Robo-signing settlement may boost short sales

The government’s $25 billion settlement with the nation’s five biggest mortgage servicers over so-called “robo-signing” practices could boost short sales, as loan servicers will receive credit when they approve sales that include forgiveness of a portion of underwater homeowners’ debt.

Although the settlement is only expected to help a fraction of homeowners who owe more their properties are worth — perhaps one in 20, according to one estimate — it will also help bring certainty back to housing markets by removing some of the obstacles that have been keeping homes stuck in the foreclosure pipeline.

Announced last month, detailed terms of the agreement between mortgage servicers and a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies were filed today.

Broadly, the settlement calls for mortgage servicers to pay $5 billion in fines and commit to a minimum of $17 billion in homeowner relief, including principal reductions. Another $3 billion is earmarked for helping underwater borrowers refinance.

“We will see an increase in short sales, because lenders and loan servicers will get the same credit for doing a short sale, as if they did a loan modification or principal reduction,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings LLC.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the structure of mortgage write-downs was a major point of contention in the year-long negotiations leading to the settlement.

Allowing debt forgiveness on approved short sales to count against the required $17 billion in principal reductions helped secure a settlement that will reach more borrowers, the paper said. Loan servicers will also get partial credit even when it’s investors, rather than the banks themselves, taking the loss, the Journal said.

A researcher at the Brookings Institution told the Journal that the settlement could help about 5 percent of underwater borrowers, or about 500,000 homeowners.

“We will probably see a short-term increase in forcelosure activity, because the servicers and lenders at last have a sense of certainty about what they can and cant do,” Sharga told Inman News. Part of that increase will also be among loans that don’t meet the criteria of the agreement.

For loan servicers to get credit for a principal reduction, a loan must be at least 30 days delinquent, have a pre-modification loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of at least 100 percent, satisfy specified debt-to-income ratios (DTIs), according to an analysis of the settlement by the lawfirm K&L Gates. At least 85 of occupied properties must have had an outstanding principal balance at or below the highest Fannie Mae and Fanni Freddie conforming loan limit cap as of January 1, 2010.

Because servicers won’t get 100 percent credit for all types of relief that are provided, the actual amount of relief provided could total as much as 32 billion, state attorneys general said in announcing the settlement.

“In terms of the overall housing market , our position is this will have very little effect on anything,” Sharga said. “Consumer advocates don’t think it went far enough, and people who look at housing markets realize that the number of properties and the amount of money involved won’t have a measurable effect on markets.”

Federal housing officials addressed those and other concerns today.

“This agreement does not — and is not intended to — solve or resolve all the issues and abuses related to the housing crisis,” officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development blogged today. “This agreement is very narrow as to what it releases banks from. This settlement is intended to address the servicing aspect of the crisis, which did not cause the housing crisis.”

The settlement doesn’t prevent the government from punishing wrongful securitization conduct that will be the focus of the new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, HUD noted. State and federal authorities can also pursue criminal enforcement actions related to conduct by servicers, including civil rights, fair housing, fair lending and other violations.

Also, if the remaining six to 14 loan servicers sign on to the settlement, it would grow to about $30 billion with more than $45 billion in benefit to homeowners, HUD said.

Cade Holleman, executive director of the Irvine, Calif.-based National Association of Women REO Brokerages, said the day is fast approaching when brokers and agents who have concentrated heavily in real-estate owned properties will have to diversify.

Short sales, refinancings, and loan modifications are each “pulling REO inventory out of the game,” he said.

“You’ve got to keep your eye on that process,” Holleman said.”You can no longer be 80 percent REO,” but must diversify into short sales and property management.

By Inman News, Monday, March 12, 2012.

Inman News®

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Can’t claim a loss when short-selling home

Due to the decline in housing prices, many home sales are “short sales” in which the purchase price offered by the buyer is less than the mortgage amount owed by the seller.

In a recent column, we discussed how some lenders go out of their way to grab both a tax deduction for the mortgage debt not paid while also attempting to go back to the seller and collect that same mortgage debt.

