How to Buy a Short Sale Home

by on May 13, 2012The Realestate.com Team

What ever happened to the days when a homeowner who just wanted to sell his home found a willing buyer and, after several negotiations, the home sold? The economy, silly. The real estate market’s tumble into the ashes flooded the market with “distressed properties” – a sweet euphemism for homes that the owners could no longer afford.

While the short sale transaction has been around as long as mortgages have, the sheer volume of them during the most recent recession familiarized the average American with the concept. Caught unaware, both lenders and real estate professionals scrambled to find their places in the process, with many becoming overnight experts. Several myths became firmly rooted in our consciousness and scams and cons abounded.

Sellers typically agree to short sell a house as a way to avoid foreclosure. This is because they’ve bought into the myth that a foreclosure is worse on their credit than a short sale. In reality, the Fair Isaac Corporation treats a short sale and a foreclosure the same when determining your FICO® score.

Buyers, on the other hand, have been inundated with news stories about deeply discounted prices for short sale properties – so much so that some buyers insist on being shown short sales instead of traditionally listed properties.

Lenders love short sales. The homes tend to sell for more than foreclosed homes, and the borrower remains in the home, caring for it, showing it to potential buyers, hiring the real estate agent and, basically, doing the lender’s job.

Real estate agents love short sales because they have a better shot at getting the listing than they do if a house is bank-owned. Is it any wonder then, that the myth of a short sale being better for both buyer and seller is so pervasive?

If you’ve decided you absolutely must pursue a short sale home, let’s take a look at the basics of buying a short sale.

Buying a Short Sale: Take it One Step at a Time

Step One – The Short Sale Real Estate Agent

The first step to take is to find a knowledgeable real estate agent. Yes, it may be a bit of a challenge, but short sales are quite different than standard purchases, and you need someone experienced and well-versed in the short sale process. Let the newbie agent find someone else to practice on. To find this super agent, ask friends, colleagues and neighbors who they recommend. Look at short sale homes currently on the market and pay close attention to any agent names that pop up repeatedly.

Step Two – Financing

Next, put the agent to work finding you a short sale property according to the criteria you have determined works best for you. While he’s doing that, concentrate on getting a loan. Visit lenders to find the best rates and terms. Although short sales are notoriously slow, once your offer is approved by the seller’s lender the pace may pick up, and you want to be ready to close when it does.

Step Three – Determine Market Value

Never assume that just because a house is listed as a short sale, it’s bargain-priced. When you find a house that you are interested in, have your agent compile a comparative market analysis (CMA) to determine its market value. Often, its value doesn’t match the asking price, so a CMA gives you a basis from which to determine how much to offer on the house.

Step Four – The Safety Net

Ensure that your agent includes language in the offer that allows you an out under certain circumstances. Some of these include finding another home or a home inspection that turns up needed and costly repairs. Lenders typically won’t negotiate the price because of considerable problems with the house. It’s imperative you are able to walk away from the deal when faced with huge problems with the home.

Step Five – Continue Your Short Sale Search

Keep looking at houses. There is absolutely no guarantee that the lender will accept your offer or that the sale will conclude successfully. If you find another home that you like, that is easier to purchase, you may want to walk away from the short sale.

It seems as if everyone involved with the short sale, from the homeowner to the listing broker to the lender, wants you to believe that the short sale is the very best bargain opportunity of a homebuyer’s lifetime. The reality may be quite different, depending on region. In Las Vegas, for instance, the prices of short sale houses average $2,500 more than the median price of other homes on the market. Foreclosures are the bargain in Sin City. The lesson here? Don’t buy into the media’s hype. Do your homework and pay close attention to research pertinent to your specific region.

Short sales do offer the chance to purchase a home at a discount, but buyers should proceed with caution. It’s a long process, full of pitfalls. Going into it with a savvy agent, and your eyes wide open, puts you a step ahead of the game.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

michael April 22, 2014 at 1:04 am

Is there a way of verifying if an advertised short sale is approved by the bank to be offered as such. For instance can a seller just list their property as a short sale.

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SUSAN April 12, 2014 at 6:54 am

hi, i am in the middle of a short sale. i’m a cash buyer. its been 2 1/2 months and still no word from the bank. my question is this; does the bank move faster on the transaction if i threaten to back out? what and how can we get the bank to move the process along?

