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Why Won’t These Real Estate Agents Sell My House?

My latest listing found me on Google by researching the term “short sale real estate agent in Western MA” and has been following my blog articles of short sale advice and education.

While it is never a great thing to have to sell your home via short sale, I am honored that she valued my input enough to want guidance through this and I am thrilled that I may be able to help her through this difficult time.

They Said “WHAT?!!!”

I am, however, APALLED at what my client shared with me about several other agents in the area. She told me that a prior REALTOR told her that “short sales are too much work” and another agent flat out said she wouldn’t help.

I don’t know if these agents are ignorant, callous or simply lazy, but I find that kind of reaction stunningly unprofessional.

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Giving Realtors a bad name

It is one thing if you have decided that you don’t want to work on short sale listings, but to flat out tell a client that it is too much work? Wouldn’t the smarter response be to tell the homeowner that you don’t specialize in that type of sale, but you would help them find an agent that does? Not only will the homeowner respect your honesty, they will value your assistance in finding the right agent AND you will get a referral fee should the sale be successful.

We wonder why our profession gets a bad rap and why people think we are just chasing the next closing…this is it people! How selfish and unfeeling were those responses? What the seller heard instead of “too much work” was “my situation is a bigger mess than I thought. It is so bad that agents don’t even want to touch it.”

Be compassionate

Show some compassion and PROFESSIONALISM in your reaction to short sales. Be educated about options and ready to offer advice even if you don’t personally want the work.

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It is shocking that agents don’t spend more time considering the overall image of the industry. It is also shortsighted not to try to help these people in need: they won’t always be in financial distress. Someday they will turn things around and when they do, they are likely to remember the person that helped them when they were down.

It is our collective reputation

What you say reflects on all of us. Those of us in the real estate industry are uniquely able to actually impact the recovery of the housing market…use that power for the betterment of us all.

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Written By

Lesley offers 21 years experience in real estate, public speaking and training. Lesley has a degree in communications and was the recipient of an international award for coordinating media in real estate. In the course of her career Lesley has presented at international real estate conferences and state REALTOR associations, hosted a real estate television program, written articles for trade magazines and created marketing and PR plans for many individuals, companies and non-profits.



  1. Eric Hempler

    November 12, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I have met Realtors that don’t want to work Short Sales because they think they’re too much work. I think the real reason they think they’re too much work is they don’t actually know how to do them. I did my homework on how to do a Short Sale and I really don’t see what’s so complicated about it. I do agree with you, if you don’t want to do the sale then refer someone. I also agree all agents need to look at the bigger picture. How you interact with this one person can affect what you get for future clients.

    I always like this analogy, which will give you more business. Working with 10 People on $20,000 properties or one person on $200,000 property.

  2. Fred Romano

    November 12, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Is there something wrong with being “honest” in one’s approach? Personally I would agree, I don’t ever want to deal with them – they are too much work.

    Could it have been communicated better? yeah sure, but being honest and direct to clients is a good thing. I always tell it like it is – straight talk is good.

  3. Fred Glick

    November 12, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Dear Real Estate Agents That Don’t Want To Do Short Sales,

    Please refer these clients to me and I will give you a referral fee!

    Enough said!

  4. Lesley Lambert

    November 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Eric, thanks for sharing your thoughts: we agree!

    Fred Romano, I am very direct, but there is a way of communicating with the client without sounding so disinterested, callous and GREEDY. You don’t want to do them…you shouldn’t but these agents should not have insulted the woman either. If we real estate agents would put ourselves in the distressed homeowner’s shoes for a minute, we would do a better job.

    Fred Glick, you can share them with me!

  5. Benn Rosales

    November 12, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I called home depot last week looking for a product, they said they didn’t carry it, I said thanks, they said have a nice day, I called lowes, they said yes they have it, but only at x store, I said thanks, they said have a good day, I got item. No one referred me to lowes, I was not upset, and I do not think less of home depot.

