If you are one of the estimated 11 million homeowners burdened with an underwater mortgage, a new federal policy changed could be good news for you. Starting in June 2012, when you want to do a short sale to shed mortgage debt and avoid foreclosure, you may not have to wait months to hear back from your bank when you submit an offer fro a purchaser.
Instead, if your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-you can expect a response within 30 business days, with a final decision no later than 60 days. If you don't hear back during the first 30 days, the bank will be required to send you weekly updates telling you precisely where the holdups are and when they will likely to be resolved. None of this is typical short-sale procedure today. If banks do not comply they will face steep monetary fines and other penalties.
This trend is welcome, say regulators, but the total time required to complete short sales is still far too long. The 30-day and 60-day mandates address just one of the key points of delay in the process, but regulators promise a series of additional steps during the coming months designed to speed transactions. They include clearer guidelines on borrower eligibility, property valuations, compensation for lenders holding second liens, and mortgage insurance issues. All of these are points of friction that can delay short-sales agreement for weeks or months.
Realty agents who specialize in short sales say setting mandatory timelines is a step in the right direction, but won’t solve all the problems. The new rules and promises of more “are great if they really happen,” said broker Erik Berry of Erik Berry and Associates in Sacramento, Calif. Short sales that his firm handles take an average of “about six months” from start to finish on Fannie-Freddie loans. But FHA transactions — which will not be affected by the new regulations — average much longer, and sometimes drag on for a year.
Berry also is skeptical that banks and servicers will be able to reform their staffing practices quickly enough to meet the timelines — even if penalties are imposed. In some cases, he said in an interview, banks switch personnel and negotiators five or six times over the course of a short sale. “You’re dealing with one person one day and they say, don’t worry, everything’s fine, then suddenly they’re gone and you never hear from them again,” leaving the deal stalled for weeks.
Matt Battiata, whose Battiata Real Estate Group in Del Mar, Calif., handles hundreds of short sales a year, said a reliable, 60-day decision deadline for responses to offers will be helpful — 30 days better than the 90-day average he now sees from banks — but the whole process will still take longer than traditional sales. For clients seeking to do short sales today, Battiata estimates five to six months from offer to closing. After June, assuming the new federal rules and penalties work, the estimate might only be cut by a month.
On top of this, some of the complications inherent in short sales are beyond the control of regulators or banks, he pointed out. For instance, buyers put in offers to purchase then change their minds, forcing the sellers and brokers to come up with replacement offers, and the bank to reset the clock to analyze the new package.
The takeaway for potential short sellers: Be aware of the new moves afoot to streamline the process but don’t expect miracles.