Where more than one Lender or lien holder is involved, the negotiations are complicated. Second and other subordinate lien holders often hold up the short sale transaction, and seek to extract the largest possible payment in consideration for releasing their lien.
Often times there are monies secretly paid outside of escrow, without the knowledge of the senior lien holder. This is a sure sign of fraud. Such undisclosed payments are likely illegal. The economic substance of and all payments in the short sale transaction should be disclosed on the HUD 1 statement. There should never be dual or multiple contracts, only one of which shows the true purchase price.
Added Twist re: Payments Outside of Escrow – some short sale listing contracts have a provision in an addendum for payments outside of escrow for some amount of money (usually $1,000 up to 1 percent of the sales price) to a third party short sale negotiator, processor, or facilitator, for some unknown or unspecified service. The money is sometimes to be paid by the seller, and other times by the buyer. These may be payments to a confederate of the real estate broker, some affiliate of the broker, and/or an unlicensed short sale entity. It is not known from a review of the addendum whether these fees are paid for a real service, or whether they are “junk” fees paid to increase the monies payable to the real estate licensee. If they are paid for a legitimate purpose, they must be disclosed to all parties to the transaction, including the senior Lender. If they are “junk” fees, or fees paid to an unlicensed entity, they are problematic from a legal perspective.
A Word to the Wise
a. Your fiduciary duties are to your principal(s), which cannot be signed away. The duties include honesty, loyalty, confidentiality, full disclosure of all material and relevant facts, skill, care, and diligence, and placing your client’s interests ahead of yours. For a more complete discussion of fiduciary duties that are imposed on California real estate licensees, please see DRE’s Real Estate Bulletin of Summer 2007.
If you are the listing agent, you have a number of fiduciary duties to the seller imposed on you. You certainly cannot delegate your real estate license and fiduciary duties to an unlicensed third party who shuts you off from communication with the short sale Lender.
Dual Agency Considerations. Consider also if you are an agent of the third party investor/short sale facilitator. You may have a dual agency situation which raises a whole host of issues. If you are a dual agent, you may have an irrevocable conflict that a dual agency disclosure cannot remedy.
By getting the best price for the first buyer/investor, you most assuredly cannot get the best sales price for the seller. If you have listed the home for the seller, your duty should run to that seller. How can it also run to the third party?
b. Your legal obligations under the California real estate law regarding disclosures, including agency relationships, and the prohibitions against fraud and secret profits.
c. Real estate licensees wishing to collect an advance fee in connection with performing short sales must first submit an advance fee contract to the DRE for review and then receive from the DRE the issuance of a no-objection letter relative to that contract. All advance fees collected thereafter under the terms of that contract must be placed in a trust account and handled as client trust funds under the California Real Estate Law and Regulations of the Real Estate Commissioner.
d. By entering into an agreement with a person who is engaged in mortgage fraud (even unwittingly or innocently), you can be held liable both civilly and criminally, and may be the subject of administrative discipline by the DRE.
e. RESPA’s anti-kickback and unearned fee provisions. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has many informative materials on RESPA and the prohibitions against giving or receiving any fee, kickback, or any thing of value for the referral of settlement service business.
f. By participating in a short sale fraud, with artificially deflated offers for the short sale property, you may be defrauding the new lender on the retail sale – in addition to the fraud committed against the short sale Lender. In a typical simultaneous sale transaction, a property is stated as having two different values to two separate lenders – the short sale Lender, and the new retail lender. While one of the values may represent a “distressed” property value, and the other a “non-distressed” property value, an issue regarding fraud is presented.
g. There is potential harm to the short sale home seller. In addition to not obtaining the highest price for the seller, which is or may be a violation of the law and or your fiduciary duty, the Lender may still require the seller (the original borrower) to pay off the remaining debt. In this case, there is no debt forgiveness. Even where the holder of the first lien allows for debt forgiveness, the holder of the second or subordinate liens might not forgive that debt. A deficiency judgment may then be pursued and obtained by the lien holder(s) for the deficiency. Moreover, the greater the debt forgiveness, the greater the potential tax liability. While the federal government has imposed a freeze on taxing the forgiven amount, State tax law may not do the same. Thus, if the short sale property is sold for the most amount of money that the market will bear, the potential tax consequence to the seller is diminished. Conversely, by accepting an artificially deflated offer, the seller’s potential tax liability is increased.