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Governmental Intervention in the Housing Market

September 1, 2007 by Lucas Lechuga

Yesterday, President Bush discussed his plan to aid homeowners at risk of losing their homes. Most of the plan focused on assisting borrowers to refinance their adjustable-rate loans to more conventional loans provided by the Federal Housing Authority.

I took a look at his recommendations and of particular interest to me was his proposal to temporarily suspend the tax liability that is owed by homeowners when performing a short-sale. As of now, the IRS has the right to tax the loan amount that is forgiven by the lender. It is considered a forgiveness of debt.

Short-sales have become very popular, as of late, because home prices have dropped in recent years and adjustable-rate mortgages have begun to reset. It has become more common for the value of a home to be less than what is owed to the bank. For example, let’s say that you purchased a 2 bedroom condo in 2005 for $500,000 and financed 90 percent of the purchase price. Two years later the value of your home has dropped and you have fallen two months behind on your payments. In the past, when homeowners were in this situation they would tap into the equity on their home by refinancing to take cash out. This is no longer an option, however, to most, because home prices have fallen. Oftentimes, two possibilities exist: lose your home through foreclosure or sell your home through a short-sale.

In the example above, let’s say that the price of your 2 bedroom condo has fallen to $400,000. You owe the bank roughly $450,000. You’ve talked to some knowledgeable acquaintances and they’ve advised you to do a short-sale. Basically, a short-sale means that the bank is willing to accept a pay-off amount that is short of what is owed to them. You contact a local real estate agent to list your property and within a few weeks an offer of $380,000 is submitted.

What is important to note is that two parties need to accept the offer: the seller and the bank. The reason why the seller has to sign off on the offer is because the IRS has the right to tax them on the amount of the loan that is forgiven. In this case, a tax on the $70,000 forgiveness of debt will be due the following April.

The bank also has to approve the offer because they are the ones who are accepting the shortfall in the original amount owed. The banks will ask the homeowner to have an appraisal performed at their expense. Banks are not stupid. They realize that the market has declined but they aren’t going to accept just any offer.

Recently, I’ve come across a few short-sales in the MLS that just don’t make any sense. For example, there’s a 2 bedroom/2 bath listed for $295,000 at Vue at Brickell. There’s also a 1 bedroom/1 bath listed for $217,000 at The Club at Brickell Bay. I’ve written about both buildings in the past and how prices in each building are inflated due to the mortgage fraud that has occurred. However, these prices are a step in the wrong direction and are unjustified. The 2 bedroom at Vue at Brickell is the best priced unit in the entire building, including the 1 bedroom units. The 1 bedroom condo at The Club at Brickell Bay is better priced than even the studios.

Listings like these are a waste of time for everyone involved in the transaction: the seller, the buyer, the bank and the two real estate agents. Just because it is a short-sale doesn’t mean that you can list a property at a price that will get you an offer within a week. As of right now, it is also doing a great disservice to the seller who will have a large tax bill come next April should the offer get accepted by the lender.

As I mentioned earlier, however, President Bush has proposed to temporarily suspend the tax that is owed to the IRS on the amount that is forgiven when a distressed homeowner performs a short-sale. If this becomes a reality it will alleviate a lot of problems for distressed property owners. Short-sales will become more common.

It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if we start seeing mortgage fraud occur in reverse. Appraisals will start coming in very low to justify the offers that are submitted to the banks. It’ll be a nightmare for banks. Accredited local appraisers need to be in place for these banks to be able to cleanly wash themselves from the mortgage mess at hand.

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1 Comment on "Governmental Intervention in the Housing Market"

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Appraisers always feel the squeeze. Everybody wants to pull the appraisal in the direction that suits them best and in order to get return business they need to not step on anybodies toes.

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