Hope for Short Sales in 2013 – Congress is Working to Extend COD Income Tax Exemption

This is not legal advice.  For legal advice, consult an attorney, not a blog.  Furthermore, the post below addresses some BUT NOT ALL issues relating to foreclosure, short sale, etc., and the following analysis is cursory and not complete.  If you face a foreclosure or are considering some alternative, you should obtain legal advice.

US-GreatSeal-Obverse.svgThe Senate Finance Committee recently approved extending the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act through 2013.  That’s GREAT news for anybody interested in a short sale here in Washington.  If you’re wondering why…

Generally speaking, the IRS considers as income any forgiven debt (Cancellation of Debt, or COD, income).  For example, if I borrowed $50k from you, that would not be “income” subject to taxation because, while I received $50k from you, I had a corresponding liability to you in the same amount.  But if you then released me from that obligation and forgave that debt, at that moment I would have realized $50k in “income.”  Therefore I would need to report this “income” — the amount of the forgiven debt — on that year’s federal income tax return (and of course pay taxes on it).

In 2007, as the housing crisis was getting underway, Congress passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act.  This act allows homeowners to avoid COD tax liability on debt that was incurred by the purchase of a principal residence.  In other words, if the property is your principal residence, then you will not face income tax liability on the forgiven debt.

Here in WA, there is debate about the COD tax implications of a non-judicial foreclosure.  The vast majority of foreclosures in this state are of this variety.  In a non-judicial foreclosure, the difference between the funds paid at the foreclosure auction and the amount owed is extinguished as a matter of law.  In other words, following a non-judicial foreclosure, the owner/debtor neither owns the house nor owes any money to the bank, regardless of what was paid for the property at auction.  Accordingly, some — but not all — experts believe that a non-judicial foreclosure does not create COD tax liability.

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act expires December 31 of this year.  Thus, if the act is not extended, effective January 1 any forgiven debt, even on a principal residence, will be considered as income and taxed accordingly by the IRS.  Here in WA, the only possible exemption to this liability is the argument that a non-judicial foreclosure does not create COD tax liability.  Thus, an owner/debtor subjected to foreclosure at least has an argument that he does not have COD tax liability after a non-judicial foreclosure.

But a short sale?  As it stands now, beginning January 1 any owner who sells short and is released from the debt will have to report that forgiven debt as income.  There is no question that debt forgiven as part of an approved short sale is subject to COD tax liability absent the “principal residence” exemption.  In other words, only a confused or misinformed owner/debtor will seek a short sale beginning January 1 given the substantial tax implications.  For example, if your house sells for $300k but you owe $400k, you will have to report $100k as income, resulting in a tax bill of an additional $30k or so (depending on your tax bracket).  Is a successful short sale worth that kind of money owed to the IRS?

But — and getting back to where we stared — good news is on the distant horizon.  Recently, the Senate Finance Committee approved extending the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act through 2013.  While admittedly a very small step, it is at least a first step towards exending this income tax exemption.  And absent such an extension, short sales will become far, far less attractive.  If Congress can complete the job — a very big IF — then short sales will remain a viable alternative to foreclosure.  But if Congress sits on its hands and lets the exemption expire, short sales will likely dry up dramatically.  Or at least they should…

Some Short Sale Statistics in West Bellevue

I had occasion last week to do some digging for short sale listings in West Bellevue – the NWMLS area 520, west of I-405 and north of I-90 including  Beaux Arts, Enatai, Medina, Clyde Hill, plus Hunts Point, and Yarrow Point on the north side of Hwy 520.

I wondered whether the new NWMLS listing fields to indicate short sale or bank-owned/REO would help – they didn’t; it only showed 3 hits.  So just for fun I went back and did it the drudge way.  There were 313 active listings for single family homes.  I scanned through the agent summaries for each looking for “subject to lienholder approval” or some similar phrase.   I found 32 listings that were short sale, about 10% of the total, and 5 that were bank owned, less than 2% of the total.  So 1) as we knew, there are a lot of short sales going on, and 2) there is very little use so far of the new fields.  So add this to the previous good post that Jillayne  did before the new fields were added by the MLS.