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bb March 24, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Buying a short sale home in Florida experience. Tip to save you time and being mislead by the seller and realtor. You shall ask for the bank approval sell amount instead of being mislead by the realtor/owner asking price. Owner/realtor will suggest an amount to offer for the owner to keep on living at the property while he has a contract going. example: they will post the home for $235,000 and the bank is asking for $285,000(***plus closing cost/title insurance etc + 6% realtor fee). They will not share this information with you since they want the bank to come back within 2-3 weeks saying your bid is low, please bid a little more/they will keep going like this for 6 months or longer. Please ask for the approval amount that the bank is asking for and they will add(***) to the price since you will be paying for the closing cost that they claim they are paying. 100% of the time the title company or lawyer is working with the realtor that represent the owner so they will try to sell you the house at the end for more than what it is worth. Many of these properties are actually listed by realtor that own these homes but they will not put their name on the listing but they work for the listing real estate office. Forgot to mentioned they will go as far as to file bankruptcy to live in the property an extra 30 to 40 days to avoid foreclosure even though they are not going through it the court will give them 30 days to come up with all the paper work and then the bank will give them 10 to 15 days to close. Please make sure you pay a bank for an appraisal even if you have the full amount to buy it to make sure you don’t over pay. Also don’t forget to hire a lawyer to make sure there is no problems at all with the title insurance or any other papers.

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Terry December 15, 2013 at 6:23 am

Thank you everyone for making comments on here. I have learned a lot about short sales and decided to back out of it. Good luck to everyone out there!

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Rich November 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I hold a second mortgage on a home and considering buying it “short” via buying out the first, which is a fannymae. The loan originated at 45,000, 7 years ago, paid by the owner for 6 years and they claim the value of the debt is now 88,000. I was willing to go as high as 50,000 but my pencil can scratch up far less than that in viable debt. How can they get away with claiming 88,000? By the way, my second place value is 16,000 and they offered me 5,000. This is why I would “cash them out” but can’t at an inflated price. What protects “us” from unethical lenders? It is Chase bank, by the way.

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Kay November 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I currently have a contract on a townhome since June of this year (2013) and it is anything but a “SHORT” sale. I did not realize that it would take this long to purchase a “SHORT” sale, the name needs to be changed to “EXTREMELY LONG” sale. I love the home that I have a contract on and plus I feel I am getting a good deal on it considering the location and neighborhood. I have been receiving weekly updates on the process which really really helps and this week I received an update stating that the bank is requesting my pre-qualification letter from my lender. They say that I should be moved in by Christmas so my family & I are keeping my fingers crossed (EXCELLENT X-MAS GIFT). I write this to say that you have to have patience when dealing with any type of short sale or else you’ll start getting frustrated and feeling down. Expect for a short sale home to take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. Good Luck !!!

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kevin malvey November 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Am about to make an offer for purchasing short sale property. What is the typical rule of thumb to apply regarding a discount [ percentage % ] off the short sale price in structuring the offer?

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Paul October 22, 2013 at 7:25 am

I am in the process of buying a short sale home. It has some structual problems underneath in the crawl space. Am a cash buyer. Will the bank that is handling the sale, be willing to take less or is the short sale price the bottom line? If someone could answer this ASAP I would greatly appreciate it. As time to set a closing date or for me to go ahead is fast approaching.

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Sonya August 30, 2013 at 8:11 am

Hello, I am looking for someone who wants to purchase a shortsale in Albany, Ny its a great buy and its rented now. You can make a great monthly income. If you want more info on it please contact me and I will send you the details.

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The Tortoise Banker June 12, 2013 at 5:46 am

Great overview. My wife and I are looking at a few homes in Hawaii and one is a short sale. From what I understand, many of the banks are taking a LONG time to agree on a price.

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Rebecca June 1, 2013 at 8:06 pm

We recently looked at a home being sold as a short sale through Bank of America, only to find out that they have turned down nine offers, even offers that were full asking price. How can they get away with ignoring valid offers made on the home???

