Yearly Archives: 2012

Illinois foreclosures speeding up (imho)

The Chicago Tribune reported that the average time for a foreclosure in Cook County was 682 days. That’s about 22 months and it sure seems like a long, long time to me. Plus, that’s the average, so many cases took much longer.

I hate to be a contrarian, but lately my experience is that foreclosures are going faster, not slower.  My own purely unscientific guess is that 14 months is about the norm in most cases.

There are two factors that are at work in determining the length of a foreclosure:

1.) When the bank obtains the Judgment of Foreclosure.

2.) How fast a Sheriff’s Sale can be set up in your county.

I should back up a minute and say that I am only talking about uncontested foreclosures here, meaning that you or your attorney did not file an appearance in the case and you are not actively defending the foreclosure. If you file an appearance in the case, show up to plead your case and/or file contested motions, the case can stretch on for many moons. In Lake County, IL it takes about 8 months to get a hearing date for a contested motion. By the time the parties get to court, no one even remembers what the issue was.

Let’s take a look at the two factors that affect the length of a foreclosure:

1.) When the bank obtains the Judgment of Foreclosure.

The faster that the bank gets a “judgment of foreclosure,” the faster the case will move. The pic below shows a fast moving case. (As you can see, my dream is to be a graphic artist.)

Here the bank gets its judgment of foreclosure before the redemption period expires. The redemption period (the owner’s right to sell the property even though they are behind on payments) has to expire before the sheriff’s sale can be held and the owner officially loses the property.

This pic shows a slow moving case. It’s slow because the bank dinks around and waits until after the 7 month redemption period is over to get the judgment of foreclosure. Doing this extends the redemption period another 3 months and slows the case down. (The redemption period is 7 months from service of summons or 3 months from the entry of judgment of foreclosure, whichever is later.)


2.) What county you live in.

In Cook County, the sheriff’s sales are handled by many outside companies, not the sheriff, so the sales are scheduled within 30 days of the redemption period expiring. Like clockwork, your Cook County sheriff’s sale will follow within 30 days of the redemption period expiring, so it is by far the fastest county in that regard. This company seems to handle a large share of the Cook County cases.

Will, Lake and Kane Counties are slow because the sheriff handles the sales and they are still overrun with cases, so it can take 4-6 months to schedule the sheriff’s sale.

So most Cook County cases are on the express track these days, while the collar counties are by and large slower.

New site makes it easy to get Cook Co. deeds

The Cook County Recorder’s website used to be terribly hard to use and functioned like it was set up in 1990. I had to go on it all the time to get copies of deeds and do quick title searches to see if mortgages were released.

Using it was a total hassle. To look at a document you had to put in your credit card information twice and then download some obscure software that took about three tries to install. Of course, you could only use internet explorer.

The recorder recently upgraded the site and, surprise; it’s a thing of beauty! You can access the new site here. You will need your PIN number to look up documents. You can find your PIN here by typing in your address here. Go ahead and put in your PIN and see how it works.

Now the entire history of the property to the mid 1980s pops up and you can view each document without paying. You only pay $2.50 per document if you need to download the document, which is now a simple process. If you have simple screen capture software like the windows snipping tool or Snagit, then you can just copy the screen and you don’t have to pay to print the document.

This new site is great and will make it easier for clients to obtain documents. The majority of my clients cannot locate the deed to their property and now they can get it easily in a few keystrokes.


Urban myth or not? Obama’s 3.8% real estate tax

A real estate closing takes about 1.5 hours, if it’s perfect. This being real life and all, many of them take much longer.

As we sit waiting for word from the lender that all is well and that we can disburse, we talk about the Bears, about how the White Sox caved, then we cover details of when the client is moving, how much he paid for his POD, and after about two hours, we all go blank, stare at each other and check our phones incessantly.  Mercifully, we rarely touch the third rail: politics.

When all small talk is exhausted, invariably, someone says “well, next year you won’t be able to sell any real estate because Obama put that 3.8% tax on all real estate.”

After hearing this for about the 800th time yesterday, I did some detective work. I went to, which is an awesome site that tells us whether a “fact” is an urban myth or not.

Here’s the truth on the 3.8% real estate tax from

Does the 3.8% tax apply to all real estate sales?

No, it will apply to very few people, probably less than 2% of the population. Also, this only applies if you have a big gain on the sale of your real estate and that knocks about almost everyone since we have had no gains on real estate since the late 1990s. Those who bought their homes in the 60s, 70s or 80s and who also have huge incomes might have to pay the tax. The masses will pay no 3.8% tax.

