Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Short Sale" of Real Estate

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Jordan E. Bublick is a Miami Bankruptcy Lawyer - North Miami - Aventura Office - (305) 891-4055

A short sale involves the mortgage lender agreeing to allow a homeowner to sell his real property for a price less than enough to payoff the mortgage in full. That is, the lender agrees to release its mortgage lien on the property for an amount less than a full pay-off so as to allow the sale of the real estate to proceed.  As the net proceeds of the sales price is less than the full amount due on the mortgage lien, the mortgage holder must agree to accept a "short" payoff in exchange for release of its mortgage lien.


Many homeowners facing foreclosure consider a "short sale", but have a difficult time understanding all of its implications. Some property owners that attempt to achieve a short sale are not successful in their efforts. Many seem to indicate frustration in the attempt to communicate with the mortgage lender(s) and/or actually complete a short sale. In addition, many lenders may be under contractual or regulatory restrictions that may not permit them to agree to a short sale.

Apparently the most difficult item in the short sale process is communicating with the lender and any second mortgage holder, such as the holder of a "home equity loan." In addition to the agreement of the first mortgage holder, the agreement of any junior mortgage holders must also be obtained. Outstanding judgments or tax liens may also be an issue as the buyer would need to receive clear title.

The process of obtaining a short sale usually takes several weeks to pursue and one needs to furnish substantial documentation, including personal financial information such as paycheck stubs, bank statements, 401(k) statements, and tax returns. One may also need to furnish information about a hardship.

Release from Liability
One of the most important issues in the short sale is whether the homeowner is actually released from liability for the "short" or unpaid amount. If the mortgage company and/or the second mortgage company do not release a person from liability for the unpaid portion, the benefit of a short sale to a homeowner may be questioned.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Florida Bankruptcy Exemptions

Persons filing for bankruptcy in Florida generally use the exemptions  provided by Florida law and non-bankruptcy federal law.  Florida law provides for exemptions in the Florida Constitution, Florida Statutes and common law.

Real Property

Certain real property, such as a homestead, and personal property are "exempt" - that is, exempt from administration by a chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee or otherwise not taken into consideration in a chapter 13 as to the amount required to be repaid to unsecured creditors.

Personal property of  $l,000.00 and $4,000.00 value

Each debtor may "exempt" $l,000.00 of personal property.  Another statute also allows each debtor to “exempt” a further $4,000.00 of personal property if he does not claim or receive the benefits of a Florida homestead exemption. 

Cars and other Motor Vehicles

In addition to the above general personal property exemption, $l,000.00 in equity, in one car (two for a joint case) or other motor vehicle (such as a motorcycle, truck, trailer, semi-trailer, truck tractor, semi-trailer combination, recreational vehicle, etc.) is "exempt" from the bankruptcy estate. Often this is not even used as many vehicles have no net value (equity) as more is owed on them than they are worth (i.e. you are "upside down").  During and after the bankruptcy, you must, of course, continue to make any payment due for a lien on the vehicle.

Pension Plans, IRAs, and other Retirement Plans 

Pension plans, I.R.A.'s, and other retirement plans are generally not part of the estate or may be exempted from the estate (including under the exemption provided in the Bankruptcy Code itself 522 (b)(3)(C)) . 

Earned Income Credit Refund   

An interest in an IRS earned income credit ("EIC") whether received or yet to be received is exempt. It also applies to funds in a bank account traceable to such EIC. This exemption does not apply to collection for child support or spousal support.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Means Test: "Household" Size and Contributions

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The bankruptcy code's "means test" looks to the size of the debtor's "household." The bankruptcy code does not define what constitutes a "household."

Census Bureau Definition

Some bankruptcy courts hold that the Census Bureau's definition of "household" provides the most appropriate definition of household for use in the means test. The Census Bureau defines "household" as "all of the people, related and unrelated, who occupy a housing unit"such as a house, apartment, group of rooms or single room that is intended for occupancy as a separate living quarters." These Courts hold that the word "household" and not "family" and did not intend to limit household size to only household members related by blood, marriage or adoption.

Internal Revenue Manual Definition

In some cases, parties argue that the Internal Revenue Manuel's ("IRM") definition of "household"should be used. The IRM does not define "household" but indicates that the number of persons allowed under the national standard expenses should generally be the same as the number of dependents on the taxpayer's latest tax return.

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Lien Stripping" - Still Available in Chapter 13

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"Lien stripping" of underwater mortgages or other junior liens is still available under chapter 13 bankruptcy.  The much publicized U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Bank of America cases only held that lien stripping cannot be done in chapter 7 bankrupty cases.

In order to "strip" (ie. avoid) a second priority mortgage or other junior lien, they must generally be wholly underwater unless the obligation's had already ballooned.

The lien stripping is accomplished with the appropriate provision in the chapter 13 debtor's proposed chapter 13 plan. The applicable valuation and avoidance motion are also filed. Pursuant to a lien strip, a lien is avoided and the debt is provided for as a general unsecured claim.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Florida Mortgage Foreclosure - Assignment of Promissory Note Without the Mortgage

In Florida, generally the transfer of a mortgage note transfers with it the related mortgage. The mortgage note is regarded as the principal item with the mortgage being regarded as a mere accessory. Hence the adage "the mortgage follows the note."

The Restatement (Third) of Property provides in  Mortgages section 5.4(a) (1997) that "[a] transfer of an obligation secured by a mortgage also transfers the mortgage unless the parties to the transfer agree otherwise."  Florida law is apparently in accordance with the Restatement. The stated objective of the Restatement is to avoid economic waste to the lender and a windfall to the borrower if the note and mortgage are split rendering the mortgage note as a practical matter unsecured. The Restatement cites the United States Supreme Court decision in Carpenter v. Longan, 83 U.S. 271 (1827) which held that "[a]ll the authorities agree that the debt is the principal thing and the mortgage an accessory."

The Restatement's exception provides that a transfer of a mortgage note is possible without the transfer of the mortgage if the parties so agree, but the effect of such a transfer would be to make it impossible to foreclose the mortgage unless the transferor of the mortgage note is made the assignee's agent or trustee with authority to foreclose on the behalf of the assignee of the mortgage note.

Assignment of the Mortgage

The opposite situation is presented if a mortgage is transferred without the transfer of the mortgage note. The apparent rule in Florida is that an assignment of a mortgage without an assignment of the related mortgage note is deemed a nullity and creates no right in the assignee because a mortgage is a mere lien incidental to the obligation it secures. 37 Fla. Jur. 2nd, Mortgages, Section 511. See e.g., Sobel v. Mutual Development, Inc., 313 So.2d 77 (Fla. 1st DCA 1975). Vance v. Fields, 172 So.2d 613 (Fla. 1st DCA 1965).