If you’re thinking of selling your home, and you expect that the total amount you owe on your mortgage will be greater than the selling price of your home, you may be facing a short sale. A short sale is one where the net proceeds from the sale won’t cover your total mortgage obligation and closing costs, and you don’t have other sources of money to cover the deficiency. A short sale is different from a foreclosure, which is when your lender takes title of your home through a lengthy legal process and then sells it.
1. Consider loan modification first. If you are thinking of selling your home because of financial difficulties and you anticipate a short sale, first contact your lender to see if it has any programs to help you stay in your home. Your lender may agree to a modification such as: Refinancing your loan at a lower interest rate; providing a different payment plan to help you get caught up; or providing a forbearance period if your situation is temporary. When a loan modification still isn’t enough to relieve your financial problems, a short sale could be your best option if:
- Your property is worth less than the total mortgage you owe on it.
- You have a financial hardship, such as a job loss or major medical bills.
- You have contacted your lender and it is willing to entertain a short sale.
2. Hire a qualified team. The first step to a short sale is to hire a qualified real estate professional and a real estate attorney who specialize in short sales. Interview at least three candidates for each and look for prior short-sale experience. Short sales have proliferated only in the last few years, so it may be hard to find practitioners who have closed a lot of short sales. You want to work with those who demonstrate a thorough working knowledge of the short-sale process and who won’t try to take advantage of your situation or pressure you to do something that isn’t in your best interest. A qualified real estate professional can:
- Provide you with a comparative market analysis (CMA) or broker price opinion (BPO).
- Help you set an appropriate listing price for your home, market the home, and get it sold.
- Put special language in the MLS that indicates your home is a short sale and that lender approval is needed (all MLSs permit, and some now require, that the short-sale status be disclosed to potential buyers).
- Ease the process of working with your lender or lenders.
- Negotiate the contract with the buyers.
- Help you put together the short-sale package to send to your lender (or lenders, if you have more than one mortgage) for approval. You can’t sell your home without your lender and any other lien holders agreeing to the sale and releasing the lien so that the buyers can get clear title.
3. Begin gathering documentation before any offers come in. Your lender will give you a list of documents it requires to consider a short sale. The short-sale “package” that accompanies any offer typically must include:
- A hardship letter detailing your financial situation and why you need the short sale
- A copy of the purchase contract and listing agreement
- Proof of your income and assets
- Copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years
4. Prepare buyers for a lengthy waiting period. Even if you’re well organized and have all the documents in place, be prepared for a long process. Waiting for your lender’s review of the short-sale package can take several weeks to months. Some experts say:
- If you have only one mortgage, the review can take about two months.
- With a first and second mortgage with the same lender, the review can take about three months.
- With two or more mortgages with different lenders, it can take four months or longer.
When the bank does respond, it can approve the short sale, make a counteroffer, or deny the short sale. The last two actions can lengthen the process or put you back at square one. (Your real estate attorney and real estate professional, with your authorization, can work your lender’s loss mitigation department on your behalf to prepare the proper documentation and speed the process along.)
5. Don’t expect a short sale to solve your financial problems. Even if your lender does approve the short sale, it may not be the end of all your financial woes. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- You may be asked by your lender to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay back the amount of your loan not paid off by the short sale. If your financial hardship is permanent and you can’t pay back the balance, talk with your real estate attorney about your options.
- Any amount of your mortgage that is forgiven by your lender is typically considered income, and you may have to pay taxes on that amount. Under a temporary measure passed in 2007, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation Act, homeowners can exclude debt forgiveness on their federal tax returns from income for loans discharged in calendar years 2007 through 2012. Be sure to consult your real estate attorney and your accountant to see whether you qualify.
- Having a portion of your debt forgiven may have an adverse effect on your credit score. However, a short sale will impact your credit score less than foreclosure and bankruptcy.
Source: National Association of REALTORS®
Unless the buyer who makes an offer on your home has the resources to qualify for a mortgage, you may not really have a sale. If possible, try to determine a buyer’s financial status before signing the contract. Ask the following:
- Has the buyer been prequalified or preapproved (even better) for a mortgage? Such buyers will be in a much better position to obtain a mortgage promptly.
- Does the buyer have enough money to make a downpayment and cover closing costs? Ideally, a buyer should have 20 percent of the home’s price as a downpayment and between 2 and 7 percent of the price to cover closing costs.
- Is the buyer’s income sufficient to afford your home? Ideally, buyers should spend no more than 28 percent of total income to cover PITI (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance).
- Does your buyer have good credit? Ask if he or she has reviewed and corrected a credit report.
- Does the buyer have too much debt? If a buyer owes a great deal on car payments, credit cards, etc., he or she may not qualify for a mortgage.
Source: National Association of REALTORS®
On closing day, expect to sign a lot of documents and walk away with a big stack of papers. Here’s a list of the most important documents you should file away for future reference.
- HUD-1 settlement statement. Itemizes all the costs — commissions, loan fees, points, and hazard insurance —associated with the closing. You’ll need it for income tax purposes if you paid points.
- Truth in Lending statement. Summarizes the terms of your mortgage loan, including the annual percentage rate and recision period.
- Mortgage and note. Spell out the legal terms of your mortgage obligation and the agreed-upon repayment terms.
- Deed. Transfers ownership to you.
- Affidavits. Binding statements by either party. For example, the sellers will often sign an affidavit stating that they haven’t incurred any liens.
- Riders. Amendments to the sales contract that affect your rights. Example: The sellers won’t move out until two weeks after closing but will pay rent to the buyers during that period.
- Insurance policies. Provide a record and proof of your coverage.
Sources: Credit Union National Association; Mortgage Bankers Association; Home-Buyer’s Guide
Brush up on these mortgage basics to help you determine the loan that will best suit your needs.
- Mortgage terms. Mortgages are generally available at 15-, 20-, or 30-year terms. In general, the longer the term, the lower the monthly payment. However, you pay more interest overall if you borrow for a longer term.
- Fixed or adjustable interest rates. A fixed rate allows you to lock in a low rate as long as you hold the mortgage and, in general, is usually a good choice if interest rates are low. An adjustable-rate mortgage is designed so that your loan’s interest rate will rise as market interest rates increase. ARMs usually offer a lower rate in the first years of the mortgage. ARMs also usually have a limit as to how much the interest rate can be increased and how frequently they can be raised. These types of mortgages are a good choice when fixed interest rates are high or when you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years.
- Balloon mortgages. These mortgages offer very low interest rates for a short period of time — often three to seven years. Payments usually cover only the interest so the principal owed is not reduced. However, this type of loan may be a good choice if you think you will sell your home in a few years.
- Government-backed loans. These loans are sponsored by agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs and offer special terms, including lower down payments or reduced interest rates to qualified buyers.
Slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. For help in determining how much your monthly payment will be for various loan amounts, use Fannie Mae’s online mortgage calculators.
Source: National Association of REALTORS®