What income levels does it apply to?

First, your income has to be above $200,000.00 if you are single or if you are married, above $250,000.  If you make less than those amounts and sell real estate, you pay nothing.  The tax is not on the sale of real estate, but in the investment income produced by the sale of real estate.

I sold my home for a large gain and have a salary of $200,000, so what would I owe?

Let’s say a single guy sells his house for $600,000 and he paid $300,000 for the house, so his gain on the house is $300,000.  He can exclude $250,000 of profits on real estate under the law already, so that is subtracted and he has a gain of $50,000. Stick with me here, this is convoluted stuff.

The 3.8 tax would apply to the LESSER of:

  1. The amount that single guy’s income exceeds $200,000, or;
  2. The amount of taxable income (in this case $50,000) gained from the sale of single guy’s home.

Clear as mud, eh? Suffice it to say, this will apply to very few folks.



GMAC: My short sale BFF

I just closed a short sale with GMAC Mortgage and it only took 3 months to close from the date of the contract. In the normally slow moving short sale world, that’s blindingly fast. So GMAC is my short sale best friend forever. Closing one of these makes up for the many death march short sales I’ve endured with the likes of Citibank and B of A.

My clients bought their home in Pingree Grove in 2006 and paid $250,000. They listed it for a short sale and got an offer for $150,000.00. GMAC short sales are initiated on the online Equator system and they quickly ordered the broker price opinion (BPO) and asked the buyer to raise the price by $5k. The buyer agreed to this and the short sale was approved in about 45 days. GMAC did not ask for a seller “contribution” despite the fact that the married couple selling were both employed and had good incomes. GMAC shorties also include a waiver of deficiency, so the seller is released from liability on the note (which is one of the main reasons to do a short sale in the first place).

When the buyer applied for his new loan, the property appraised $4,000 under the agreed short sale price after the increase. GMAC agreed to reduce the price back down to the appraised price, which was a minor miracle. Appraisal problems are everywhere now and a week does not pass without a property under-appraising, but that’s a post for another day.

GMAC also agreed to extend the initial short sale approval while the buyer finished his loan approval. For some reason, when lenders approve a short sale they put a very short wick on the time for closing, often less than 30 days. In this market, it takes a buyer a minimum of 30 days to obtain financing, so a short sale extension is often needed. Extending short sale approvals can be a mess. I am working on another short sale and the lender did a new BPO when asked to extend the short sale approval and increased the price $10,000 in mid-stream. That was not fun.

GMAC has a simple, final approval process for closing. The final HUD-1 closing statement is uploaded 48 hours before closing and, in this case, it was approved in about 1 hour. The final approval is fast and easy and not the extended nightmare of say, a Wells Fargo short sale.

So if you have an underwater home with a GMAC mortgage, you might consider a short sale. My unscientific guess is that you have an 85% or better chance of closing your short sale quickly and with a full release.

Stripping foreclosed home can lead to a lawsuit

A client called to say that he just moved out of his home in foreclosure and, on the way out,  he took the following:  Stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer.  Not satisfied with taking just these items, he disconnected and hauled away the exterior air conditioning  and put that big whopper in a storage locker. He had moved all the way across the country, so he really had no use for any of this stuff and it struck me as kind of excessive. His lender thought so too.

The reason for the client’s call to me was that his lender had called demanding  the  a.c.  be returned and threatening to file an insurance claim on his homeowner’s policy if it wasn’t returned. I told him to return the a.c.

Increasingly, lenders  will file claims against an owner’s homeowner’s policy if a home in foreclosure is stripped of fixtures. The lender is an additional insured on the insurance policy and is entitled to payment.  Homeowners need to be careful about this because after the insurance company pays the claim, the insurance company will sue the homeowner for the money it paid out.

Generally, it’s okay to take appliances like washer, dryer, refrigerator or stove. When I arrange “cash for keys” agreements for clients at the end of foreclosures, the lender will usually allow the owner to take these appliances along. But taking a furnace, a.c. unit or kitchen cabinets from a home in foreclosure is crossing the line and should not be done unless you want to be lit up with a lawsuit later.

How to combat a 1099 if the MDFA expires











I sure hope the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act (MDFA) is extended soon, so clients can relax their collective minds. It expires in 4 months.  I thought it would have been extended by now.

