If you were to stand in the center of Scottsdale and spit in any direction, chances are good that you’d hit a home with negative equity. Thus if you’ve been shopping for a home, chances are equally good that you have come across a short sale listing or fifty along the way. If you are willing to subject yourself to the short sale process for the right home, there is a mental hurdle that must be navigated when sitting down to draft an offer.
Prevailing wisdom holds that a Scottsdale short sale seller doesn’t give a fig about the ultimate sales price. Seeing that he won’t walk away from the transaction with one wooden nickel in his pocket, what would he care about the size of the loss that the bank(s) that holds his mortgage takes? The same bank that qualified him to buy a $750,000 home with zero down and an adjustable rate on a stated income loan. The same bank that bilked him of taxpayer bailout funds while he’s stuck with that albatross of a house. Screw the bank. He’d gladly facilitate a deal that calls for the lienholder to absorb as large a loss as possible while carving his initials in the front door on the way out, right? Right?
Not so fast, Johnny Oversimplifier.
There are several reasons why a seller with an interest in actually completing the transaction will attempt to negotiate the most favorable terms from his side of the table. First and foremost, the seller wants to submit an offer to the bank that has a chance of succeeding. If you come in with an offer of $200,000 on a $400,000 short sale listing, there is little chance that approval from the bank (the ultimate decision maker in the process) will be forthcoming. Knowing that, the seller will not be receptive to tying the bank up with an unrealistic offer. The higher the price the seller can negotiate before the package is sent to the bank for approval, the better the chances of getting out from under the house.
While gaining approval constitutes the lion’s share of the concern a seller will have with your supremely low offer, the approval itself will raise additional considerations. The larger the loss the bank takes, the larger the possible tax ramifications the seller faces for the forgiven debt (The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 has limitations on residence types and amount of the debt forgiven). Further, assuming full release from the lien is obtained from the bank once an offer is approved (something that cannot be taken for granted and should always be reviewed by a Real Estate attorney prior to ratification), the seller may be asked to bring additional monies to the table as part of the approval. Especially in instances in which there is more than one loan, the larger the loss, the more likely one of the banks will try to shake the seller by the feet to see if any loose change falls out of his bank account at closing.
Long post short, the seller has legitimate reasons to negotiate in full capacity against your initial purchase offer. Just because he stands to gain nothing in terms of cash at closing, he does stand to gain substantially. A new lease on life and release from the responsibilities of an underwater mortgage are pretty high stakes, after all.
Moreover, the seller that willingly accepts your lowball offer without a fight might not be interested in actually selling his home. There is plenty of gamesmanship and hidden motivation at play in the short sale arena at present. Your low offer may be forwarded to the bank merely to stall foreclosure. Knowing that it will never gain approval, the seller buys a little more time for rent-free living while the bank processes the file and ultimately returns with a rejection four months later.
The seller who counters your initial offer is doing you a favor. Not only is he demonstrating an interest in a successful conclusion to the sale, but he’s giving your offer a chance. If he signs off on your lowball without a fight, he is just prolonging the agony.
I’d recommend getting comfortable in that studio apartment you are renting if you are floating lowball offers on Scottsdale short sale listings.
It sure looks like it is. There’s a sign in the yard, property information on the internet, an asking price and everything. The comings and goings of Real Estatey type people with wide eyed gawkers in tow confirms that the quaint Spanish hacienda is looking for a new owner.
Or is it?
There is a disturbing new trend in the Scottsdale Real Estate scene: the fictitious listing.
By now, anyone who is not somewhat up to speed on the short sale market should be stoned to death with the rock under which he has been sleeping. Get used to them, people, as they are not going anywhere anytime soon. Though we all know the uncertainties and complexities involved in a short sale transaction mean that the listed price is not necessarily the real price, we generally take for granted that a seller is actually interested in selling.
