It has been estimated that the average cost to foreclose on a home is about $75,000 including costs to local government for lost tax revenue and services, costs to the homeowner, and the devaluation to neighbor’s properties. Of this amount, the actual cost to the bank averages about $50,000 – $60,000, including attorney’s fees, property maintenance and REO resale fees.  Considering that the hard costs of a short sale are considerably less, and the impact on local government, neighborhoods and individuals is far less destructive, it’s difficult to understand why banks seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to approving short sales.

According to a recent article in the NY Times, many lenders are concerned about fraud. It is known that some homeowners, who actually can afford their mortgage payments, falsely portray their financial picture in order to cut their losses on a property and move on.  Other homeowners may try to sell to a relative who would then sell the home back to them, a practice that is illegal.  A recent industry report estimates that short sale fraud occurs in a least 2 percent of sales and costs banks about $300 million annually.

But fear of fraud and the associated costs is a relatively minor consideration.  The more important reason shouldn’t be too surprising:  There are financial incentives in many cases to choose foreclosure over a short sale.  For instance, institutions that service loans can reap high fees from foreclosures and lenders can often collect on private mortgage insurance that protects against foreclosure losses.  Neither the same high fees nor insurance is collected when a home sells short.  Another little known fact:  A 2009 regulatory change to a federal accounting law allows banks to foreclose on a home, but not take the loss until the home sells.  By contrast, in the case of a short sale, the bank must take the loss immediately.

So obviously, the bank’s decision has nothing to do with what is best for the national or local economy, or the individual homeowner.  Check back for my next blog where I’ll discuss what you can do to improve your chances of having your short sale approved.

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