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Calling short sale lenders: can you answer the $100,000 question?



I have a confession to make. I lost my cool the other day when I was calling a short sale lender. I probably hadn’t lost my cool when speaking with the loss mitigation reps at the banks for over a year, but this time I did. Shame on me.

The funny thing is that I have probably written well over fifty blog posts on how to speak with the lenders and how to handle the lien holder phone calls when tackling those short sale negotiations. I know better, but my emotions got the best of me on this one.

Last week I called a lien holder in order to confirm a potential foreclosure date on one of our short sale listings. About a month ago, the lender hand sent me an email stating that the sale was scheduled for August 1, 2010. I knew that this was incorrect as August 1st was Sunday. So, I wanted to call and see what was up.

I dialed the toll free number.

I waited patiently on hold. The phone representative came on the wire. I identified myself. The woman on the other end needed to confirm that I was authorized to speak on behalf of the seller. I was told that the computer system was down, but she had another way to independently me. She put me on hold. Several minutes later, she returned to the line and confirmed that I was legit.

This bank representative then asked me for all of the seller’s information. She asked for the seller’s name. (In this case, there are three individuals who own the home.) I provided her with the names of all three individuals. She then asked for the last four digits of their social security numbers; I provided all of that information. She then asked whether the property was vacant or occupied; I had that information as well. I was on a roll; I had the answers to all of the questions.

Suddenly, we had made our way to the last question (and one that many lenders do not ask): “What is the seller’s phone number?”

Huh? What? Which of the three sellers are you talking about? I’m not sure what to say. “I have three sellers; each has a home number, a cell phone number, a fax number, and a work number. I’m not sure which one you need.” This phone rep was not in the giving mood. Despite the fact that I had several different numbers, apparently none of them was the same one that was in the computer system.

I had made it all the way to the $100,000.00 and then I heard the buzzer. It’s like when Heidi Klum tells the designers on “Project Runway” that they are out. The phone rep says, “I’m sorry ma’am. Unless I have the phone number, I cannot speak with you about the file.”

Okay… shame on me. But, that’s when I lost it. I used an expletive in order to demonstrate that I was a little bit irritated that despite the fact that I could provide lots of other information about each of the three sellers, she would not be able to help me.

When she heard the expletive, she reminded me that this call was being recorded. Like I really care. I’ve heard myself swear before.

Funny thing is that the expletive did the trick. There is currently no scheduled foreclosure date on this property; onward and upward towards short sale approval!

Moral of the story: Use the communication log to record the sellers’ phone numbers—all of them.

Melissa Zavala is the Broker/Owner of Broadpoint Properties and Head Honcho of Short Sale Expeditor®, and Chief Executive Officer of Transaction 911. Before landing in real estate, she had careers in education and publishing. Most recently, she has been able to use her teaching and organizational skills while traveling the world over—dispelling myths about the distressed property market, engaging and motivating real estate agents, and sharing her passion for real estate. When she isn’t speaking or writing, Melissa enjoys practicing yoga, walking the dog, and vacationing at beach resorts.

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  1. Sheila Rasak

    August 3, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Looks like a typical day in the life of a Realtor (sans slang). I typically use all my come backs as soon as the handset is placed on the cradle. These short sales are proving to be a battle of the wills. Even finding your negotiator weeks after the package has been submitted can feel like winning the lottery… then try to collect.

  2. Benn Rosales

    August 3, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    lol I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, but professional and human is a very fine line. People get frustrated. You lived to tell about it, and so did the operator- maybe you should let them fly more often AND have all of the numbers at the same time. Two birds, one stone. 🙂

  3. Jason Improta - Calabasas Homes for Sale

    August 3, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    We typically nice them to death and it works for the most part but I have heard many associates who gain traction with expletives and anger. Guess we will use it if we have to. Sure want to sometimes 🙂

  4. Zipporah

    August 3, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Sometimes frustration takes over and you have to give in a little bit. Sounds like it would be hard to keep one’s cool in that situation. No point in beating yourself up over one incident. Sounds like you recognize it might not have been the best approach, and that’s all you can do. Oftentimes if I’m frustrated on a call dealing with someone who has no idea what I’m talking about I will get angry and remind them “I’m not mad at you, but at the situation I’m dealing with here,” and then they usually sympathize.

  5. Nadina Cole-Potter

    August 3, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    From what I have heard, verbal information from the lenders’ reps is not reliable. In Arizona we can check with the foreclosure trustee. In our county, we can also access the Recorder’s records to see the Notice of Trustee Sale online. It is usually reliable unless the sale is postponed temporarily. I suppose if no trustee sale is scheduled, then there isn’t a trustee either.

    Trust but verify.

  6. John Horne

    August 4, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Calling short sale lenders: can you answer the $100,000 question?

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Disputing a property’s value in a short sale: turn a no into a go

During a short sale, there may be various obstacles, with misaligned property values ranking near the top, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker!



magic eight ball

magic eight ball

It’s about getting your way

Were you on the debate team in high school? Were you really effective at convincing your parent or guardian to let you do things that you shouldn’t have been doing? How are your objection-handling skills? Can you flip a no into a go?

