Score a quick short sale

For sale sign with sky in background

If you're looking for a great deal in Phoenix or Orlando, take advantage of a new pilot program designed to expedite short sales in those two cities.

Homeowners usually try for a short sale when they're struggling to keep up with their payments and in danger of foreclosure.

They strike a deal to sell the home for less than they owe on their loan and ask the lender to forgive the difference.

It can take months for banks and mortgage companies to review and approve -- or reject -- those sales.

In an effort to speed up the process, Countrywide Financial has preapproved the short sale of 400 homes in Phoenix and Orlando.

Any buyer willing to pay the mortgage holder's price can complete the purchase without any of the usual delays.

Prospective buyers can get specific property addresses in the greater Orlando area from the Mid-Florida Regional Multi Listing Service. In Phoenix, the homes are offered through the Arizona Regional Multi Listing Service.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," says Marty Hunt, president of the Mid-Florida Regional Multi-Listing Service. "It'll expedite the process and get us through this thing a little bit faster. Consumers will get a good buy and the lender will have a better return -- or a smaller loss -- than running all the way through the foreclosure process."

In most short sales, lenders want to clear about 82% (after expenses) of the home's current fair market value, regardless of what the borrower owes, according to Tim Harris, co-founder of Harris Real Estate University in Las Vegas.

You might find a similar house for a little less if you buy a foreclosure.

But the homes offered through short sales are almost always in better shape. Many repossessed homes need tens of thousands of dollars' worth of repairs. The worst of the bunch have been deliberately vandalized by angry owners just before they were evicted.