21. Short Sale vs. Foreclosure – What’s the Difference?

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Real estate transactions can be complex and confusing, especially when homeowners face financial difficulties and are unable to meet their mortgage obligations. Two common alternatives in such situations are short sales and foreclosures. While both options involve selling a property under distressing circumstances, they have significant differences in terms of the process, impact on credit, and financial implications. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the intricacies of short sales and foreclosures, providing a clear understanding of each and helping you make informed decisions when faced with these challenging situations.

Part 1: Short Sale

  1. What is a Short Sale?

A short sale is a real estate transaction in which the homeowner, with the approval of their lender, sells their property for an amount less than the outstanding mortgage balance. This option is usually pursued when the homeowner owes more on the mortgage than the current market value of the property, a situation often referred to as being “underwater.”

  1. How Does a Short Sale Work?

The short sale process typically involves the following steps:

a. Listing the property: The homeowner lists the property for sale, usually with the assistance of a real estate agent.

b. Reaching an agreement with the lender: Before accepting an offer from a potential buyer, the homeowner must secure the lender’s approval for the short sale. The lender may agree to forgive the remaining debt or seek repayment through other means.

c. Selling the property: Once an offer is accepted, the property is sold, and the proceeds go towards repaying the lender.

  1. Pros and Cons of a Short Sale


  • Avoids the negative credit impact of foreclosure.
  • Allows the homeowner to maintain some control over the sale.
  • May qualify the homeowner for future mortgage loans more quickly compared to foreclosure.


  • Requires lender approval, which can be a lengthy process.
  • The homeowner may still be responsible for any deficiency balance.
  • May have tax implications, as forgiven debt can be considered taxable income.
  1. The Short Sale Process in Detail

Let’s take a closer look at the short sale process and its intricacies:

a. Property Assessment: To initiate the short sale process, the homeowner should first obtain a professional appraisal or comparative market analysis (CMA) to determine the property’s current market value.

b. Hire a Real Estate Agent: It’s highly advisable to work with an experienced real estate agent who specializes in short sales. They can help market the property, negotiate with potential buyers, and navigate the complex process.

c. Contact the Lender: Once the property is listed, the homeowner must contact the lender and explain their financial hardship. The lender will request various documents, including a hardship letter, financial statements, and a proposed sales contract.

d. Accepting an Offer: When a suitable offer is received, it must be submitted to the lender for approval. The lender will review the offer and may negotiate the terms, including the selling price and the amount they are willing to forgive.

e. Closing the Sale: Once the lender approves the offer, the sale proceeds like a typical real estate transaction, with the buyer obtaining financing (if needed) and closing on the property.

  1. Tax Implications of a Short Sale

One important consideration when opting for a short sale is the potential tax consequences. In some cases, the forgiven debt resulting from the short sale may be considered taxable income. However, there are exceptions, such as the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which can provide relief for certain homeowners. It’s crucial to consult with a tax advisor or accountant to understand your specific tax obligations.

Part 2: Foreclosure

  1. What is Foreclosure?

Foreclosure is a legal process initiated by a lender when a homeowner fails to make mortgage payments as agreed in the loan contract. This process ultimately results in the lender taking ownership of the property and selling it to recover the outstanding debt.

  1. How Does Foreclosure Work?

The foreclosure process typically includes the following stages:

a. Default: The homeowner falls behind on mortgage payments, leading to a breach of the loan agreement.

b. Notice of Default: The lender sends a formal notice of default to the homeowner, initiating the foreclosure process.

c. Auction or Sale: The property is sold at a public auction or through a real estate agent to recover the lender’s debt.

d. Eviction: If the homeowner does not voluntarily vacate the property, they may be evicted through a legal process.

  1. Pros and Cons of Foreclosure


  • Allows the homeowner to move on from a property with financial burdens.
  • Eliminates the responsibility of selling the property.
  • May result in a complete discharge of the mortgage debt.


  • Severe negative impact on credit, making it difficult to secure new loans or credit for several years.
  • The homeowner may still be liable for a deficiency balance after the property sale.
  • Damages the homeowner’s credit score significantly.
  1. The Foreclosure Process in Detail

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of foreclosure, let’s delve into the various stages of the process:

a. Default and Notice of Default: When a homeowner misses mortgage payments, they enter into default. The lender will then issue a Notice of Default (NOD), officially starting the foreclosure process.

b. Pre-Foreclosure Period: During this phase, homeowners have an opportunity to negotiate with the lender, sell the property, or explore other alternatives to avoid foreclosure.

c. Auction or Sale: If no resolution is reached during the pre-foreclosure period, the property is scheduled for auction or sale. It may be sold at a public auction or through a real estate agent.

d. Redemption Period (varies by state): In some states, homeowners have a redemption period during which they can reclaim the property by paying the outstanding debt, interest, and fees.

e. Eviction: If the homeowner does not vacate the property voluntarily, the lender may initiate eviction proceedings.

  1. Long-Term Credit Consequences of Foreclosure

One of the most significant drawbacks of foreclosure is its long-term impact on credit. A foreclosure can remain on a credit report for up to seven years, severely affecting the homeowner’s ability to secure new credit, obtain favorable interest rates, or even rent a new property. Rebuilding credit after a foreclosure can be a challenging and time-consuming process.

Part 3: Key Differences

Now that we have explored the basics of short sales and foreclosures, let’s examine the key differences between these two options:

  1. Credit Impact:
    • Short Sale: Typically has a less severe impact on credit compared to foreclosure, but it still affects the homeowner’s credit score.
    • Foreclosure: Has a significant and long-lasting negative impact on credit, making it challenging to obtain new credit or loans.
  2. Lender Involvement:
    • Short Sale: Requires lender approval, and the lender may negotiate terms, including the possibility of forgiving the deficiency balance.
    • Foreclosure: The lender initiates the process without the homeowner’s cooperation, leading to the sale of the property to recover the debt.
  3. Timing:
    • Short Sale: Can be a lengthy process, involving negotiations and lender approval, which may delay the sale.
    • Foreclosure: Typically moves faster, as it follows a legal process with specific timelines set by state laws.
  4. Financial Responsibility:
    • Short Sale: The homeowner may still be responsible for any deficiency balance, but this can be negotiated with the lender.
    • Foreclosure: The homeowner may also be liable for a deficiency balance, but it depends on state laws and the lender’s actions.
  5. Future Homeownership:
    • Short Sale: May allow the homeowner to qualify for a new mortgage sooner than foreclosure, often within 2-4 years.
    • Foreclosure: Generally, results in a longer waiting period (around 7 years) before the homeowner can obtain a new mortgage.


When faced with the challenging circumstances of financial distress and the need to address mortgage obligations, homeowners have two primary avenues: short sale and foreclosure. These options come with distinct processes, credit implications, and financial responsibilities. A short sale may provide a more lenient impact on credit and potential for quicker future homeownership but necessitates lender cooperation and may involve residual financial obligations. On the other hand, foreclosure is initiated by the lender and severely affects credit, leading to a longer waiting period for future mortgage eligibility. To navigate these complex choices effectively, seeking professional guidance from Custom Realty Solutions, LLC is highly recommended. Our team of experts specializes in assisting homeowners during such trying times, offering tailored solutions to pave the way for a more stable financial future.

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