Short Sale Rules May Help Sellers

Homeowners struggling to sell their homes in a short sale are getting some relief, thanks to the federal government's Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives, or HAFA, program.

House for sale
Tom Merton | OJO Images | Getty Images
House for sale

Up to now, many short sales -- in which the lender accepts a sale of the property for less than the full amount owed -- have taken months to complete. Sometimes, the complex and lengthy process has failed, resulting in foreclosure.

HAFA establishes streamlined short sale rules and incentivizes borrowers and lenders to work together to avoid foreclosure. The rules -- in effect between April 5, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012 -- also are intended to speed up the short sale process.

"The streamlined short sales process will definitely help homeowners," says David Liniger, Re/Max International chairman and co-founder.

Prior to HAFA, homeowners often listed their home for sale without an idea of what the lender would accept.

"A lot of sellers and their Realtors have not been able to sort out the problems with short sales and have given up on the process because, even after sending in the correct paperwork, they have sometimes waited three or four months for their lender to respond," Liniger says.

Under HAFA, borrowers receive preapproved short sale terms from the lender prior to putting the home on the market.

Lisa Matykiewicz, a Realtor and Certified Distressed Property Expert in Gilbert, Ariz., says the updated short sale rules establish an easy-to-understand process with predefined steps that "make it easier for everyone to understand."

Eligibility requirementsThe HAFA guidelines apply to lenders who voluntarily participate in the HAMP program. The Department of Housing and Urban Development says more than 100 servicers have signed up to participate in HAMP, covering more than 89 percent of mortgage debt outstanding in the country.

To be eligible for HAFA, homeowners must first apply for a loan modification through the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. Owners who do not qualify for a loan modification or miss payments during the initial loan modification period qualify for HAFA.

Other HAFA requirements include:Property is principal residence.Mortgage originated before Jan. 1, 2009.Mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.Borrower is delinquent or default is foreseeable.Homeowner demonstrates hardship.Borrower's total monthly housing payment exceeds 31 percent of gross income.Unpaid principal does not exceed $729,750.

According to HAFA rules, lenders now must offer a short sale in writing to the borrower within 30 days if the borrower does not qualify for or complete a loan modification. Borrowers then must respond within 14 days to the lender's short sale agreement.

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