Should You Buy a Short Sale?

J Philip Faranda January 17, 2009

Buying any foreclosure is tricky, and a short sale is probably the longest process. Is purchasing a short sale right for you? Perhaps you rent in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam or Dutchess and are considering a short sale purchase in one of those areas. Here are some things you ought to know:

  • You can’t be in a hurry. Negotiating a short sale might only take a month but in most cases it can go 90 days or longer. So don’t hire a mover, end your lease or lock your rate until you have confirmation that your offer is approved by the bank. If the seller accepts your offer that isn’t an approved short sale; any offer the seller accepts still requires approval from their lender.
  • You are buying the house “as is.” In rare cases, such as in an environmental problem, the lender will pay for repairs but most if the time you are getting the house as is, as found. The seller is in hardship, so they won’t be able to help either. So make sure you do your inspections and know what you are getting into before going forward.
  • You can’t “flip” the house. Short sales are very good deals in most cases but not so very low that you’ll be able to turn a short term profit. They usually are retail value, less repairs and maintenance, and perhaps less a bit for speed.
  • Status updates take longer. Unlike regular transactions where updates are a phone call away, all parties are forced to wait on the lender, who is not, shall we say, committed to keeping everyone happy. This doesn’t mean that the purchase is lost in the ether; but it does mean that more patience is required than normal.
  • If the listing agent is not a short sale specialist, it may turn into a nightmare. You wouldn’t want a podiatrist giving you root canal, nor do you need a rookie cutting his or her teeth on the biggest purchase of your life. Short sales are hard for experienced experts like myself; an agent who is doing their first or 2nd short sale is in for a long ordeal. The best way to handle that transaction is to not enter into it. If the house looks right for you and a short sale is disclosed, ask how many short sales the listing agent has successfully closed. If the agent hasn’t done many, the best thing to do might be to pass the house by. Otherwise, you might be in for 6 months of frustration.
  • Subordinate financing takes longer. If the seller has a second mortgage, then two lenders have to render their approval, and coordinating the two complicates matters. Some specialists won’t even list those homes (I do.).  Ask if there is another lender, and even if they are the same institution, it will add a measure of difficulty (the same lender but two different loans means two different divisions or departments). Do a lien search on the home before going forward. If there is a 2nd lien the listing agent hasn’t disclosed you might consider walking- they may not be in command of how to close this workout.
  • Ironically, you have to be ready to close rather quickly. This is the “hurry up and wait” irony of the short sale process. The lender will make you wait far longer than a normal purchase for a decision, but when that decision is issued there will typically be a 15 or 30-day deadline to close or the sale approval has to go back to review. By this point you should have done your inspections and other due diligence completed. Once the lender approves the sale it is then time to lock the rate, call the mover and give notice on your apartment.

This is a broad overview, but it boils down to knowing when to hold and when to fold.  No two short sale transactions are the same, even with the same lender. If you are in a state where attorneys are used it helps to have an attorney represent you in the purchase with short sale experience, but at the very least make sure they are experienced at real estate.

The long process aside, buying a short sale does put you ahead of the market, as the prices are more aligned with where the market is heading. This is significant, because the places where the bulk of my short sales are done (Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess counties, and ther same goes for NYC and Long Island), prices are so high that even a 5% reduction can mean tens of thousands of dollars to you.

J. Philip Faranda is Westchester’s Premier Short Sale REALTOR. Find out more at www.NYShortSaleTeam.com

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