The Real Estate Short Sale- How It Works

Posted on 22 October, 2011

If real estate investing is new to you then you might wonder what the term “short sale” means. You might also be thinking, in a market that exists today, what short sales could offer you in the way of opportunities.

The best way to describe short sales is with an illustration:

The loan on a home is greater than the price the owner can sell it for. Let’s assume that the unpaid balance of the loan is $140,000 but the house won’t sell for more than $120,000. Obviously this is not an ideal scenario for the owner or for the lender. It means the lender is at risk of losing money and that’s not something they want! In order to have minimal losses, the lenders agree to accept less than the total amount due. In this illustration, the lender considers the $120,000 as payment in full. Now it’s clear that this amount is “short” of the full $140,000 payment. You can now see where they derived the term “short sale”.

Why in the world would a lender consider a short sale? Well, there are many reasons often related to “hardship cases”; e.g., the homeowner has permanent injuries; financial insolvency; convictions; job layoffs, etc. In such cases, lenders are willing to consider a short sale as part of their “loss mitigation” policy. However, lenders don’t go into business to lose money, so they consider short sales a last resort. Foreclosure can be a better option for them.

So, should you consider short sales as a money-making opportunity?

Well, good deals can be found in short sales, but it’s a much more complicated process than conventional real estate sales. It’s made complicated by the fact that there are so many factors involved: – The loan mitigation policies of the lender and third-party investors – The borrower’s financial condition – The property’s as-is value an as-repaired expenses – Approval for short sale needs to come from the investor who is actually the owner of the loan.

So, how do you know if a short sale is worth pursuing? Here are the steps to follow in order to make that determination:

Step 1: Identify potential short sale properties (e.g., contact a listing agent, check the public records, etc.). Step 2: Check the lender’s loss mitigation policy. For example, if they deal with short sales on a fairly regular basis, they’re a good choice. If, on the other hand, they seldom or never accept short sale offers, don’t waste your time. Step 3: Determine the number of liens recorded against the property and the total amount of money in those liens. Step 4: Determine the borrower’s present financial condition. Step 5: Analyze the type of loan that’s in default and its current status. Step 6: Determine both the property’s as-is market value and its as-repaired value. Step 7: Analyze current real estate market conditions.

Once you’ve followed all these steps and determined that a short sale is worth pursuing, then you’ll need to take further steps. First, keep in mind that all short sales are cash transactions. This means you’ll need to have cash on hand and verifiable proof that you have that money. Otherwise, the lender will not do business with you. Follow these steps:

– Contact the homeowner who’s in foreclosure and determine the homeowner’s financial condition.

– Determine the property’s condition.

– If you conclude that both the financial and property condition are suitable, ask the homeowner to give you written authorization to contact the lender’s loan loss mitigation department.

– Contact the decision-maker in the loan loss mitigation department of the lender and provide him or her with a copy of the authorization signed by the homeowner. Discuss the short sale and ask him or her to send the appropriate short-sale documents to the homeowner.

– Instruct the homeowner to compile all documentation in order to prove financial hardship.

– Get repair cost estimates from at least three licensed home improvement contractors.

– Assess the value of three similar neighborhood properties sold in the last six months (a comparable value study).

– Return the short sale proposal to the lender’s decision-maker. It should include a signed purchase agreement for a percentage less than the amount owed to the lender; e.g., 20%, 30%, less, etc.

– At this point, the lender’s decision-maker reviews your proposal and orders a BPO (“broker’s price opinion”) to determine the property’s as-is and as-repaired values. The decision-maker either accepts your proposal or rejects it.

– If the decision-maker thinks a short sale is appropriate, he or she makes a counteroffer.

– You accept or reject the counteroffer.

– Assuming you accept the counteroffer, you close on the transaction within 30 days.

One last point: Short sales can’t be made to relatives, family members, or close friends of the homeowner. If a lender later finds out after the sale that, say, the homeowner’s sister bought the property, then that lender can sue to have the sale overturned.

My advice: Approach short sales with caution and be prepared to put in a whole lot of work in order to make them succeed.

Jack Sternberg


Jack Sternberg is a nationally recognized expert on real estate investment and the creator of the renowned “Buyers First Program” who’s been in the business for more than 30 years. Sternberg’s deals have totaled over $750 million and he’s been to the closing table more than 1,500 times. For more, visit

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