Some other interesting observations out of this little study – this is a relatively high-priced area: 68% of the listings are over $1 million.  But 67% of the short sales are under $1 million.

And last of all, since Sunday, 4 of those shorts have gone under contract – sounds like a pretty good absorption rate; I’ll track them for a while and post an update later.

What do you do with a Zillow Zestimate?

In the post below, I have shown comparisons of Sold price vs. Zillow Zestimate and Cyberhomes valution of the most recent recorded sales.  Why do we need to know this, and how do we use this information?

1) Short Sale vs. Zestimate – Was buying a short sale worth the extra hassle?

SS#1 – the Zestimate is identical to the 2008 assessed value. The Cyberhomes value is also almost exactly what the owner paid for it in March of 2006.  So neither was needed, as most buyers would look at assessed value and what the owner paid for it. This short sale is good for an “end user”, but not for an investor.  The discount of 5% under the Zillow Zestimeate and 10% under the Cyberhomes value equals the hassle, no more and no less for this buyer.  But there was a buyer before this buyer who waited around for 60 days for the bank to not approve the original offer price.  The first buyer flushed out what the bank would take.  The second buyer had the advantage of the first buyer’s hassle factor.

SS#2 – This is a good one.  The assessed value, Zillow Zestimate and the Cyberhomes values are all about the same.  This is down where current prices are about equal to 2008 assessed values in Auburn and Federal Way.  So this sold for 20% under fair market value and 30% under what the current owner paid for it. Hard to see the hassle factor, as it looks like they didn’t put this one as pending until they had bank approval, which was 10 days or so before it closed. This one is a stereotypical good Short Sale from the buyer’s standpoint and the Zestimate and Cyberhomes valuations and assessed value all confirm the discount.

Now that you know what a good and bad short sale looks like relative to a Zestimate, et al, you can see that SS#3 = not so good, SS#4 = Zillow’s way over on this one.  Assessed is $717,000 Cyberhomes is $794,000, the owner paid $803,000 for it in 2006, so not likely the Zestimate of $937,000 is correct. Compared to the Zestimate it looks like a screaming deal…but in reality it’s about the same as SS#1…OK for an end user but not for an investor.

For those who wanted to know Original Asking Price, I don’t know how it helps you to know that was $1.4 million on a property whose value is clearly just under $800,000?  Maybe I’m missing something, but asking price is never part of my valuation for  a buyer client.

Bottom line, looking at the Zestimate AND the Cyberhomes value AND what the owner paid for it and when AND the 2008 assessed value (not 2009) and the improvements or lack thereof, tells you a lot more than “the comps” these days.  Looking at comps is dangerous, as if you go back even 4-6 months, you are looking at prices that are higher than today’s current market value.  That may change into the second quarter…but the full area trend is MUCH more important right now than what the neighbors’ homes sold for back in June or July.

Is a "short sale" a bargain?

Actual info from recently closed short sales:

1) The owner bought it in September of 2005.  They did so many cashout refinances since time of purchase, that I can’t see what the downpayment was at time of purchase.  They tried to sell it for 30% more than they paid for it exactly two years after they bought it (likely due to a 2 year pre-payment penalty) just a month or so into the weak market of late 2007. They moved out and rented it in December of 07.  Then, while it was tenant occupied, they relisted it for sale in February for $50,000 less than their original attempt of 30% more than they paid for it.  They dropped the price an additional $50,000 two weeks later.  They dropped the price an additional $50,000 three weeks after that.  They dropped the price an additional $50,000 five weeks later.  They dropped the price an additional $50,000 three weeks later and dropped another $50,000 five weeks after that.