Given the rise in anecdotal reports of would be sellers who haven’t made payments in two years while attempting to consummate short sales, you can imagine what the more entrepreneurial freeloaders in our midst have concluded: going through the motions of a short sale for the sake of appearance can keep the bank off one’s back while he lives rent free for as long as the ruse will allow.
Financial institutions are not so naive to believe such subterfuge never happens, so it typically takes a viable offer on a property to postpone a trustee’s sale (Arizona’s version of a foreclosure). That’s where you, the buyer, come in. For the “seller” interested in staying in the payment-free property for as long as possible, the facade entails the procurement of an offer for submission to the bank. Whether the seller intends to actually complete the sale or not.
In essence, the prospective buyer could get strung along for months by a seller who is just buying time. Or stealing time, I should say.
Perhaps his credit is already damaged beyond repair. Perhaps he doesn’t want to bring any of the money to the table that the bank demands. Perhaps he does not qualify for the short sale at all (yes, a seller does have to meet certain qualifications to gain bank approval). Perhaps the seller is simply bitter beyond reason and unwilling to let some buyer have his home for pennies on the dollar. Whatever the reason, there are properties on the market that aren’t really available.
How do you identify those shiftless wasters of time before embroiling yourself in a slow, emotional death? There are a few tactics that a competent buyer’s agent will employ when separating fact from fiction on a short sale offering, but none is foolproof. Short of peering into homeowner’s soul, all one can do is take basic precautions to assess the viability of a sale. Unfortunately, the determination of what the owner can do is not necessarily indicative of what he will do.
The guy could be dealing with you in good faith, or he could simply be using your offer to delay his inevitable foreclosure.
My advice? If you are going to go the short sale route, start with properties that have been through the process to the point that they have a bank approved price attached. If the seller is playing games in this instance, at least the process will resolve itself faster and allow you to move on down the road. If you fall in love with a home that has not yet been approved for a short sale by the bank, make sure the appropriate questions are answered and that the listing agent has a competent record of successful short sale transactions. The good ones are adept at separating the viable candidates from the disingenuous types as they have a vested interest in getting the transaction to the closing table as well.
At the end of the day, though, you just never know what is in store from one short sale to the next. With all of the variables to contend with in the best of circumstances, adding the integrity and intention of the seller to the list of concerns is almost comical in a tragically masochistic sense. All the more reason I recommend avoiding the short sale quagmire unless all other avenues have been exhausted.
It’s a beautiful Scottsdale home alright, but is it really for sale?
It’s true, feel free to consult the Chinese calendar to verify. Scottsdale Real Estate practitioners, in self-defense, have turned to new and interesting means of keeping their businesses relevant in these inexplicable times. Today’s homework assignment for a Real Estate adventurer? Finding a profitable, niche specialty. Thus, the members of the rank and file have been advised to choose a tunnel and follow it out of the malaise. Two examples stand above the rest as the most popular paths to career CPR: bank-owned property sales and short sales.
Forever a fringe subset of the industry, the foreclosure market has become a predominant segment. Virtually unheard of outside a counter-culture circle of practitioners a few short years ago, short sale specialization is another a bully of the current Real Estate pulpit. Given the adapt or perish mantra that permeates a commission based existence, it is hard to fault an agent for migrating to either avenue in an effort to remain profitable. It’s Survival 101.
I won’t pretend that I have not considered both routes as viable solutions to the systemic problems facing the current Real Estate market here in Scottsdale. The smart money goes where the action is. And yet, I have no particular affinity for the institutions that contributed to the implosion of my clients’ property values. I have no burning desire to represent said institutions in transactions against the little guy whom they have summarily defrocked. I’ll put my buyer in the car and go try to steal a property from the bank, but there aren’t enough deflated greenbacks in the US Treasury to convince me to sign on as the Devil’s listing advocate.
