Short sales are crucial to clearing the post-bubble housing market, but banks typically drag their heels. That's because approving a short sale means accepting - and accounting for - the fact that you're never going to collect what you're ostensibly owed.
In what may be another sign of an incipient recovery, Bloomberg reports that some banks are now embracing short sales in a big way: by paying large incentives to sellers to agree.
Bloomberg's Prashant Gopal writes:
Lenders have routinely delayed or blocked such transactions, known as short sales, in which they accept less from a buyer than the seller’s outstanding loan. Now banks have decided the deals are faster and less costly than foreclosures, which have slowed in response to regulatory probes of abusive practices. Banks are nudging potential sellers by pre-approving deals, streamlining the closing process, forgoing their right to pursue unpaid debt and in some cases providing large cash incentives, said Bill Fricke, senior credit officer for Moody’s Investors Service in New York.
Losses for lenders are about 15 percent lower on the sales than on foreclosures, which can take years to complete while taxes and legal, maintenance and other costs accumulate, according to Moody’s. The deals accounted for 33 percent of financially distressed transactions in November, up from 24 percent a year earlier, said CoreLogic Inc., a Santa Ana, California-based real estate information company.
Karen Farley hadn’t made a mortgage payment in a year when she got what looked like a form letter from her lender.
“You could sell your home, owe nothing more on your mortgage and get $30,000,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) said in the Aug. 17 letter obtained by Bloomberg News.
Bloomberg's remarkable report includes some of the predictable hand-wringing over this phenomenon, reminscent of Rick Santelli's famous rant about "losers" that helped give birth to the Tea Party movement:
Offering enough for the homeowner to put down a deposit on a rental apartment is reasonable, said Sean O’Toole, chief executive officer of ForeclosureRadar.com, which tracks sales of foreclosed properties. Giving tens of thousands of dollars to delinquent homeowners sends the wrong message, particularly if they got into trouble by running up home-equity loans during the housing boom, he said.
“It may make sense for people to walk away, it doesn’t make sense for them to get rewarded for doing it,” O’Toole said. “It’s not the homeowner’s fault that house prices dropped so dramatically, but they have already received months of free rent, if not cash out.”