Definition and Components of a Short Sale

A short sale in real estate refers to a transaction where the net proceeds from selling a property fall short of the debts secured by liens against it. This type of sale can only be accomplished if all lien holders agree to accept less than the amount owed on the debt. A short sale comprises two intrinsic and inseverable components: (1) a lien holder’s agreement to net less than the amount owed on the debt, and (2) an arm’s length sale at or below the appraised value of the property. The agreeable selling price is intrinsically defined to be at or less than the appraised value, allowing the process to be attainable. A short sale may occur when the lien holder expects that a mortgage will likely never be repaid, and the home’s value will not regain equity to allow full payment of the mortgage due to factors such as the property’s condition or general economic conditions (Wiki.Agency, n.d.).

Difference between Short Sale and Short Settlement

In real estate, a short sale and a short settlement are two distinct concepts that involve the sale of a property for less than the outstanding mortgage debt. A short sale occurs when a lien holder, such as a mortgage company, agrees to accept less than the amount owed on the debt and permits the sale of the property at or below its appraised value. This is typically done when the lien holder anticipates that the mortgage will not be repaid and the property’s value will not recover sufficiently to cover the outstanding debt. On the other hand, a short settlement refers to a situation where the lien holder demands a sale price greater than the appraised value but still less than the amount owed on the debt. In this case, a short sale is not achievable as the lien holder is not willing to accept the appraised value, creating a paradox that often leads to failure in reaching a resolution. The key difference between the two lies in the lien holder’s willingness to accept the appraised value of the property as the sale price, with a short sale being more attainable and beneficial for all parties involved (Wiki.Agency, n.d.).

Reasons for a Short Sale in Real Estate

There are several reasons for a short sale in real estate, primarily stemming from financial hardship faced by the property owner. One common reason is the inability to keep up with mortgage payments, which may result from job loss, illness, or other unforeseen circumstances. In such cases, a short sale can help the homeowner avoid foreclosure and the negative credit implications associated with it. Another reason for a short sale is when the property’s value has significantly decreased, making it difficult for the owner to sell the property at a price that would cover the outstanding mortgage balance. This situation often arises due to economic downturns or localized market conditions. Additionally, a short sale may be pursued when the property has been damaged or neglected, reducing its value and making it challenging to secure a mortgage for potential buyers. In these instances, lien holders may agree to a short sale to recoup some of their losses, as the alternative would be to let the property go to foreclosure, which could result in even greater financial losses (Investopedia, n.d.; NOLO, n.d.).

Lien Holders and Their Role in Short Sales

Lien holders play a crucial role in the short sale process, as they hold the authority to approve or reject a short sale proposal. In a short sale, the property is sold for less than the outstanding mortgage debt, and the proceeds are used to pay off the lien holders. Lien holders can include primary mortgage lenders, secondary mortgage lenders, home equity line of credit (HELOC) providers, homeowner associations, and tax authorities, among others.

During a short sale, all lien holders must agree to accept a reduced payment on the debt they hold, as the sale proceeds will not be sufficient to cover the full amount owed. This agreement is essential for the short sale to proceed, as the lien holders’ consent ensures that the property can be sold without any legal complications. Lien holders often prefer short sales over foreclosures, as they tend to result in a higher recovery rate and lower costs associated with the property’s disposition. However, lien holders are not obligated to accept a short sale proposal and may choose to pursue other options, such as foreclosure or loan modification, if they believe it would be more beneficial for them (Wiki.Agency, n.d.).

Alternatives to Short Sales: Foreclosure and Loan Modification

Alternatives to short sales in the real estate market include foreclosure and loan modification. Foreclosure is a legal process in which a lender attempts to recover the balance of a loan from a borrower who has stopped making payments by forcing the sale of the property used as collateral for the loan. This option can have a more significant negative impact on the borrower’s credit score and may result in the loss of the property. On the other hand, loan modification is a change made to the terms of an existing loan by a lender in response to a borrower’s long-term inability to repay the loan. This may involve extending the loan term, reducing the interest rate, or even forgiving a portion of the principal balance. Loan modification aims to help borrowers avoid foreclosure and retain their property while making more manageable monthly payments. Both alternatives have their pros and cons, and the choice depends on the borrower’s financial situation and long-term goals (Making Home Affordable Program, 2009; Home Affordable Modification Program, 2009).

Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative Program

The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative Program (HAFA) was a U.S. government initiative introduced in 2009 as part of the Making Home Affordable Program (MHA) to address the real estate recession and assist homeowners in managing their mortgage debts. HAFA provided homeowners with the opportunity to exit their homes through a short sale, relieving them of the remaining mortgage debt and offering up to $10,000 in relocation assistance for homeowners or their tenants. The program also allowed for short sales of primary residences or rental properties, with a waiver of deficiency ensuring that participants were released from any remaining mortgage debt. To be eligible for HAFA, homeowners had to meet specific criteria, such as facing financial hardship, being delinquent or at risk of falling behind on mortgage payments, and having a mortgage obtained on or before January 1, 2009. The HAFA program expired on December 31, 2016 (Making Home Affordable, 2016).

