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Short sales: an investor’s guide

It’s 2023, nearing 2024 and there are talks of market corrections.

And with market correction could come many homes that need to short sale.

If you’re an investor, wholesaler, or agent, now is the perfect time to learn about short sales and how to close them.

Because, I guarantee you, whenever there is an increased supply of short sales, few people will know how to capitalize on it and help those homeowners.

So in this article, we’ll go over the gist of what is a short sale, how to purchase one, and how to invest with them.

What is a short sale?

A short sale in real estate occurs when a property is sold for less than the amount owed on its mortgage. It’s not your everyday transaction; it’s a lender-approved agreement allowing a financially distressed homeowner to sell their asset for less than the outstanding loan balance. Typically, this is a remedy for avoiding foreclosure, offering a lifeline to owners under financial duress while presenting a unique opportunity for investors to step in. The catch? The sale hinges on the lender’s nod, as they’re the ones taking the short end of the stick.

Short sales for investors

For investors, short sales spell opportunity with a capital ‘O’. They can scoop up properties at a price that’s typically below market value, which means instant equity in the right circumstances.

The trick is in the finesse of negotiation, not just with sellers but with lenders looking to mitigate their losses. Smart investors work these angles, knowing that today’s carefully calculated short sale can transform into tomorrow’s golden asset in their portfolio.

Why should Investors go after short sales

Tapping into short sales as an investor can be akin to discovering a hidden vein of gold in the bedrock of the real estate market. Here’s why: short sales are often overlooked due to their complexity, which means less competition and more potential for deep discounts. We’re talking about properties that can be snagged for anywhere from 25% to 40% below market value if you’ve got the tenacity and tact to navigate bank negotiations.

And typically, these homes tend to be in a much nicer condition than foreclosures.

The numbers don’t lie; banks are motivated to settle for less to avoid the losses associated with foreclosures. By stepping into this niche, you position yourself to access deals that others might miss. It’s all about the convergence of patience, strategic communication, and timing. Nail these, and you’re not just buying properties; you’re securing investments that have the potential to pay dividends well above the average market rate.

Short sales for Agents

For agents, short sales come with a twist; they’re less about the quick flip and more about the long game. Representing a seller in a short sale allows agents to carve out a niche as a problem-solver, adept at navigating complex negotiations with lenders and buyers.

On the flip side, by representing buyers, agents can showcase their market savvy, securing properties at competitive prices. The secret sauce? It’s about leveraging expertise to create win-wins, and building a reputation that could turn today’s short sale into tomorrow’s referral pipeline.

The process of short sale

Navigating the journey of a short sale from start to finish requires a clear roadmap. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the typical process:

1. Seller Underwater Wants to Sell: The homeowner, facing financial hardship and unable to cover the mortgage, decides a short sale is preferable to foreclosure.

2. Hardship Letter and Documentation: The seller must pen a hardship letter to the lender, coupled with financial documents (bank statements, pay stubs, tax returns) to prove they can’t meet mortgage obligations.

3. Listing the Property: The seller lists the property, often with a real estate agent experienced in short sales.

4. Offer and Acceptance: An investor makes an offer, which is accepted by the seller pending the bank’s approval.

5. Bank’s Due Diligence: The lender reviews the offer, along with a Broker Price Opinion (BPO) or appraisal to ascertain the property’s true value.

6. Negotiation: There’s typically a back-and-forth between the bank and the investor, hammering out the final sale terms.

7. Approval Letter: If the bank is satisfied, they issue a short sale approval letter detailing the terms.

8. Escrow: Once the investor receives the green light, the transaction enters escrow. This is where title searches and inspections occur.

9. Closing: All parties sign the final documents, and the investor closes on the property, concluding the short sale process.

Remember, each step is pivotal and requires meticulous attention to detail to ensure the short sale reaches the finish line.

There are humans in those short sales

In the calculus of short sales, the numbers are just one part of the equation—the human element is not to be underestimated. Every short sale is more than a transaction; it’s a lifeline for a homeowner in distress, a chapter ending in their life’s story. As investors, wholesalers, or agents, the true measure of success isn’t just in profit, but in the service we provide to those who are navigating one of their most challenging financial moments.

Remember, the richer you become is directly proportional to the number of people you serve—wealth in this arena isn’t just about your bank account, it’s about the well-being you foster in the lives of the sellers you help.

Negotiating with the bank on your short sale

When you’re knee-deep in the short sale game, your dance partner is often the bank. And what a complex partner it is—structured, regulated, yet motivated by pragmatism. Banks are in the business of money, not real estate, so their prime motive in a short sale is to recoup as much of their loan as possible while avoiding the lengthy and costly foreclosure process.

Here’s the rub: banks want assurance that the loss they’re taking is the best possible outcome. Your job? To present a compelling case that your offer benefits them more than foreclosure ever could. Arm yourself with market data, repair estimates, and your most persuasive negotiation skills to demonstrate that accepting your offer is the lesser of two evils.

