The Long And The Short Of It: A Massachusetts Short Sale Legal Primer

by Rich Vetstein on October 21, 2009 · 3 comments

in Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Offer To Purchase, Purchase and Sale Agreements, Short Sales

What Is A Short Sale?

A short sale is special type of real estate transaction between a homeowner, his mortgage holder, and a third party buyer. In a short sale, the homeowner’s mortgage company agrees to take less than what is owed on the outstanding mortgage, thereby being left “short.” In some but not all cases, the lender will agree to wipe out the entire debt. Many people believe that short sales offer bargain basement prices, but lenders will do their best to get as close to fair market value as possible so as to minimize their loss.

Short sales are a unique type of transaction and far different from the typical transaction between parties of equal bargaining power. Likewise, the legal aspects of a short sale are unique.

Short Sale Approval Required

The most important legal issue in a Massachusetts short sale is to recognize that the deal doesn’t go through unless the seller’s lender(s) approve the short sale. Thus, the offer and purchase and sale agreement must reflect that the buyer’s and seller’s obligation to close is contingent upon the lender’s approval of the short sale.

Sometimes, sellers need to obtain short sale approval from not one, but two, lenders with mortgages on the property. Buyers and their agents should research the title ahead of time because a second lienholder can often muck up an otherwise promising short sale.

The Waiting Game

Another significant issue is timing. The typical time-line on a short sale can vary greatly from 45 days to 6 months or more from accepted offer to closing. The approval of a short sale and the negotiation for the reduction in the mortgage balance can be a time-consuming process. There is a long, but manageable, list of documents that must be submitted by the seller/homeowner before a lender will approve a short sale.

Inspections and Financing

Short sale transactions don’t follow the typical process of the “normal” transaction, especially with financing and inspection contingencies. Due to the often lengthy wait for short sale approval, most buyers are reluctant to lock in mortgage financing and otherwise spend to secure a firm loan commitment. The same is true for home inspections. Buyers argue why should I pay for a home inspection if the deal may not even happen? Sellers and their agents often feel that buyers should put a little “skin in the game” and do a home inspection early on. These issues will be negotiated from deal to deal.

When I represent buyers of short sales, I insist that the the closing, inspection, and mortgage contingency deadlines dates in the offer and purchase and sale agreement start “x” days from the short sale approval. There should also be a end date for obtaining short sale approval and protection for the buyer’s rate lock so the agreement is not left completely open-ended and delays won’t adversely affect the buyer’s financing.

Short Sale Addendum/Rider

The deal agreements must be tailored quite specifically to a short sale transaction. Experienced Massachusetts short sale attorneys (like us!) always use a customized short sale addendum/rider. A form, however, is no substitute for an experienced short sale attorney and guidance through the complicated short sale process.

Buyers Bring Your Tools

Also, cash strapped sellers are usually unwilling to do any repairs in a short sale situation. Inspections may be performed and “outs” may be negotiated for significant repairs, but most buyers must ultimately accept the property “as is.”ar123517806003655

Get Experienced Advice and Watch For Scams

Lastly, there’s a growing perception that short sales are akin to the old Wild West. There are also reports of scams and illegal and unethical behavior by realtors such arranging for illegal buy backs to the defaulting homeowners. I suggest reading Metrowest Realtor Bill Gassett’s advice on realtor ethical issues in short sales.

Given the unique nature of the Massachusetts short sale transaction, the sage advice is to work with ethical Realtors and short sale attorneys who have significant experience with short sale transactions.

  • I think it is important to hire a real estate agent that works closely with an attorney, where both have a proven track record of successfully closing a short sale.

  • Pingback: Will Short Sales Get A Boost From Obama's HAFA Program? | The Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog()

  • The thing that continues to amaze me Rich is the fact that so many people just hire any ole Realtor to handle the short sale for them. People don’t seem to understand that these are complex transactions and if you don’t have a Real Estate agent that knows what they are doing the short sale is not going to get approved. What about all the Realtors that don’t have a clue about debt removal either? In these transactions you better have a good Realtor and attorney is your corner!

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