Real estate professionals are not always trusted and respected by consumers. We are salespeople and it seems like we have to work extra hard with some consumers to establish trust.

The current economic crisis has given us an opportunity to establish trust with consumers, who have a huge need for education. I can read the terms they use in the search engines to find my Web sites.

Real estate professionals are not always trusted and respected by consumers. We are salespeople and it seems like we have to work extra hard with some consumers to establish trust.

The current economic crisis has given us an opportunity to establish trust with consumers, who have a huge need for education. I can read the terms they use in the search engines to find my Web sites.

The word "foreclosure" keeps coming up and people type in search strings that are questions about foreclosures and questions about foreclosure prevention. A couple of years ago I wrote a short, simple post on the foreclosure process in Minnesota. I did it as a public service and today it is the post that gets the most traffic. The post that explains what a short sale is comes in second.

When we don’t take the time to educate consumers, others do it for us. My son recently gave me a letter that is being sent to homes in neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates. The letter is from a company that charges a lot of money to renegotiate mortgages for homeowners. The way it is worded it appears that the organization is a nonprofit and is somehow affiliated with the government. It looked so real and so official my son wasn’t sure if it was a scam and so he brought it to me.

Homeowners can negotiate their own mortgage payments for free. There is also a city program, a county program and a state program where free counseling is available on how to talk to the lender, and counselors will do it for homeowners for free. There are nationwide programs that provide free counseling to distressed homeowners, too.

The company that sends out the letter is doing a much better job connecting with consumers than any of the nonprofits are. Legitimate programs to help distressed homeowners are cropping up all over, but not as quickly as the scams are.

We have an opportunity to help, and we should help. The first step for agents is to understand the foreclosure process in their own state. Know it inside and out, memorize every step. You learned it in real estate school. The second step is becoming familiar with programs that are designed to help homeowners. The third step is to be compassionate and patient when a distressed homeowner calls looking for information.

There are agents who do not work with foreclosures and who do not want to. I respect that, but they should still understand the process and be able to explain it. They should know what a short sale is. There are classes on the subject being taught just about everywhere.

I would rather be selling real estate than giving out free information, but I don’t like that scam artists are targeting distressed homeowners and ripping them off. These homeowners are my neighbors, and I will do whatever I can to help a neighbor.

Local government agencies have never done a good job communicating with consumers. They don’t get out much; they do little marketing; and this year they are strapped for money.

The private sector needs to pick up the slack. We are in a crisis and each of us needs to do what we can to help, just like we have after natural disasters. Real estate professionals need to get involved and become a trusted source for information. We need to stay one step ahead of the scam artists.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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