

At my last physical, the doctor hardly looked up from his clipboard when he said that. But he was pretty comfortable about the request- so comfortable, that it seemed as mundane as asking his secretary if anyone called while he was out.

Now, when a guy is that blasé about your prostate test, there is a lesson to be learned.

We have to ask clients questions that are probing and invasive in any other context but real estate:

  • How much do you owe on your house?
  • Are you current on your mortgage?
  • Why did you fall behind on your payments?
  • Etc. etc.
These aren’t comfortable questions to ask. And the answers might be very difficult to examine for a seller who is facing foreclosure or imminent default. But we have to ask.  As I have blogged before, privacy does not reside in a vacuum. The more we know about a client’s situation, the better we can serve them.

A physician can’t give a physical to a person in a parka. We can’t help a distressed home seller whose equity position and status with their mortgage company is a mystery. We have obligations of disclosure to others in the market place, but more importantly the answers to the uncomfortable questions affect our pricing strategy, marketing, negotiation methodology, and literally dozens of other critical issues that arise in the obstacle-laden, serpentine maze of loss mitigation.

We are between borrowers under financial stress and a large monolithic financial institution. Information is crucial. Patients need to tell their doctor where it hurts or they can’t be helped. It is the same in real estate. It isn’t fun to ask these personal financial questions, and while some of us are more comfortable than others about it, we have to ask. The more honest and forthcoming the client is in their answers, the higher the likelihood that they can be helped.

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How much of a loss will the lender accept in a short sale? I am asked this from time to time by consumers and agents alike. We always disclose when a property is being sold subject to lender approval, and I understand the rationale for asking about the numbers, especially with the high dollar value of New York area properties, but the question is actually a non sequitur. Here’s why:

Which home has a better chance of having the short sale being approved:

  • A $600,000 home with a $650,000 mortgage
  • A $600,000 home with a $850,000 mortgage

Many people assume that the house with the $50,000 shortfall is the one that will be easier to have the short sale approved. That assumption is incorrect. The fact of the matter is that the amount that the lender loses in a short sale is immaterial to the approval. Once hardship is established, short sale approval is based on the banks’s valuation of the home, chiefly through an appraisal or Broker Price Opinion (BPO). The lender could be losing $25,000 or $250,000- it doesn’t matter. It all hinges on that appraisal or BPO.

Why? Because you can’t expect to get more than the market will bring. And if the lender has to seize the home, they will do a BPO on the home and price it accordingly with no regard for the loan amount they foreclosed on. The lender is simply trying to minimize their loss. For that reason, the buyer’s terms are less important in many cases. A regular seller might give a significant premium to a cash buyer for example. A lender in a short sale probably won’t give that term much deference at all.

Therefore, the big question in a short sale is not how much the bank is losing or what they are owed, but if the offer on the table reflects comparable sales activity. That is the great yardstick by which approvals are measured.

 

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Contrary to what some may think, an owner is not obligated to submit every offer to the lender for approval in order to do a short sale. As a matter of fact, there are offers that an owner should never submit to the lender. That is the owner’s right, as they still hold title and ownership of the property, and the bank’s decision in a short payoff is simply the amount they’ll take to release the lien and settle the debt.

In Westchester and the surrounding areas of New York, offers are not submitted to the lender for approval, contracts of sale are. And those contracts are between buyer and seller, not the bank. The contracts are conditioned upon bank approval, but they are binding contracts none the less. And it can take every bit of 3-6 months for the lender to render a decision, all while the foreclosure wheel turns. If the owner goes to contract with an offer that is less than a realistic expectation of value, they can be six months closer to foreclosure when the bank issues their denial of the short sale.

Sellers are therefore looking for realistic offers, not for their own pockets, but to ensure the bank accepts the short payoff. If an offer can be judged favorably by 3 recent (i.e., 6 months or less) closed and 3 active comparables, the offer bodes well. Buyers who submit speculatively low offers, unsupported by 3 sold and 3 active,  are doing something ill advised; if their amount is not close to what comparable sales for similar properties are getting on the market, they could waste months waiting for the inevitable “no.” And that “no” could cost the owners their house.

We have a enough offers in multiple bid situations meeting resistance to the banks; lowball offers invite peril to the seller and frustration to the buyer. And it is ultimately the sellers decision as to whom they’ll go to contract with. A short sale sellers surrenders proceeds. But no owner surrenders their rights. While the bank makes the final decision on amount, it is the owner, on advice and market data from their agent, who determine what to submit to the bank for that decision.

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The top emailed story on the New York Times website today, Short Sales Resisted as Foreclosures Are Revived, is over 2 days old. That it remains pinned as the top story to share is significant, especially to anyone in New York who is facing foreclosure or in a short sale. Bank of America has, after an absurdly short period of time, ended its moratorium on foreclosures and deemed that its house is in order to resume foreclosures. Aside from the field day that thousands of attorneys will have in the coming years with this, my thoughts are a mixture of dislike for the decision and sadness for borrowers who are in default with Bank of America.

The resistence to short sales is particularly unfortunate. The suspension was hoped to be a catalyst for making short sales a more viable option, but banks have yet to devote sufficient resources to streamline the process. The rationale is a fear of fraud, but fraud only accounts for a minuscule percentage of short sales- like 1 or 2 percent. The other 98 or 99% ought not to suffer because of it. The resumption of foreclosures removes any chances of positive change, unless the government steps in, which the Obama administration seems unwilling to do.

There is a silver lining to the story: The New York Times is finally getting interested in examining why banks resist short sales when they are so much of a better option for all involved. The Times is also starting to follow the money- banks do have some financial incentives, such as accounting practices which you or I could not do to write off a loss, which makes foreclosures more attractive.

Make no bones about it: in the absence of a government with a spine, banks will look at short term gain and little else. Changing their architecture to accommodate short sales is an expense and a learning curve, and they will resort to dumb rationalizations and red tape hell to keep the foreclosure train rolling.

This makes a savvy short sale specialist more of a necessity than ever. We are still batting .900, closing  more than 90% of the short sales we list, and I think it is due in no small part to understanding who, and what, we are dealing with. Choose your agent wisely.

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