Archive for the ‘Short Sales’ Category

I have helped short sale clients who once had millions and closed transactions for folks that never had much and perhaps should not have bought property to begin with. Distress affects us all. Few things are as difficult as financial stress. Illness or a crisis with our children certainly could be worse, but facing foreclosure truly sucks. It can bring out desperation, and it can also bring the scam artists to the front door.

On a number of occasions, one of our agents has listed a property for a short sale and brought an offer to the client. Most of the time the seller is ecstatic. There is light at the end of the tunnel. On a few sad occasions, the seller has gotten into the web of some pretty brazen scam artists who promise them things that cannot possibly be delivered. Instead of realizing that if it sounds to be too good to be true that it isn’t, the seller went along with the scammer’s plan. It follows a pattern:

  • The short sale gets listed
  • One of these bad people harvests the short sale listings and solicits them for their “better option.”
  • The seller client, desperate and stressed, agrees to fire their agent, ignore perfectly good offers, and agrees to sell to the scammer for significantly below market value.
  • In exchange for the sale, the scam buyer promises the seller tens of thousands of dollars that would otherwise go to their lender to defray the shortfall.
  • The end game is, as an example, to sell a $400,000 property for $100,000 to the scammer. They have no skin in the game if the bank isn’t deceived; if the bank is fooled into the lowball deal, the scammer re-sells the property for $350,000 and pays the seller $40,000. Maybe. I don’t know how one would ensure their performance. That would be like running to the cops and complaining that the dope dealer shorted you a few ounces of crank.

In the above example, the lender is defrauded; a consumer is complicit with bank fraud; a valid listing contract with a reputable broker is broken. Worse, the consumer has no recourse if they aren’t paid off.

This has occurred with clients of modest means with an uninhabitable property they abandoned years before, and clients who had high net worth portfolios who fell on difficult times. The modus operandi is the same. The scammer approaches the owner of a listed property, promises them a big payday when they would ordinarily have little or no proceeds, and gets their cooperation in bank fraud. This plays right into the Achilles heel of lenders who do a poor job of valuing the distressed property. That valuation problem is for another day’s discussion.

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We’ve seen three trends since the “recovery” went into full swing the past 18-24 months, and short sales are still part of the landscape in Westchester and the surrounding area counties (Putnam, Fairfield CT, Dutchess, Rockland, and Orange).

  1. Some people who think they are upside down aren’t. We recently put a property under contract that was dealing with a reverse mortgage. The seller bought decades ago, some updating was needed, and she was afraid she had no equity. The home was worth almost 50% more than she thought it was. Transaction gap, the phenomenon where it has been so long since a sale or purchase that the consumer isn’t current on the 2017 market, is a thing. Happily, in this case, all appears to be well.
  2. Lenders still aren’t efficient. It shouldn’t take 6 months or more (sometimes much, much more) to promulgate a short sale closing, but we are still looking at 4-5 months being almost lightning quick in this silo of the industry. Sometimes it is unavoidable, as loans get sold and the hour glass starts at zero. Often, however, the bank simply stinks- I can think of two properties within a mile of my home that have been in short sale purgatory for more than 5 years. That is appalling. It is bad for the borrower, the lender has a non-performing asset, and the local market suffers. I don’t see this changing. Moreover, some banks
  3. Moving incentives are still available on a limited basis. Sellers typically realize no proceeds from the closing of a short sale because of the math. The bank absorbs the loss, so there is no equity to distribute at the closing. However, some government programs such as HAFA are still in effect with a $3,000 credit toward moving, and the lenders themselves still have an occasional incentive. Taking a page from the “everything is negotiable” book, one of our agents does well at negotiating a moving allowance on behalf of the seller client when no program is offered. That is good advocacy.

The percentage of distress sales is considerably lower (thank God) than it was 5-7 years ago when the market was still hoping to recover, but short sales are still a factor. I remain bullish that they are a superior way of dispensing with non-performing mortgages for both lenders and borrowers; I wish lenders would devote better resources toward that end.

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Athletes speak of a “good tired” and a “bad tired” after a game, good after a win and bad after a loss. Tonight I am the good kind of tired. 13 months ago I met with a very nice lady in White Plains who called me after a Realtor she was interviewing proposed that since she was a short sale, she should deposit an amount equal to the commission in escrow with the broker to ensure their fee payment. That didn’t strike her as terribly kosher, she got on the Internet to research short sales in Westchester County, and she found me.


I got the listing; Ms. Escrowed Commission didn’t. The condo market was slow at that time, and we went the first 6 months with only one aborted offer. However, I earned her trust in the process and got an extention. We determined that in order to secure a buyer, we should clean up the overgrown outside patio. I put on jeans one afternoon and trimmed, raked and perspired the area to an appealing level. It worked. This past June we got our buyer, and in perhaps some of the best work I have ever seen from our team, the approval came through on August 2nd.


