What is a short sale?

short sale | REALTOR in Highlands Ranch | Randall Brennan
What is a short sale?

Short sales have been in the news a lot lately. We’ve been hearing about the rise of short sales, and how they are becoming more common in the market than foreclosures. I’ve recently been reminded that short sale is a common term for those of us who work in this business, but might not be for everyone. Let’s take a look at what they are.

Let’s start with a “normal” transaction. Most homes are purchased with borrowed money. The owners make monthly payments to the bank to chip away at the balance of the loan. The difference between the value of the property and the loan balance is called equity, and hopefully that figure is greater than zero, and grows as the years go by. Building equity over time is a good thing, and that’s what happens when the value of the property goes up and/or the loan balance goes down. It’s a form of forced savings, is a big part of most people’s financial plan, and the greatest portion of their wealth.

Moving on

After a time, most people feel the need or desire to move on, so they put their home on the market. It’s important to note that the value of the property is completely unrelated to the loan balance. Buyers do not care how much the seller owes on the mortgage; they only know what they are willing to pay for the property. As we’ve learned over the last few years, what buyers are willing to pay — what the market will bear, in other words — is not always greater than it was last year.

In a normal situation, what a buyer is willing to pay for a property is greater than the amount owed on the mortgage. In some cases, however, and it is becoming increasingly common, the value of the property is actually less than the mortgage balance. This is called being under water. When the property is sold, the proceeds of the sale fall short of the amount needed to pay off the loan that was taken out to buy the home in the first place. In that case, we have a short sale situation.


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Short sale defined

That’s really all a short sale is: the balance of the mortgage is greater than the value of the property.

When this happens, and the property is sold, the sellers need to bring cash to closing to make up the difference and get the loan(s) paid off and released completely. Traditionally, if the sellers couldn’t do that, they would have to let the property go into foreclosure (or just give the deed to the bank in lieu of foreclosure) and deal with the consequences. The amount that can’t be paid off in a short sale is called a deficiency.

When a deficiency happened, it was usual for the borrower to be held liable for the deficient amount. In other words, the sellers had sold their house, but still owed a part of the loan to the bank.

Recently, though, it has become more common for the banks to fully release the seller in short sales, and not enter a deficiency. Why would they do that? In a word, economics. It is usually cheaper for the banks to process a short sale and settle for less than the full amount owed than to the send the property into foreclosure and/or deal with getting a deficiency judgment, which is a very expensive process in both time and money. With all the lawsuits being filed because of the way foreclosures were handled, it is usually in the banks’ best interests to accept a short sale and avoid foreclosure. Please be aware, however, that there is no guarantee that the bank holding the mortgage will give up the right to get a deficiency judgment. Each case must be addressed individually.

The buyer’s perspective of a short sale

What does all this mean to a buyer? Truthfully, it means you’re about to enter into one of the most aggravating real estate transactions known to the modern world. Although it’s getting better, the process of buying a short sale home has not been efficient. Brokers spend hours commiserating about these transactions; they are the “war stories” of our times. Buyers need patience, intestinal fortitude, and great faith that it will all get done, however slowly.

The house itself, which you are about to make your home, is usually just a house like you find in any transaction. The fact that it is a short sale does not automatically alter or degrade the property. The short sale factor is strictly a “paper” issue, and the short sale allows the value to be reset to reflect the current market conditions. Still, though, get an inspection. Buyers should always know what they are buying, short sale or not.

I can help

A short sale transaction is one type of what we call distressed property sales. That term is a bit of a misstatement, however, because sometimes it is the homeowners who are distressed because of their financial situation. If the homeowners can ride out whatever is causing the problem, and not have to sell their property, it’s probably a good idea to do that. Remember, you don’t have to sell  your house, or pay down your mortgage just because your home might currently be worth less than your mortgage balance. If you can wait until market values start going back up — and they will — and your equity starts building up again, it’s probably a good idea to do so.

short sale | CDPE | Randall Brennan | Realtor in Highlands RanchOn the other hand, if you have to sell to avoid foreclosure, or any other reason, while your property is under water, you need the help of a professional. I am a Certified Distressed Property Expert, and I’m here to help. If you’re in this situation, it’s in your best interests to give me a call.


If you have any questions or comments about the process of buying real estate in Highlands Ranch or the Denver, Colorado metro area, feel free to give me a call at 720-258-6211, or fill out this little form and send it to me. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, but remember that I can’t answer your questions if you don’t ask them. If you’ve got something on your mind, let me know, and do it now before you forget.


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