Understanding Short Sales: An Alternative to Foreclosure

October 04, 2023

When homeowners face the daunting reality of not being able to meet their mortgage obligations, a common fear is that they will lose their homes to foreclosure. While foreclosure is one possible outcome, there are alternatives that can be less damaging to a homeowner’s credit and emotional well-being. One of these alternatives is the short sale.

What is a Short Sale?

A short sale is a transaction in which a homeowner sells their property for less than the amount owed on the mortgage. The “short” in short sale refers to the shortfall between the sale price and the mortgage balance. Typically, the mortgage lender agrees to accept the proceeds from the sale as full settlement of the debt, even if it means taking a loss.

How Does a Short Sale Work?

Understanding a short sale in detail can equip homeowners with the knowledge they need to navigate this intricate process. Here’s a more comprehensive examination of each phase involved:

  1. Homeowner’s Situation: For a lender to consider a short sale, the homeowner typically must demonstrate a genuine financial hardship. This could be due to reasons like job loss, significant medical expenses, divorce, or an adjustable-rate mortgage reset that results in higher monthly payments.
  2. Property Value: The property’s market value must have declined to a point where it’s worth less than the outstanding mortgage balance.
  3. Initiation: The homeowner reaches out to their lender to discuss the possibility of a short sale. Documentation will need to be provided to demonstrate both the financial hardship and the property’s current market value.
  4. Real Estate Agent: It’s advisable for the homeowner to work with a real estate agent experienced in short sales. They will list the property, find a buyer, and negotiate with the lender on the homeowner’s behalf.
  5. Bank Approval: Once a buyer makes an offer, the sale’s terms are sent to the lender for approval. This can be a lengthy process as it often requires multiple levels of approval.
  6. Completion: If the bank approves the short sale, the property is sold, and the lender captures the proceeds. The remaining debt is typically forgiven, although this is not always the case.

Advantages of a Short Sale Over Foreclosure

Navigating the complexities of property ownership and the intricacies of mortgages can sometimes lead homeowners to confront the unfortunate reality of not being able to keep up with their mortgage payments. The imminent threat of foreclosure looms large. However, before accepting the harsh aftermath of a foreclosure, homeowners should consider the prospect of a short sale and the numerous advantages it presents.

  1. Less Damage to Credit Score: One of the most immediate concerns for homeowners in distress is the potential damage to their credit score. A foreclosure can significantly drop a credit score, potentially by 200-300 points. While a short sale will also negatively impact the score, the decline is generally less severe. Furthermore, a foreclosure remains on one’s credit report for seven years, whereas a short sale’s impact might be shorter-lived.
  2. Reduced Stigma: The social implications of foreclosure can be daunting. Neighbors, friends, and family become privy to the public foreclosure proceedings, which can be embarrassing for some. On the other hand, a short sale is handled much like a regular property sale, preserving the homeowner’s privacy and dignity.
  3. Faster Path to Financial Recovery: A short sale provides homeowners with the chance to rebound and secure a stable financial footing sooner. After a foreclosure, it can take anywhere from 5-7 years to qualify for a new mortgage. With a short sale, this timeframe can be reduced, sometimes to as little as 2 years.
  4. Control Over the Process: Foreclosures are often initiated and controlled by the lender. With a short sale, homeowners retain agency. They can select a real estate agent, set the listing price, and negotiate sale conditions. This can ease the emotional strain, as homeowners don’t feel powerless.
  5. Potential for Debt Forgiveness: One of the notable advantages of a short sale is that lenders may agree to forgive the remaining balance of the loan. While this is not guaranteed, in many cases, once the short sale is completed, the homeowner is free from the remaining debt.
  6. Better Terms and Less Debt: Lenders often prefer short sales over foreclosures because they tend to be less costly. As a result, they might offer better terms to homeowners, like waiving certain fees or penalties.
  7. Avoidance of Legal Proceedings: Foreclosures involve legal proceedings that can be both time-consuming and emotionally draining. By opting for a short sale, homeowners sidestep the courtroom, avoiding the stress and unpredictability of legal battles.
  8. Preservation of Relationships with Banks: A cooperative short sale can demonstrate to lenders that the homeowner made a genuine effort to mitigate the bank’s losses. This might be looked upon more favorably in the future, preserving the potential for future banking or lending relationships.

Challenges and Considerations

Navigating a short sale, while advantageous in many respects, is not without its challenges. Homeowners must weigh these considerations carefully against the potential benefits. Here is an expanded overview of the challenges and considerations associated with short sales:

  1. Lender Approval is Mandatory: A homeowner cannot simply decide to do a short sale without the consent of their mortgage lender. The lender must review and approve the sale, and this can be a challenging process. Some lenders might refuse the proposal, while others could have a lengthy approval process.
  2. Potential Tax Implications: When a part of a homeowner’s debt is forgiven, the IRS may consider this as “income.” As a result, homeowners may face unexpected tax liabilities. It’s crucial to consult with a tax professional to understand any potential tax ramifications.
  3. Possibility of Deficiency Judgments: Even if a lender agrees to a short sale, they may still reserve the right to pursue the homeowner for the difference between the sale price and the owed amount. This is known as a deficiency judgment. However, the viability of this action depends on state laws and the terms agreed upon during the short sale process.
  4. Impact on Credit Score: While a short sale may be less damaging than a foreclosure, it will still have a negative impact on the homeowner’s credit score. This can affect future borrowing capabilities, at least in the short term.
  5. Lengthy Process: Contrary to what the name might suggest, short sales can be time-consuming. They often require multiple levels of approval from the lender, leading to prolonged waiting periods that can be stressful for both the seller and potential buyer.


The process of a short sale, while intricate, offers a viable alternative to the often more damaging foreclosure route. By understanding each phase in detail, homeowners can approach this option armed with knowledge, ensuring they make informed decisions that best serve their interests. Having the right support, like an experienced real estate agent and understanding lenders, can make all the difference. Companies like DealHouse provide valuable resources and expertise in this domain, helping homeowners navigate the complexities of short sales. As the real estate landscape continues to evolve, turning to trusted names in the industry ensures homeowners can secure the best outcomes for their unique situations.

Chris Chiarenza