"Short Sales" Climb As Homeowners Bail Out

Nurse Kathy Chick bought her New Jersey home in 2006.

"This house was my dream house," she said. "And unfortunately I bought at the top of the market."

With house prices plummeting, it's now worth less than her $227,000 mortgage. Unable to keep up with the payments, Chick has decided to "sell short," reports CBS News business correspondent Anthony Mason.

"Basically, it's my only option before foreclosure," Chick said.

A short sale is when a borrower sells their home for less than the amount owed, with the lender forgiving the difference.

The homeowner avoids the stigma of foreclosure; the lender avoids getting stuck with the property.

Realtor Frank Wible has become an expert in short sales, which are now estimated to account for one out of every five home sales in the country.

"Now almost 80 percent of my business is short sales," he said. "I think the next two and a half to three years you're gonna continue to see short sales."

But selling short is not an easy way out. First, the lender has to approve.

"And they're always comparing it against foreclosure. Can they get more for a foreclosure sale than they can from a short sale," said Allen Fishbein of the Consumer Federation of America.

There's nothing "short" about short sales, either. The approval process can take months. You have to show evidence of hardship. And it will affect your credit rating.

"But there's probably nothing worse than the impact a foreclosure would have on a borrowers credit score," Fishbein says.

"Well, I'm waiting," Chick says.

She has been waiting for two months for bank approval.

"And so it's extremely scary. Because I don't know if I'll be able to make next month's mortgage payment," Chick said.

But, she finally got it. Now a short sale could be the only way out of her dream house nightmare.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"