The 5 Steps to a Successful Short Sale
Regardless of whether you are a home owner attempting to get out from under a crushing mortgage payment, or a Realtor attempting to assist that home owner, you’ll need to understand all the steps necessary to get a short sale accomplished. 

The short sale process can be long and complicated.  The following steps are the most common steps required by most lenders to facilitate a short sale.  The length of time to obtain an approval on a short sale request has risen significantly over the past twelve months.  Some lenders are actively telling us that they need ninety days to review a short sale request.

One of the challenges of putting a short sale together, whether you are a property owner or a Realtor, is that many buyers are unwilling to wait sixty or ninety days to find out whether or not they’ve been able to purchase a home. There are many properties on the market for sale for a buyer to choose from without having to wait, so we have to entice a buyer to hang in on the transaction.

An additional complication occurs when the home owner has more than one mortgage against the property.  There may be a second mortgage that the home owner took out at the time of purchase, or there may be a home equity loan or line of credit the owner used to make some improvement, or any other lien against the property.

Requesting a short sale, in a nut shell, is finding a buyer, negotiating an offer on the home, contacting the lender, obtaining all the documents the lender requires for approval, and then staying in contact with the lender until they approve, deny or counter your proposal. 

As I stress in every article I write about short sales, have an expert assist you with this process.  Seek the advice of an attorney, Realtor, accountant and any other professional you might require to insure the process is done correctly, and to insure you’re making the appropriate decision for your situation.

Step 1: Contact Your Lender for Information

Most lenders will not approve a short sale until there is an actual offer to negotiate.  Banks and mortgage services are typically understaffed and very busy trying to work out situations with other clients who already have offers on their properties.  They don’t have the time and resources to analyze every possibility.

However, since short sale approvals are taking considerable periods of time, it makes sense to find out who you need to speak with and what the lender requires the owner or Realtor to supply.  In most cases, the lender has a “short sale” package that includes a list of all the forms the lender requires.

Step 2: Market Your Property and Find a Buyer

Marketing a property that requires a short sale may also be a challenge for several reasons.  First, you must notify any potential buyers that any offer must be approved by your lender.  This will scare some buyers away from your home because they don’t want to wait for someone else to approve the sale.  This will attract some investors who believe they can “steal” the home, because they’ve seen on late night television that banks will accept almost any offer.  This is simply not true.  Although they may get a very good price, they are not likely to “steal” the home in the current environment.

The components of marketing any property successfully include pricing, staging and marketing.  Staging is simply presenting your property in the best possible light in order to attract buyers to offer on your property rather than competing properties.  Pricing entails carefully selecting the correct asking price in order to attract potential buyers.   There are methods to selecting correct price positions based on recent sales and competing properties for sale.

Step 3:  Negotiating an Agreement

The typical home requiring a short sale sells for a bit less than other properties.  The primary reason for this anomaly is that the buyer must have a reason to go through the pain of purchasing a home through a short sale.  Historically, short sale properties sold to investors because they were the few with the fortitude to wait weeks to months to find out whether or not the sale would actually go through.

Imagine the stress of moving to a new home and perhaps a new school district.  Consider the stress on your family.  Now add to that stress the idea that unlike most real estate transactions, where a buyer knows within a day or two whether or not the owner will accept the offer, the buyer may have to wait several months for an answer.  Worse, if the lender accepts the buyers offer, the buyer needs to be prepared to settle and move quickly.

Most buyers who are selling another home need to plan their move very carefully.  They can’t rely on the hope that this transaction will settle.  They need to be out of their home by a certain date and need a place to move.  If they have a sixty day window to move from their home and they won’t find out a response about the short sale from the lender for forty-five days, that gives them little or no time to find another home should this transaction fall through.

Because short sale transactions are typically limited to investors and those who do not “have” to move by a certain date, the pool of potential buyers is smaller than for that of other homes.  Enticing buyers to purchase a short sale home over one that doesn’t have the same challenges often requires some consideration in price.

If you’re an owner is this situation, you may be offended at selling your property slightly below market, but please consider that the lender won’t allow you to receive any proceeds anyway, so you’re not taking that direct loss.

An added complication is that many of the owners of homes requiring a short sale are in default on their mortgage or at risk of default.   That means that the owner may have to get the home sold more quickly than the typical home in the area.  If the Sheriff is locking the doors and auctioning the home in ninety days and the typical market time in a slow market in your area is six months, you need to be priced below the market in order to attract buyers to your property first.

Step 4: Put Together a Short Sale Package for Your Lender

Hopefully, by the time you receive an offer on your property, you’ll already have the full short sale package and you’ll have started filling it out.  It is imperative to get this package to the lender as quickly as possible and then to follow up with the lender to make sure they received it and that they are processing it.

Whether you are the home owner, negotiating with the lender directly, or a Realtor or attorney attempting to work on behalf of the home owner, there is a lot of information that needs to be provided to the lender.  Some of the information will have to be filled out by the home owner, because it directly involves the home owner’s financial situation.  Some of the forms are better prepared by a Realtor, title insurance agent or attorney.

Although every lender is slightly different, the typical documents required in a short sale package include:

1.      A Cover Letter

2.      An authorization for the Realtor or attorney to speak with the lender

3.      Seller’s Hardship Letter

4.      Hardship Documentation - Copies of documentation related to owner’s hardship

5.      Seller’s Financial Statement or Income, Expense and Asset Worksheet

6.      W-2 forms for past two years

7.      Two months pay stubs

8.      Two to three months bank statements

9.      Repair estimate for any necessary repairs to property

10. Agreement of Sale or Contract to purchase the property

11. Realtor’s competitive market analysis

12. Photos of the home (interior and exterior)

13. Seller Net Sheet

14. Payoff statements from any other lenders or liens against the property

15. Preliminary HUD 1 settlement sheet

Other forms that the lender may ask for include:

1.      Title search of the property

2.      Special forms

Step 5: Start Calling the Lender!

Remember that there are many people in the same situation across the nation.  Lenders are swamped with phone calls and packages.  When you complete the package, call and email the lender to determine the best method to get the package to the lender.  My suggestion is to send it to them in two forms.

If the lender tells you they’d like the physical package by mail, then I would express the package in order to insure the package gets to the lender quickly and in order to insure it is delivered and can be tracked by who signed for it.  I would additionally scan the entire package and email it to the same person to whom you expressed the package. 

My goal is to insure they have the package and can begin working on it.  If the lender asks the information to be faxed, which some are now doing, I would again both fax it and email it.

Expect a Counter Proposal

Hopefully the lender will simply accept the short sale proposal as written and allow the sale to be consummated.  Don’t be surprised if the lender refuses the initial offer and makes a counter proposal. Should this happen, you may have to go back to the buyer and ask for more money in order to settle the transaction.

If you are a Realtor, you should be preparing your buyers to understand that this is a negotiation.  The lender may accept the deal, or may counter. 

Getting to Settlement

As with any transaction, title insurance must be ordered and settlement must be scheduled.  In instances where an owner may be behind on their mortgage or may be considering a short sale, a wise move for either the Realtor or home owner would be to contact an attorney, title agent or escrow company to run a preliminary title search of the property.  Make sure there are no other liens against the property.

Once a lender agrees to accept a short payoff, the owner needs to be ready to move quickly to complete the transaction.

Loren Keim is the author of several books including “Short Sales: Step by Step” and “How to Sell Your Home in ANY Market”.