Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a series focused on the role real estate professionals can play in helping those facing housing distress. Read Part 1: "Real estate professionals, housing distress, and helpful advice."
Thanks to real estate professionals, there are families across America making substantially lower mortgage payments on homes today that they may otherwise have lost to foreclosure or sold in a short sale.
Some of those agents and brokers who are reaching out to help have been through the real estate wringer themselves — they may have personally experienced foreclosure, sold their homes in a short sale or modified their mortgage. And others just want to help.
They understand the incredibly frustrating loan modification process, the sometimes lengthy short-sale process, and they are used to working with contracts, lenders and attorneys on a level that few others do.
This may be a defining moment for what being a professional in real estate really means to homeowners across America.
There are real estate professionals who are not just helping families buy and sell homes for a commission. They are offering up resources and constructive advice to help families keep their homes, without expecting any compensation. Of course, it’s also important not to advise consumers on matters outside your areas of expertise, or outside the boundaries of your real estate license.
Several real estate professionals responded to my invitation to relate their personal housing problems, or to share how they helped others for no compensation.
If the professionals in real estate cannot help their neighbors make the best practical decisions before needing an attorney, who can?
A sampling of their advice:
- "Don’t short-sell if you can possibly help it. (I know of two families who got loan modifications and did not sell.)"
- "Get out of debt. (A couple sold one car, cut back in some other areas, and is now debt free. They do not need a loan modification.)"
- "You must stay on top of your loan modification process. Obnoxiously." (This from a Realtor who, after two years, received a loan modification after calling her lender ever week — sometimes as frequently as four times a week.)
What would you advise?
If you know a story that would encourage others, please let us hear from you. We can keep it anonymous or share your name with your permission.
Because of delays and complications in the loan modification process, I wonder how many families are putting their homes on the short-sale market under the threat of foreclosure because it takes so long to go through the loan modification process.
Based on my communications with real estate professionals, here are some issues they encounter in addressing clients’ needs:
- Sellers who receive foreclosure notices are routinely told by their lender to "forget about it." Oh, OK, so it’s just part of a computerized process? Nothing to worry about? Can you imagine?
- Most owners are honest and want to do the right thing, but do not know where to start.
- Many are quite capable of doing the work but do not know what is needed and cannot get answers.
- A copy of a seller-signed listing agreement helps the lender respond faster to the loan modification request.
- Some people give up out of frustration and anger, and end up in foreclosure. Real estate professionals can be a tremendous help because they understand the language and are used to working with contracts and lenders.
- Helping others can take time.
Here is the paradox: "Lenders do not want or need more foreclosures, yet they allow the loan modification process to drag on as long as possible," said Realtor Fran Schultz of Buyers Resource-Fran Schultz Realty in Sherman, Texas.
"They don’t want to provide the loan modification, or they are so understaffed and undertrained they just cannot meet the demand — an excuse that by now should go away," Schultz said.
Realtor Schultz knows from whence she speaks. She requested a loan modification immediately after the program was announced.
"My client number was 977 out of millions of homeowners. After the death of my husband, my income took a dramatic dive."
"I understood the language, the paperwork, and working with lenders, and it still took two grueling years to get the mortgage modified from 6.75 percent to 2 percent for five years," Schultz said.
Others see it coming and want to head it off, but do not know how. A couple in Portland, Ore., needed a loan modification but did not know where to start.
The husband found Realtor William Metzker, a principal broker for Terradigm Real Estate Consultancy in Portland, Ore.
He happened to visit Meltzer’s Twitter feed and "evidentially followed up on something I tweeted. We have never met, (we’re) only virtual friends," Metzker said.
Metzker, through a series of emails, offered loan modification advice, "which they followed up on and are somewhere in the process now."
Then there are the two families who called their Re/Max agent to list and short sale their home. They were getting no response from their lender related to loan modifications. The agent felt that if she could send the lender a copy of the listing agreements, the lender would become responsive. She was right. Once the lender saw the listing agreements, the process moved forward.
The result: Both families got loan modifications and the Realtor withdrew the listings.
"I make my living selling foreclosures to investors, so it wasn’t a big loss to me," the agent said. "This level of involvement takes a lot of time, as you can imagine, so I have to be careful, but it is worth it."
Yes it is. Worth some pats on the back to the agent, and a lifetime of thanks from the families you helped.
I look forward to hearing your stories as we continue this series.