    We all can’t be all things to all clients nor should we be. If you don’t know short-sales, wish them a great day and make a recommendation or not, but either way, make it a great day! 🙂

  6. Lesley Lambert

    November 12, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I agree that we can’t all be everything to everyone, but what we can be is HELPFUL. We can take the five minutes to refer a client to someone that WILL help them even if we WON’T.

    I have zero desire to be a Home Depot or Lowe’s in real estate. I want to be the local hardware store that will special order that part and call me when it is in.

  7. Morriss Partee

    November 12, 2009 at 11:13 am

    The level of service in Home Depot or Lowes is expectedly nearly zero. It seems to me that service in a real estate transaction is expected to be extremely high.

    In analogy, I think of my recent experience in looking for half a dozen bottles of locally-produced maple syrup to give as gifts. I went to a boutique cafe, hoping they had some, but they didn’t. I asked the shopkeeper for a recommendation of who might have it. She gave me a couple of options. I don’t think she was being friendly just to try to get me to buy something else, she was genuinely trying to be helpful. Since I was about to embark on a long drive, and thinking to myself how could I return the favor, I decided to buy a drink there. Had the shopkeeper been rude, I’d have instead left immediately.

    Yes, this example also does not reflect exactly how a real estate transaction works either, but I feel it is much closer to how one should think about service and customer interaction than the impersonal, lowest-price-possible, warehouse big-box stores.

  8. Eric Hempler

    November 12, 2009 at 11:17 am


    Good Customer service though would have recommened you try such and such a place. Since Lowes said only one store had it they could have double checked to make sure that product is in stock at the one and only store. That’s taking customer serivce one step farther.

    I would also agree with Lesley, if they’re able they could order it for you.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 12, 2009 at 11:28 am

      they actually did, that’s how they knew it was in inventory.

  9. Fred Romano

    November 12, 2009 at 11:20 am

    I agree with Benn, why would it be anyone’s responsibility to refer it out? How does this make anyone “unprofessional” by simply saying “you’ll need to find someone else for the job”? Why should they expect us to “hunt” someone down that will do it?

    I love lowes and home depot!

  10. Benn Rosales

    November 12, 2009 at 11:26 am

    So you’re saying this isn’t about whether someone will or wont sell their house, it’s about customer service, and that’s okay with me, and always has been. This is part of the problem with personal branding, and is a competitive marker how one brand treats a customer versus another.

    Policy of the broker should dictate how these types of issues are handled imo because what this really is about is customer service, or they can go out of business and work for a broker that understands that there is even a need for such a policy.

    For the record, I would refer out anything that isn’t for me, and I’m also happy to hear that some agents are staying away from things that they shouldn’t be messing with. The consumers you’re referring to are blessed to have ended up with you, imagine had they gotten bad advice from an agent who didn’t know anything and ended up with a compassionate moron, or worse, an experienced d-bag.

  11. Jon-David Lenard

    November 12, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Home Depot is about selling items, and a lot of them, at low prices. Real estate agents have many responsibilities to the client or customer but if you boiled it all down, we are about service. To me, this is less about whether the agent was right or wrong and more about opportunity and missed opportunity. Isn’t it simply in the business interest of that real estate agent to at least earn a referral fee and respect from the public over simply burning a lead? Plus, you know that you will have done the right thing for that customer by pointing them in the right direction, if short sales aren’t part of your business plan.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 12, 2009 at 11:43 am

      So customer service is about at least a referral fee from a lead? The professions image is not your businesses concern, your own image is. If you shovel off customers and are rude, then it is a reflection on that broker and that agent, not the industry as a whole.

      Some realtors like to allow consumers to make it broad because it furthers their own self-interest.

      Objectively speaking here, I agree with Lesley, what I do not agree with is how we take what a consumer says and make it a problem for the industry, when the fact is, it was about the agent or few agents that just didn’t handle something very well. It has nothing to do with why agents WONT sell their home, and that’s why I engaged this thread.

