Bank of America wants to hit the fast forward button on selling thousands of distressed homes in Florida.
Starting Saturday, the bank's goal will be to approve short sales in 20 days.
The move could spare delinquent homeowners from months of limbo while the bank considers offers from buyers. In some cases, frustrated buyers have waited six months or longer for the bank to approve a deal.
"I have to commend Bank of America for making this move," said Suzanne Sherer, a member of a Florida Realtors commission working with banks to streamline short sales. "This makes sense. Bank of America is making major strides."
Last fall, Bank of America serviced 1.1 million Florida mortgages, of which about 253,000 were delinquent.
Bank of America has been working with Equator, a real estate software company, to develop a program that allows short sale negotiators to approve the process faster, said bank spokesman Rick Simon.
He stressed that some short sales could still take longer than 20 days. The bank, he said, is committed to preventing foreclosures.
"We're pleased with the positive response from real estate professionals," Simon said. "We believe these new steps will increase the efficiency of the short sale process."
The program, Simon said, is being rolled out nationally but will be more prominent in Florida.
Prior to the housing crash, banks lacked the means to handle selling millions of distressed properties. Trimming the approval process for short sales could clear thousands of homes from the distressed pipeline.
Real estate experts and economists have said the housing market cannot fully recover until the millions of distressed mortgages are removed from the system.
"That's a good development," said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. "Hopefully, other banks will follow. Finally, there is some evolution."
Bank of America will also limit prospective buyers to two counteroffers on the deals and will streamline the amount of paperwork that homeowners must submit. Sellers will no longer submit bank statements or pay stubs.
Homeowners have consistently complained about the amount of paperwork all the major lenders require to execute short sales. Property owners have been asked multiple times to fax the paperwork to different offices, adding weeks or months to the approval process.
Not any longer.
Under the new program, the real estate agents will load the documents into one computer system. All communication from the bank and agent will be stored in that system.
"There won't be anymore finger pointing," said Sherer, an agent with Remax Realty Team in Cape Coral. She recently closed a Bank of America short sale in 29 days.
Some local real estate agents are skeptical about the 20-day approval plan.
"I'll believe when I see it," said Liane Jamason, an agent with Smith & Associates Real Estate. "I'll be pleasantly surprised if this happens."
Steve Capen agreed.
The agent with Keller Williams Realty in St. Petersburg is handling more than 15 short sales with Bank of America. He acknowledged the lender is getting better at short sales and expects the new process to take three months before the kinks are worked out.
"Their track record isn't that good," he said. "They used to be just awful."
Short sales are on the rise across the country and in Florida.
Major lenders are looking to save millions on court costs, lawyer fees and property taxes by avoiding foreclosure. Short sales also speed the process of getting bad loans off bank books and gets the properties back on the market faster.
To further sweeten the deals, lenders are waiving the deficiency on the mortgages, which would allow homeowners to sell the house for less than they owe without having to make up the difference to the bank.
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.