I am updating this post that I first published in 2009. Since that time various attempts by the government to step in and fix the mortgage situation has resulted in what appears to me to be an abject failure. Borrowers who were deceived continue to be discounted. Borrowers who tried to take advantage of the system find themselves the recipient of one after the other bailout attempt. Folks who need answers continue to get a flood of opinions, none of which will solve the problem, but all of which continue to extend the pain.
Why You Should Fear a Short Sale
If you’ve found yourself in peril of losing your home, and then discovered yourself in a conversation about “short selling” your home, then pay attention to this!
In a nutshell, a short sale is where the owner of a home goes to their bank and says in effect “we are a hardship case, and we can no longer pay our mortgage.” It is usually the case that the amount stilled owed by the owner is actually much more than what the home is worth. In this case, the owner is asking the bank to let them try to sell the house for less money than they owe the bank (thus the term “short” sale….because you are going to fall short of paying your whole mortgage), and in doing so the owner is supposed to walk away without having to undergo the pain and damage of a foreclosure.
Let’s take an example. A couple bought a home in San Diego for $450,000 two years ago. Mortgaged to the hilt, they financed 100% of the sale, and they currently have a first trust deed and of $360,000, and a second trust deed of $90,000. The decline in prices has resulted in the home being worth only $350,000 now, less than 80% of the price they paid. Their rates are rising, and they can no longer pay the mortgage. They are in trouble financially, and without equity in the home, are unable to refinance and move on with their lives.
So they go to the bank and ask for a short sale. The bank says “okay, but keep paying your mortgage.” Then the owner places the home on the market for $350,000, and that home is marketed “pending lender approval.” Any offers that come in on the property need to be submitted to the bank. Remember, the $350,000 IS NOT THE PRICE THE BANK HAS AGREED TO SELL AT!!! Rather, it is the price the Realtor has told the bank the home MIGHT sell at, and the only thing the bank has agreed to is to review any offers and possibly accept them.
This is why you should fear the short sale, both if you are an owner in dire straits, or a buyer who is really looking to purchase. Both parties are at the mercy of the bank, and the bank’s motivation is not to sell at $350,000. Rather it is to keep the owner paying their mortgage, and thus keep the loan alive. If the bank can keep the owner paying, they forestall foreclosure and the loss on the loan for perhaps enough time for the market to gather itself up and make the home worth more. It’s not going to be worth enough to pay the mortgage, but if may be long enough to make the bank’s loss less.
Now, here’s the really bad news. Let’s say you go along with the bank, list your home as a short sale, and then some six to eight months later sell the home. Are you off free and clear? The answer is a double whammy NO. First, during these six to eight months you have been paying the mortgage, digging deeper into your reserves to pay the bank. You’ll never get a return on your money. And next, what about your credit? Isn’t a short sale supposed to be way better financially than going through a foreclosure? Isn’t it?
Well, according to Fair Isaac (the folks who bring you the FICO score), a short sale can cause the immediate loss of 70 to 200 points on your credit score, and this stigma will last on your credit from 2 to 3 years. That essentially means that you are persona non grata in the financial world. What happens if you get foreclosed on? Well, your FICO score will go down 70 to 150 points, and you’ll have the stigma of this bad credit for 3 to 5 years. Neither result, either from a short sale or a foreclosure, will be pretty to look at financially, but the difference between the two really needs to be looked at without emotion. When you do that, it is clear to me that many more people should be walking away from their homes in a foreclosure, and not burying themselves in the short sale process.
Here’s what FICO has to say:
“The common alternatives to foreclosure, such as short sales, and deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure are all “not paid as agreed” accounts, and considered the same by your FICO® score. This is not to say that these may not be better options for you from a financial perspective, just that they will be considered no better or worse for your FICO score. If you are considering bankruptcy as an alternative to foreclosure, that may have a greater impact to your FICO score. While a foreclosure is a single account that you default on, declaring bankruptcy has the opportunity to affect multiple accounts and therefore has potential to have a greater negative impact on your FICO score.”
Fear a short sale. You may want to talk to your financial advisor first about any decision you are going to make that will adversely affect your credit, and certainly if you are in jeopardy of losing your home. But don’t take a cursory look. Look long and hard at all your options. You can’t change the fact that losing your home is going to be painful. You can’t change the fact that losing your home will be stressful and perhaps an embarrassment. You can, however, decide which option really affects you now and in the future, weigh those options, and at least keep the financial damage at a minimum.