It’s widely agreed that foreclosures and REO properties devastate nearby home values and impede the housing recovery. But we don’t hear similar complaints about short sales. How do the two categories compare where housing prices and a healthy real estate market are concerned?
I’ve sold 64 bank-owned properties and 15 short sales over the past four years; my assistant and I closed 72 sales and approximately $42 million in volume in 2011. About 40 percent were distressed sales. Based on those experiences, here’s my take on their differences:
- Seller motivation issues. Properties listed as short sales are often occupied by home owners who aren’t concerned with getting top dollar. Instead, their motivation may be to extend their “free rent” program or get out of their financial obligation to pay off a mortgage. Consequently, they often don’t fix up their house to sell it and may be less than cooperative about showings. On the other hand, REO listings are vacant properties and have a lockbox for easy access.
- Delays. Short sales require that home owners submit their financials to the bank every month—and if they don’t, the sale stalls. The delays and uncertainties make these listings very difficult to sell. In contrast, it takes a week or so to get a REO listing into escrow, with deals closing in about 30 to 45 days, whereas short-sale approvals these days take 30 to 60 days. To be fair, this is an improvement over a few years ago when it could take six to 12 months or more to hear from a lender.
- Pricing. Short-sale agents often price their listings aggressively low to compensate for the difficulty in selling. They hope that a lower price will draw buyers interested in a bargain. REO listings, on the other hand, are appraised by neutral third parties and priced for retail sale by the asset managers, who have a fiduciary duty to their investors to maximize return. So-called “bank deals” are largely a myth—asset managers don’t determine retail value and then knock off 10 percent or more. And if they do inadvertently price a property too low, their selling strategy enables every buyer to make an offer within the first few days. When that happens, the sales price can be bid up to retail—or even higher.
- Buyer preference. Buyers shy away from short sales because of their uncertain, murky reputations. Because of lower demand, they sell for a lower price. But there is a high demand for REOs because bank-owned properties enjoy the reputation that they are underpriced, even though they have been selling well for years.
- Fraud potential. Short sales are fertile ground for fraud. These properties, priced to sell by the listing agents, are sometimes shopped around exclusively to a small group of buyers already known by those agents. Deals that are made “prior to listing input,” and sold at an untested price without open-market exposure, are unethical in my view—and if district attorneys were to investigate, those transactions might appear fraudulent. Now, those listing agents might claim that if the bank approves the sale, then who cares? However, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ Code of Ethics states that NAR members are to treat all parties honestly. It is not honest to send your short-sale package to the lender for approval and claim that you exposed the property to the open market if you haven’t actually done that. By comparison, REO asset managers insist on open-market exposure to ensure the best possible sales price.
As an industry, we should acknowledge that REOs offer a better way to sell homes and improve the housing market than short sales—for consumers and practitioners. Vacating houses, sprucing them up, putting a lockbox on them, and exposing them to the open market for a period of time is how you can sell distressed properties for the best price.
Jim Klinge has been selling homes since 1984 and is broker-owner of Klinge Realty, a 12-person company with headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif. He and his renegade blog, bubbleinfo.com, have been featured on ABC News Nightline, CNBC TV, and Reason.tv, as well as in The Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, and the Los Angeles Times.
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Note: Opinions expressed in “Commentary” do not necessarily reflect the position of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® or REALTOR® Magazine.