The Dreaded Deficiency Judgment
Most people are familiar with the non-judicial foreclosure. This is a private Trustee's Sale that follows the statutory guidelines of California Civil Code Section 2924 et seq. California is a trust deed state instead of a "mortgage" state so we generally do not use terms like "mortgagor", "mortgagee" etc. and instead the parties are the Trustor (borrower), the Beneficiary (lender) and the Trustee.
When the borrower seeks out a loan, the borrower executes a promissory note and deed of trust. The deed of trust contains the power of sale. The borrower give the Trustee the power to sell the borrower's house (the collateral) if the borrower fails to make loan payments to the beneficiaries (bank/lender).
The non-judicial foreclosure is the quickest way for the bank to take the collateral once the borrowers have stopped paying. For years, the Bay Area experienced soaring house prices and lenders did not need to worry about any deficiency on their loan if the lender had to take a property back at sale.
These days, the house prices are less rosy and lenders are facing a market where the value of the home is LESS than the loan. That is the dreaded deficiency.
If the borrowers are still working age, or have other assets, lenders may choose to pursue a judicial foreclosure and seek a deficiency judgment. What does that mean? It means that the bank will file the Complaint in Superior Court and the sale will not be a private remedy. Instead, the foreclosure would be conducted by a sheriff--a public sale. After the sale, the difference in the "fair market value" and debt amount will be the deficiency judgment against the borrowers.
Example - Borrower owes $500k. The house is worth $400k (as determined by the court appointed independent appraiser "referee") at the time of the sheriff's sale. The actual sale price may be higher or lower than $400k and Court may issue a deficiency judgment for $100k.
This means the bank has taken the house, sold it, evicted the borrower and the borrower has a judgment against them for $100k. The bank can then enforce that judgment in a number of ways, such as wage garnishment or if the judgment debtors owns other property, levy against it.
Borrowers may have thought they were safe to walk away from their homes that were in foreclosure because they thought that California's anti-deficiency laws protected them. What is the anti-deficiency statute? That is California Code of Civil Procedure Section 580(b) and this applies to purchase money loans and purchase money loans on residential 1-4 units owner-occupied.