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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The concern of some homeowners looking to do a short sale that a 1099 issued from the bank will expose them to a new problem, namely a huge income tax bill on the forgiven debt, is understandable. With home values in Westchester in 2010 at a median of $630,000, a six figure 1099 is entirely possible. In the past, a bank could issue a 1099 for forgiven debt, rendering it akin to income for tax purposes.
However, even if the bank does issue a 1099, the likelihood that you’ll have a tax problem is virtually nonexistant for owner occupants thanks to a law passed in 2007, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. From the IRS website:
The Act applies only to forgiven or cancelled debt used to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence, or to refinance debt incurred for those purposes. In addition, the debt must be secured by the home. This is known as qualified principal residence indebtedness.
Most definitions of “principle residence” mean that you have resided there for at least 2 of the prior 5 years. That means that if you move out due to a job transfer or or other reason, you are not out of luck. Obviously, as a licensed real estate broker I do not give tax advice. You have to consult a tax professional like a CPA. However, make sure you discuss this law when you speak. It runs through 2012, and may well be extended.
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I have been prominent in two separate stories in the media this past week regarding default properties and their effect on the market and the borrower. This past Sunday I was in the New York Times, and on Tuesday I was in a nice piece on AOL Daily Finance.
The Times piece centered on strategic defaults, where borrowers who could otherwise afford a mortgage stop paying on purpose. Many people who do this do so for cash flow reasons; if you paid $350,000 for a house in the peak and the same house is for sale at foreclosure down the street for $180,000, some people just buy the cheaper one and let the old house go, cutting their payment. However, the credit consequences can be dire. The debate on the ethics of the practice is heated.
The AOL Daily Finance article is part of a series on how the housing crisis has affected different places. Mount Vernon, a city in Southern Westchester County which has been rife with short sales and foreclosures, was discussed in the article. Values are down in the neighborhood I am quoted on about 50%. What is not mentioned is that many of the foreclosures were actually renovated by the prior owner before they ran into financial problems, which punctuates the crisis, for me, in a very sad way. You hate to witness broken dreams.
Which is why we work so hard on getting our short sales closed and done for our clients. Preventing foreclosures is what we are all about.
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We recently closed on the short sale in Peekskill, NY and it was rather unique. For one, the seller, a licensed professional, had to come up with some money at the closing due to being lighter in the hardship department. We warned the client of this possibility, but the way the bank went about it is indicative of why we have the problems we have in this economy. In addition to that, the buyer almost couldn’t close because of a discrepancy on the taxes.
The seller had relocated out of state and was renting the home. He moved to an area of the country with a lower salary scale, and was now teaching in his field rather than in practice. He therefore could not write a check for 6 figures to make the lender whole. There was some acrimony with the lender as to the value of the home; as is often the case, the lender broker price opinion was done by an out of area licensee with no clue on the local market, and their “value” came in at a price point where we once were, and could not get anyone to even come look. Bad BPOs are a problem that could easily be solved by using local brokers and appraisers. Why lenders do not grasp this is beyond me.
Meanwhile, the buyer’s purchase appraisal came in too low! Their bank was reticent to loan that much on the home, and there was another problem with a re assessment raising our published tax figure. Evidently, both my and the buyer agent’s verification of taxes came prior to the bill going up. Their appraiser caught the discrepancy. This temporarily put the kabosh on the buyer’s mortgage.
As with many short sales, it was our job to go to the mat with the lender to get the deal done, which we did. The seller had to write a small percentage of the shortfall at closing to avoid any long term deficiency, which he had and did.
- Re-verify taxes when homes are listed on or near reassessment dates.
- For the banks: stop using out of market brokers for price opinions. The same goes for out of market appraisers.
I give credit to our proactive seller for helping himself and remaining in strong communication. I am more leery than ever as to the wisdom of those people at the lenders, whose myopia about local knowledge for BPOs contributes to muddying up the short sale process and causing more stress and angst. I am sure this is part of the issue with recent moratoriums on foreclosures– the banks are getting unforgivably sloppy.
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As short sales become more prevalent in Westchester County, the anxiety around their newness tends to fade. With familiarity comes some confidence. We just closed on one such sale. The sellers were being transferred out of state after buying the house in 2006, right after the peak. They bought with a smaller downpayment, so when the market crashed they joined millions of other Americans (and thousands of fellow Westchester County homeowners) in being under water.
Being upside down is not necessarily a problem unless you have to sell. Well, when you get transferred, you typically have to sell. In going over our options, it was clear that they could not rent the home out and remain in the black, and there was no savings. Their housing expense in their new home would not enable them to carry two homes, so the house in Ossining couldn’t be kept. A short sale would be their best option. Wisely, they consulted with their attorney as part of the decision.
After listing the house they made one price adjustment, an offer came in, we went to contract, submitted everything to the lender, and it was accepted. No problems with the appraisal on either side, no issues with the new buyer, the buyer agent did her job, and we closed. The only drama was how a boat left in the driveway would be dispensed with. The seller’s relatives removed it.
It was that simple.
It took a little over 4 months for the short sale to be approved. I have to give credit to my clients for doing everything they needed to do, and to the buyers for having their act together when the approval came through. There was no drama and no suffering because everyone did their job and kept focus.
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What qualifies as hardship in a short sale? I get this question fairly often, and it should be addressed. First, I’ll tell you what does not qualify as hardship, and that is simply being underwater. If you owe more than you are worth, being upside down alone is not adequate hardship to get a short sale approved. That is only half the equation. There has to be a financial hardship.
In every case of hardship I have ever seen, a loss of income has been involved. It could be unemployment, divorce, being laid off, the failure of a business, or any of a hundred other things, but a loss or decrease of income is absolutely hardship. When your expenses remain the same and your income goes down or disappears, you have a case for hardship. You could be a ditch digger paying a $500 per month mortgage or a brain surgeon paying $10,000 per month. If you lose income, hardship is not hard to prove. In rare cases, income has remained the same but the payment has adjusted up, but the mathematical outcome, namely a deficit, is the same.
That is as basic a yardstick as I can find. I’d be surprised to find a more common or less complicated theme.
Loss of income is almost always a case for hardship.
Originally posted at Westchester Real Estate Blog
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