I will offer a different opinion than Donna's post, since there is nothing sure about a short sale and I believe it is easier to buy a home after the bank has already taken possession of it. Most banks are overwhelmed and understaffed to handle the number of short sale offers coming in, it's a virtual tidal wave of paper. Even though it would be in everyones best interest to avoid foreclosure, you have little leverage to try and push your offer through... sometimes you get lucky and it goes through, sometimes it doesn't. I've heard a statistic that roughly 60%-75% short sales don't get to settlement.
Now if a buyer has the money (most likely the financial backing as an investor) then they can go down to the foreclosure sale usually at the county courthouse steps and bid on the property. That is where a buyer gets the best deal. Let the buyer beware though.... when one purchases on the courthouse steps without a thorough title search the purchaser might asorb tax or federal liens or a loan in first place position if the foreclosing bank is in second place. The best way to purchase a home now a days is from a Short Sale. Short Sales are listed with Realtors who are trained to work with the buyers, sellers and the bank to work out a sell where it is a win win situation for all.