When a lender agrees to a short sale, it can either retain the ability to collect from the seller the amount of mortgage debt owed that is not satisfied by the purchase price, or it can discharge all or a portion of the unsatisfied debt amount.

If a lender discharges debt, it reports this discharge of debt to the Internal Revenue Service on a 1099-C Cancellation of Debt Form. The issuance of the 1099-C allows the lender to take a tax deduction for the loss represented by the amount of debt discharged, and this same amount of debt discharged becomes taxable income to the home seller.

A lender is now able do one or the other, not both. Some consumers are confused by how lenders can collect the mortgage debt owed after agreeing to the short-sale price. Others feel they are protected from the practice under a law passed five years ago.

In December 2007, Congress passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. This law provides some relief for homeowners who lose their house through foreclosure or short sales, or who restructure their mortgages with a lower principal amount. The law enables individuals to exclude from tax up to $2 million of certain mortgage debt canceled by lenders.

According to Nathan Gordon, government affairs director for the Washington Association of Realtors (WAR), some short-sale negotiations do not include language of the forgiveness — that the difference between what is owed and what is paid will actually be “forgiven.”

“In cases where, for whatever reason, that is not negotiated as part of the short sale, a recent court case ruled that even if the bank gives the borrower a 1099, (the bank) still can go back after the borrower for the remaining amount for up to three years, because both the bank and the borrower have up to three years to amend their IRS returns,” Gordon said.

“The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Act really doesn’t speak to this specific point. The MFDA merely says that until the end of 2012, if you do get a 1099 from the bank as a result of a short sale, that you do not have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount even though it is technically unearned income.”

Gordon said the distinction to keep in mind is that currently a 1099 does not necessarily indicate that the debt is forgiven, just that, for the time being, the bank is writing it off as a loss on their taxes. WAR is backing legislation that would clarify all short-sale terms for the homeowner.

“Should our bill (Senate Bill 6337) pass, that would all change and a 1099 would be a concrete declaration of forgiveness of the short sale.”

While you don’t have to pay tax on the forgiven amount, there is no relief or tax deduction for selling your home at a loss. There is no benefit for folks who bought at the peak or made expensive remodels, then had to sell in a hurry and actually got less for their home than the cash they had invested in it.

Uncle Sam will not let you show a loss on your primary residence if you sell for an amount less than the purchase price. If you’ve planned on writing that down on your 2011 federal return, think again.

By Tom Kelly, Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

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Tom Kelly’s new e-book, “Bargains Beyond the Border: Get Past the Blood and Drugs: Mexico’s Lower Cost of Living Can Avert a Tearful Retirement,” is available online at Apple’s iBookstore,, Sony’s Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel eBook Store, and Google Editions.

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Short-sale debt collection draws ire – Why are banks getting tax break while also pursuing discharged debt?

Homebuyers may be attracted to the big bargains that foreclosures and preforeclosures can offer. But distressed properties can involve tricky, lengthy transactions, and there’s a lot to think about before jumping in.

In fact, some home shoppers have shunned short sales altogether, preferring a more reliable process to a reduction in price. Getting all parties to agree to a short-sale price can be problematic, and lenders have been known to change their minds when more bidders surface.

Given the difficulty and uncertainty of negotiating a short-sale transaction, you would think lenders would bend over backward to make things easier for the consumer once the deal is finally done.

But it appears some lenders are seeking an additional pound of flesh long after the frustrated, exhausted and often financially drained seller has moved on.

Short sales occur when owners, often in distress, sell their homes for less than the amount they owe their lenders. The lender may then write off the remainder of the debt and receive tax benefits.

Some lenders, however, will also assign or sell the remaining debt obligation to third-party debt collectors, often for pennies on the dollar. The third-party debt collector can then use the legal system to continue to pursue the former homeowner for the balance owed.

This has become such an issue that legislators in Olympia, Wash., have taken action. Senate Bill 6337, proposed by David Frockt, D-Seattle, would protect short-sale sellers from being pursued by lenders or their assignees for the difference between the sale price and remaining loan balance.

