Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

November 6, 2017

A Shortage of Short Sales

By David Reiss

Calvin Zhang of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has posted A Shortage of Short Sales: Explaining the Under-Utilization of a Foreclosure Alternative to SSRN. The abstract reads,

The Great Recession led to widespread mortgage defaults, with borrowers resorting to both foreclosures and short sales to resolve their defaults. I first quantify the economic impact of foreclosures relative to short sales by comparing the home price implications of both. After accounting for omitted variable bias, I find that homes selling as a short sale transact at 8.5% higher prices on average than those that sell after foreclosure. Short sales also exert smaller negative externalities than foreclosures, with one short sale decreasing nearby property values by one percentage point less than a foreclosure. So why weren’t short sales more prevalent? These home-price benefits did not increase the prevalence of short sales because free rents during foreclosures caused more borrowers to select foreclosures, even though higher advances led servicers to prefer more short sales. In states with longer foreclosure timelines, the benefits from foreclosures increased for borrowers, so short sales were less utilized. I find that one standard deviation increase in the average length of the foreclosure process decreased the short sale share by 0.35-0.45 standard deviation. My results suggest that policies that increase the relative attractiveness of short sales could help stabilize distressed housing markets.

The paper highlights the importance of aligning incentives in the mortgage market among lenders, investors, servicers and borrowers. Zhang makes this clear in his conclusion:

While these individual results seem small in magnitude, the total economic impact is big because of how large the real estate market is. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that having 5% more short sales than foreclosures would have saved up to $5.8 billion in housing wealth between 2007 and 2011. Thus, there needs to be more incentives for short sales to be done. The government and GSEs already began encouraging short sales by offering programs like HAFA [Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives] starting in 2009 to increase the benefits of short sales for both the borrower and the servicer, but more could be done such as decreasing foreclosure timelines. If we can continue to increase the incentives to do short sales so that they become more popular than foreclosures, future housing downturns may not be as extreme or last as long. (29)

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