So $300,000 in price reductions from 30% more than they paid to an asking price that was 13% less than they paid.  BUT then it bid UP to 7% less than they paid for it 2.5 years before.  It either bid up, OR since by this time it was a short sale, the bank may have held out for $50,000 more than the original offer.  At any rate it closed at 7% less than the owners paid for it at 1.12 X assessed value, BUT that was the highest price ever paid in the neighborhood.  The original asking price was 1.5 times assessed value.

The escrow period was 128 days from the time the seller accepted the offer until it closed.

The kicker? A couple of days after this one closed, the neighbor listed their home at 1.08 times assessed value and $50,000 less than the short sale closed at, and it still hasn’t sold.  So the short sale was not necessarily a good buy.  It might have been if it had closed at or less than the final asking price.  But when it closed for $50,000 more than the final asking price it moved from bargain to not a bargain during negotiations and escrow.

Warning: Sometimes seeing $300,000 in price reductions and “short sale” or “foreclosure” at the end, causes buyers to bid UP a property to where it is no longer a bargain.  While I chose this example at random and worked through the history while doing the post and not in advance, it turned out the way many do.  Buyers bid it up or don’t hold their ground when the bank responds to the offer, and 128 days later…not a bargain.

Let’s do another one:

2) Bought in the summer of 2006 with 100% financing for 1.3 times the 2008 assessed value and for double the price the previous owner paid for it in 2004.  Clue.  This person overpaid for it in 2006 and it had the magic words “granite counters”.  Yesterday someone said to me they were going to buy a granite countertop and stick it out on the grass of a vacant lot and sell it for half a million dollars 🙂

Looks like the person who bought it barely (if ever) lived in it, as it was listed for rent within 3 months of closing in 2006.  Apparently someone in 2006 thought paying double what the previous owner paid in 2004 was “an investment”. After renting it out for a year, the owner tried to sell it in the summer of 2007 (before the market turned) for 11% to 12% more than he paid for it.  No takers and it was re-rented.  They dropped the price $15,000 after 125 days on market.  Three months later…still no takers.

They rented it out again and five months later listed it for 20% less than they paid for it.  (Interesting that they listed it for 12% more than they paid for it and then 20% less than they paid for it, without trying anything in between. An agent (not the agent who had it listed and not the same office) bought it immediately as soon as it was listed for 20% less than the current owners paid for it. The short sale escrow lasted 75 days and it closed at the full asking price of 20% less than the owner paid for it in 2006.  The sold price from the short sale was 1.03 times assessed value.

The kicker? The agent who bought it at the bargain price now has it on market for sale or for rent.  Rent price is $1.58 per square foot. Sale price is 1.17 times assessed value.  Would have been a nicer story if the person who got it for 1.03 times assessed value was going to live in it.  Insider gets the bargain and flips it back out on market for a decent price, but not such a bargain.  At least they’re not asking 1.5 times assessed value, but if a nice young family bought it for the bargain price of 1.03 times assessed value, I would have been happier.

I think I’ll go see it this weekend with one of my clients who is in that price range.  Maybe it will sell for less than 1.10 times assessed value.  Not a screaming deal, but worth taking a peek at it.

Moral of the story? Don’t go to an agent and say “I want to buy a foreclosure property” or “I want to buy a short sale”.  We always shake our heads when people do that.  Instead look at properties you like that are in your price range, and if one of them is a bargain, we’ll know it.  Sometimes it’s the foreclosure or short sale, sometimes it isn’t.

I know of another home that was listed for $1.3 million, sold at foreclosure for $800,000 and went back on market at $1.1 million.  No one’s buying it.  So the question remains on this one and the second example above, was it a bargain?  We won’t know until the people who got the bargain and immediately relisted the homes for sale at a higher price, get an offer that sticks.  What we do know is the bargain on those two gets less every day, since both properties are vacant and the owner is paying the carrying costs.