Short sale sellers deserve professional assistance. Sadly, I fail to believe that an agent who would flee to “specialization” in this sector at this late stage would prove a legitimate source of the expertise that so many need (and so few actually have). A weekend course and some moxie do not an expert make. Perhaps the specialists that are being churned out at an alarming rate will boast the training and experience necessary to be of legitimate value during the next down cycle, but such “expert in training” zygotes are not the answer for those who need assistance NOW. The stakes are too high to navigate the short sale obstacle course on a bike whose training wheels were only recently, and prematurely, removed. A substantial incubation period is necessary before such a “specialist” fully morphs from a liability to an asset.
Beware the marketing Sirens who would lead a negative equity seller onto the rocks with good intentions.
So where does that leave a conscientious objector to the hordes of freshly minted “experts” with 6 months of experience in a chosen area of specialization? Right back where I started: 100% loyal to real, live humans.
There is nothing wrong with diversifying one’s business practice to gird against shifts in the market, but I refuse to abandon a loyal client base for the new money of bank business. Once you become beholden to the financial institutions, there is little time left in the day to service those who now constitute an under-represented segment of the Real Estate market. Sure, the bank guy might take on a few moms and pops here and there, but can an overextended agent really provide a private seller the level of service required to do this job? A dubious proposition in the best of times, let alone in the murkiness of 2010. With a market that is still twenty thousand leagues beneath the sea, your agent’s periscope better be nimble and at the ready if you are to avoid the same shipwrecked fate that has befallen so many neighbors. Unthinkable in an industry with more per capita agents than snakes on a plane, but I surmise that all of this nichefying has relegated the non-distressed homeowner to afterthought status.
Assuming you have no equity in your home, or will be unwilling to part with it at the market’s nadir if you do, the industry has given up on you as a viable source of business. It has moved on. And yet, there are a few straggling agents who aren’t quite ready to throw in that towel.
While it may seem that every agent and his recently licensed brother have gone to work for the banks, know that there are still a few of us diehards around who pledge allegiance to you. Our phones aren’t always jammed with 8 bazillion calls about our 8 bazillion listings. We won’t take a week to respond to your questions and concerns. We have staked our careers to providing a certain level of service, and we will not compromise it. Market conditions be damned.
Tempting though it may be to wear the “Certified Gastrointestinal Distress Expert” or “Short Sided Career Reinvention Specialist” hats, we stay away from the light and cement our enduring commitments to those left behind in the industry’s pursuit of the next big thing.
Our niche is you.
Should you require the hands on, fully attentive assistance of a couple of non-certified, non-distressed, non-toxic property experts, give us a call. We’re not too busy panning for the bank’s gold to take it.
By now, even the most procrastinating of first time home buyers understands that the end is nigh. The end of the $8000 first-time homebuyer tax credit, that is. While rumors abound about a possible extension past the current deadline, rumors also persist that man did not actually walk on the moon in 1969 (if you happen to believe the latter, you can moonwalk your way right out of my blog catalog). When it comes to our esteemed legislative bodies, I am not ready to take the leap of assumptive faith that they will do the logical thing. As things stand, you have received sufficient warning from every warm and cold blooded Realtor type in the land that you need to get on the stick immediately. With new appraisal regulations and loans which used to take 30 days now bogged down in underwriting quicksand, it is not a good idea to venture past mid October before pulling the trigger on that home you have been patiently watching for just one more price reduction. With a fleet of fellow procrastinators waiting until the absolute zero hour (closing prior to 12/1/09), there is also the added risk of running into title company soup. Think the end of the month is busy at your friendly title company and subsequently hectic in terms of getting your deal closed? My hunch is that typical happenstance will be a walk along a tranquil beach in comparison to the buyer tsunami that figures to crash upon every escrow office near you between 11/1 and 11/30.