  12. Lesley Lambert

    November 12, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Jon-David, exactly my point.

  13. Shar Rundio

    November 12, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Here in Phoenix, AZ 43% of our active listings are short sales and just about anyone who bought or refinanced in the last 10 years is upside-down. We’re starting to see the agents who uttered similar famous last words, “I don’t do short sales” (said with the nose held high in the air) scramble to learn how to do them.

    And while no, we aren’t called to be all things to everyone I do think we have a duty to our clients, friends and the public at large to, at the very least, explain that the are alaternatives to foreclosure and help them find a competent short sale agent.

    I said this in a post last year: “The process (short sale) isn’t easy and it surely isn’t fun for any of the involved parties. You’ll find that many REALTORS turn up their noses at short sales and won’t do them. They are too hard, too time consuming, too low in commission…the excuses go on. While we concur that they aren’t the easiest thing to do, when did we ever commit to you (our customers, clients, friends, family) that we would only work hard for you if it was the easy thing to do?” A year later it still sums up my feelings…

    Best wishes on your short sales!

  14. Lesley Lambert

    November 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks Shar!

  15. Ken Montville

    November 12, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I’m one of those “unprofessional”, “lazy” Realtors that run in the opposite direction whenever anyone mentions “short sale”. They are not easy. They rarely close (at least, in this area) and, many times, the seller doesn’t cooperate with the bank to provide the documentation the bank needs.

    Further, I’ve run into many, many listing agents that take on a short sale and don’t know jack about how to sell them or deal with the bank. They throw a low ball listing price out there and advise the seller to sign any and all offers and let the bank (or banks, plural) sort them out. So, no, I don’t refer them. I don’t have anyone I know that’s competent to take the referral (Fred, if you have a MD license, let me know and you’ll get ’em all from here on out!!).

    How’s this for compassion: “I’m so sorry Mr. and Mrs. Home Owner. I’m sure some sleazy Realtor and his sleazy loan officer buddy lied to you and then twisted your arm to accept a 100% interest only no doc ARM at 4%.”

    Hey, I’m guilty. I sold houses to people that qualified for the loan du jour in 2000-2006. They wanted them. BAD. Now, they can’t afford them. I’m sorry. The banks came up with the “exotic” mortgage products, they can come up with some great compassionate solution…like approving the short sales and letting the inventory go.

  16. Chris Lengquist

    November 12, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Put me down as ignorant, callous and simply lazy. I won’t touch a short sale anymore. Yes, they are too much work for the slashed commission, weeks upon weeks of unreturned phone calls from the asset manager and the countless calls from the buyer’s agent trying to pressure me to, well, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do to motivate the asset manager.

    Sure, I’ve seen other agents specialize in this and I’d be happy to refer someone to them. Me? Life is simply too short to deal with them. Here’s what you do, divide your commission by how many hours you spend on a short sale and see if you wouldn’t make more as a restaurant manager. Then add all the stress from the sellers, buyers and buyer’s agent and see if it’s a wage you think is fine.

    If it is, do them. If it’s not refer them. But frankly, all the “short sale experts” that I have met aren’t really that at all. They just have more time and/or patience to do the legwork than I do. 🙂

  17. Chris Lengquist

    November 12, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    And before anyone says it….real estate is simply a business to me. Not a lifestyle. If I can make as much or more elsewhere, I will. I don’t sell real estate as a “cause.” I do my investment blog as a benefit to my clients and the clients of countless others who call and write to thank me.

    But just because someone got themselves into a short sale or foreclosure situation, well, it’s not my problem. I can choose not to help them at the rates given. As they say in the mob, “It’s not personal. It’s business.”

