To answer your question here is the Wikipedia definition of short sale:
In real estate, a short sale is a sale of real estate in which the proceeds from the sale fall short of the balance owed on a loan secured by the property sold. In a short sale, the bank or mortgage lender agrees to discount a loan balance due to an economic or financial hardship on the part of the mortgagor. This negotiation is all done through communication with a bank's Loss mitigation department. The home owner/debtor sells the mortgaged property for less than the outstanding balance of the loan, and turns over the proceeds of the sale to the lender, sometimes (but not always) in full satisfaction of the debt. In such instances, the lender would have the right to approve or disapprove of a proposed sale. Most Short Sales leave a deficiency balance for which the Mortgagor / Borrower is still liable. In 99% of all cases it is not a settlement-in-full. A deficiency balance will remain while the mortgage broker, real estate agent / broker, loan officers, title and closing agents retain their profit. No regulatory agency governs this hybrid transaction.
Extenuating circumstances influence whether or not banks will discount a loan balance. These circumstances are usually related to the current real estate market and the borrower's financial situation.
A short sale typically is executed to prevent a home foreclosure. Often a bank will allow a short sale if they believe that it will result in a smaller financial loss than foreclosing. For the home owner, advantages include avoidance of a foreclosure on their credit history and partial control of the monetary deficiency. A short sale is typically faster and less expensive than a foreclosure. In short, a short sale is nothing more than negotiating with lien holders a payoff for less than what they are owed, or rather a sale of a debt, generally on a piece of real estate, short of the full debt amount. It does not extinguish the remaining balance unless settlement is clearly indicated on the acceptance of offer.
Short sales are common in standard business transactions in recognition that creditors are not doing debtors a favor but, rather, engaging in a business transaction when extending credit. When it makes no business sense or is economically not feasible to retain an asset, businesses default on their loans (called bonds). It is not uncommon for business bonds to trade on the after-market for a small fraction of their face value in realization of the likelihood of these future defaults.
Please be aware that these type of sales take time and can be frustating but if everything works out in the end you probably will have made a good deal. Have the agent your working with advise you on what to offer. There is not a set number that the bank will take.
I hope that helps.
Coldwell Banker Action