Don’t need a lawyer for a short sale

Q: Do you have to hire a lawyer to do a short sale? Does the law require you to have a lawyer involved? Can’t a Realtor just handle a short sale?

— Tuta P., Las Vegas

A: Those are great questions. The short answer is that you don’t have to hire an attorney to handle a short sale in Nevada.

You can certainly hire an attorney to handle a short sale if you’d like, but I don’t think it’s necessary or worth the additional expense. In fact, Realtors can and do handle short sales here in Nevada on a daily basis. And unlike many of the local lawyers who are aggressively marketing their services in this area, we don’t charge thousands of dollars up front for our expertise.

As you may know, nearly half of all local home sales are now short sales, which occur when a lender agrees to sell a property for less than what the borrower owes on the mortgage.

With the recent rise in short sales, many Realtors have taken the time in recent years to get additional education on these more complex and time-consuming real estate transactions.

Hundreds of our Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors members have now earned professional certifications to let potential clients know we are specialists in this area.

As Realtors, we believe attorneys can play a key role in advising property owners on legal aspects of real estate transactions.

However, we see many law firms pushing their clients into a loan modification or bankruptcy when, in reality, a short sale would have been the best and less costly choice.

I know some of our friends in the legal industry are spending a considerable amount of money trying to convince distressed homeowners that they are the only ones qualified to handle short sales.

Ever since short sales began to outpace foreclosures in our local housing market last year, I’ve seen an increasing number of advertisements from local law firms trying to tap into this trend.

I expect these ad campaigns to continue at least through Dec. 31, when the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act is set to expire.

Starting Jan. 1, and barring any further extensions by the federal government, any amount of money a bank writes off in agreeing to sell a home as part of a short sale may become taxable when sellers file their income taxes.

So, I agree with these aggressively advertising law firms on one key point: Homeowners who have been considering a short sale would be wise to act quickly this year before that act expires.

Thanks again for your questions. As a Realtor, I think it’s important for homeowners to know that they don’t have to hire an attorney to help them complete a short sale.

Keep those questions coming. Email me at ask@glvar.org.

Dave Tina is the 2013 president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, and has worked in the real estate industry for more than 35 years. GLVAR has more than 11,000 members. Email questions to ask@glvar.org. For more information, visit www.lasvegasrealtor.com.

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