“The banks will basically have to make a choice,” Frockt said, “to either write off the amount and take the tax benefit, or pursue the owner — but they cannot do both.”

When a lender agrees to a short sale, it can either retain the ability to collect from the short-sale seller the amount of mortgage debt owed by the seller that is not satisfied by the purchase price, or it can discharge all or a portion of the unsatisfied debt amount.

If a lender discharges debt, it reports this discharge of debt to the Internal Revenue Service on a 1099-C Cancellation of Debt Form. The issuance of the 1099-C allows the lender to take a tax deduction for the loss represented by the amount of debt discharged, and this same amount of debt discharged becomes taxable income to the short-sale seller.

After the taxpayers bailed out the mortgage industry, many borrowers are still unable to get a loan modification to stay in their homes. Now the industry has a sketchy-to-lousy national reputation, and more stringent qualifying standards are not helping their case.

In light of all this, how can some lenders knowingly seek both a tax deduction for the mortgage debt not paid while also seeking to collect that same mortgage debt?

“Yes, we have heard of this happening,” said Deborah Bortner, director of consumer services for the Washington state Department of Financial Institutions.

“I hear it mostly from attorneys or others who assist those in obtaining a short sale. I understand that the documentation provided by the institutions doesn’t always make it clear whether they will pursue a short sale or not. The consumer only finds out later when contacted by someone trying to collect the deficiency.”

In some instances, mortgage debt collection rights have been referred to third-party debt collection companies, even though short-sale sellers have paid income tax on the amount of this discharged debt.

“This is another step to help the short-sale process that is keeping many homeowners from the tragedy of foreclosure,” said Faye Nelson, president of the Washington Association of Realtors. “Nearly 40 percent of the inventory in the Puget Sound region right now is short sales. State legislators recognize that protecting this process is critical to homeownership and the housing market.”

By Tom Kelly, Wednesday, March 7, 2012.

Inman News®Tom Kelly’s new e-book, “Bargains Beyond the Border: Get Past the Blood and Drugs: Mexico’s Lower Cost of Living Can Avert a Tearful Retirement,” is available online at Apple’s iBookstore,, Sony’s Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel eBook Store, and Google Editions.

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Pros and cons of paying mortgage during short sale

Q: We just got multiple offers on my “vacation” house listed as a short sale. And so far, we have begged and borrowed to keep our mortgage current so our credit scores will be less bruised. But now that our house is in contract, do I continue to pay the mortgage? Our debt exceeds our income due to job and benefit loss.

Here’s my bigger concern: Since we are current, I don’t want the bank to reject the offers just because we have been current, although our financial papers will prove that our debt exceeds our income. –Cindy

A: There are a number of schools of thought and approaches to deciding whether to continue making your mortgage payments while you’re selling your home on a short sale, and your ultimate decision will require you to weigh a number of factors and see where your personal calculus of your own values and interests comes out:

Legal: Legally speaking, you have an obligation to pay your mortgage and property taxes as long as you own your home. While you might very well make the decision not to for a number of reasons (see below), it’s important to keep the legal contract you made to pay especially your mortgage in mind, as some lenders make efforts to reserve the right to come after you later for the deficiency (i.e., the difference between the sale price of your home and your mortgage balance). For this reason, it’s not a bad idea to have a local real estate attorney involved in your short-sale transaction, to help you negotiate a complete release of liability for the mortgage.

The moral/ethical perspective: Morally and ethically, some homeowners view themselves as having an obligation in line with their legal commitment to pay all these items. Others look at the various factors beyond their control that have forced them to short-sale their home, like the decline in property values and the weak employment market, and have made a decision that their personal moral imperative weighs in favor of protecting their family finances and children’s education funds. In that vein, some make the conscious decision to stop paying once they’re in a short-sale situation or on a clear path to foreclosure.

