Do You Need a Lawyer for a Sacramento Short Sale?

You may not need a short sale lawyer in Sacramento to sell 1 to 4 units.

You may not need a lawyer in Sacramento to short sale a single family home.

Because of the liability that can befall a Sacramento real estate agent who does not tell a client to get legal advice when the client asks legal questions, every smart real estate agent will advise a client, especially a short sale client, to get legal advice — even if the client doesn’t really need a lawyer. Knowing this, a client might ask whether legal advice is necessary and, again, that is a tricky situation because we’re damned if we tell them no and we’re damned if we tell them yes. Besides, we’re not lawyers.

If a seller who is contemplating a short sale hires a lawyer, that seller will most likely pay the lawyer somewhere between $3,000 and $6,000. Out of pocket. Once — out of all the $65 million in short sales that I have negotiated over the past 8 years — I can recall only one time in which a negotiator agreed to pay a small portion of the lawyer’s fees. So, while a lawyer might tell a seller that they will ask to be paid from the proceeds of sale, it doesn’t really happen very often and, when it does, that payment is probably not in full.

If a seller who is contemplating a short sale hires a Sacramento short sale agent to handle the short sale, the commissions paid to the agent are paid from the proceeds of sale. There is no arguing with the negotiator about paying the agents because the commissions and all of the ordinary closing costs are paid from the proceeds of sale. Nothing out of pocket for the seller to pay, not to mention, a bank cannot under CA Civil Code 580e force a seller contribution; it’s against the law. A seller who hires a competent short sale agent basically gets the short sale completed for free.

Every so often, I might run across a situation in which the seller could use a lawyer’s assistance. It’s not to get a release of liability because you don’t need a lawyer for that. It’s not to avoid a deficiency judgment, because you don’t need a lawyer for that, as long as you’re doing a short sale. It’s not to advise whether the seller should do a short sale because short sales trump foreclosures. Short sales win hands down.

When I first started to do short sales, often I would refer the difficult cases to a lawyer, but I have discovered that I can handle them with ease (not to mention, laws favor the sellers now), so why not save the seller some money? Today, I might advise that a seller should hire a lawyer if the bank continually rejects the short sale for one reason and one reason only: because banks typically don’t want to mess with lawyers. Agents? Pfff.

I closed a short sale this week that I’ve been working on for almost 18 months, which is an unusually long period of time. We had received 3 or 4 rejections. I suggested that the seller hire a lawyer during the last go-around, but the seller said she could not afford it, and besides, she had “faith” in me. OK, I don’t give up — I have a ton of perseverance, and I am analytical. She begged me to re-submit one more time. I repackaged the short sale and resubmitted, and was accepted! Maybe short sale sellers don’t need a lawyer? Maybe sellers need only a top notch short sale agent who stays up to date on all of the changes in short sales?

Many lawyers hand over the package to paralegals or assistants and they don’t personally negotiate the file anyway. They also might not know much about real estate or have extensive experience in real estate. I’ve talked with lawyers who did not know how to fill out a HUD for Bank of America. The bell curve applies to just about any profession. You’ll find bankruptcy lawyers who offer to negotiate short sales because it’s another avenue of revenue for them. When short sales go away, they will go back to bankruptcy cases. Some will suggest bankruptcy alongside a short sale, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. You can’t do both simultaneously.

But people are afraid when it comes time to do a short sale and they don’t know where to turn. They think they need a lawyer to do a short sale. They are worried about consequences and liability and taxes when laws mostly remove those concerns. Will a lawyer tell a potential client that they don’t need a lawyer to do a short sale? If you ask a real estate agent if this is a good time to go on the market, what would an agent say? Same deal. Except most people in California do not need a lawyer to do a short sale.

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