The latest case on the Supreme Court docket could affect the number and difficulty of future short sales, so if you are short selling, purchasing/planning to purchase a short sale, or if you are an agent who may be selling one, please read on.
In Bank of America v. Caulkett, the Supreme Court will soon rule as to whether a borrower has the right to void a second lien through bankruptcy when his home is not worth the value of the first mortgage. In simpler terms, if you have two loans and file bankruptcy, and your home is not worth the amount of the first mortgage (say you owe $500,000 on the first loan and $100,000 on a second loan, and your home is worth $450,000), filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy would allow you to void the second loan. The home could then be sold via short sale and the second lienholder would get nothing and have no rights to intervene.
Back during the short sale wave of 2008-2011 many second lienholders were successfully able to block negotiated bankruptcy settlements that benefitted the borrowers and first mortgage holders; thus many short sales fell through, and those homes eventually ended up going into foreclosure. When the economy worsened many of these foreclosure proceedings got pushed to the back burner and homeowners stayed in their homes for long periods of time, even years, without paying anything. This led to damaged and neglected homes, and in some parts of the U.S. entire neighborhoods deteriorated. This of course resulted in cost increases for taxpayers and the bank bailout.
Not long after this all started many first lienholders began to offer small sums to the second lienholders (usually about $10,000) in exchange for their blessing on the short sales, and this became standard practice. But not all second lienholders acquiesce. If they are now given the legal right to block these agreements in bankruptcy it could create problems that would be passed along to taxpayers.
Two of the Justices – Kennedy and Sotomayor – have indicated that they do not think it fair that a second lienholder would be able to hold hostage a bankruptcy settlement reached by the borrower and first lienholder.
Keep an eye on this case and the outcome, which should be decided in June, especially if you are a homeowner in this situation, a short sale buyer or an agent who sells short sales. The decision could affect short sales as we know them…stay tuned.