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PJ Taaffe February 20, 2014 at 11:50 pm

I am in the process of buying a short sale property with 2 banks involved.
The first bank ok’ed the offer but the second bank is now asking an additional $50,000 in order to purchase the property. How come they can decide to change the selling price after an agreed selling price has been agreed to when I placed the deposit. I don’t understand how they can just change the selling price when when it is an all cash transaction and the house is already 30% higher than the Market price for homes in the area. The Bank is Bank of America.

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Brian May 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I’ve placed an offer on a short sale and have sellers okay but am waiting on the bank to approve. The Tile search came back with a federal tax lien and an HOA lien. How are these handled in a short sale?

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dee May 12, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Hello, I’m looking at a short sale property in Gentry, Arkansas. I contacted the realtor listed on the web to get details on the property and they say there is no survey. It’s been on the market 514 days. Current asking price $54K. I found records where it was purchased for $108K in 2006. The house was built in 1975 – it’s old. The realtor suggests the property cannot be financed and needs a cash buyer, says she will contact the agent (not her?) tomorrow. Did I miss something here?
I’m thinking this property is worth only about $40-42K. And it needs about $10-15 in repairs and updating.
I’m sensing there is a red flag when there is no survey and somehow the seller is related to the realtor(s). . . if it was such a great deal, why is it still on the market this long?

Should I just make an offer, get pre-approve for a loan or what?

Dee

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Bill May 12, 2013 at 9:47 am

Purchased a ‘short sale’ property at the offered and advertised price, did the homework and put 10% down, seller and her agent signed the contract. Later the seller wanted an additional 10% on the ‘selling price’, I needed a home, I am 70 and retired on SS, and this fit my needs. Seller and her agent signed the new amended contract and her agent give me a ‘Closing Date’, assuring me that all was approved. I then put my home for sale and purchased a moving van, and sold off all my excess property in an effort to increase my net-worth and 749 credit score. My house sold, I packed it out and moved to relative’s home in AZ, waiting for the April 13, 2013 closing in Nevada. Two days before closing, they backed out and said that the lender was going to ‘Foreclosure’, leaving me high and dry. It is now May 12, 2013 and the house is still being advertised all over the MLS for the ‘ORIGINAL’ selling price.

Thus. two questions. One is how many ‘deposits’ can a seller accept on a ‘short sale’ home. Seems to me that this home is being used by the RE’s as a ‘bait and switch’ or has nearly 200 offers on it, each with a deposit of 10%.

Second, since it now appears that the ‘seller and her agent’ had no authority to offer the house at the ‘short sale’ price, is this fraud? They lied about the ‘Notice of Default’ and misrepresented themselves as being the ‘sellers’, and having authorization, pre-approval, to sell at the listing price.

Anyone?

Thanks.. Out $18,000 over this mess.

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Larry May 20, 2013 at 9:53 am

I do not understand how you could be out $18,000…there appears to be some fraud. The lender must sign off also if the funds are less than what the mortgage is. If lender does not you are intitled to you money back…Look and see if your state that the home is in has a realtor association and contact them.

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Sally January 30, 2014 at 9:10 am

I hope you have a real estate Lawyer. If not get one asap. There are all kinds of red flags on this.

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Linda April 18, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Hi i purchased a short sale and the sale was closed while the old owners were still living there. My agent did not have the keys for the home at closing. What can I do about this. I have waited patiently and now my mortgage starts next month but im also getting pro rated on rent because of this. My agent has tried talking to the old owners but they still refuse to surrender keys without getting money. Now eviction notice is given and waitting for the whole process. Is the agent liable for any of this going on. What can i do about all this.

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Linda April 18, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I was told the agent should have taking care of this matter before closing. Now im stuck with rent after putting in my 30 days and mortgage.

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Yvonne April 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I have a question, my husband and I are new to the short sale and I’m doing what research I can about the subject. We were recently told about a house close to our church and looked it up online. It’s 2 owners, large house for a big family (which we have), pool, and private fenced in backyard (which is another plus for us since we believe we might have a sex offender living next to us where we are at now and I have 4 young kids). This house is 3700+ sq ft and the short sale is listed for $175,000 (the value of the house is $170,000). I understand looking for a very experienced realtor, but, my question is, can we make a lower offer or is a short sale kind of you pay what they’re asking for?

