When you owe more on your home than it’s worth, but you have to sell, you need to squeeze every dollar possible from the sale. Here are seven tips for navigating the short-sale process.
1. Know who you owe
A short sale has to be approved by any company that has a mortgage or lien against your home. That includes your first, second, or even third mortgage lender, your home equity line lender; your homeowners or condominium association; and any contractors who’ve placed a lien on your home. Make a list and start talking to everyone early in the process. Ask what documents they’ll need from you.
2. Pick your short sale team
You’ll need to work with a team of short sale experts, including a real estate agent, real estate attorney, and your accountant. Look for agents and attorneys who advertise themselves as short sale experts. Interview at least three, and listen carefully for signs that they understand the complexities of the short sale process.
Agents should explain how they’ll arrive at a suggested price for your home. Ask them to show you a sample short-sale package or for an example of a prior short-sale success.
3. Get your documents ready
Gather the paperwork your creditors and mortgage lenders asked to see, like your listing agreement and a hardship letter explaining why you need to do a short sale. You’ll also need proof of what you earn and what you owe as well as copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years.
4. Expect delays
Despite a federal rule saying banks participating in the federal government’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program must respond to short-sale offers within 10 days, it may take weeks or months for your lender to decide whether to allow you to sell your home in a short sale--and even longer if you must negotiate with more than one lender or lienholder.
Your lender and lienholders don’t have to agree to your proposed short sale. They can reject your terms or make a counteroffer, which can create further delays.
5. Anticipate demands
Discuss with your short-sale team how you should respond to common short-sale demands from lenders. For example, are you willing to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay outstanding amounts after the sale is complete?
6. Know the tax implications
Any unpaid amount of your mortgage “forgiven” by your lender through a short sale may be considered income to you under federal tax rules. Ask your attorney or accountant whether you qualify to exclude that amount as income on your tax returns under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation Act. Also ask if you’ll be required to report amounts “forgiven” by other lienholders, if applicable.
7. Consider how the short sale will affect your credit and what you must pay
Ask whether your lender will report the short sale to credit-reporting agencies. Having a portion of your debt forgiven may negatively affect your credit score, but a short sale typically damages your score less than a foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Ask you lawyer whether you'll be responsible for paying back the lenders' loss. If the lender says it will forgive any losses on the sale of your home, get that promise in writing.
Other web resources
IRS information on the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation
This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn't intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.