Killer Views and Dog Poop – Short Sale

Given prices in the Seattle Area have not dropped to the extent of  most of the Country, people wonder why there are some deep discount short sales here.  Mostly those that have a deep discount are in worse shape than when the current owner purchased them.

Remodels gone bad…very, very bad.  If you know the house below, please don’t mention where it is or the address in the comments.  I can’t “advertise” another agent’s listing, but wanted to give you an idea of what a house looks like that will likely sell for $200,000 -$300,000 less than what is currently owed on it.

Often the work being done is substandard, in this case likely because of all of the beer being consumed while doing the work.

Often you will see a lot of new materials, like the travertine above, but partial and poor installation.  I think there were more broken pieces of travertine strewn about than there were full tiles laid.

Still, the view considerations suggest it may be a worthwhile project for someone, especially an owner occupant, if it sells close enough to lot value.

But rarely does anyone but an investor want the house with Killer Views and piles of dog poop.

Homeowners in Foreclosure Should Hire an Attorney

When I teach the Short Sale class, I say many times during the class that homeowners selling short and homeowners in default should always be directed more than one time to seek legal counsel. Sometimes homeowners in financial distress don’t hear you the first time. Just handing them the agency pamphlet isn’t enough. Attorneys can help homeowners in ways that real estate agents cannot. They will know more about their state’s deed of trust laws and any state-specific anti-predatory lending laws as well as federal residential mortgage lending laws than an average real estate agent, and attorneys will have access to recent case law.

justiceStuck with a bad loan, a Staten Island family fights back
Staten Island Advance

David and Karen Shearon were like many other Staten Islanders stuck with bad loans, collapsing financially under the weight of a crushing mortgage less than a year after buying their first home.

But unlike thousands of others who have entered foreclosure as part of the fallout from the subprime lending crisis — homeowners often embarrassed by their situation and unable to afford legal representation — the Shearons fought back.

A judge recently ruled that the owners of this Westport Lane townhouse in New Springville home were victims of predatory lending.They argued through their attorney that brokers aggressively marketed them a high-cost loan and then pressured them to go through with the closing when they could have qualified for a traditional fixed-rate mortgage.

In what is likely to be a precedent-setting decision in New York, state Supreme Court Justice Joseph J. Maltese agreed with the Shearons, recently telling the bank that it could not foreclose on the couple’s New Springville townhouse and that it may have to pay them damages for their troubles and void the $355,000 mortgage on their Westport Lane home…

Judge Maltese determined the original lender violated banking law by failing to check the Shearons’ income and ability to pay the high-cost loan. He said the lender crossed the line again when it financed the home above the $335,000 sale price, using an additional $19,145 to pay the costs and fees associated with securing the high-cost loan. The Shearons’ $5,000 deposit, meanwhile, was never deducted from the ultimate $355,000 in financing.

“This ultimately left Shearon with negative equity in the property,” the judge wrote.

“The mortgage loans may be unenforceable and the homeowner may be entitled to reimbursement of all prior mortgage loan payments, the fees for obtaining the loans and attorney fees,” Maltese added.

At a hearing Feb. 28, the judge is expected to decide whether the mortgage should be voided and damages granted to the Shearons.

Read the entire story here.

I keep reading comments about how there are not enough regulators to adequately oversee state and federal lending laws. With the mortgage lending meltdown continuing into this election year, we are already seeing more proposed state and federal laws.

Question: Would the threat of having the mortgage voided in the courtroom be a more effective way of bringing some rapid order into the mortgage industry?

An Early Holiday Present

Yesterday, The Mortgage Foregiveness Act of 2007 was passed effectively getting rid of the question, “will I be taxed on a short sale?”

Prior to this action, the forgiven mortgage debt due to foreclosure, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure was potentially taxable to the borrower. As agents we always have had to warn our clients in short sale positions about the potential of receiving a 1099 from the shorted mortgage lender, thus triggering a potential tax.  In one situation I’m involved in, the potential deficiency is 1 million and the tax hit would have been devastating.

