How Long to Wait For a Short Sale Approval

In a short sale, buyers need extra patience

Man waiting for the phone to ring.

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Remember riding in the car as a kid and nagging your parents, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?You'll probably feel even more impatient waiting for short sale approval. In all likelihood, it will take much longer than you expect. Most buyers have a really hard time waiting out the approval process. 

So, how long is too long? Every short sale is different. It depends as much on the lender as it does on the listing agent. Some listing agents outsource their short sale negotiations to a third party and this can often delay a response even more, but there are a few things you can do to try to hasten the process. 

Before You Write the Offer

Ask your agent to do a little groundwork before you decide to buy a short sale home. They should be able to get answers to these key questions:

What Are the Comparable Sales?

Many banks will discount the price a little from market value, but an offer should be reasonable and close to comparable sales if it's going to be accepted. You might ask your agent to check out the short sale listing agent's track record as well. Your chances of offer acceptance might be slim if the agent has very few short sale listings and has little experience actually closing one.

How Many Offers Have Been Made? 

The listing agent might refuse to reveal the offer prices but they should disclose how many offers have been received. You might have to offer more than list price if multiple short sale offers have been received. Find out if the seller's short sale package is complete. Bank negotiators will not process a file if it's missing the required paperwork.

How Many Loans Are Secured by the Property?

The file will probably take longer to close if more than one lender is involved. Some junior lenders might demand unsecured promissory notes from the seller or more money than usual from the first lender. Other lenders will also only consider the first offer. If you're not the first, your offer might fall by the wayside.

Normal Waiting Period

What is "normal" for the waiting period depends on the bank. Some banks get approvals in less than 30 days, while other banks' short sales can sometimes turn around in 24 hours. On the opposite side of the spectrum are other lenders so swamped with short sale submissions, their employees simply can't respond in a timely manner. 

The process is generally as follows after submission of the offer and a complete short sale package from the seller:

Bank acknowledges receipt 10 to 30 days
Bank orders a BPO or appraisal 2 weeks to 2 months
The file is reviewed 2 to 10 business days
A negotiator is assigned 2 to 10 business days
Level II negotiator may be assigned 10 business days
File is approved or rejected 30 to 120 days

Potential Delays 

Some short sales require additional levels of approval. If the investor is a government entity, that alone can add a couple of weeks to the short sale approval process. FHA short sales through HUD typically involve long delays. If the loan has mortgage insurance that wasn't added by the borrower, this can also slow down the process.

If you're running past 120 days, it's possible that the listing agent or a third-party negotiator is not on the ball and is lax about calling the bank. Calling the bank often means waiting on hold for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or longer—not something anyone would look forward to. 

An especially lengthy short sale period can also mean that the bank has internal problems, a staff shortage, or that it's lost the file a few times, prompting the listing agent to resend the package over and over again. An extended delay can also mean that the appraisal is substantially higher than your offer and the listing agent is building a case for a new appraiser. 

If you see a home languishing on the market month after month as a short sale, it's usually not the lender holding up the sale. The buyer might have canceled so the entire process started over.

Patience Is Key

Unfortunately, you can't always avoid problems on a short sale. One of the hardest things for buyers to understand is that threatening cancellation of the offer means absolutely nothing to the bank. It doesn't care about the condition of the property, its location, the repairs you want to make, or any urgent matter affecting you. Your best bet—if you truly want the home—is to stick it out and wait.