The MDFA says that if a homeowner is foreclosed upon or short sells his or her primary residence then no tax is due on the 1099 issued afterward.   For foreclosures, the mortgage amount minus the market value of the property is taxable to the owner under the 1099. For short sales, it’s the total mortgage amount minus the amount repaid in the short sale that’s taxable.

The graphic above from the Chicago Tribune shows that the AVERAGE foreclosure case in Cook County taxes 682 days. So, If you started a strategic default one year ago you have almost one more left to go. Meanwhile, the law is about the change and leave you hanging with one foot over a cliff. A big 1099 will be dropped in your lap at the end of the short sale or foreclosure and that will send many over the financial edge.

Short sales will no longer be an attractive option if the MDFA  expires. It’s great to get a release of deficiency in a short sale, but if a lender is shorted $100,000 after a short sale (not unusual) the owner faces a $25,000 tax bill (at an estimated 25% tax rate). That’s rough. Unless a client can claim insolvency and thereby knock out a 1099, a short sale will make no sense in many cases.

One strategy that will become very popular if the MDFA expires is the surrender of a property in a chapter 13 bankruptcy. This is not a new method of avoiding tax on the 1099, but it will take on new importance if the MDFA expires.

If we lose the MDFA, there will be three ways to avoid tax on the 1099:

Surrender house  in a chapter 13. The law allows a homeowner to file a chapter 13 bankruptcy and surrender the underwater house. This means the owner stops making payments on the house and it returns to the lender in a foreclosure.  It doesn’t matter what assets or income the owner has (there are limits on the size of the mortgage).  The owner does not have to pass the means test required in a chapter 7. The owner stops making payments, files the chapter 13 and stays in the home until the end of the foreclosure. The 1099 is wiped out by the chapter 13 and the owner is released from any deficiency judgment. The owner makes a few payments to the bankruptcy trustee for attorney’s fees and other costs and then is discharged from all liability including the 1099. Sweet, right? The negatives: attorney’s fees are about $3500.00 and the owner’s credit is damaged.  If the client has a second mortgage, there is a chance that the second mortgage company might file a claim that the mortgage is unsecured, but that usually does not happen. Very few clients other than real estate investors needed to use this .  That’s because in Illinois, there are few to no deficiency judgments on first mortgage foreclosures and the 1099s after a foreclosure were blocked by the MDFA, so there was no need to file a chapter 13 for the vast majority of primary residence foreclosures. I look for this to become a much-used strategy if the MDFA goes away.

Insolvency. A 1099 after a foreclosure is wiped out if the homeowner is insolvent, meaning that the sum of all debts is greater than the owner’s assets. I find that many clients do qualify as insolvent, which would mean they would not need to file a chapter 13. This is a simple remedy, but it’s all or nothing. You either are or are not insolvent.
Chapter 7. Filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy will knock out the 1099, but homeowners have to pass the means test which requires a relatively low income. Also, there are asset limits that have to be met. Generally, we use chapter 7s only when the owner passes these tests and has a large second mortgage or only a first mortgage and high credit card debt.

Of these three solutions, the chapter 13 surrender will be only  remedy that works for many clients and should at least be considered when constructing a strategy for an underwater property.





Top 3 reasons to try a short sale in Illinois

Lately, I’ve been on fire getting short sales closed. They’re getting approved right and left and I feel like LeBron in the fourth quarter of the NBA finals with James Harden trying to guard me.

Usually about 60% of short sales actually close and the rest go down the chute to foreclosure. Lately, it’s been more like 80% of short sales are closing to 20% short sale failure. It reminds of a recent trip to a casino. I don’t gamble much, but I started winning at blackjack and convinced myself that I had developed special blackjack powers. Note to self: Anytime one thinks one has special powers, head for the exits.  About an hour later, I lost my mojo and went limping out of the casino way in the hole.

Like blackjack, I don’t have special powers to get short sales closed.  It takes some knowledge and skill, but anyone who says that they have a special system or all the answers to closing short sales is goofy.

I’m glad that the shorties are closing at a decent rate, but I realize that it is basically luck and the convergence of positive circumstances, like a patient buyer, a favorable valuation (BPO) and a decent negotiator, that makes it happen.

As a threshold matter, I find that clients have a hard time deciding whether or not to try a short sale or to just bail out altogether and do a strategic default.