Getting them below the current value is an art—it’s about painting the picture that the property, as is, has its drawbacks, and your offer is the silver lining to their cloud of bad loans. Transparency is key. Show the bank that what you’re offering is not just money, but a swift and certain end to a bad deal. Remember, it’s about finding that sweet spot where the bank’s desire to minimize loss intersects with your hunt for value.

How long do short sales take?

Short sales are not for the impatient investor; they take time, often more than a traditional sale due to the layers of approval required. Typically, you can expect a short sale to take anywhere from 60 days to 120 days, sometimes longer, depending on the lender’s process and the complexity of the deal. This timeframe accounts for the bank’s review of the homeowner’s hardship, the property appraisal, and the negotiation of terms. While they do require a hefty dose of patience, they can be well worth the wait for the savvy investor ready to play the long game.

How to find Short Sales

Diving into the world of short sales means putting on your detective hat and knowing where to look. It’s a blend of leveraging technology, nurturing professional relationships, and a bit of good old-fashioned legwork. Here’s how you can uncover these hidden gems:

1. MLS: The Multiple Listing Service is a solid starting point; short sales are listed alongside traditional sales, just waiting for a discerning eye to spot them.

NOTE: there are platforms that will give some of the data in MLS like Propsteam or Privy. The unfortunate thing about MLS is that you need to have access via an agent (either you being a licensed agent or another licensed agent giving you access).

2. Agent Relationships: Cultivate a network of agents who know you’re on the hunt for short sales. Become their go-to investor, and you could find deals landing in your lap.

3. Off-Market: Often, the ripest opportunities lie off the beaten path. Off-market short sales are out there, usually necessitating direct outreach to distressed homeowners or marketing that you’re ready to help.

Each channel requires its own strategy, but together, they form a robust approach to finding and securing short sales before the competition catches on.

Going off-market for short sales

Unearthing off-market short sales is a craft that combines savvy data mining with direct communication. Here’s a distilled strategy for those ready to venture into the proactive realm of off-market deals:

1. Pull a List: Start by gathering information on properties with loan amounts that exceed their current market value. This could involve subscribing to a data service or working with a real estate professional who has access to this information.

2. Direct Mail Campaign: Send out tailored, empathetic mailers to the owners of these properties. Your message should convey understanding, offer help, and present a clear call to action.

3. Cold Calling: It’s traditional, direct, and still very effective. Pick up the phone and reach out to these homeowners. The key here is to listen, build rapport, and then propose your solution.

The pitch is simple yet powerful: offer to purchase their house with the assurance that they won’t need to cover any of the costs from their pocket. Assure them that closing costs and associated fees will be handled. It’s about presenting a no-stress exit for them, and a value-added acquisition for you.


Short Sales Defined: A short sale happens when a property is sold for less than the mortgage owed, with the lender’s approval, as a way to avoid foreclosure.

Profit Potential for Investors: Investors can benefit from short sales by acquiring properties at below-market prices, provided they’re prepared to navigate the complexities of negotiation with lenders.

Agents’ Advantage: Real estate agents can build a niche in handling short sales, providing a valuable service to both sellers in distress and buyers looking for deals, and in turn, cultivating a stream of business and referrals.

Negotiating with Banks: Banks want to minimize loss; offer them a way out that beats the foreclosure route, backing your offer with solid data and a professional approach.

Timeframe: Short sales can take 60 to 120 days, sometimes longer, requiring investors to be patient and persistent.

Why Short Sales?: They’re a less-trodden path, meaning less competition and more potential for discounts for those who are diligent and skilled in communication with banks.

Finding Short Sales:

-MLS Listings: A straightforward resource for finding short sale listings.

– Building Relationships with Agents: Being the go-to investor for agents when a short sale is on the table.

– Off-Market Strategies: Proactively reaching out to distressed homeowners to find deals before they hit the market.

Off-Market Acquisition Strategies:

In this order:
1. Data Mining: Identifying underwater homes through data services.
2. Direct Mail: Sending empathetic communications to potential sellers (here’s our guide to direct mail success).
3. Cold Calling: Engaging homeowners directly to offer your solution. If you can learn to cold call effectively, you can find your self some great deals

The Short Sale Process

1. Seller decides to pursue a short sale.
2. They provide a hardship letter and documentation to the bank.
3. The property is listed, often at market value.
4. The investor makes an offer, which must be approved by the bank.
5. The bank conducts due diligence, including a BPO or appraisal.
6. Negotiations take place to finalize the sale terms.
7. Upon bank approval, the transaction moves to escrow.
8. Closing is finalized, and the investor takes ownership.

By understanding the intricacies of short sales, being patient in negotiations, and approaching each deal with a problem-solving mindset, investors can leverage this often-overlooked market segment to expand their portfolios and build wealth.