Now however, those owners in that situation, at least until 2009, are having their taxes waived, too (at least up to 35%).  For those in this situation, this is really great news and likely the best holiday present they could hope for.

On their behalf, thank you congress [photopress:applause.jpg,thumb,alignright]

Should You Buy a Short Sale Property?

The current market is making me feel older than dirt.  Mostly because there are fewer and fewer agents around who have sold real estate in a previous bad market.  I find myself explaining what is going to happen next, to many who have never been through a short sale from beginning to end.  Even if you take classes about what may happen, it doesn’t replace the experience of living through what actually does happen.

Everyone wants a bargain, especially in this market.  But the truth is that many bargains go to investors and people inside the industry, because they can handle all the hiccups better than owners who plan to occupy the property.  Whether it’s a short sale, a foreclosure, an estate sale or other “discounted” property, often it’s like buying yesterday’s donut.  You can expect something to go sideways in a short sale, and often you can’t get it to go perfectly straight.

short sale1) The closing date may be delayed. In fact you can pretty much count on it.  For someone who is trying to coordinate a move, this can wreak havoc on their life.  If you are trying to link together the sale of your house with the purchase of a short sale, well good luck with that one.  If you are trying to give notice to your landlord and be able to move into the short sale property on a firm given date, not always a reasonable expectation.  Most often short sales involve a series of extentions strung together until it closes. If someone is not planning to live in the house, such as an investor, not a huge big deal.  But for someone trying to move into it, it can be a nightmare of uncertainties.

2) The bank does not approve the sale price. One of the hardest things to understand about a short sale is that the buyer and seller agree to a price, but the bank is the one calling the shots.  Even when you get the HOORAY OK from the bank, the road can be very bumpy to the end.

Say you are buying a house for $820,000 and the payoffs on the seller side are $860,000 including a first and second mortgage and seller’s closing costs including exise taxes.  The 1st mortgage is going to be paid in full, so it is the second mortgage lender who is agreeing to whatever is left after other costs are paid. You send them an estimate that they are going to get $60,000 of the $120,000 owed to them.  They say OK.  Now during the time you waited for them to say OK, guess what happened.  Yup.  ALL THE COSTS INCREASED!  The first mortgage payoff got a lot higher than expected.  The utility bills went into arrears and the utilities may even have been shut off.  The arrearages grew and grew and now the 2nd lender who agreed to take $60,000 is only getting $50,000.

You can see how this can turn into a big yo-yo affect with the buyer feeling like someone is not telling the truth.  Yes the 2nd approved the short sale.  No the 2nd isn’t letting it close now.  You must remember that the 2nd mortgage never approves the sale price of $820,000 in the example above. They approve the amount that they are going to be “short” on their payoff.

The buyer thinks the bank approved the sale price of $820,000 when we got the first Hooray OK, when in fact what they approved was receiving $60,000.  Now when you do the final closing statement and the payoff is $50,000…you are back to square 3.  You are not back to square 1.  You have made progress.  But not as much as you thought and the closing date is again delayed and the sale, again, may not happen at all.

3) Now you get to the final stage.  The bank approves the $50,000 or the buyer agrees to come up with an additional $10,000.  Somehow the gap between the $60,000 approved and the $50,000 left to pay the 2nd mortgage has to be bridged.  Possibly with a little give and take on everyone’s part, including the agents.  The buyer who is now being asked to give a bit more than agreed to at a sale price of $820,000 doesn’t understand why.  “I thought the bank agreed to the price of $820,000?”  Remember, the “shorted” lien holder never approves a sale price.  They approve the “short payoff” which is a moving target! It can get very frustrating and difficult to comprehend and follow.

