Chris Griffith: Selling short is a legal and tax issue

Sometimes I really get scared for the circumstances that homeowners are in. People live through the toughest of times, foreclosures, bankruptcy, job loss, accidents. Without minimizing how traumatic losing a home can be, it is a loss that will eventually be something in the past. It won’t define who the person, the homeowner is as a human being or what their true potential is.

That old saying, “crap happens,” is true. Sometimes people get more than their fair share of it, too. The streets are speckled with stories of difficult situations and struggles with home loss these days.

What troubles me most about people that have it rain really hard on them is watching them become frozen with fear. I know it’s not apathy but terror. They’re unable to make a decision because they’re overwhelmed by their circumstances.

Worse yet is when they start making decisions without understanding the consequences for hasty actions. Just because the home is on the brink of foreclosure or is being sold short doesn’t mean that it couldn’t get any worse.

What overwhelmed homeowners don’t understand is that they’re in a legal quagmire more so than real estate situation. To go through the process of selling short, deed in lieu or just giving up and letting the bank foreclose without lawyering-up can bring on a boat load of legal or tax consequences down the road.

“But my real estate agent said (insert stream of legalese and tax guidance they had no business giving you)” was a statement I got from the exhausted homeowner confused and in the throes of many awful things happening to their home and their finances. I thought to myself, you may as well have asked the guy running the weed eater outside of my window right now. He is great at what he does but he is just as unqualified to give you legal council as the person you just quoted.

On top of the fact that the information was wrong, their agent has no business giving them legal or tax advice regarding a short sale unless they are also an attorney, a certified public accountant or some other breed legal or finance wizard.

If you’re at the point when you need to sell short or you’re losing your home, you need to first find legal help, not real estate help.

Success is never a secret. If you don’t know where to start looking for an attorney, ask a real estate agent that specializes in short sales or ask half a dozen real estate agents for recommendations and listen for consistent names that keep popping up.

If you’re concerned about attorney’s fees you need to remember that it doesn’t cost anything to dial a phone and ask questions. If you choose to move forward, charges would be minimal compared to a myriad of credit, financial and tax consequences that can show up down the line because your legal issues handled by someone as unqualified to be your lawyer as the lawn guy … or a real estate agent.

No offense to any of the lawn guys out there.

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Chris Griffith is a real estate agent at Downing-Frye Realty Inc. in Bonita Springs. If you have a question about local real estate or Bonita Springs, e-mail her at chris@LifeInBonitaSprings.com.

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