Massachusetts short sale addendum

The Offer to Purchase Has Become Much More Important

With a glut of distressed property still on the market and lenders realizing foreclosures aren’t very cost-effective, analysts are predicting a healthy spike in short sales for 2012. Short sales are quite unique in terms of deal dynamics, and should be handled differently than the typical transaction.

Massachusetts real estate attorneys and Realtors, however, are set in their ways when it comes to real estate contracts. For decades, we’ve been using the standard form Offer to Purchase and Purchase and Sale Agreement from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board or some variation thereof. We have also developed a predictable process in which the parties sign the Offer, conduct property inspections, sign the Purchase and Sale Agreement, obtain financing, order title, and get to closing.

With the recent proliferation of short sales, we have had to … yes, that dreaded word, CHANGE, the way we do things. Some agents and attorneys still do things the “old way” for short sale transactions, but they are doing themselves and their clients a disservice by doing so.

In this post, I will outline —  and explain — the “newer and better” way of handling the legal contracts in a Massachusetts short sale transaction.

The Offer to Purchase: Now The Operative Contract Document

We are seeing a shift to making the offer the operative contract in a Massachusetts short sale transaction. And for good reason. A short sale, by definition, is subject to a critical contingency: obtaining short sale approval from the seller’s lender(s). No short sale approval, no deal. Experienced short sale attorneys and real estate agents (and their clients) don’t want to spend the time and incur the expense of drafting a comprehensive (and contingent) purchase and sale contract when there is no guaranty of getting short sale approval. Furthermore, short sale lenders will accept a signed offer from the buyer during the approval process.

When we were first doing short sales, there were several instances where we drafted up purchase and sale agreements and then the short sale approval fell through. We had to charge the client for the drafting work or eat the cost. No one was happy.

The better way has proven to be the following:

  • Build all contingencies into the Offer to Purchase, namely, Short Sale Approval and Financing (we’ll talk about home inspections later)
  • Use a standard rider with short sale contingency language, with a deficiency waiver
  • Seller to use best efforts in obtaining short sale approval
  • Buyer agrees to be bound for set approval period  (60-90 days) in exchange for seller taking property off the market and not accepting back up offers. Negotiate deposit amount, usually 1% of purchase price. Buyer will obtain his financing and loan commitment during this approval period.
  • Negotiate extension rights, with corresponding protection for Buyer’s financing/rate lock
  • Upon short sale approval, purchase and sale agreement is signed within 5-7 days and full 5% deposit made
  • Closing within 30 days of short sale approval. (Most short sale approvals are only good for 30 days)
  • Waiver of home inspection or inspection prior to offer acceptance. Sellers should never agree to allow a home inspection contingency giving the Buyer a right to terminate. If the buyer doesn’t want to pay for an inspection up front, he is not a serious short sale buyer.

Change Is Hard…

I recognize that this is a departure from the “normal” way we document residential real estate contracts, but trust me, it’s a better way, and will actually decrease the time it will take to obtain short sale approval, because the parties are not waiting around for the P&S to be negotiated and signed and the buyer (and his attorney) don’t have to do unnecessary work.

Another important piece here is that the Buyer must get his financing in order, ready to go by the time short sale approval comes through. Lenders must recognize the unique short sale process and work with borrowers to get a firm loan commitment issued timely. Also, there’s no need for a lender to insist that the borrower have a signed purchase and sale agreement for underwriting approval. Under the process that I’ve outlined and under established Massachusetts case-law (McCarthy v. Tobin), the Offer is a legal and binding contract for the sale of the subject property and is sufficient for underwriting purposes. If it’s ok for the short sale lender, it should be ok for the buyer’s lender.

Help Is An Email Away

If you are a Realtor and need some guidance on the new Short Sale Offer, email me here and I will send you the form Rider. Also, if you need a referral for an excellent short sale negotiator, I highly recommend Andrew Coppo at Greater Boston Short Sales LLC.

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Richard Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts short sale attorney. For more information, please contact him at [email protected] or 508-620-5352.

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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.

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