Very simply, a short sale is when a lender agrees to take less than what he’s owed and allows homeowners to sell their property because they are facing financial hardship. Typically, the homeowner's mortgage is worth more than his home and he's having trouble making payments. So the homeowner sells the home and the bank marks down the value of the mortgage to the sales price, leaving the homeowner free and clear.
Lenders agree to do this because it makes financial sense for them. According to recent statistics, homes offered as short sales are bought for roughly 20 percent below their market value as opposed to 39 percent under market value for foreclosed homes. Lenders also save on costly foreclosure and maintenance procedures. Thus, the short sale is typically a better option for the lender as well as the seller.