July 15th, 2011 was another big day for anyone in financial distress on their primary residence in California. Along with Senate Bill 931, signed in January, which prohibits a deficiency judgment against a homeowner after an approved short sale on their first mortgage, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 458, which prohibits a deficiency after a short sale for one-to-four residential units, regardless of whether the lender is a senior or junior lien-holder. In short if you have an approved short sale on the first mortgage the lien holder cannot pursue you for any difference between the short sale price and that loan balance. The same goes for the second mortgage. This is for any short sale closing after July 15th 2011.
1. How would you market my house? (Online must be PART of their answer).
2. How would you come to a listing price for the house? (A comprehensive market analysis of your comps. Be sure to share any unique features your house has).
3. What is their online experience? (My company in CA pushes listings to over 30 search engines and real estate sites).
4. How many houses do they currently have listed? (The less listed the more likely they are to show yours).
5. Commissions? Is there a reduced commission if the agent handles both sides of the sale? Is there a reduced commission if someone in their office handles the buyer side of the sale?
6. Is there anything you can do to make your house more inviting to buyers? (Like de-cluttering, painting, getting a home inspection and termite report, etc).
7. The last thing you should ask is if they have any questions for you.
I think that a great agent would ask to see and take pictures of your house before your formal interview. They should then bring a sample flier that they would post outside your house, a virtual tour, and hopefully the market analysis. All else being equal- go with who you feel the most comfortable talking with. Remember this is a business relationship.
The buying public seems to think that “great deal” equals foreclosure, short sale or bank-owned property. The truth is that these properties may appear to be bargains, but in many cases you could be buying someone else’s problems. If you’re looking for a bargain property, here are some key issues to consider:
1. What is your time line for purchasing?
You may find the perfect short-sale property, and the seller may accept your offer. The challenge is that you don’t have a deal until the bank approves the short sale. At many large lenders a single processor may have up to 500 files on his or her desk at one time. Realtors are reporting that it can take six or more months to get an offer approved. The wait can be extremely frustrating. It can also be costly.
For example, if prices are still declining in your area and price range, the offer you made six months ago may be too high. Also, if you qualify for a loan now, will you still qualify six to eight months from now if mortgage interest rates have increased? More importantly, can you afford to make a higher monthly payment? If possible, search for a short sale or an REO where the bank has preapproved the sales price. It still may take a long time to close, but not as long as it would if the price was not preapproved.
2. Are you prepared to be in a multiple-offer situation?
Since so many buyers are searching for distressed properties and the approval process takes so long, multiple offers are common. The lender will not tell you about other offers. They may, in fact, tell you that your offer will “probably” be approved — but you cannot rely on this representation.
If another offer comes in at a higher price and at better terms, the bank is obligated to take the best offer. If the property is a short sale, the seller’s signature on the document merely opens the negotiation — it does not finalize it. Furthermore, the seller/lender may continue to market the property even after they have signed a contract with you. This is simply smart business, as so many borrowers are having trouble closing transactions due to appraisal issues.
3. Ask the agent if the seller participated in the “Cash for Keys” program
The best candidates for good bargains are those properties where the sellers are still occupying them. Many banks have a program called “Cash for Keys.” This program pays the owners of foreclosure and short-sale properties money to keep the owner from trashing the property when they move out. I have seen copper piping ripped out of properties, concrete poured down the plumbing, and appliances stolen or destroyed. Cash for Keys is designed to minimize these behaviors.
4. Beware of vacant properties
Never purchase any property without doing a physical inspection. Also, if it takes more than 90 days to negotiate the transaction or if the house has been vacant, have the property re-inspected prior to signing off on the final deal. The reason for this is that the longer a house stays vacant, the more likely it is to have problems.
For example, pack rats and mice are more likely to move into vacant properties. They can chew through the wiring and generally wreak havoc with the home’s electrical systems. Also, if the dishwasher is not run at least once a week, the seals can dry out. If you live in an area where the pipes are not winterized and there are freezing temperatures, a pipe may burst. You may not discover the problem until you turn the water back on after closing.
5. Is the deal more important than your lifestyle?
A property can be a great deal in terms of the price, but is it worth it if it’s in a poorly rated school district or if the commute is an hour from your workplace? What if the property has a terrible floor plan, is in the flight path for a major airport, or occasionally gets a whiff of the sewage treatment plant? When you purchase, it’s important that you take all of these issues into consideration rather than focusing exclusively on the price. A property with any of these types of problems will be harder to sell in the future.
It’s important to consider the price in conjunction with the quality and the convenience of your lifestyle once you move in. For example, an extra 30-minute commute over a number of years can easily chew through thousands of dollars in terms of your vehicle costs, not to mention the wear and tear from the additional stress of commuting.
There are good distressed property deals out there. Nevertheless, don’t limit your search. Have your agent show you seller-occupied homes that are not distressed properties. Thirty-five percent of all properties are owned free and clear. These properties are often lovingly maintained, in top-notch condition, and in more desirable locations. In the long run, they may be a much better bargain.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success” and other books.
Short sales can occur if a lender (or multiple lenders) agrees to accept an amount less than what is currently owed against a home. The more lenders there are on a home the harder it is to conduct a short sale. It is often best if your real estate agent or lawyer contacts the lenders loss mitigation department to help in the process. One common misconception is that when you proceed with a short sale there is not a “ding” on your credit record. This is not true. There is a hit to the credit score often 200 to 300 points. Although unlike a foreclosure you may be able to buy another house in a little a 2 years.
A foreclosure usually starts when a homeowner stops making payments for whatever reason. This ends with the mortgage holder selling the home at auction. If there are not any bids high enough the bank will bid and take control of the property. Many times the homeowner can stay in the house for up to a year before being forced to move. Like the short sale this can be a hit of 200-300 points on ones credit score. It takes much longer (in some cases 7 years) before you can buy another home.
Neither of these options should be taken lightly. If, as a homeowner, you are considering one of these options please consult an attorney, tax professional, and a real estate professional before signing any paperwork. One reason you should contact a professional is because many times (not always) you are still obligated to pay the difference between what your mortgage company gets for your property and what your loan amount was.