Financial/business: Once you know 100 percent that you’ll be divesting of your home in some way, shape or form, continued investments in the property can seem to easily fall into the “throwing good money after bad” bucket, looking at the situation from a strictly business and financial perspective. There is also a strong sentiment among many real estate professionals that if you keep your mortgage current, while applying for a short sale or loan modification of any sort, you decrease the chances that your lender will approve of the sale.

The theory goes that if you are current on your payments, you can’t possibly have the level of hardship you must claim (and the lender must believe you have) for them to agree to waive the deficiency amount and release you from the mortgage.

I’ve seen very mixed feelings on this in the real estate industry; on this point specifically, you should definitely talk with your listing agent and your local attorney, and take their advice into account — they might have worked with this bank in the past and be able to shed light on how staying current or falling behind may affect the success prospects of your short sale application.

Credit/ability to buy again: Right now, you are probably fixated on getting out from under this onerous debt, as virtually every homeowner in your situation is as a matter of course. But I’ve worked with a number of folks through this entire experience of going upside down, losing a home through a foreclosure or short sale and financial recovery, and I know that before too terribly long, you could very well be looking to buy a home again. Just be aware that most lenders will impose a two- to three-year waiting period after you have a short sale, if you were in default on your mortgage at the time the short sale closed (sometimes the waiting period is as long as seven years, depending on what type of loan you’re trying to use to buy your new home).

However, if you do not default on your loan and are able to get your lender to green-light your short sale, you can qualify for an FHA mortgage immediately. I don’t know your personal situation, and it’s been my experience that the majority of homeowners who have a financial hardship severe enough to even attempt a short sale need a couple of years to get back on their feet, but if you think you’ll want to buy another home anytime sooner than two years from now, you’ll need to stay current on this mortgage.

Just as there are many factors your bank will weigh in determining whether to allow your short sale to close, and on what terms, you have a lot of considerations to weigh in deciding whether to continue making your mortgage payments while you await their decision. I can’t urge you strongly enough to include your real estate agent and an attorney in your decision-making process.

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson, Monday, November 28, 2011.

Inman News™

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of “The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook” and “Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions.” Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website,

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What you should know about backup real estate offers

Buyers who lose out in a multiple-offer competition or who make an offer a little too late may be offered the opportunity to be in a backup position. A backup offer is one that’s accepted subject to the collapse of an already accepted offer.

The seller can accept multiple backup offers, in which case they are ranked: backup offer No. 1, backup offer No. 2, and so forth. It’s rare in the current market for there to be more than one backup offer.

If you’re offered backup position, should you accept it? Buyers are often reluctant to accept a backup offer because they feel it will strengthen the resolve of the buyers in primary position to move forward with the deal if they hit a rough patch, such as a previously unknown inspection issue. And, in fact, this can happen.

Recently, buyers went into contract to buy a home in Oakland, Calif. The sellers provided many reports and disclosures on the condition of the property. However, someone inspecting for the buyers had a different opinion about the condition of the roof, gutters and downspouts, and said it would cost an extra $13,000 to fix.

Two days after the first contract was accepted, another buyer made an offer that was accepted in backup position. The backup offer was for a higher price than the primary offer. Rather than lose the house to the backup buyers, the first buyers removed their inspection contingency despite the new information they received about the condition of the roof.

Some buyers fear that if they accept backup position they will halt their search effort until they know for sure that they can’t have the home they want. This is a factor you can control. If you accept backup position, don’t slow down your quest to find a home to buy.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Make sure there is a provision in the backup position clause in the contract that says the buyers can withdraw at any time up until they are notified that the primary offer has collapsed and their offer has been elevated to the primary position.

It’s usually worthwhile to accept a backup position because there is a high fallout rate in the current market. Just don’t sit around waiting for the first deal to fall apart.

From the sellers’ perspective, it’s usually a good idea to counter an offer for backup position if there is more than one offer. Keep in mind that most buyers would rather be in primary position. Some won’t accept backup for the reasons mentioned above, or they may have another house in mind if they don’t get yours.