  18. Morriss Partee

    November 12, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    @Ken and @Chris – You seem to have read into Lesley’s post that she is saying that you are being unprofessional if you don’t accept short sale listings. Lesley didn’t say that at all; she was talking about the way you handle the prospect if you don’t want that kind of business. If you don’t want to, or don’t have the expertise to accept it, then politely and professionally refer it to someone who does want it. There’s no need to be rude or unprofessional in the way you tell the person that you’re not the right agent for them.

    And to top it all off, since there are many realtors who *are* willing, and there is a potential referral fee, it would be professional, polite, and money-earning to find a good Realtor or even several in your area who would be willing to handle them.

  19. Augusta Short Sales

    November 12, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    People that are in a short sale situation have enough stress without dealing with indifferent and uncompassionate realtors. These people are contacting us for our expertise in an effort to divert financial disaster. Working with short sales is not that different than a conventional sale. The only difference is you will have to be more diligent in placing and following up on calls to the bank. So what….you can make them while you are sitting in traffic. Start looking at these clients as an opportunity to make a difference (and make a commission) instead of a problem.

  20. Calgary Real Estate by Chris

    November 13, 2009 at 2:56 am

    I hate to say it, but I tend to agree with the mass version of what a real estate agent is like, in the way we conduct ourselves. While not all agents are like this, while some are extremely professional care more about the client than the commission, I think we all need to examine why we are here. I halfway think agents should have to undergo personality testing before being allowed to service clients.

  21. Joe Loomer

    November 13, 2009 at 7:41 am

    I don’t think there’s anyone who is diligent enough to come to AG that fits the mold of the
    agents mentioned in Lesley’s post. We’re pretty much preaching to the choir HERE, so……. go out and educate a fellow agent on short sales! Better yet, send them to charm school and the ethics course!

    ….and while they’re there, feel free to send me all their short-sale prospects, I’ll be happy to pay the referral….

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  22. Chris Lengquist

    November 13, 2009 at 8:38 am

    @Morriss, No. I read what she said. And I don’t go out of my way to be rude. Believe me. But I also don’t really go out of my way to refer. Anyone involved with a short sale, in my experience, gets spoken about negatively by the seller and buyer, or neutral at best. And since there is no reason to be rude to those that ask I just simply beg off.

    However, I’m quite certain though that my turning down their listing and saying I’d rather not refer anyone is interpreted as being not caring or lazy. Short sales have pretty much the same appeal to me as mobile homes. I just don’t work them. Regardless.

    We haven’t spoken Morriss, so I doubt you know my sarcasm. I’m not trying to flame by my earlier comments. Just saying that how people receive news can be very much interpreted in many different forms and fashions.

  23. Julianne Krutka

    November 13, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Lesley I’ve heard similar comments from buyers looking to purchase “fixer-upper” properties. I had a buyer tell me that she was told by one agent point blank that she didn’t have time for someone who was pre-qualified for only 100,000. I have to be honest with you, I only became a Realtor recently…just in the past year to be exact. People said I was crazy and that I wouldn’t make any money with the economy being what it is. What no one seemed to understand is that I didn’t become a Real Estate agent to get rich. I did it because I needed a major change in my life and I knew that whatever I did next had to involve helping people in some way shape or form. When I drove by a local real estate sign a little over a year ago I was reminded of a point in time, thirteen years ago, were it not for my favorite Realtor teaching me that homeownership was within my reach and helping me to purchase my first home, I’d probably still be renting! That lovely woman is still a dear friend of mine. She waited two whole years for her commission on my purchase because she helped me into a rent to own situation. As I said, were it not for her, I’d probably still be renting. Anyhow, my point being this…let’s all remember that the key to success…in any business and in life in General…we need to constantly work to better ourselves and the world around us. We need to share what we’ve learned along the path and empower others along the way. I pray I never get so caught up in the dollar values of what I do that I forget the reason I chose to do it in the first place! I’ve worked with several home buyers and sellers this year and yes I received compensation for the work that I did, but the greatest compensation of all is knowing that I cared for and about each of those persons needs and I used every tool available to me to make sure that their needs were satisfied, no matter what their personal situation was or what the value of the compensation might have been! That to me is what being a Real Estate Agent is all about!!!
    Sorry if this sounded like a rant, but I truly have no patience for those few who put the value of the almighty dollar above the value of the person or persons needing their service!

