Short sales can present attractive opportunities for the savvy home buyer, but they need to know what they're getting into. Patience is indeed a virtue, as well as the ability and willingness to drop everything and consummate the deal at a moment's notice. Approval processes can often drag out for long, open-ended periods of time, so the ideal short-sale buyer is one who is ready, but not necessarily in a hurry.

Additionally, if you're considering buying a short sale home - or any sort of distressed property, for that matter - you need to understand that certain elements of the home may not be in peak condition. A home inspection, therefore, is vital to identifying any pressing issues stemming from the home's structural integrity or depreciating exterior - even if you may not be able to address them right away because the sale remains in a state of limbo. Here are a few other factors specific to short sales you should be aware of:

Beware of bankruptcies

Bankruptcies stipulate that all collection activities must cease, and a short sale falls into the collection category. Lenders may not be aware of a bankruptcy in the early stages of a deal, so it's in your best interest as a prospective buyer to ask this question of the seller so that you don't end up wasting your time.

Make sure the loan has officially defaulted

Without a full understanding of the requirements for the process, some homeowners will attempt to advertise their property as a short sale before their loan has defaulted. But this will result in the short sale's being rejected, so make sure the default is official before entertaining any deal.

Gauge the level of renovation necessary

A short sale purchase is, by nature, a gamble. So make sure that, by way of a home inspection, appraisal and asking your own questions, you understand the extent of work that will be necessary. Remember, short sellers haven't been able to keep up on their mortgage, so it's unlikely they've had the funds to properly maintain the place, either. If you have to put more money into the repairs than the place is worth, it may not add up to a worthwhile investment.

Be prepared for a long haul

Short sales require lengthy approval processes that vary by state and municipality, even after they've been approved by a lender. You'll be expected to do a potentially long limbo dance during which you'll need to have all paperwork and finances ready despite the fact that it may be months before any real movement is made.