Eligibility Criteria for HAFA Short Sales

The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative Program (HAFA) was designed to provide homeowners with the opportunity to exit their homes through a short sale while being relieved of the remaining mortgage debt. To be eligible for HAFA, homeowners had to meet specific criteria. Firstly, they had to be experiencing financial hardship, making it difficult for them to meet their mortgage payments. Secondly, they had to be delinquent or at risk of falling behind on their mortgage. Thirdly, the mortgage must have been obtained on or before January 1, 2009. Additionally, the property in question could not be condemned. Lastly, the homeowner’s debt on their primary residence or one-to-four unit rental property could not exceed $729,750 (with higher loan limits for two- to four-unit properties) [1]. By meeting these criteria, homeowners could benefit from a HAFA short sale, which included a waiver of deficiency and potential relocation assistance.


The Short Sale Process: Steps and Key Players

The short sale process involves several steps and key players to ensure a successful transaction. Initially, the property owner contacts the primary lien holder to submit an application for a short sale, providing necessary documentation such as a hardship letter, financial statements, and tax returns. The lien holder then reviews the application and determines if the property owner qualifies for a short sale. If approved, the property owner works with a real estate agent to list the property and find a potential buyer. The buyer submits an offer, which the property owner presents to the lien holder for approval.

Key players in the short sale process include the property owner, the primary lien holder (typically a mortgage lender), secondary lien holders (if applicable), real estate agents, potential buyers, and a real estate attorney or title company to facilitate the transaction. Each party plays a crucial role in ensuring the short sale process runs smoothly and results in a successful outcome for all involved. Cooperation and communication among these key players are essential to navigate the complexities of a short sale and achieve a mutually beneficial resolution (Fisher, 2013; Investopedia, 2020).


  • Fisher, J. (2013). The Short Sale Process: 5 Steps to Break Free of Mortgage Trouble for Good.

Deficiency Judgments in Short Sales

Deficiency judgments arise in the context of short sales when the proceeds from the sale of a property are insufficient to cover the outstanding mortgage debt. In such cases, the lender may seek a deficiency judgment against the borrower to recover the remaining balance. This legal action allows the lender to pursue the borrower for the difference between the sale price and the total mortgage debt, potentially leading to wage garnishment, bank account levies, or property liens. However, some states have anti-deficiency laws that protect borrowers from deficiency judgments after a short sale. Additionally, certain lenders may agree to waive their right to pursue a deficiency judgment as part of the short sale negotiation process. It is crucial for borrowers to understand the potential implications of deficiency judgments and seek legal advice to protect their interests during a short sale transaction (Federal Trade Commission, n.d.; National Consumer Law Center, 2012).

Credit and Tax Implications of Short Sales

The credit and tax implications of short sales can be significant for property owners. In terms of credit, a short sale can negatively impact the homeowner’s credit score, as it is reported as a “settled debt” on their credit report. However, the impact is generally less severe than a foreclosure, as the homeowner has taken a proactive approach to address their financial situation. The extent of the credit score reduction depends on various factors, including the individual’s credit history and the amount of the deficiency (the difference between the sale price and the outstanding mortgage balance).

Regarding tax implications, the deficiency resulting from a short sale may be considered as “cancellation of debt income” by tax authorities, which could be taxable under certain circumstances. In the United States, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 provided tax relief for homeowners who had mortgage debt forgiven through a short sale, but this provision expired at the end of 2020. Consequently, homeowners should consult with a tax professional to understand the potential tax implications of a short sale in their specific situation (Sullivan, 2021).

Short Sales in International Context: UK Assisted Voluntary Sale

An Assisted Voluntary Sale (AVS) is a process in the United Kingdom that shares similarities with short sales in the United States. In an AVS, homeowners who are struggling to meet their mortgage payments and are at risk of repossession can opt to sell their property voluntarily, often at a price lower than the outstanding mortgage balance. This allows the homeowner to avoid the negative consequences of a repossession, such as severe damage to their credit rating and potential legal action. Lenders may agree to an AVS as it can be a more cost-effective and efficient solution compared to pursuing a repossession, which can be a lengthy and expensive process. It is important to note that the lender’s consent is required for an AVS, and they may not always agree to accept a sale price lower than the outstanding mortgage balance. In such cases, the homeowner may need to explore other options, such as negotiating a loan modification or seeking debt advice from a professional financial advisor (Citizens Advice, 2021; Money Advice Service, 2021).

Impact of Short Sales on Property Owners and the Real Estate Market

Short sales can have both positive and negative impacts on property owners and the overall real estate market. For property owners facing financial hardship, a short sale offers an alternative to foreclosure, allowing them to sell their property for less than the outstanding mortgage debt. This can help them avoid the severe credit damage associated with foreclosure and potentially receive relocation assistance through programs like the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative Program (HAFA) (MHA, 2009).

However, short sales can also contribute to a decline in property values within a neighborhood, as they often result in lower sale prices compared to traditional sales. This can create a domino effect, causing neighboring properties to lose value and potentially leading to more short sales or foreclosures. Additionally, the prevalence of short sales can negatively impact the overall real estate market by increasing the supply of distressed properties, which can depress home prices and slow down market recovery (Immergluck, 2010).

In conclusion, while short sales can provide relief for individual property owners facing financial difficulties, they can also contribute to broader market challenges and declining property values.


  • MHA (2009). Making Home Affordable Program. Retrieved from
  • Immergluck, D. (2010). The Accumulation of Lender-Owned Homes during the U.S. Mortgage Crisis: Examining Metropolitan REO Inventories. Housing Policy Debate, 20(4), 619-645.
External links