  24. Susie Blackmon

    November 13, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Sometimes the very best thing I can do for my client is to refer them to an expert, and I do that immediately, and more often than not, when it is in their best interest. Most of my business comes directly from my own websites, from people who feel they know me, so I do not take referrals lightly. I would much rather send a client in the foreclosure or short sale market directly to someone with experience in that market because it is in their best interest. Being tactful of course!

  25. Diane Guercio

    November 13, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    I agree with the statement that no one should attempt to handle a situation that he or she is not comfortable with. That is not the issue here.
    At issue is this. Real estate agents are not workers at Home Depot. We try to bond with our clients. We send them recipes, we remember their birthdays, we drop off little gifts in pop-bys, we are constantly “touching” them. I don’t care if you do not use these specific practices- you are. You do not wait for walk-ins, or for the phone to ring. You are trying to remain in the forefront of memory.
    This relationship-building comes with a price, unless you would like to come right out here in a public forum and call it what it is: a sales tactic. The price is this: if someone comes to you in trouble because of the “friendship” or “trusted advisor” relationship THAT YOU YOURSELF HAVE INITIATED, you need to extend yourself a bit.
    You don’t know of one attorney who specializes in short sales? Our broker required that we use one in all short sales transactions, to limit liability.
    The first sentence here says it all:

    • Benn Rosales

      November 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm

      In taking issue with the reference to home depot, you absolutely make my point. If you’re going to ‘play business’ then fine, never be prepared for this sort of phone call, and how to handle it as a customer service, because that’s what it is, a customer service, not a client service- have a policy and own it. Rather than pretty flowers and rainbows, actually be in business and set a policy brokerage wide on how to handle this sort of situation, and then you’ll be respected for professionalism, and not just a recipe card. 🙂

      You said: You don’t know of one attorney who specializes in short sales? Our broker required that we use one in all short sales transactions, to limit liability.

      You may not be a home depot worker, but you can absolutely take queues from companies that understand liability and consistent brand message, even the independent broker with two buyer reps. This makes the cards and flowers all the more powerful.

  26. Portland Condo Auctions

    November 13, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Great point! We all are a representative of the collective in the minds of our clients, even if it is not a true representation of what other agents are like. Be helpful, even if you arent able to give them exactly what they want you can at least point them in the right direction.

    Thank you,


  27. Jim Gatos

    November 13, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Everytime I take a short sale listing, I am actually HONORED the seller would trust me to take onsuch a huge and difficult undertaking…

  28. Steven Beam

    November 13, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Processing a short sale used to involve 30-60 extra days and that was it. I used to run through short sale listings like a wild man. When they became a 4 to 6 to even 9 month ordeal I stopped. If you don’t enjoy doing something why in the world would you ever do it. No amount of $ is worth it.

  29. Steven Beam

    November 13, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    One more thing. I interview my clients just as they are interviewing me. I TOTALLY disagree that anyone in any business needs to or should feel responsible to take on work they don’t want. Some agents like to work only certain neighborhoods. Some like a higher price range. How does that make all Realtors look bad? Same thing as not wanting to do a short sale isn’t it?

  30. Bob

    November 13, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    I have done my share of short sales in my life. I am also in California all short sales are not equal under the law and as a result, half of the agents here who do short sales have put themselves into a ton of jeopardy. Two of the best agents I know who are very accomplished at shorts sales will not take a short sale listing under $250k because it Is too much work. Even then, if the 2nd is a recourse loan, the seller is told that they should not expect the negotiations to result in no deficiency and if they are not willing to go forward with that mindset, then they should find another agent, but only after they get legal and tax advice so they can recognize the BS half the agents feed these sellers.

