The SINGLE overarching reason to get advice from a bankruptcy attorney before selling your home is to save money, possibly a great deal of money. I’ll tell you ten ways to do so—three today and then the rest in a couple blogs next Tuesday and Thursday.
1. Avoiding judgment liens: If some creditor has sued you in the past, that creditor likely has a judgment against you. You might not even realize or remember if this has happened to you. Or, a creditor may sue you in the near future, and get a judgment against you before the sale of your home closes. If a judgment has been entered against you, this usually means the creditor has a lien against your home. That lien amount is almost always substantially larger than the amount you owed the creditor. Most of the time, that judgment lien has to be paid in full before the house can sell. If the judgment is paid out of the proceeds of the house sale, this reduces the amount you receive. Or the lien could reduce the money you thought would go to more important debts, such as taxes, child support, or an ex-spouse. If there aren’t enough sale proceeds to cover the judgment, you will either have to pay the full judgment amount out of your pocket, or at least some discounted amount to get the creditor to release the lien. If you don’t pay it in full, you would likely continue owing the balance. And if the creditor won’t settle, you may not be able to go through with the sale. In contrast, either a Chapter 7 or 13 case often can get rid of that judgment lien and write off the underlying debt, allowing you to sell the home without paying anything on that debt.
2. Stripping second and other junior mortgages: Chapter 13 often allows you to “strip” your second (or third) mortgage from the title of your home. The law changes that debt from a secured debt to an unsecured one. It can do this when your home is worth no more than the first mortgage (plus any property taxes or other “senior” liens) by acknowledging that all of the home’s value is exhausted by liens that legally come ahead of that junior mortgage. As a result, these junior mortgage balances are thrown into the same pot as the rest of your other regular unsecured debts—all your other debts that have no collateral attached to them. When this happens, depending on your situation, you often don’t pay anything more into your Chapter 13 Plan. And even if you do have to pay something more because of that stripped “junior” mortgage, almost always you only have to pay pennies on the dollar. And you end up with your home completely free and clear of that mortgage.
3. Buying time for a better offer: A home sold in a hurry is seldom going to get you the best price. A basic rule of home sales is that the maximum price is gotten through maximum exposure. If you feel under serious time pressure to sell because of creditor problems, the extra time provided by filing either a Chapter 7 or 13 case could get you just the additional market exposure you need. No question–filing a bankruptcy can in some respects complicate the sale of your house, and there many situations when a bankruptcy filing will not likely help you reach your goals. But in the right situations the advantage of getting more time on the market far outweighs any potential disadvantage.
In a blog next Tuesday I’ll give you more ways that bankruptcy can give you huge advantages involving your home. If some of these apply to your situation, they can totally change whether or not you should sell your home, and if so, when you should do so.