Why do short sales take so long?

On AVERAGE, short sales take anywhere from 2.5-4 months from start to end. There are many variables that go into a short sale that will determine how long it will take.  One of the biggest variables is how many different banks are involved in the sale and what bank or banks they are.  Multiple banks create more difficulties.  When you submit an offer to the listing agent, he/she will help the sellers decide which offer to choose and submit to the bank.  Let’s say that you are lucky and your client has the only offer submitted to the bank.  You will have to wait for around 2-4 weeks for a bank negotiator to even be assigned to the deal, meanwhile your file is sitting on the bottom of a pile.  If you are lucky (your file isn’t lost and or forgotton about) and a negotiator is assigned within two weeks, congrats because you have made it to the first step!  Now the bank will begin to research the seller and to make sure the seller isn’t hiding any money and indeed qualifies for a short sale.  Don’t be surprised if this takes a month by itself.  If the seller qualifies, the offer looks good, and the buyer is excited, you still have to get past the quality assurance (QA) department!  This department will go over everything one final time to be absolutely sure nothing was missed and the file is completely accurate.  Once this is done you will get an approval, but don’t be shocked if you get a counter offer either.  The buyer might be extremely excited at this point, but then they realize the “real escrow” has now opened.  There are still inspections, an appraisal and financial hurdles to go through and this all takes at least another month.  Hopefully after waiting the 3 or more months, the buyer still wants the house and still qualifies.  After  the approval is given,  you must have a legitimate reason to cancel the escrow in order to have the earnest money returned to you.

Everyone tells me short sales are great deals! Is this true?

It is a pretty common misconception that short sales are like a “diamond in the rough”.  Realtors post “Short Sale” on their listing signs like it is some kind of special deal.  Banks are already losing A LOT of money on a short sale, and they want to recoup as much money as they can.  Banks use appraisals and multiple broker price opinions (BPO’s) to determine an accurate market value.  Sometimes short sales are priced well below the market.  However, that is just a strategy to get endless amounts of offers and activity on the property.  This creates bidding wars.  The sale price will be at or above the “list price” and will almost always fall right around market value.  A lot of times the property is simply listed at market value and will not have much room for negotiations.  This is the best scenario. It takes away a lot of the worry about “what to offer”.   Every home and  bank varies but do not expect to find the deal of the century in a short sale.  The bank has no emotions and is simply interested in recouping as much of their money as possible.  If the property goes to foreclosure, the bank will not shed a tear.  I am not saying you cannot get a good deal on a short sale.  What I am saying though, is that you will not get a $500,000 house for $400,000 … unless there are extraordinary circumstances involved.     

My Recommendations:

Short sales can take over a year in the worst of circumstances, so be PATIENT.  Do not be surprised if you are on month 4 and are still waiting on a bank approval.  The good news is that the banks are putting systems in place to considerably cut down the time frame.  The future of the short sale process is looking better every day.

If you are a buyer or a seller, make sure your agent requests an update AT LEAST weekly.  The listing agent should be contacting the bank negotiator at least once or twice a week to keep them working on the file. They must be tenacious with good communication skills.  Contacting banks can takes hours.  We are put on hold a lot while we patiently try to find the right people to speak to.  A lot of bank employees do not know what they are talking about so the agent must really be on top of their game and have a real understanding of the short sale process. 

If you are listing your house as a short sale, make sure your agent KNOWS how to do it.  This is crucial!  All agents seem to “specialize” in short sales these days  because this is where the business is.  This doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.  The  listing agent, along with the bank’s negotiator are the two most important people when negotiating a short sale.  DO NOT deal with an agent that does not negotiate the short sale themselves!!  These days, many agents pawn off their short sale to a 3rd party to negotiate … for a fee … while they are busy trying to get new business.  The listing agent is out of the loop and not in touch with what is going on day to day.   These agents rely on that ‘other’ person to get THEIR short sale approved.  Not good!   Then, on top of it, these agents are NOT doing the job they’ve been hired to do, and try and get the buyer to pay for “their” negotiator.  You, as the buyer should never pay this!  If the listing agent wants to have someone else do their work then that agent needs to pay the fee themselves. 

If you are a buyer, NEVER rely on any timeframes you are given as to a move in date or you will find yourself living in a hotel for weeks if not months!

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  1. Nice article – good reality check for many consumers.

  2. Thanks for the comment Richard

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