4) Now the buyer wants to walk through the property the day of signing.  Uh-oh…the utilities are shut off.  Anyone who can’t make their mortgage payment and who is not living in the house, is not likely to keep the utility bills current during this long approval process. Yes it is reasonable for a buyer…normally…to want the utilities on for the final walk through or for the inspection.  But getting them turned on is easier said than done.  Whose name do they get turned on in?  If it is closing in the buyer’s name in 3 days, they likely don’t want the utilities in their name yet.  In fact the utility companies may not even let a non owner/non-tenant put the utilities in their name.  It clearly is not something a lawyer would advise a buyer to do prior to closing.

The seller isn’t forking out any money to get the utilities turned on, they have no proceeds and are not putting any money into the house.  Same goes for repairs.  You walk through and see something wrong with the house and want the seller to get it fixed.  No way Jose.  Seller is walking off with his tail between his legs licking his wounds.  He’s often depressed and disgusted and beat up by life.  He’s not coming over with a licensed contractor to make repairs.

5) The Buyer Agent often agrees to a short commission.  So if you have arranged with your Buyer Agent to recieve a portion of the commission, don’t be surprised if that amount changes at the end.

Lots of headaches.  Lots of uncertainties.  The truth is that investors foresee most of this.  They don’t care as much about the mundane things like what date it will close or making repairs.  They are going to gut it anyway.

So the next time you wonder why investors and insiders always seem to get the best deals, ask yourself this.  Who else would put up with all of this nonsense?  Looking for a bargain?  Great.  Just remember this.  It’s often like buying yesterday’s donut instead of a warm Krispy Kreme straight from the oven.  The taste left in your mouth after all’s said and done…may be a little stale.

From 'A&E's Flip This House' to You!

[photopress:REIA__Image_Download__flip_this_house_logo_jpeg_from_mhv_reia_1_.jpg,thumb,alignright]Have you been watching the current real estate market and wondering how  to find the pot of gold in it? Fix and Flip guru Than Merrill from A&E’s Flip this House will show you how right here in Seattle on October 11. Than, like many other saavy investors, is building his business taking advantage of sellers in trouble.  Even though Seattle seems to be somewhat insulated from the current trend across the nation, there are still great opportunities to grab up distressed properties. Banks are looking to unload properties as are many homeowners on the brink of foreclosure.  These often become the inventory and raw product for the ‘fix and flippers’. But how do you find these elusive properties?

My husband and I have been involved with about 2 dozens ‘fix and flip’ properties, but finding the right properties at the right price, i.e., below market, is a challenge. As a realtor, I live and breathe the mls, but once a property hits the mls, it’s generally going to be sold at retail, and paying retail is not the way to make a profit on a ‘fix and flip’.

There are several real estate investment groups in the Puget Sound area that will help you get started and offer advice in marketing, legal issues (recently, state law passed requiring a flip in less than one year to require a contractor’s license.  More about that later) and tips of the trade. Says Shirley Henderson, President of REIA, ” flipping is profitable and a lot of fun if it’s done right”.  And the members want to help you do it right.  Usually they have monthly meetings and from time to time offer educational events to help their members. Members are happy to share their knowledge and are there to help each other.

On October 11, The Real Estate Investors Association of Washington (REIA) is hosting a fabulous Special Event straight from television land.  Than Merrill of A&E’s ‘Flip This House’ will be speaking at a this very low cost event ($15)  to show you how he and his team did 30 deals his first year and after that, double each year over the next 2 years.  The team has 260 deals under it’s belt at an average of $27,000 profit per deal.  $7,000,000 in three years, I could live with that!

If you’re interested in learning how he did it, join REIA on October 11 from 6-9pm to hear about Than’s systems and marketing to find those distressed properties and fix them for the best financial return.  This will be my first ‘fix and flip’ seminar and I’m anxious to hear from the best. Of those 2 dozen flips my husband and I have done, we’ve had varied results (yes, some were losses) because we didn’t have the systems in place to find the bargains.

Hope to see investors from Seattle turn out in big numbers. Make some great connections. Maybe you will decide that this could be your next career.