    I have these conversations all the time with people and no one is offended. Some just dont like to hear it because it aint all rainbows and unicorns.

    I think the generalizations agents make about short sales is worse than the straight talk from the agent who is straight up with a seller and tells them its too much work.

  31. LesleyLambert

    November 14, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Julianne, you are a credit to the real estate industry.

    Diane, yes…we need to take care and use tactful practices with our clients, even when we can’t help them.

    Jim, I feel the same way.

    Steven, you are missing the point, entirely. No one, especially not me, is advocating that you DO THE WORK you don’t want to do. My point IS that agents should be prepared for these clients to surface and have a plan of being able to tactfully handle the question and hopefully even assist with a referral. The agents that spoke with my client before me scoffed at her questions and turned their back: not classy, not good representation of our industry.

  32. Jason Opland

    November 14, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    I agree suggesting to a client that short sale transactions are to much work is entirely unprofessional especially considering the circumstances and the consequences the homeowners are facing and it is our responsibility as professionals to do everything we can to assist this individuals in there time of need. Short sales entail a tremendous amount of work and require significantly more time and effort than standard transactions, and it’s incredibly frustrating when all this time and effort is invested only to have the bank require that the commission on the transaction be reduced! That said, these transactions offer an opportunity to aid our fellow man, be this in assisting the homeowner by handling their short sale transaction ourselves, or by referring them to an agent who specializes in these transaction types.

    What’s equally disturbing to me is agents who are running around claiming to be short sale specialists who have little if any real experience with these transactions. These individuals do a disservice to their clients and to our profession and putting their own interests ahead of their clients!

  33. Chuck

    November 16, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Can we be real??? I love short listings as a “Listing agent”. I know how to work them, I know what banks are looking for etc, etc… I however, HATE being a buyer agent on a short sale. I can not tell you how many times I’ve been left hanging by listing agents. At first I tried to stay clear of the newer agents that I knew did not have a clue but then even the more seasoned( better then then old bats right??) ones sucked? You know the deal, no call backs, using your contract as a biding tool etc… So, what to do…. I call and ask lots of questions before I show a short sale PERIOD.
    twitter@ playsintraffic

  34. Mark

    December 11, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    I would respectfully say that in ten years the real estate business will be totally different than it is today. I can tell you of many people ten years ago or more, bought homes they would have never bought if they were aware of all the properties that were actually for sale. The internet has changed all that. It has put many businesses out of business, will put many more out of business, and will unalterably change still others, real estate being one of them.

    In our state, as in many others, the realtors found some lackey politician who enacted various laws for them that have had the effect of protecting their little racket. They have done this all over the country. In state after state, many of these laws have been struck down as restraint of trade or outright illegal, as well they should have been. I know because I just represented a group in our state.

    One of the biggest reasons selling property has not gone the route of so many other business on the internet is the legal part of a transaction, which many realtors try to cloud in mystery, just like a lot of sleazy lawyers try to complicate the legal process. With the advent of Legal Zoom, various court cases, and some other new methods, buying a home will be made a much more transparent and easy prospect. As I have said, I am a lawyer and I can see the writing on the wall. Suffice it to say that the 6% for opening the door is going to be a little harder. You can take that to the bank.

  35. Realtor Don

    January 7, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    My wife and I have officially decided after tonight to stop working short sales. We got up this morning and went to the local court house to see the sheriffs sales. They should just call these attorney buy back sales because that is all that took place. We have negotiated many many shorts in the past but the banks are too tough anymore and these take way too long. Fax this and get this and on and on with me chasing down all of this info I know has already been sent. Oh I am sorry but the negotiator that you were working with is gone on maternity leave for 8 weeks.
    I was once a top real estate agent but now that we are down to our last few bucks…..I am done.
    Too bad Fannie and Freddie can’t spread the listings around more.

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