Can You Sell Your House While in Forbearance?

What To Consider in Forbearance

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Forbearance allows homeowners who are facing financial hardship to postpone making full monthly mortgage payments. 

Forbearance periods are meant to be a short-term solution to help homeowners avoid foreclosures. Homeowners who take advantage of mortgage relief, however, must eventually reenter regular payment schedules, and that includes the millions of Americans who entered forbearance during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While in forbearance, you can still sell your home. Some homeowners might consider selling if they cannot continue to make mortgage payments when forbearance ends, to take advantage of higher home prices, or for any number of other reasons.

No matter why you want to sell, it’s important to note that even if you sell, the lender will be owed the full amount that you didn’t pay back.

Learn how selling a home while in forbearance works, whether it's a good choice for you, and what alternatives you may have for staying in financial health while coming out of forbearance.

Key Takeaways

  • Mortgage forbearance gives struggling homeowners a reprieve by pausing or lowering mortgage payments for a set amount of time.
  • You can still sell your home even if you’re in the forbearance period, but the full amount of what you owe will have to be repaid.
  • If you’re unable to sell your home while in forbearance, you can explore other options like deferment, loan modification, and refinancing.

What Is Mortgage Forbearance?

Forbearance is a hardship program in which a mortgage lender lets the borrower pause or reduce their payments for a short period of time.

“Forbearance gives the parties a breathing period with either lower or no payments where there won’t be a foreclosure started, and the homeowner can become current again,” Andrew Lieb, an attorney specializing in real estate and author of 10 Strategies to Purchase Property Post-Pandemic, told The Balance in a phone interview.

During the COVID pandemic, when the CARES Act granted a much easier approval process, millions of homeowners took advantage of forbearance to get back on their feet. According to mortgage-data provider Black Knight, 790,000 home loans were still in forbearance as of Feb. 2022, a decrease from 1.5 million in Sept. 2021.

Homeowners must apply for forbearance, explaining their situation and providing any required documentation. If approved, there will be a forbearance agreement in which the borrower promises to repay all of the missed payments. Once the forbearance expires, repayment terms can vary.

“Each mortgage servicer has their own forbearance plans and agreements depending on the borrower’s financial situations, so it’s best to speak with them directly to weigh all of your options,” Jason Vanslette, a partner with Kelley Kronenberg based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told The Balance in an email.

Typically, forbearance plans start at three to six months, and borrowers can ask to extend the term as needed. Interest usually continues to accrue during forbearance, and almost all forbearance agreements require full payback of the deferred amounts (either immediately or over a period of time), Vanslette said. There may also be late fees tacked on if the forbearance plan was entered after an initial default.

Forbearance is different from deferment, the latter of which allows borrowers to move any missed payments to the end of the loan. In some cases, the lender may agree to a deferment when borrowers come out of forbearance.

Can You Sell Your Home During Forbearance?

Selling a home during forbearance is possible, and it could be a good financial move for some borrowers who can’t afford payments when forbearance ends. The key point to keep in mind is that all the deferred amounts and accruing interest must be paid in full before you get any money from the sale.

So, you’ll want to know whether the equity in the house is positive or negative or whether you can sell with a profit. For example, if your home is valued at $500,000 and you owe $400,000, you could sell while in forbearance and recoup about $100,000.

Selling during forbearance might be more difficult for you financially if you’re “upside-down” on the mortgage, meaning you owe more on the loan than you could get from the sale of the home. In that case, you may need to convince the lender to do a short sale, Lieb said.

Other Options To Consider

If selling your home isn’t an option, but you are worried about how to pay back your forbearance, you do have other options.

“Mortgage servicers are very interested in finding alternatives to foreclosures and offer many types of modifications depending on your qualifying financials,” Vanslette said. “Calling your mortgage servicer and requesting a modification application is the first step to that process and common practice with many borrowers.”

For example, you can try working with the lender on approving a payment deferment or a loan modification, which changes your loan terms.

Another option is refinancing, but it can be challenging, especially if your credit has taken a hit. Some lenders may also require a waiting period as long as 12 months, during which you’d have to make consecutive on-time payments on your mortgage. However, if you were in forbearance under the CARES Act, you are eligible to refinance in as little as three months after your forbearance ends if you make three consecutive payments.

Lieb also recommends looking into special programs that may be available in your state or county, but make sure you do so before you default. Once you miss payments, your mortgage interest rate will increase to a penalty rate, and you will likely lose any eligibility to qualify for help, he says.

Buying a House After Forbearance

After going through a rough patch in which you rely on forbearance, you might be wondering how it might impact your future ability to get a mortgage. Most borrowers typically have a waiting period of up to 12 months, depending on the new loan’s requirements.

In addition, the credit damage that the forbearance has can prevent someone from getting approved for a new loan. (During the pandemic, homeowners faced no credit impact. And as long as they make three consecutive payments after the forbearance, they are eligible to shop for a new home loan.)

Ultimately, if a lender sees you were in forbearance, they see you as a higher risk because it indicates you were on shaky financial ground. Therefore, it’s likely that you may have to delay any future home-buying plans for some time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you apply for mortgage forbearance?

Homeowners must proactively reach out to their lenders in order to request forbearance. Simply call and ask to speak to someone who handles mortgage relief options. Be prepared to explain your current financial situation, and ask questions to determine if forbearance is the right option for you.

How does mortgage forbearance affect your credit?

Mortgage forbearance could have a significant negative impact on your credit since the missed payments can technically be reported as delinquencies to the credit bureaus by the lender. The exception to this rule is if you were granted forbearance under the CARES Act during the pandemic since lenders have agreed to not report the paused payments as negative activity.

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