Saturday, January 29, 2011

Short sales as comps

Art by Larry Mayo, Mayo Surfboards.

Are short sales good comparables to establish fair value for non-short sale properties? Not really. The recorded sales price is often understated. Many times a bank will require a contribution at closing from a seller or a promissory note for some or all of the deficit. The amount of either of these is not usually noted in the MLS or in the property tax records when the short sale closes . An interested person or agent looking at recent comparable sold properties may see that Comp A closed for $150,000 and Comp B closed for $160,000 and use these to establish fair value for Property C. No matter that the seller for Comp B paid $10,000 to the lender in lieu of a promissory note or that the seller of Comp A signed a promissory note for $25,000. The effective selling price was $175,000 for A and $170,000 for B but our intrepid researcher only sees that the record shows $150,000 and $160,000. Let's not forget that the write-off and subsequent reduction in taxes for the bank are effectively additional proceeds as well. [But, as pointed out by a couple of readers, shouldn't be used as an adjustment to the price of a compared property as tax implications are not exclusive to short sales.].

Our take-away: If you're looking to purchase don't walk away from the fairly-priced property you want because you demand the same price (as recorded) as the short sale unit down the street. As always, bargain hard but realize that the recorded price of the short sale comp you're using to base value on probably does not reflect the entire amount of proceeds from the sale.

"Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution."
-- Clay Shirky


  1. Ahhh... very interesting. So even where the short sale price equals the asking price, there may be an amount by the under-water owner. Very helpful post! Lisa

  2. Wait a minute! If an "ordinary" seller loses,say, $100,000 on a sale, but can take that as a tax loss,then by your analysis should the taxes saved be added to the sale price? ---Iowa Boy

  3. I've gotten some other feedback on this and I've changed my stance. After thinking it through, I think the tax implications are probably irrelevant. There are tax implications in every sale to both buyer and seller. The hidden off-contract contributions to the lender (whether made by buyer or seller) are, however, relevant and in most cases don't show up in the recorded sales price. That was my original reason for questioning the accuracy of short sales as comps and writing this post. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

  4. Agreed re:off-contract contributions. re:taxes---The wise change their minds often, the foolish never. ----Iowa Boy