If you currently owe more on your mortgage than your home is worth, you are not alone. According to MarketWatch, there are more than 4 million homeowners in the United States who owe their banks 20 percent more than their houses are worth. In the best possible situation, you could try to live in your home until the housing market recovered and your house became more valuable. But if your marriage is ending, you may be required to sell your house as part of the divorce proceedings. So what are your options for selling your home if it is underwater?
Consider a Short Sale of Your House
If neither you or your soon-to-be ex can afford the mortgage payments after your divorce or if neither party has a desire to continue living in your underwater home, you could try to sell your home for less than the amount of money that you owe your mortgage company. This is known as a short sale. Generally, it is considered a better idea than letting the house go into foreclosure because, according to the New York Times, a short sale will have less of a negative impact on your credit history. Plus, having a foreclosure on your credit history can also affect other aspects of your lives. For example, some employers are leery of hiring a person with a bankruptcy on their record.
But short sales are not simple, so you may want to seek legal representation during the process to protect your interests. The bank that owns your mortgage is definitely going to have high-powered lawyers representing their needs, and they are going to try to get as much money from you as possible. Remember, during a short sale, you will be selling your home for less money than you owe the bank. And banks are not in the business of giving away their cash. So in order to recover part of their losses, the bank's lawyers may attempt to:
- Garnish your wages
- Attach your bank accounts
- Pursue payments in the future
A lawyer from a firm like Iannello Anderson can look over the final paperwork from the bank to ensure that it does not contain wording that could hold you liable for the balance of the loan in the future. Another reason you may need a lawyer during this process? Real estate agents are not allowed to offer legal advice even if they know the answers. And, finally, you may not have a choice of whether or not you want to hire a lawyer as some real estate firms are now requiring that short sellers hire legal representation.
One Party Keeps the House
If either you or your spouse wants to continue living in the house, the other party could receive a credit for the negative equity during the divorce proceedings. For example, if you and your spouse have total assets of approximately $500,000, and your home has a negative equity of $50,000, the spouse who keeps the home will end up with $50,000 in marital debt. In some cases, the judge may give the person keeping the house a credit for $25,000, which is half of the negative equity. This situation may be appropriate for you if:
- The party who wants to stay in the house can afford to pay the mortgage on their own.
- The home may be worth more in the future and a spouse is willing to take that gamble and continue paying for and living in it.
In some cases, the divorcing parties may decide to cut their losses and zero out the negative equity, which means that it will not be factored in during the division of assets.
Divorce is tough enough in the best of times, but it can be especially gut-wrenching when a house with an underwater mortgage is involved. Unfortunately, there are typically no winners in this scenario, and the best you can hope for is to protect your interests as best as you can.