** I am located in Imperial County, CA **
A short sale is a process in which the home seller sells their home for less than what is owed to satisfy the liens (mortgages) outstanding on their home. Typically the sellers have some type of hardship which is required by the lender in order to agree to sell their home in this fashion. A seller goes the short sale route to show good faith in trying to resolve their actual or potential late payment mortgage problems. Should the lender not agree to a short sale, the lender will eventually take this property back on their books many months from now and for a much greater loss than by agreeing to the short sale.
If the sellers lender(s) or loss mitigation staff have already "approved" the ability for a short sale, then you should be able to close within a regular escrow time frame, typically 30-60 days or so.
However, if the lender has not approved the ability for a short sale and you sent your offer in with the sellers short sale package, you could be in for quite a roller coaster ride.
There are several components that go into a short sale package and if the package is not complete or to the liking of the loss mitigation staff (the lenders collection people) then the short sale ability may not get approved, which may or may not have anything to do with your offer, since they are two independent processes.
I agree with others that your real estate agent will have keep on top of the negotiations and ensure all of the items are handled with the sellers agent and their lender.
Buying a home through a short sale (pre-foreclosure) can be a great way to buy real estate and the lenders are coming around as well, however there is still much work to be done.
You may have considered properties that are listed as "bank owned" or REO properties, which would indicate the home has been acquired by the bank or lender who owns the loan and now they are trying to sell the home to recover their losses. There are still negotiations with buying a bank owned or REO property, however the seller (lender) is much more motivated to get rid of the home at this stage.
The key with any transaction is constant open communication. If there is a breakdown within the flow of communication, it typically lends itself to misunderstandings and transactional errors.
I wish you the best of luck as you embark on your journey of home ownership!
(my answers are a courtesy to my readers and are my opinions soley, as such they should not be construed as legal advice in any fashion or form and are to be used for educational /illustrative purposes)
They will know other agents who have dealt with them and be able to hear how the deals went.