Here are the benefits of trying a short sale:

1. Shortens the foreclosure timeline so credit recovery is faster than foreclosure.

About 99% of clients who try short sales stop paying their mortgages when they list the property as a short sale. In Cook County, that means it will be 6 months of missed payments and 14 months in court with the foreclosure until it ends. That’s a long time. Thereafter, it will take another two years until the client’s credit recovers. If the client tries a short sale, the time that the mortgage is in default will be less than in a foreclosure. Most short sales close in 3 to 6 months after getting a sale contract. While credit scores drop about the same amount in a foreclosure or a short sale, the recovery is faster after a short sale and this is a major benefit of trying to short sell.

2. Get a full release and provide finality. For every short sale that’s closed this year, we’ve been able to get a full release of deficiency for the client. The short sale that closed yesterday required the seller to contribute $1500 to get a release, but it was money well spent. That means the lender can’t pursue the client for collection or get a deficiency judgment. This is very important to clients because it provides complete closure on the issue. Clients want finality. If a client strategically defaults and doesn’t try a short sale, the client will have an open liability for 10 years on the note. Some people can live with this, but most cannot. I tell clients over and over that first mortgages will not obtain a deficiency judgment against them in a strategic default, but almost every client asks “what if they do get one against me?” It never happens, but try living for 10 years with only my assurance to back you up.

3. Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act (MDFA) is expiring, so try to slip it in before that happens. The MDFA says a foreclosure or short sale is not taxable if the property foreclosed or short sold is one’s primary residence. Unfortunately, that law expires December 31, 2012. If this expires, then homeowners in foreclosure will owe income tax after the foreclosure. It’s a good idea to at least try a short sale of your primary residence before the MDFA expires. That way you can avoid a hefty income tax bill if the MDFA is not extended.

Sometimes a short sale may not be worth trying. Some reasons you may NOT want to try a short sale are:

1. Big second mortgage and/or high credit card debt. You are better off filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy than doing a short sale if you have a large second mortgage and/or a lot of credit card debt. You can clear the decks of credit card debt and liability on the second mortgage and start over. A short sale is unnecessary.

2. High income. I’ve written before about high income homeowners and their reluctance to do short sales. Still true.

3. Property is rented. If you rent out a property it will be difficult to impossible to do a short sale because the tenant will not cooperate.

4. Difficult lender, FHA loan or PMI. I did a short sale with ING Direct. They allow no attorney’s fees and require that you use their title company. They are a nightmare to deal with. I would never do another one with them. FHA short sales follow a different pattern than conventional mortgages and can be very difficult to close. Also, if you have PMI on a conventional loan, it is likely the PMI company will hit you up for a contribution or promissory note.



How I was banned from an underwater home forum

All you have to do is look at my facebook page to see how much I participate in online forums. I’m  mainly a lurker and don’t contribute much. It’s probably a character defect, or an overreaction to giving the wrong answer to Sister Margaritas  in fourth grade religion class. Man, that ruler hurt.

I’m barely a contributor and certainly not a flame war type of guy, but now I am banned from an online forum. The ban is not temporary, it’s for life.

Here’s how it happened:

This week I was looking at the statistics for and I saw a bunch of incoming clicks coming from is an online discussion forum in which people talk about foreclosure, short sales and underwater real estate. I registered for the site a long time ago and posted one time about a year ago in response to someone asking a foreclosure question. I rarely go to the site, but I do get many hits from this site to my site because users of  post links to things I’ve written about Illinois foreclosures and short sales.

Here is a typical day and the chart below shows people clicking a link to my site from  the site. is an active forum. It’s kind of a venting, spill your guts type of affair where people post their personal story about their underwater real estate and everyone else comments on it. Here is a typical example of a post by Miserable In Cook Co. A lot of the “advice” and comments are way off base, but occasionally there is a reasoned, accurate response. You see a lot of comments like “all attorneys are stupid” and “I will never deal with a bank again.”

Anyway, I clicked on a link from Loansafe. org  to this post that I wrote about how collection cases on  second mortgages are a bigger risk than deficiency judgments.  The moderator, some goof named Tom Eason, commented on my post saying.  “That is the site of Tom Sammons, a solo attorney bankruptcy mill.” Then he wrote, “Doesn’t he sound like a typical bankruptcy mill lawyer , LOL.” Tom felt that I was encouraging everyone with an underwater home to file bankruptcy.

Tom is a volunteer moderator who lives in California and hands out advice across the country to everyone and anyone. In fact,  one would think that he had the wisdom of a thousand  Buddha’s from the way he holds forth.

