Short sales in real estate have become more common in the past few years as a result of the collapsing value of houses. It is an option for a homeowner facing foreclosure. In a short sale, the lender or mortgage holder will agree to accept less than the full amount due on the mortgage if the homeowner is able to sell the property at fair market value. Advantages of a short sale rather than going into foreclosure is that you can buy another home in about three years instead of seven years with a foreclosure.

There are criteria that must be met for a short sale. The first is that the value of the home has dropped. A real estate agent can verify this through an analysis of comparable homes in the neighborhood and their recent sales amounts. The mortgage must also be in default. Some lenders will consider a short sale if it appears that the property may go into default. This move could avoid the lengthy process of foreclosure. The homeowner must demonstrate that he/she has become insolvent; the prospect of continuing to pay the mortgage is unlikely, and there are no assets to cover the shortfall between the fair market price and the amount owing on the loan.

Although a short sale may seem to be a solution to many homeowners’ problems, a short sale is also a complex transaction. Beyond finding a buyer, you need to get approval from the lender, not always an easy thing. Complications arise if there is a second on the homeowner’s property. In case there is a second mortgage on the home, in almost all cases the property will go into foreclosure.

Once a buyer is found for the property the lender must approve the buyer. This sometimes becomes frustrating, since banks have time lines for responding to an offer that ranges from one to three months for them to respond to the offer  A real estate agent must be willing to handle the transaction for a reduced commission. The Internal Revenue Service may assess taxes on the difference between the amount owed and the amount received through a sale. This could be considered debt forgiveness, and is taxable in some circumstances. A short sale will also appear on the homeowner’s credit report, with adverse effects.

One of the advantages to the homeowner of a short sale is that they will find it easier to obtain financing on a future home; someone who has gone through foreclosure will find it more difficult to obtain financing for a number of years.

There are advantages for a mortgage holder to agree to a short sale. The process of foreclosure can be lengthy; a homeowner may remain in the home for a period up to a year without making any payments while the paperwork is completed. In a foreclosure, the bank then carries the property on its books, and must either sell it at auction hoping to recoup some of the outstanding loan, or find a private buyer for the property. Most banks are not in the business of actually buying and selling property. There are also liability issues on bank-owned homes and maintaining the properties in a safe and secure manner is costly.

When entering into financial agreements with long-lasting consequences,  get advice from a real estate lawyer and a tax accountant. The decision to short sell should be weighed against all other options with these professonals.  One of the benefits to the homeowner will be the knowledge that they did everything possible to make a clean break in an untenable situation, and can walk away with some dignity and relief at leaving a bad situation.