I received a frantic call, the other day, from a client I had recently helped with a Southern NH Short Sale. It seems she had run into a real estate agent friend of a friend and the subject of her Short Sale came up. The agent, no doubt in an effort to impress her with her knowledge about all things real estate, proceeded to warn her that she was most likely going to find herself with a "huge bill" because "some tax thing expired".
In all likelihood what this agent was referring to was the expiration of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, originally signed into law by President Bush, which relieved homeowners from having to pay taxes on debt forgiven on the first mortgage on their primary residence. The original Act was set to expire in 2009 but in 2008 it was extended through 2012. It has been extended in one year increments since then. 2014 was a real nail biter since it was not extended until December 29, 2014, at which point the extension was retroactive. 2015 was also a nail biter since the Bills (there were two of them, one in the Senate and one in the House) introduced in Congress early in the year languished in Committee. Fortunately, another version was one of the tax break "extenders" that was quietly added into the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act which was passed by the House and the Senate and signed by the President in December. As an added bonus, this time it was extended through the end of 2016. So, all of our nails will look much better this year.
Admittedly, since the real estate market is doing much better and Foreclosures and Short Sales are less frequent, this was certainly not front page news. However, the folks who are still closely involved with Short Sales have not only been watching this but have been relatively certain that it would be extended all along.
Why the certainty? Because the Making Home Affordable Program (the bone that the federal government threw Main Street America in the wake of the TARP bailout) is still in existence. And, although the government has certainly been known to do some strange things, it is pretty unlikely (at least we all hope it's pretty unlikely) that they would promote a program which encourages distressed home owners to either modify their loan (which may include debt forgiveness) or short sell their home (which definitely includes debt forgiveness) and then whack them with a huge tax bill on the forgiven debt.
So, you ask, what does all of this have to do with 2016 possibly being the last, best chance for a Short Sale? The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and The Making Home Affordable Program are now both scheduled to expire at the end of 2016 and, absent another crisis, it seems unlikely that either will be extended.
Therefore, if you are still underwater and have been struggling with your mortgage you may want to give some thought as to whether a Short Sale would be the best option for you.
If you do decide that a Short Sale is your best option, you might want to make sure that the agent you choose knows what that "tax thing" is (not that we are accountants, but really...).
If you have questions about Southern New Hampshire/Northern Massachusetts real estate, in general, or Short Sales, in particular, you can reach me at 603-490-5344.