With energy prices rising, switch to a cheaper plan
Compare Prices Now

What happens if I need to sell my property for less than the mortgage?

When property prices fall, some owners get stuck in negative equity. If you have to sell you could end up losing money.

We’re reader-supported and may be paid when you visit links to partner sites. We don’t compare all products in the market, but we’re working on it!

Negative equity is happens when the value of your property is less than your remaining mortgage debt. This is a rare situation for most home owners, because you generally need a home loan deposit to buy a home, you repay some of the principal each month, and property values tend to increase in value over time.

Having negative equity is a problem if you're in a position where you feel compelled to sell the property. If you find yourself in this situation, here's what you can expect to happen.

Negative equity explained

Equity is the value of your property minus any debts you have left on the property (like your mortgage).

For instance:

  • You buy a home for $500,000
  • You have a $50,000 deposit
  • You take out a loan of $450,000

But, over the next three years, the market value of the property falls.

You've repaid $20,000 worth of principal repayments over that time. You still owe $430,000 on your mortgage.

This means if you're a position where you need to sell the property, you will still have $30,000 debt on the mortgage that you will need to pay off (not including any real estate agent fees or selling costs).

How do you end up with negative equity?

Negative equity can be caused by a few different things, including:

  • Falling house prices. If you buy when the market is at its high point and median house prices then drop, negative equity is sometimes the result.
  • Overpaying for a property. Whether you made an excessive offer to make sure you secured the property or simply got caught up in the excitement of an auction, overpaying is a frequent contributing factor to negative equity,
  • Property damage. A property may decline in value if it is damaged or destroyed, for example if a house fire occurs in an uninsured property.
  • High loan-to-valuation ratios (LVRs). If you borrow a substantial amount of the purchase price of your property, for example 95%, your home doesn't need to experience a very large decrease in value for you to find yourself facing negative equity.

How to sell a mortgaged house at a loss

John CostaIf you have negative equity in your home but you need to sell it, you still need to repay the full amount owing on your mortgage.

But before the sale of your property can go through, you will need to obtain approval from your bank. John Costa, Mortgage Choice broker from North Melbourne, says that if you sell your home for less than the balance owing on your mortgage, "the bank will take a number of steps prior to allowing the sale settlement to proceed."

Costa outlines the steps your bank may take:

  1. The bank may ask if you can provide any other funds to cover the shortfall, such as any other savings.
  2. The bank will also ask you to complete a statement of assets and liabilities. If you have other assets like a car or motorbike, you may be required to sell some of those assets to cover the remaining debt.
  3. Bank transaction statements may also be required to show spending habits. "If there are regular payments for what may be deemed outside normal spending, then the bank may seek further explanations from you."
  4. If there is still a shortfall, the bank will obtain an independent valuation to satisfy themselves that the property was sold for a fair and reasonable market value.
  5. "The bank will want to see that the sale is an 'arm's-length' transaction, which means that the sale was conducted by a licensed real estate agent and does not involve a related party sale," Costa says.
  6. The bank will submit an application summary to its mortgage insurer seeking approval to allow the sale to proceed.
  7. Once the mortgage insurer approves the sale the settlement can proceed and the mortgage insurer will cover the shortfall and pay the bank the remaining amount on the mortgage.
  8. The mortgage insurer will then seek to enter into an arrangement to recover the funds from the you as the borrower.

How to avoid selling your property for a financial loss

If you have negative equity, it can be difficult to refinance your loan with a different lender. You also have limited opportunities to lock in a lower interest rate, so it's important that you take steps to avoid negative equity wherever possible.

You may be able to turn things around or avoid sliding into negative equity by trying the following:

  • Ask for help. If you've experienced temporary financial hardship that has caused you to fall behind on your repayments, for example if you were injured and unable to work, approach your bank to see if you can reach some sort of hardship arrangement or repayment holiday to help you get back up to date with repayments.
  • Make extra repayments. If you make additional repayments towards your loan, you can reduce the size of the debt you owe and you might be able to avoid selling the property with a huge negative balance.
  • Look for options to avoid selling. If you're in a position where you feel compelled to sell (such as if you're going through a divorce, or you're committed to another property) look for other options to avoid or delay selling. Could you rent the property out, for instance?
  • No negative equity guarantee. There are some home loans that feature a "no negative equity guarantee", which limits the outstanding debt on the loan to avoid you falling into negative equity. However, these loans usually come with a range of terms and conditions attached, so make sure to read the fine print closely.
  • Consider renovating. In some situations, it may be possible to increase the value of your property by doing renovations to improve the property.

Is it better to keep the property?

It's important to work out whether or not you need to sell the property right now. Is the market expected to fall further in the coming years, resulting in an even bigger gap between the value of your property and the amount you owe on your mortgage? Or might you be better off simply holding onto your property and waiting for the housing market to recover?

If you think property's value is only going to decline further then selling sooner rather than later could prevent bigger losses.

If you're a property investor, riding out a downturn can be easier. Rental income from tenants can help cover mortgage repayments and you can offset losses from your tax. But if you're struggling to find tenants, can only charge a small amount of rent and you're not confident that prices will rise soon enough you might decide to that selling is still better.

Speak to real estate agent

Get a real estate agent's advice on selling the property before you make any decisions. They probably have a better idea of the market than you do. And they might be able to advise you on a strategy.

More guides on Finder

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms of Use, Disclaimer & Privacy Policy and Privacy & Cookies Policy.

4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    MartinFebruary 28, 2022

    When you sell a property with negative equity does this exempt you from stamp duty when you subsequently buy? Thanks

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      SarahMarch 2, 2022Staff

      Hi there,

      Unfortunately, making a loss on a property doesn’t exempt you from paying stamp duty when you buy. They’re 2 totally different transactions, with different stakeholders involved.

      Selling a home with negative equity means you may sell the home for less than the mortgage has owing. You may have to pay off the rest of the mortgage with your own savings or other income, and this is related to your transaction with the bank.

      Stamp duty is charged by the state government. It’s often the state’s main source of income or revenue and is completely separate to your loan. In fact, most banks won’t let you borrow money to pay stamp duty; you have to pay upfront on purchase.

      There are ways to minimise stamp duty, such as living in the property (investors pay a higher rate), or buying an off-the-plan home, as you only pay stamp duty on the land value.

      I hope this helps!


  2. Default Gravatar
    NerkaJune 6, 2017

    The vendor of a property has a $480,000 mortgage. The purchase price of the house was $720,000. Is this a problem? Please give reasons for either yes or no.

    • Default Gravatar
      JonathanJune 7, 2017

      Hi Nerka!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Generally, it is more desirable to have a higher selling value than the amount of remaining mortgage.

      If you need a professional advice who would take into consideration your personal circumstances, you may want to speak to a mortgage broker.

      Hope this helps.


Go to site