3 ways to dump your house (© Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Short sales are just one option for homeowners who are desperate to get rid of their house. // © Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Suppose you had to get rid of a house because of a job transfer, major illness, divorce, imminent foreclosure or other emergency. In a soft housing market, how would you do it?

Perhaps you'd be fortunate enough to sell quickly at a small discount. But if that's not feasible, you have three other options: a short sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, a strategic default or literally giving away the house. (Bing: What are the tax implications of giving away your home?)

Here's a look at each option.

1. Short sale or deed-in-lieu
A short sale allows a homeowner to sell the home for less than the amount owed on the mortgage. The lender's approval is required, however, and these transactions aren't speedy.

A short sale can take a year or longer to close, says Tony Marriott, a broker associate at Show Appeal Realty in Phoenix.

The home's condition and the real-estate broker's experience in home-sale negotiations are key factors. But price may be the most delicate issue in the long time frame.

"If you get too aggressive with price, you'll get a contract," Marriott says, "but you'll get pushback from the seller's lender."

If you don't want to put your house on the market or can't get a short-sale approval, you can try to negotiate a deed-in-lieu directly with the lender.

Read:  New short-sale rule may help sellers

The pace of this process, in which you sign over your ownership of the house to the lender to avoid foreclosure, depends on the specifics of the situation and the lender's response. But again, it's unlikely to happen quickly.

Article continues below

A short sale or deed-in-lieu will hurt your credit score, and you must disclose your financial information to the lender. The lender may demand a promissory note that would obligate you to repay a portion of the loan after the sale or loss of the property.

2. Strategic default
A strategic default occurs when a homeowner decides not to make a mortgage payment because the home's value is now less than the loan balance.

What's your home worth?

This approach can work, but it isn't fast or easy, says Jon Maddux, CEO of YouWalkAway.com and a strategic-default consultant in Carlsbad, Calif.

"If (people are) trying to get rid of a house in a hurry, a strategic default or walking away isn't going to be the answer for them," he says.

In fact, a strategic default can take a year or longer, depending on state laws and how quickly the lender can sell the repossessed home.

The delays in the foreclosure process, however, mean homeowners often can stay in the home for as long as two years before being evicted. In some cases, owners can save as much as $30,000 or $40,000, Maddux says.

Some of these homeowners maintain the lawn and pay homeowners association dues or property taxes. Others live in the house essentially for free.

"When they come out the other end, they aren't destitute," Maddux says. "They have a little money to take care of their family."

On the other hand, a strategic default has many drawbacks that go beyond the questionable ethics of refusing to pay your mortgage. They include wrecked credit, tax consequences and difficulty getting a new mortgage for years after the default.

Read:  4 dangers of walking away from your mortgage

3. Giving the house away
The fastest way to unload a house is to give it away. That may sound facetious, but some well-to-do people do give real estate as a gift, says Martin M. Shenkman, an estate- and tax-planning attorney in Paramus, N.J.

"If you have a house that may have been worth $2 million a couple of years ago and can be legitimately appraised at $1 million today, wow, get rid of it," he says.

The most common scenario is the gift of a family vacation home from parents or grandparents to the younger generation. A gift may be preferable to a quick sale because if the property were sold, the owner would receive the cash, but the family no longer could use and enjoy the home.

A simple gift requires only some paperwork that Shenkman says an attorney or, in some states, a title company can prepare in a few hours. The work is more complicated if the home is owned by or given to a family trust. A property appraisal is recommended.

Become a fan of MSN Real Estate on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.