But these are the things you already know. Just like you already know that the credit is not reserved solely for first time buyers, but also those who have not owned Real Estate within the past three calendar years. This information is so readily available that I haven’t even bothered to write about it before now. At great risk of being the guy who runs into the empty room to yell “Fire,” I do believe there is one more wrinkle that needs to be discussed. With the deadline steadfastly approaching (just because it looms closer, doesn’t mean the pace has suddenly morphed to earn “rapidly approaching” designation, now does it?), lost in the prodding for first-timers to buy now is any discussion as to the kinds of homes you should be considering. I shall rectify this egregious oversight now.
Earlier in the year, the Real Estate world was your oyster. REOs, short sales, HUD homes, auctions … bring them on. As long as you wrapped up your purchase prior to December, you were golden. Thus, you had the ability to trawl every last oceanic trench to scrape up your sunken treasure. It probably didn’t take long to realize that the biggest finds, those Titanics of the Real Estate deep, were teeming with sharp-elbowed and deep-pocketed prospectors. Basically, you with more purchasing power. Every time you made a play for a new bank property, you and your FHA-fueled dingy were left eating the wake of 50 foot conventional vessels and staring into the live canons of the scourge of the first timer’s sea: cash buyer pirates.
Resigned to the fact that your 3.5% down and government-backed loan vehicle is not a fair fight against the types of buyers that the best values attract, you most likely started looking at resale and short sale properties. Resales have been tricky because most sellers are not in a position to compete with the banks. Many that you would be interested in continue to be priced out of your affordability.
Now you may be thinking that short sales are the way to go. The bank wants to offload a property that is in default without incurring the expense of foreclosure. The seller just wants out and is not motivated by profit, thus creating a tantalizing asking price. Sure there are only a couple months left to close on a house to secure your credit, but this listing says they are using a “Certified Negotiating Specialist.” This other one says they have a 95% success rate! Another even says that they are near bank approval!
Don’t do it.
I know you have gotten your teeth kicked in on the bidding wars that erupt on the bank properties, and the resale market is still too pricey, but short sales are not the way. Not now. If you had submitted an offer on one several months ago, you would have a shot, but I am telling you right now that YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE YOUR $8000 TAX CREDIT IF YOU WRITE ON A NON-APPROVED SHORT SALE LISTING at this point. It is quite typical for the process to take 3-6 months, and the resolution is far from a sure thing.
Keep looking at the bank properties, but reset your sights a little. Great values are still out there. You can lock one up that isn’t priced so stupidly low that every buyer and his pet chimpanzee show up to vie for it, driving the price into the stratosphere. Some of the best buys made right now are actually the ones with list prices that aren’t necessarily the most attractive. When banks, just like typical sellers, miss that sweet spot, you have a better shot at negotiating the price lower versus bidding the stupid cheap one up.
This is also not a bad time to take another hard look at the resale market. Sellers of properties that will fit the budgets of first time buyers should be receiving advice from their agents right about now that they really need to get competitive if they are to capitalize on the last minute purchasing rush. Granted, many sellers simply are not in a financial position to lower their prices, I have noticed more and more resale listings working their way into my searches.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t caution that the tax credit should not be the be all and end all for your purchasing decision. If you simply cannot find the property you want at a price you can afford, don’t get caught up in the frenzy. The worst decisions are often made in the face of such artificial pressure.
But if you are ready to take the plunge, find yourself a property in which the seller can give you a thumbs up or thumbs down within days instead of weeks. Walking the short sale plank with less than 90 days to get it closed will net you an $8000 cold shower.
My wife has an affinity for collecting quotes. Whether humorous or inspirational, on fridge magnets or flowery stationary, she likes having the visible reminders nearby as a lifeline to help pull her out of whatever malaise she may happen to find herself mired in at a given moment. Truth be told, prone as I am to ridicule the sappy sentimentality, I kind of like having them around the house, too. Sitting here in the kitchen on a slowly unfolding Sunday morning, sipping my first cup of coffee and awaiting the incubating bounty of cranberry muffins that is teasing my nose and stomach, one particular wall hanging catches my eye. Emblazoned across its whitewashed, faux wooden surface in black scroll lettering is the following:
“Raising children is like trying to nail jello to a tree.”
