Beware Of Short Sales

Many people who invested in real estate at the end of the boom are in financial trouble. I have been getting more and more inquiries from individual investors facing foreclosures of their investment properties.

Often, people tell me they are discussing “short sales” with their mortgage lenders. In a short sale, the lender allows the house to be sold for less than the mortgage balance. The borrower avoids a deficiency judgment. The lenders would rather get most of their mortgage through a sale arranged by the owner then take the property back at a foreclosure sale. Borrower should beware of short sales.

The problem for the borrower in a short sale is that the difference between the payment to the mortgage company and the full mortgage balance is a forgiveness of debt for tax purposes. The mortgage company is forgiving the debtor’s liability for the deficiency. The IRS considers forgiven debt to be taxable income to the borrower. The mortgage lender may send the borrower a Form 1099 for the amount of the deficiency. Most borrowers who cannot afford mortgage payments can even less afford additional tax liability. Owing money to the IRS is usually worse than owing money to a mortgage lender. Many mortgage lenders will not pursue debtors for deficiency judgments; the IRS will always pursue unpaid taxes. For that reason, most borrowers will fare better by letting their property go to foreclosure, even if the foreclosure may result in a deficiency liability.