How Much Under List Price Can You Offer for Short Sales?

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Question: How Much Under List Price Can You Offer for Short Sales?

A reader asks: We've been staying away from buying short sales because we heard they take too long and might not get accepted. But now we're sort of figuring that all the good prices are for short sales. We're thinking that maybe we should consider making an offer on a short sale. But we don't know where to start. How many offers can we make? Shouldn't we make a bunch of offers in case some don't go through? And how much under list price can we offer to buy a short sale?"

Answer: The offering price for a short sale is often very confusing for buyers. You are not alone with your questions. Many short sale buyers feel as though they and their agents are like the blind leading the blind, and in some ways they are. That's because there are so many components to a short sale. You are correct that not all short sales close.

The List Price of a Short Sale

The biggest question in a short sale is the price. How realistic is that list price? For starters, if the seller does not qualify to do a short sale, the list price is not relevant. That's because sellers who do not qualify for a short sale may find their short sale gets rejected. In those instances, the bank won't approve the short sale even if you were willing to pay over market value.

You cannot hang your hat on the list price of a short sale. The only thing a list price tells you is how much it takes to get the seller to sign a purchase contract, and sometimes they won't even do that. For example, in my MLS, listing agents are required to tell buyer's agents if the seller will not accept list price, but not all MLS companies require that disclosure.

If the list price is too low, the bank will reject the short sale. Moreover, a low list price could be a strategy used by the listing agent and seller to entice multiple offers on the short sale.

In short, the list price of a short sale could mean very little, if nothing at all.

How to Figure Out an Offer Price for a Short Sale

You will need to think like a BPO agent. Except for a few types of short sales, banks generally do not pay for an appraisal. It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face, but the banks want to save a little money. They also don't give enough credence to the knowledge and experience real estate appraisers possess. They tend to think that any warm body can appraise a home, and that assumption would be wrong.

We wouldn't have this problem if banks trusted short sale listing agents but they do not, and with good reason. The short sale listing agent represents the seller, not the bank. The short sale listing agent also wants to quickly sell that home. The price the short sale agent deems is market value might be right on the nose or it could be deceivingly low.

So, the short sale bank will hire a BPO agent and pay that agent less than $100 to produce a BPO. That agent might be a local agent or the agent might live out of the area. It's the luck of the draw. But many BPO agents will look at the sold comparable sales within a half-mile radius of the subject property. They will compare similar square footage and ages. You can do the same thing.

The Different Types of Offer Prices for a Short Sale

While there are a number of ways to compute market value, not every BPO agent utilizes all the tools available to an agent. A BPO agent might only consider the last 3 months of sold homes closest to the subject property. The agent might disregard location, condition, unique factors, and trends such as lower prices on active and pending listings.

Here are the various types of short sale offer prices and why they are different:

  • List price for a short sale. This is the price the listing agent and the seller agree upon. It is used to entice an offer. It can be high; it can be low; it can be right on the money.
  • BPO agent short sale price. This price is often computed statistically, but without an interior inspection is basically worthless. Even with an interior inspection, BPO prices are not always correct, primarily because the agent might not work in the neighborhood. But this is the offer price the short sale bank will accept.
  • Local buyer's agent opinion of value. A neighborhood specialist is probably your second best bet for an honest opinion of market value. This agent will know the history and trends of home buying in that particular neighborhood. If this price is higher than a BPO value, whether you offer a price anywhere near this value is based largely in part on how badly you want the home and whether you face competing offers.
  • A local appraiser's opinion of market value. An appraisal will cost you between $300 and $500, on average, but a professional appraiser with experience appraising homes in that neighborhood should produce a valid opinion of value. Still, it is only one person's opinion.
  • A buyer's lender's appraisal of the short sale. This type of appraisal is done through an appraisal pool, and the appraiser may or may not be experienced and might not know the neighborhood. Thanks to the hangover caused by HVCC, it's basically an appraisal to validate the offer, not to validate actual market value.

Bottom line, the trick to choosing the offer price of a short sale is to figure out how much the bank will want, based on a BPO agent's opinion of value. Your offer price needs to be reasonable. The bank may or may not allow a discount for waiting for short sale approval. Bear in mind, though, neither your offer price nor the BPO agent's price could have any basis in market value. The amount you pay and market value can be two distinct things.

Just prepare yourself for a counter offer from the bank if your offer price is too low.

To answer your question about multiple purchase offers. You should talk with your lawyer about the pitfalls and legal drawbacks to writing multiple offers for a short sale when you cannot afford to buy them all. Generally, ethical agents discourage that practice unless the buyer discloses that fact in the offer.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.