Despite the fervent prayers of bankers all across this nation, short sales and foreclosures are not disappearing anytime soon. They are simply two additional types of home sales that must be mastered by Realtors.
And earning a specific distressed-home accreditation does not assure swift business or success with clientele. This segment of our trade requires Realtors to approach each situation with the utmost of respect, care and diligence — no half-hearted attempts here!
Distressed sales are stressful, and tempers can kindle quickly when expectations are not met. So what does a successful agent/seller relationship look like? I casually interviewed a couple in foreclosure and the agent representing their home.
"Suzan Johnson" (not her real name) is a happy, vivacious go-getter, and a close personal friend. She has more energy than five women at Nordstrom with no-limit credit cards. She is a small-business owner, wife and mother, who is aghast at facing the foreclosure of her home. This was not the retirement plan she and her husband had mapped out for themselves seven years ago.
They had custom-built their dream home, had a thriving business, and assured investments … so what went wrong? "What didn’t go wrong?" said Suzan. It’s not a strange story at all — small-business contracts dry up as the economy grinds to a halt, investments implode, and their home lost (literally) half its value.
"Our mortgage payments outstripped our income and started digging deep into our retirement accounts. Our investments crashed. So despite the heartbreak, short-selling was a no-brainer," she said. "It’s called self-preservation."
She emphasized the deep sense of failure that the distressed sale leveled on herself and her husband. Friends, neighbors, business associates, church members and family were all audience to a very public disgrace — at least, that’s how it felt to her.
They listed their home with Kip Lohr, a Bend, Ore., agent specializing in distressed sales who also is a friend of mine. I asked for his top three action points in selling distressed homes.
"You’ve got to care about your client, know what the options are and which of those will best benefit your client, and then be able to deliver on what you promise," he said.
Well, that sounded too easy to me. Of course we Realtors care about our clients! Right? I mean, that’s why we gift clients engraved cheese knives and send Teleflora bouquets … but Lohr was talking about that "extra mile" stuff.
"Sellers in distress feel like there is no hope. They feel paralyzed. These people need to feel hope again, feel confident that the agent knows what can be done for them and that the agent truly cares about them and not just about the payday," Lohr said.
He stressed doing first-things-first: "I get right to the heart of the situation for that potential client. I assess their financial hardships, assess how many lenders there are, and who those lenders are, and understand the goals of the client. Based on that information I can help them decide on their best course of action."
Suzan said her agent seemed to speak her language. "I didn’t want any techno-babble! I didn’t want all the gory details! I just wanted to know what was happening when I called him, but in words I could understand. Layman’s terms. Word pictures. He had to learn ‘Suzanese,’ " she paused, "and I called him a lot."
What I gathered from my rudimentary questioning was this: Agents attempting to represent distressed sales better know exactly what they’re doing.
And sellers of distressed properties absolutely do need special treatment. They expect handholding. And big ears that listen to every phone call — even the frantic ones, and the angry ones, and the frustrated ones, and the call that breaks down into tears.
As an agent working for these sellers you must take a chill-pill every day and lay the process out clearly before them, and then expect to explain it many times over. And that takes talent!
Suzan said, "Maybe the most important thing of all: He gave us hope."
Not every agent is cut out for distressed property sales. An average deal takes 40-plus man-hours to work through, and the patience of a saint. And sometimes it doesn’t pan out.
But on the other hand, the wins are ultra-rewarding, according to Lohr: "The best paycheck I ever received was a basket of handmade cookies and candies lovingly made and wrapped and presented to me with a note that said that they wished they could do more, but wanted me to know how grateful they were that I had helped them out of a tough spot."
And that’s coming from a guy with a lot of tattoos.
The Johnsons’ home closed this month after 15 months on the market. It had a total of four offers; buyers were willing to outbid one another to the tune of $200,000 above the short-sale list price — and the bank finally made a decision in the waning hours of 2010.
The Johnsons said the difference-maker was communication: answering the phone, listening, knowing the process, and creating an environment of cooperation among agents and lenders.
It sounds easy enough, but not everyone can speak "Suzanese."