Banks warm to short sales for strapped homeowners

Real estate agent Izzy Buholzer from Home and Business Realty, Inc. shows a short sale home to prospective buyer Jennifer Ragatz (L) in Miami, Fla. Pre-foreclosure sales are offering more relief in the tough housing market.

David Brancaccio: On the way in the U.S. later this morning is a report from RealtyTrac on pre-foreclosure sales and their role in the housing market right now. Banks are now warming to the idea of short sales that forgive part of the mortgage balance up front, but critics say banks need more incentives to help struggling homeowners.

Here's Marketplace's Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: Early in the housing meltdown, lenders fiercely resisted allowing homes to be sold at a big loss. So Guy Cecala, who publishes Inside Mortgage Finance, says banks often rejected short-sale requests.   

Guy Cecala: There was a lot of suspicion with short sales -- that it was borrowers trying to game the system or trying to get out of a home where they could afford the mortgage. And they often disagreed with the prices that were coming in -- they thought they were too low.

But now, lenders have plenty of depressed home prices to compare with the short-sale offers, and they've learned repossessing homes through foreclosure can cost them even more. So, Cecala says, they're much more receptive to short sales.

Homeowners complain it can still take six months or longer, in many cases, to get an answer. San Diego real estate agent Jim Abbott says the bank handling the property is often just a middleman for the actual lender.

Jim Abbott: They get paid either way, so there isn't necessarily a big incentive -- short of federal regulation -- to make them process these things faster.

New provisions require companies servicing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages to make short-sale decisions within 30 days.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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