To entice a buyer to accept backup position, you may have to accept an offer with a lower price than the primary offer. Don’t expect a buyer to accept a counteroffer from you for backup position that also includes a price increase. Make sure you tidy up the offer as if it were a primary offer. There won’t be a chance to change the terms if the primary deal falls apart.

Don’t accept any offer just to have a backup offer. If you have a backup offer and the first contract fails, your home goes to the backup buyer without going back on the market. This can be a benefit to both buyers and sellers. The backup buyer doesn’t have to face multiple offers again, and the sellers don’t have to go through the hassle of finding another buyer.

Sellers who don’t like a potential backup offer because of a very low price might be better off not countering the offer for backup position.

THE CLOSING: Sellers should feel comfortable with a prospective backup offer; they may have to live with it.

By Dian Hymer, Monday, October 31, 2011.

Inman News™

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of “House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide.”

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Acquiring 1031 Exchange Property through Short Sales, Auctions and Foreclosures

Distressed sales continue to account for a significant portion of the sales volume in many markets.  Investors with access to cash are acquiring properties in short sales, auctions and foreclosures, and in some cases they are selling properties in a 1031 exchange and using their exchange funds to acquire these distressed properties. 

Investors who sell property in an exchange and use the funds to acquire property that is being sold by a lender in a short sale, auction or foreclosure need to keep in mind the 1031 exchange rules that may complicate the process. 


In a short sale, the bid package must be approved by the lender that owns the property, and in some cases this approval may take longer than expected.  Lenders appear to be approving packages more quickly, but an investor needs to pay attention to the timing.  In a 1031 exchange, the investor must identify replacement property within 45 days and close within 180 days after the close of the property being sold (relinquished property).   

Constructive Receipt

In order for a sale followed by a purchase to be considered an exchange for tax purposes, the investor cannot have control of the funds from the sale.  The qualified intermediary must hold the funds and the regulations say that the funds should only be delivered to the seller of the replacement property after the investor assigns to the intermediary his rights under the purchase contract.  If the funds are sent (as a deposit or as the purchase price) to the seller before the investor assigns his rights under a signed purchase agreement to the intermediary, there is a possibility that the 1031 exchange could be disqualified. 

Because of this rule, it can be difficult to acquire foreclosure or auction property in an exchange.  In a foreclosure, there is no contract to assign.  In an auction, there may not be a contract, but even when there is a contract, the seller often requires the successful bidder to make a deposit before the contract is signed.  In that case, investors will sometimes use their own funds to make the deposit rather than risk causing their exchange to be disqualified. 

In a short sale, some lenders will also require a deposit before the lender will sign the purchase agreement.  In order to avoid the constructive receipt issue, many investors will use their own funds to make the deposit and get reimbursed later from their exchange funds. 


In a 1031 exchange, the investor must assign its rights to the qualified intermediary under the purchase and sale agreement, and all of the parties to the transaction must be notified of this assignment.  Typically, in a replacement property closing, the seller signs a document acknowledging notice of this assignment; however, in some cases a lender selling property in a short sale may refuse to sign this acknowledgement.  One solution that some investors use is to ask the escrow agent or closing agent to state in writing that they sent the notice of assignment to the lender.  This gives the investor evidence that they have complied with this requirement in case they are audited. 

Another typical practice in an exchange is to show the qualified intermediary as the seller or buyer on the settlement statement.  Sometimes lenders who are selling property in a short sale won’t allow escrow to list the intermediary on the statement.  Although this is not ideal for the investor, most tax advisors feel that it should not adversely affect the exchange as long as the exchange documents are signed before the closing of the relinquished property and the investor does not touch any of the exchange funds. 

Reverse Exchanges

It also may be difficult to do a reverse exchange when the qualified intermediary is taking title to property that is being sold in a short sale because the lender may not allow the intermediary to go on title.  This possibility should be explored before planning a reverse exchange with property being sold in a short sale.

All of these details should be thoroughly investigated and resolved before attempting to combine a 1031 exchange with a short sale, foreclosure or auction. 

from The Exchange Update Newsletter by First American Exchange Company

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