You read that right. It took us under 60 days to get the short sale approved (with two lenders!), but we didn’t close for another 4 months. When the buyer was unable to close at the end of August for what was then an unknown reason, we got a rare 30-day extension from the two lenders-yes, two lenders. When the second deadline approached, the buyer was again not ready. For the first time in my career, we got a second extension from both lenders. As the 3rd deadline approached, we discovered the buyer’s problem: They didn’t tell us this, but to raise their downpayment they were refinancing another property. This was a very unsettling revelation. Had we known that their mortgage hinged on such a dubious condition (a financed down payment), we might never have engaged them.


As you might imagine, the stress on my client, an Ivy League graduate, a cancer survivor and a single mother, was mammoth. As you might not have imagined, we actually had to negotiate a THIRD extension with both lenders, and were told that no further extensions would be granted. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, their refinance closed. Today, we closed our tranaction one day before our final deadline. My client, a hardworking soul, hugged me after the closing was buttoned up and returned to her job to finish her day.


Sometimes, you can do a great job and have it squandered because the people on the other side of the table aren’t on point themselves. Among the crosses we had to bear were a frustratingly uncommunicative attorney on the other side, and a weak and not terribly forthcoming buyer. I truly believe the agent on the other side was not at fault and frankly aghast at events on their side. My seller and her attorney, two consummate professionals and people of high character, did voice their feelings-professionally and calmly- at the closing table and left complete.


There are very few easy deals, and that is especially the case on this deal. Tonight, I will sleep soundly. And so will my client.

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A client forwarded me the link on Inman News to this broker in Nevada who blames short sale agents and sellers for the mess.

 Prices keep falling because the short-sale agents are listing at 5 to 10 percent below comps in order to try to get an offer, and often are accepting offers at even less. The banks come back at a higher price, and then the buyer walks. The downward momentum has been coming from the short sales, not from the REO listings.

All real estate is local, and perhaps there are many under-priced short sales in Nevada, but isn’t Nevada also one of the highest foreclosure states in the USA? It most certainly is. As a matter of fact, it is the NUMBER ONE ranked state for foreclosures, with 1 out of 97 households with filings, a staggering number when you consider that 2nd-ranked Arizona is at 1 out of 205.

I commented as follows:

I can only speak for my local market and not the author’s marketplace, but if the claim is true, then all those bank owned REO listings that have undercut the market have taken their queue from short sales.

I find that hard to believe.

Since lenders render a decision based on market activity, I wonder what sort of agent would ever responsibly list a short sale at such a fantasy price as 10-15 % below comparable sales.

What may be closer to the truth is that the author sees short sales selling 10-15% below unrealistic asking prices, which sit and rot while losing the war of attrition with buyers who won’t bite, while short sales are listed and sold at a number in line with actual sales.

“Market value” is what buyers are willing to pay, not what some sellers wish they could get.

Short sales reflect the market. They do not set it.


I know of no empirical data that suggests that the problem started with short sales. Banks only approve short sales based on market sales. Not asking prices. A short sale could very well be listed 10-15% below the competition. But the competing listings are probably overpriced, because guess what? They aren’t selling! To price a home to sell, you have to look at the sales, not the asking prices. Some of these unsold homes are on their 4th brokerage and are still chasing the market (and not running very fast either).

I do agree that banks often counter at higher prices, and that is because the historical comparables are from the last 6 months, and when the market is falling, historical look-backs are at a time when prices are higher. Short sales reflect falling prices. They don’t cause it. You can’t sell a house for “below” market value, because guess what? If it were underpriced, the buying public would bid it up. Where do we see that most often? Yup, you guessed it- bank owned foreclosures. Not short sales.

Market value is only what people are willing to pay. NOT what sellers or their brokers wish they could get.

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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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As short sales have become more common and are even showing up in new markets in Westchester, I find myself educating my colleagues on what can and cannot be done in order to have a successful closing. Lately, we’ve received offers that are unrealistically low; essentially, what the buyers do not understand is that the lender is going to evaluate their offer based on comparable market activity, not their speculative attempts to get a bargain. 

I don’t blame buyers for wanting to get a good deal. I want the same thing for my own buyers- who doesn’t? But the lender in a short sale is not nearby, so they hire a professional to determine the value. Typically an appraisal or a broker price opinion are done and sent to the bank. If the BPO or appraisal match or are close to the offer, and approval is likely. If the offer is considerably lower than the bank findings, the lender will ask for more money. 

This is where agents need to educate the buying public. It is irresponsible to tie a house under contract for  an unrealistic low amount.  No seller can risk several months waiting for the bank to issue an inevitable denial when the home could have been active on the market and attracted a better offer. “Short sale” is not code for a steal. Buyers should ask their agent for comparable activity and formulate their offer based on realistic events. 

The market in Westchester County is relatively strong compared to much of the rest of the USA. Local activity is relevant to the short sale approval, not the considerably more depressed values in other areas of the nation. Buyers should base their offers on comparable sales (which we have in abundance in New York) and not speculation. I would encourage any buyer to read my prior post on short sales and what you need to know before buying one

Previous articles on Short Sales from my Active Rain Blog.

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