I was not happy to see  this guy trashing me. I responded  back with a post that I was not a bankruptcy mill and that my second mortgage post was accurate. Tom, the moderator, never responded. The site administrator deleted my response and when I logged in I saw this:


If I were a character in my favorite show “Game of Thrones,” the shame and dishonor of a lifetime ban on would have forced me to join the Nights Watch (a group of rejects who can’t have girlfriends and are forced to protect the kingdom against encroaching monsters). Sometimes I think it might be easier to fight whitewalkers all day than to  practice law. But I live in suburban Palatine, not Winterfell, so I soldiered on.

Now having recovered emotionally from my lifetime ban, I wondered what should you watch for when reading online about underwater real estate?

1.  Beware of the closed ecosystem. Most forums  value healthy discussion. They monitor posts for vulgarity and stop hostile flame wars, but that’s it. edits out any post that threatens its self-appointed expert status. After I was banned, the moderator of the site went back and tried to clip out all of the links to my site, but she missed a bunch of them.

2. Don’t take advice from out-of- state experts. Real estate is hyper local. I would never give advice to anyone outside of Illinois. Be very careful about taking advice from out-of-state, non-lawyers about your underwater property.  It’s a complicated topic and you want to be sure to get a balanced view on your case.

3. Diaries written by others are cathartic for the writer, but won’t really help you . One thing I have learned by doing phone consultations with Illinois clients on underwater real estate is that every case is different and you need to know a lot of details to give the proper guidance to a client. Reading about someone else’s journey through foreclosure is interesting and all, but it will rarely help solve your problem.


Update on Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act-no extension yet

There is still no extension of the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act (MDFA) that expires December 31, 2012.

Now there are two bills pending to extend it.

The MDFA says that if a homeowner’s primary residence is foreclosed or short sold, then the 1099 issued afterward is not taxable.  Normally, a homeowner would owe tax on the difference between the mortgage balance and the value of the property.

The Democrats have introduced  HR 4202 that proposes a 2 year extension of the MDFA through the end of 2014. Republicans are pushing HR 4336 that suggests a 1 year extension through December 2013. Both bills are stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee.

I think that The MDFA will be extended at the last minute.

It will not be pretty if the MDFA expires. Some homeowners will still avoid tax on the 1099 by claiming insolvency, but few will meet the tough definition of insolvency.

Here is what to do if the MDFA does expire.

(Thanks again to Chris D. for staying on top of this.)

“Vacancy posting” stickers on foreclosures mislead owners

Last week, a client in foreclosure arrived home from a long day at work and found this notice slapped on her front door:

Vacant Posting Notice

This property has been determined to be vacant. This information will be reported to the mortgage servicer responsible for maintaining the property. The mortgage servicer intends to protect the property from deterioration. The property may have its locks replaced and/or plumbing systems winterized in the next few days. If this property is NOT VACANT please call BAC Field Services immediately.

She was pretty alarmed by this and thought that her lender, Bank of America, might try to change the locks and take back possession of the house.  Of course, in Illinois, possession is not given back to the lender until about 60 days after the sheriff’s sale. The sheriff’s sale isn’t until the end of the foreclosure ( about 10-12 months after it starts), so it takes a long time for the lender to get possession.

My client was about 3 months into the foreclosure,  she had a short sale contract signed and the closing date was fast approaching.

I called BAC Field Services and told them the property was occupied and if they contacted my client again she would file a construction eviction case against them. Since this was B of A, I also sent them a direct message on twitter to @BofA_help. As a side note,  B of A twitter help account is very helpful. They respond almost immediately and really try to help you with any foreclosure or short sale related matters. If the B of A short sale department was as good as @BofA_help, then doing a short sale with B of A wouldn’t be the god-awful cluster that it is. But that’s a post for another day.

These vacancy posting notices are ridiculous. I understand that the lender wants to monitor and take care of obviously vacant foreclosures, but they have no right to bother and annoy owners still in possession of the property. The notices imply that the lender has the right to possession, when they don’t have that right.  The notices confuse owners who are already under stress due to a short sale or foreclosure

In one case, BAC Field services entered the property after it was sold to a new buyer.  Welcome to the neighborhood, here’s your complimentary lock change and winterization! Oops, sorry wrong house.

If you get a vacancy posting notice, just call the phone number and tell them the property is still occupied. Tear off the sticker and toss it where it belongs.