A "short sale" is a real estate sales transaction in which the seller's mortgage lender agrees to accept a payoff of less than the balance owed on a property's loan. This typically happens when a borrower can’t pay the remainder of the mortgage loan on their property, but the lender decides that selling the property at a moderate loss is a better alternative than foreclosure.
Short sales are different from foreclosures because the lender forces a foreclosure, while both lender and borrower consent to a short sale. Consent between these parties may suddenly change, however, such as if the borrower becomes obstinate and forces foreclosure, or if the lender disapproves of the sale price. If the property is collateral for a second mortgage from a different institution, it, too, must agree to the short sale, which may further complicate the transaction.
Short Sales from the Lender’s Perspective
Banks incur a smaller financial loss from short sales than losses resulting from foreclosures, which cost lenders billions of dollars, mainly through the expense and time required to foreclose on the borrower and subsequently market the property. If the borrower owes $30,000 on their home, it’s often worth it for the bank to waive that amount, as the expense may be as much as $50,000 per foreclosure, according to a study by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.