I’m not sure if there’s more than one mortgage or not, there are 2 owners but not sure if it’s husband and wife, the have different last names. A realtor has a sign out that it’s a short sale. Is is ok to have them show it to us before we make a decision to start the short sale process and we currently own our house, how long does short sales usually take on average? Is there a way to hold off selling/renting our house till we know for sure the other is a go for us 100% without if falling through?

This house is in the state of Florida.

Thanks so much! Any advice is very much appreciated! :D

Yvonne

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Bob March 20, 2013 at 11:45 am

Quick question…. we recently made an offer on a short sale. There was another buyer that put an offer in just prior to ours. We understand that the other offer was lower than ours. Despite this fact, we were told that the seller’s agent took the other offer to the bank and not our higher offer. We were told that it’s “not about price” and the other offer came in first. Is it appropriate for the bank to not have visibility to all offers?

Is seems the agent’s goal should be to get the highest price for the bank and seller. We have since upped our offer a bit so that it gets represented and to offset any advantage that the other offer may have if it’s all cash (We are prequalified and putting a significant amount down.) Our buying agent has basically said there’ nothing she can do to create visability of our offer to the short sale negociator.

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danielle March 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I have a question……we are new to the short sale option. as a buyer how much do you need to put down on a short sale??? we are looking at one tomorrow and would love to have some knowledge and not walk in there blind.

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Shannon O'Brien March 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Hi Danielle,

What advice is your real estate agent offering?

Since I don’t know what state you live in, I’ll have to make my advice a bit generic. You will need to provide an earnest money deposit with your offer to purchase, just like in a conventional transaction. This is typically 1 to 3 percent of the list price of the home.

Ask your real estate agent if he or she has an addendum for the short sale purchase agreement that allows you to wait until you get the seller’s lender’s approval before you actually have to deposit the earnest money. Some states have them, some don’t and they typically state the you will have to deposit the earnest money within so many calendar days (generally three) of receiving third party approval. If your agent doesn’t have such an addendum, ask him or her to write one up.

As for the down payment, your lender will typically want to see 20 percent down before providing you the funds to purchase the short sale.

Hope this helps!

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Julie S. March 8, 2013 at 8:16 am

We purchased a short sale. After a sale price was excepted by the bank our agent told us the 2nd lien holder was demanding an additional $1500. and if we did not pay it she had another buying who was willing too, Was this legal? If payed somewhat “under the table.”

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Julie S. March 8, 2013 at 8:26 am

Correction: it was paid separate from closing in like a little side deal.

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Shannon O'Brien March 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Yes, it’s legal. The owner of the second lien can completely refuse the short sale if not paid.

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Jennifer P. April 13, 2013 at 10:37 am

Our real estate attorney told us this amounted to fraud when we were trying to buy a short sale last year. She said that once the primary lender sent back the agreement that if we signed it saying the second lien holder would only get $XXX as a condition of sale, if we then paid them more we were committing fraud and could be held liable for damages from the primary lender. While it’s true that the second lien holder can hold up the sale, paying them “under the table” is risky at best.

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Deb March 4, 2013 at 8:30 am

In the process of buying a short sell home. The amount has been agreed-upon and the everything seems to be a go. The sellers keep changing the closing date. Always coming up with an excuse why they can’t make the date. What will happen now? Can the seller refuse to leave or backout in any way?

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Shannon O'Brien March 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm

The seller is most likely trying to buy time. After all, he or she is staying in a home with no money out of pocket. Why do you keep agreeing to the changes in closing date? This is a contract we’re talking about and he or she is bound by the terms of it.

Yes, the seller can refuse to leave. In that case, when escrow closes and the home is yours, you’ll have to start eviction proceedings, which are expensive and time consuming.

Shame on your agent to allow this to happen. At any rate, it’s time to protect your interests. Take the contract to a real estate attorney and get some expert advice.

Best of luck, Deb.

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Deb March 5, 2013 at 5:39 am

Thanks for your input. We haven’t had any say in the closing date. We were told by the bank that they are ready to close but the seller keeps coming up with an excuse why it’s not a good time for them for some reason or the other. We finally gave the realtor a date that we want to close or were going to back out. Which I’m sure he could care less about. The original closing date was Feb 28th, then went to March 7th and now March 14th. We already put our house up for sale have rented a storage unit and purchased new appliances. I can see why the sellers aren’t in a hurry to move out when they aren’t paying a mortgage payment. I’m not sure what more we can do but just wait and see what happens.

