Do Lots of Research Before Deciding to do a Short Sale on your Silicon Valley Home

Homeowners who are in financial trouble with their property sometimes wait too long to seek help, and then cannot mitigate the situation with a loan modification, a short sale or a deed in leiu of foreclosure. They wait so long and miss so many payments that significant harm is done.  The embarrassment, the sense of failure, the significant feelings of loss can keep home owners from reaching out for advice and guidance. This is happening on a big scale and is happening within my own close circle of loved ones too.

Recently a friend of mine, with whom I’ve done several transactions, informed me that she’d done a short sale with her home through a local attorney and hadn’t wanted to bother me with it, though she knew I’d have been willing to help.  (She was right: I would have.)

I was stunned on several counts, most of all that we hadn’t talked before she did it; I truly think it matters tremendously to do a good amount of information-gathering, and talking with trusted sources, before pulling the trigger on something big like this.  But very often, people become more private when under financial pressure. (Others are virtually in denial.)  This really just makes things worse since they may make huge decisions with insufficient information.

Short Sales in the West Valley Areas of Almaden, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Campbell, and Nearby

How many of the Silicon Valley homes for sale are listed as short sales? How many are bank owned properties? This morning I did some time pulling the numbers out for my readers so that you can see the actual real estate figures.

What’s being counted below are homes for sale, including houses, duet homes, condominiums and townhouses (or townhomes) in the various areas of Santa Clara County listed below.


Area, City or TownAvailableShort Sale  Bank Owned
Los Gatos18172
Monte Sereno3500
Los Gatos Mtns6846
Santa Clara1574513
Almaden Valley – SJ10341
Cambrian Park – SJ134286
Blossom Valley – SJ1988329
Willow Glen – SJ2282714
San Jose (all areas)1944574183


As was the case a year or two ago, most of the short sale activity is taking place in the most affordable price ranges. The higher priced areas are not immune, though – but because there are fewer distressed properties to choose from, they get purchased rather quickly, so we’d see a higher percentage of them among the pending sales rather than the available listings.

Today I did a post on this subject focusing specifically on the Los Gatos real estate market in terms of short sales today vs the last couple of years (and the question of whether or not the trend is to rising numbers of short sales available). To learn more, visit the article on my Live in Los Gatos blog.

For bargain hunting buyers of high end properties, then, it’s slim pickings!  In the entry level areas, there’s much more selection but also lots of competition.  Last week I was involved with some buyers in a bidding frenzy in a terribly underpriced Cambrian short sale: it got 43 offers!  (So please remember that the list price may be completely unrelated to the sales price.)

If you’re looking to buy or sell a home in Silicon Valley, it helps to have the assistance of a Realtor with a pulse on the market.  Please contact me for a confidential & no-obligation meeting today!




Some Good News This Week for Distressed Silicon Valley Home Sellers

Although interest rates are nudging upwards, there was some really positive news that you should know about this week.

For distressed home sellers in California, one of the problems with short sales and some foreclosures was the liability for California State Income Taxes on any “forgiven debt”. It looks like that may be disappearing – not a moment too soon for people already suffering economic hardships in the recession.

The Los Angeles Times reports that

“Thousands of Californians whose homes were foreclosed on or sold at a loss would get tax relief under a measure approved Thursday by the state Legislature.

“The bill would waive state taxes on mortgage debt that has been forgiven in a foreclosure or short sale. It is expected to affect about 34,000 taxpayers.”

The governor is expected to sign this bill.




Short Sales Sell But Often Don’t Close: Why?

In some parts of Santa Clara County, a very significant percentage of homes for sale and homes under contract (pending sale) are “short sale” listings.  This is particularly true in entry level areas like San Jose’s Alum Rock area, the Blossom Valley district, the Santa Teresa area, etc.  These homes can be hard to sell and even harder to close – but why? They are usually well priced so should just fly off the market, but often that isn’t the case.

The trouble with short sales is that there are a lot of people involved, so there are a lot more places for things to go wrong. Unfortunately, they often do go wrong. I believe the national average is that about 20% of short sales that sell (go pending) actually close.   Think of it like hurdles:

  • The first hurdle is getting a buyer to write an offer (despite the significant risk that the sale will never close)
  • The second hurdle is getting the seller to accept the offer (and the seller’s agent to agree that it is viable)
  • The third hurdle is in having the lender or lenders approve the purchase agreement – it is MUCH easier if there’s only one lender, very difficult if there are two lenders and extraordinarily hard if there are three lenders. Sometimes lenders would rather foreclose than work with a short sale, especially if there’s more than one loan.
  • The fourth hurdle is the seller approving the lender’s terms, which may or may not be easy to swallow (some lenders require that a seller promise to pay back some of the money over time or upfront).  Sellers reserve the right to refuse the terms.
  • The fifth hurdle is the agents (and possibly buyers) approving any concessions the bank requests. Sometimes the bank will require a commission cut. Agents may or may not be willing to accept what the bank requests. (Imagine having your income suddently cut by 1/3 or 1/2. You might say no too.) Buyers may be informed that the bank requires them to pay more costs too.
  • The last hurdle is keeping the buyers in escrow during the prolonged period between when the seller accepts the offer and when the seller accepts the bank’s terms.  Sometimes unscrupulous buyers will write offers on several short sales and then wait to see which one is accepted first – and bail on the others. This causes a great deal of harm to the seller, who may have been nudged closer to foreclosure.  On the other hand, though, with only a 20% chance of success, buyers wonder why they shouldn’t take this approach just to hedge their bets.

I’ve seen all of the above happen in my Silicon Valley real estate practice: buyers writing offers on multiple homes, sellers refusing bank approvals, lenders foreclosing when a great offer was on the table, agents refusing commission cuts.

Real Estate Market Update for San Jose’s Alum Rock Neighborhood

It is a strong seller’s market in the Alum Rock area of San Jose right now: inventory is shrinking and prices are rising after hitting bottom a few months ago. Prices are still way off year over year, but for the last 4 months or so, prices have been rising in this part of Silicon Valley, and it’s quite dramatic.




As of a few days ago in this area of San Jose, there were 203 single family homes for sale and there were 114 that sold/closed in the last month. To get the “months of inventory” or absorption rate we just divide the 203 by the 114 and we get about 1.8 months of inventory, which makes it a very strong sellers market.

(Because it’s so affordable, first time homebuyers are flocking to Alum Rock in droves. Unfortunately, they are sometimes outbid by all-cash investors and left frustrated as homes get multiple offers and prices skyrocket out of reach.)

The absorption rate can be measured in days, weeks, months (or years) of inventory.  Below is a chart reflecting the days of inventory relative to the last 18 months or so.  As you can see, the absorption rate has been shrinking very, very dramatically (as prices have fallen through the floor).