The opportunity to make a good living in bad times is staring real estate agents right in the face. Forget the horror stories. Lenders have systems in place, and agents have the right training and certification opportunities in place.

Short sales are about to shift into prairie-fire mode as lenders prepare for yet another record year of pending foreclosures. Lenders are hoping to approve short sales on many of those properties, saving them the cost of repossessing them.

According to a spokesperson, Bank of America is bringing aboard an additional 3,000 customer service representatives to handle the anticipated surge in demand. A Chase spokesman said that company is already prepared for the deluge.

For those working in real estate, start the new year with a new attitude and new commitment to move into a niche that might be a little uncomfortable at first. There is plenty of help available, starting with the short-sale teams in your own office.

Horror stories are being replaced by happy short-sale sellers and buyers, because thousands of agents are not just getting into short sales, they are becoming short sale-certified. And whether they admit it or not, lenders like working with agents who know how to get the short-sale paperwork completed correctly the first time.

Just five years ago, people talked about how many condominiums they had purchased lately, or how much more their houses were worth today than what they paid for them. It seemed like people were buying a second or third home just to say they could.

Today, demand for trained short-sale agents is growing because short sales will become a larger part of the total resale picture in many markets in 2012. But many agents are confused and simply cannot find the passion needed to become disciplined enough to learn what they need to know.

A Dec. 15 article in the Orlando Sentinel states that short sales in that market during November 2011 "made up 73 percent of the pending sales, up from 64 percent a year ago."

Real estate agents quoted in the column cited tight lending conditions, under-value appraisals, and the fact that more families are listing their homes as short sales because they have lost their jobs or found jobs out of the market.

But in 2012, you can add another reason: pending foreclosures that ended up being sold via short sale, thanks to lenders’ incentive programs. As I noted in a past column, the lender does not want the house.

How does this affect you? If you already are selling short sales and are working with lenders to sell more, you are positioned to take full advantage of the 2012 market.

If you are a newly licensed agent who has not jumped on the short-sale wagon (the "band" was laid off) yet, what actions do you take?

Some suggestions:

1. Assume the short-sale growth will continue and demand for qualified real estate agents will grow.

2. Don’t let a bad experience throw you under the bus. Learn, and keep growing. We are in real estate. Bad experiences are a part of our need to develop resolve and patience.

3. Be careful who you listen to around the office. Do your own homework.

4. Make the commitment to become certified. There are several good short-sale certification programs out there. Becoming short sale-certified is important to lenders. They want to work with agents who understand the paperwork and can do it right the first time.

5. Join a short-sale team.

The team approach might make the most sense , if listing or selling short sales is or is to become a new niche for you.

In discussions with short-sale team leaders, the consensus is that teams provide the systems needed to process short sales on both sides of the transaction. If you prefer to work alone, that is fine, but joining a team helps agents learn faster and gives them much needed support.

Major lenders — the ones with the largest number of foreclosures and short sales — are not, for the most part, negotiating commissions, from what I hear. This is probably a firm lender policy by some, a general arbitrary rule by others.

Lenders, based on what I’ve gathered, want what any seller wants: "to sell in minimum time, at the highest possible price, with as little inconvenience to them as possible," to quote an old but true refrain.

Short-sale professionals understand that they are providing an important service to homeowners who are faced with the foreclosure option and either do not know they have a short-sale option or do not know what do if if they know they have one.

It is a great time to earn respect for what you do, commissions when you do it, and a sense of purpose every time you help distressed sellers resolve perhaps one of the most troublesome issues facing them in their lifetime.

You deserve every bit of it. Have a great 2012.

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