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Shannon O'Brien March 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Deb, you have every say in the closing date. What is wrong with your real estate agent? It doesn’t sound like he is protecting your interests in this mess. When this is all over I would sit down with his broker and let him know about this and I’d also file a complaint with the state’s department of real estate. This is just abominable behavior and shouldn’t be tolerated.

Refuse to sign even one more addendum. If it doesn’t close on the 14th, (yikes! that’s today) you have two choices. Either walk away from the deal or close on the house and begin the eviction process.

I would probably walk away from the deal (and find a new real estate agent to help you buy another house). If you evict this stubborn owner he or she may get destructive and the house may just end up being one of those nightmare messes we hear about all the time.

Good luck, Deb. Hope you check back in and let us know what happens!

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Peter House February 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm

This is very useful information, thanks for sharing. I love real estate business and investment

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Nancy January 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I have had a short sale house in a Florida country club community under contract since May 2013 Our realtor hired a short sale specialist to handle the transactions with the bank. It’s been 9 months are we’re still no where. The owner of the house wants to rent it to us on a month to month basis until the sale closes. Is that something that we can do without hurting the viability of the short sale process and our eligibility to buy the house if the short sale ever does go through?
Thanks!

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Shannon O'Brien March 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Too bad you didn’t hire an experienced short sale agent. I understand some agents use short sale facilitators but those that work with short sales all the time don’t need to do that. It’s just one more cook in the kitchen to slow down the process.

What part of the process are you in? If you’re still waiting to learn if the bank approved your offer, you need to reconsider the deal. If you have your heart set on that particular house all you can do is wait. And I wouldn’t rent the home. Sounds to me like it’s getting closer and closer to foreclosure and you may find yourself out on the street.

If you’re willing to look at other homes, there are several things you can do. First, withdraw your offer. Second, did you sign a buyer’s representation agreement with the agent? If so, read it carefully to determine how to get out of it then do it. Then, find another agent and go get yourself a house.

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karen November 17, 2012 at 8:27 am

Stay at the bank’s asking price. If watching a house for awhile,and the price drop’s, stick to that dropped price. Trying to low-ball can lose a sale. The bank has already offered less on the property. Someone else is also watching and waiting…..

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Marianasliving June 7, 2012 at 10:09 am

Before you buy short sale home you have to check the Public Records, hire an agent with Short Sale experience, qualify the property and seller for a Short Sale and understand Short Sale commissions and reserve the Right to Conduct Inspections.

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Dan Simon - Charleston SC Real Estate May 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Great points, thanks for sharing. There are some great opportunities out there for buyers in today’s real estate market. In Charleston SC, I get calls daily from buyers interested in putting an offer in on a “short sale” property. As a “buyers agent” with experience in short sales, I really explain the process to a buyer and prepare them for a potentially drawn out and frustrating experience. They risk spending money on inspections etc….. to then have the deal fall through at the last minute. If the buyers have the patience and the property really suits their needs then it might make sense to move forward. If the buyer needs to coordinate the closing of the short sale property with the closing of the sale of their current home they could be in for a bumpy ride. The short sale lender does not care if all your belongings are in moving truck and your dogs are in a kennel. A “short sale” situation does not automatically make a property a “great deal”. After you do all of the repairs that may be needed etc…. what have you really gained? There could be a home listed just down the street with realistic sellers who have taken good care of their home that could just as good an opportunity. A buyer should find an experienced “buyer’s agent” that will explore all the options!

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Shannon O'Brien March 4, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Exactly, Dan, and thanks for responding.

When purchasing a short sale it’s not enough to find a “buyer’s agent.” It’s more important to find a short sale expert — someone that deals with them on a consistent basis and has a vast network of contacts within the various lender’s offices.

I agree that consumers are starry eyed over short sales. That comes from the media hype that they’re cheaper than other homes. The fact is, lenders like short sales better than foreclosures because they sell for more money. So, short sales are typically not bargains.

Seriously, what lender is going to sell a home for less than market value?

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