Not the first time I have seen it, but it still draws a chuckle. Substitute the words “Selling Real Estate” for “Raising Children,” and you have this agent’s description of the arduous world of buying and selling property in 2009.
Case in point, one of my property listings is a short sale. My lone short sale listing. Now, and hopefully forever. Over the four months it has taken our buyer’s offer to gain full approval, only to have a needed extension to the closing date entail another two week period of review and authorization from the banks involved, the twists and turns of this transaction have been nothing short of spectacular. Fortunately, with a closing now on the horizon, we finally appear to have this bit of transactional jello firmly nailed to the mesquite in my backyard.
Apparently a glutton for punishment, I currently have two buyers with offers accepted by sellers and submitted to their respective banks for approval on short sales. One of those buyers deploys for Iraq at the end of this month. We will be lucky to have a loss mitigator assigned to the transaction by the time his boots touch the 130 degree foreign sands. The other buyer is a first time homeowner who has been looking with me for several months. In both instances, we’ve only grudgingly included short sale listings recently in our lists of properties to see. The time factor is brutal, but it is the uncertainty that has been the primary deterrent. It’s one thing to wait indefinitely for a foregone happy conclusion, but quite another to invest a month or six of your life into a transaction that may be doomed from the start. As such, for many, short sale properties have really turned into the “just-in-casers.” Throwing an offer at a bank as a contingency plan, buyers are well advised to continue shopping for a property in which the seller is in a position to provide a quicker response. If a resale or bank-owned property pops up while the short sale is still in limbo, the buyer is free to cancel that transaction (provided a standard AAR short sale addendum is included with the standard verbiage) with no loss of earnest money and pursue the new candidate. Lots of additional work for all parties involved, but you’ve got to get your fingers dirty in the current market if your seeds are to take root and grow into an actual sale.
Then there are the bank properties. Foreclosures, REOS or whatever other term you know them by, they differ from short sales in that the bank has already taken the property back from the defaulting homeowner. No interminable wait while the bank assesses value and the seller’s qualification for a short sale, but there are still a few wiggly characteristics with these properties. For starters, while infinitely quicker, you can still forget about an immediate response or any loyalty to the author of the first offer. You can attach a two page cover sheet with your offer outlining your love of the home, how the drapes match your furniture and for the first time in your life, you feel like you have really found “home,” but the asset manager at the bank will still sit on it for 3-5 business days to see if anyone will beat it by twenty five cents. Even if you offer full price or above. Trust me … been there, done that. Further, because everyone wants bank owned pricing, these properties are often highly competitive. The banks know it. Given this truth, the very best values that you are holding out for as a buyer are highly competitive. If you’ve seen 100 properties and think the latest one is a screaming deal, so do the thirty other buyers who have been looking at the very same houses. That awesome deal you see on a bank-owned price is often just the floor for the higher offers that pile up like clowns in a circus car.
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.
Of course, if transactions involving banks are akin to manipulations with an amorphous edible substance, selling a typical resale home at present remains more like nailing a pickup truck to a tree. By and large, resale properties continue to be drastically overpriced. Only the savvy sellers who price to compete with the banks stand a chance of actually unloading their homes. No matter how strong the marketing nail or stout the trunk of seller resolve, gravity continues to win that lopsided struggle. You can only prop up an unrealistic price for so long before it finally crashes back down to market value or the broken down rig gets towed right off the market. No buyer is going to shimmy up that tree, get behind the wheel and drive said truck straight into the ground.
Is buying and selling Real Estate in 2009 a tricky business? Hell yes! Up is down, down is up, and nobody knows when this crazy ride will end. But just like raising kids, the process is uniquely rewarding. So grab a helmet, buckle up and don’t be afraid to enter the scrum. As long as you know what to expect and bring an experienced chaperon, you’ll eventually get where you want to go.
Even if you end up with a few stains on your shirt along the way.