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Reasons to Do a Short Sale? Maybe Not

Besides avoiding a foreclosure and its hit on your credit record, you may have other sensible reasons for looking into a short sale of your home. Let’s consider those other reasons.

In my last blog I showed how a short sale may be harder to pull off than expected, and how they can be dangerous if you do not get advice from knowledgeable professionals looking out for your interests. Simply put, you should not assume that any particular solution is the right one without knowing all your options. And that means asking whether the reasons you are pursuing one option might or might not actually be better served through a different option.

So here are some sensible reasons to consider doing a short sale:


1. You can’t afford the house anymore and so believe you have no choice but to get out.

If your income has been cut or the mortgage payments have gone up so that you cannot keep up those payments, and yet you can’t sell your house in the normal fashion because it’s worth less than the mortgage balances, then a short sale may be a good way to escape the house and its debt.

But maybe you have important reasons to stay in your home. Your family may benefit from staying for deep personal reasons—such as not leaving your kids’ school district or maintaining family stability. If you leave this home it may be a long time before you would have the financial means to buy again. So there may be ways to lower the cost of keeping your home. A mortgage modification may now be more available than in the last few years because of the recent large mortgage fraud settlement with the major banks, and other improved programs. A Chapter 13 case in bankruptcy court may enable you to eliminate or drastically reduce a second mortgage balance, and either eliminate, reduce, or delay payments on other liens on the house. And either a Chapter 7 or 13 could reduce or eliminate other debts so that you could better afford to pay the home obligations.

2. You’ve heard that bankruptcy does not allow “cram downs” of mortgages on your home. So you see no way out of your second mortgage other than getting them at least a partial payment through a short sale in return for writing off the rest of that debt.

You’ve been doing your homework if you understand that mortgages secured only by your primary residence cannot be “crammed down,” reduced in bankruptcy to the value of that residence, unlike lots of other kids of secured debts.

But there’s a big exception, one that keeps getting bigger as home values continue to decline in many areas. If your home is worth less than the balance of your first mortgage, so that there is no equity at all in your home for the second mortgage, then through a Chapter 13 case you can “strip” this lien off your home. That means that your second mortgage debt can be paid very little—sometimes even nothing—during your 3-to-5 year Chapter 13 case, and then written off completely. This not only saves you from paying the 2nd mortgage payment from then on, it reduces your debt on your home forever, making hanging onto your home economically more sensible. If this second mortgage strip applies to your situation, then you will pay less each month for a home with less debt on it.

3. You may be induced to do a short sale not just because of your voluntary mortgage debts on your home, but because of various other usually involuntary ones which have attached to your home’s title, like one or more tax, judgment, support, utility, or construction liens.

You may have found out that your title is saddled with other obligations, and in fact you may well be under a great deal of pressure to pay one or more of these obligations. The IRS and support enforcement agencies can be especially aggressive. So you would understandably feel that you have no choice but to sell your home to get that aggressive creditor paid. And since you have no equity in your home, you can only sell it on a short sale. But the problem is that the more lienholders you have, the more challenging a short sale becomes. And even if it does succeed, the troublesome lienholder may agree to sign off for less than the balance, leaving you still being pursued by it.

I can’t cover here how a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case would deal with each of these kinds of lienholders. That’s a many-blog discussion, and would depend on each person’s circumstances. But often you would have options that would give you more control over your home and over your financial life than would happen in a short sale. Considering what is at your stake, it certainly makes sense to consult an attorney who is ethically bound to explain all the options in terms of your own goals and best interests.

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