When working on short sales, there is one aspect of the process that may require those excellent negotiation or debate skills: disputing the property value. In a short sale, the short sale lender sends an appraiser or broker to the property and this individual conducts a Broker Price Opinion or an appraisal, using special forms provided by the short sale lender.

After this individual completes the Broker Price Opinion or the appraisal, he or she will return it to the short sale lender. Shortly thereafter, the short sale lender will be ready to talk about the purchase price. Will the lender accept the offer on the table or is the lender looking for more? If the lender is seeking an offer for a lot more than the one on the table, mentally prepare for the fact that you will need to conduct a value dispute.

Value Dispute Process

While each of the different short sale lenders (including Fannie Mae) has their own policies and procedures for value dispute, all these procedures have some things in common. Follow the steps below in order to conduct an effective value dispute.

  1. Inquire about forms. Ask your short sale lender if there are specific forms that you need to complete in order to conduct a value dispute. Obtain those forms if necessary.
  2. Gather information. Your goal is to convince the lender to accept the buyer’s offer, so you need to demonstrate that your offer is in line with the value of the property. Collect data that proves this point, such as reports from the MLS, Trulia, Zillow, or your local title company.
  3. Take photos. If there are parts of the property that are substandard and possibly were not revealed to the lender by the individual conducting the BPO, take photos of those items. Perhaps the kitchen has no flooring, or there is a 40-year old roof. Take photos to demonstrate these defects.
  4. Obtain bids. For any defects on the property, obtain a minimum of two bids from licensed contractors. For example, obtain two bids from roofers or structural engineers if necessary
  5. Write a report. Think back to high school English class if necessary. Write a short essay that references your information, photos, and bids, and explains how these items support your buyer’s value. This is not something that you whip up in five minutes. Spend time preparing a compelling appeal.

It is entirely possible that some lenders will not be particularly open-minded when it comes to valuation dispute. However, more times than not, an effective value dispute leads to short sale approval.

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Short sale standoffs: how to avoid getting hit

The short sale process can feel a lot like a wild west standoff, but there are ways to come out victorious, so let’s talk about those methods:



short sales standoff

short sales standoff

What is a short sale standoff?

If you are a short sale listing agent, a short sale processor, or a short sale negotiator then you probably already know about the short sale standoff. That’s when you are processing a short sale with more than one lien holder and neither will agree to the terms offered by the other. Or… better yet, each one will not move any further in the short sale process until they see the short sale approval letter from the other lien holder.

Scenario #1 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they will proceed with the short sale, and they will offer Bank 2 a certain amount to release their lien. You call Bank 2 and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, the folks at Bank 2 want more money. If Bank 1 and Bank 2 do not agree, then you are in a standoff.

Scenario #2 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they cannot generate your approval letter until you present them with the approval letter from Bank 2. Bank 2 employees tell you the exact same thing. Clearly, in this situation, you are in a standoff.

How to Avoid the Standoff

If you are in the middle of a standoff, then you are likely very frustrated. You’ve gotten pretty far in the short sale process and you are likely receiving lots of pressure from all of the parties to the transaction. And, the lenders are not helping much by creating the standoff.

Here are some ideas for how to get out of the situation:

  • Go back to the first lien holder and ask them if they are willing to give the second lien holder more money.
  • Go to the second lien holder and tell them that the first lien holder has insisted on a maximum amount and see if they will budge.
  • If no one will budge, find out why. Is this a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan? If so, they have a maximum that they allow the second. And, if you alert the second of that information, they may become more compliant.
  • Worst case: someone will have to pay the difference. Depending on the laws in your state, it could be the buyer, the seller, or the agents (yuck). No matter what, make sure that this contribution is disclosed to all parties and appears on the short sale settlement statement at closing.
  • In Scenario #2, someone’s got to give in. Try explaining to both sides where you are and see if one will agree to generate their approval letter. If not, follow the tips provided in this Agent Genius article and take your complaint to the streets.

One thing about short sales is that the problems that arise can be difficult to resolve merely because of the number of parties involved—and all from remote locations. Imagine how much easier this would be if all parties sat at the same table and broke bread? If we all sat at the same table, then we wouldn’t need armor in order to avoid the flying bullets from the short sale standoff.

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Short sale approval letters don’t arrive in the blink of an eye

Short sale approval letters may look like they’ve been obtained simply by experts, but it takes time and doesn’t just happen with luck.



short sales

short sale approval

Short sale approval: getting prepared, making it happen

People always ask me how it is that I obtain short sale approval letters with such ease. The truth is, that while I have more short sale processing and negotiating experience than most agents and brokers, I don’t just blink my eyes like Jeannie and make those short sale approval letters appear. I often sweat it, just like everyone else.

Despite the fact that I do not have magical powers, I do have something else on my side—education. One of the most important things than can lead to short sale success for any and all agents is education.

Experience dictates that agents that learn about the short sale process
have increased short sale closings.

Short sale education opportunities abound

There are many ways to become educated about the short sale process and make getting short sale approval letters look easy to obtain. These include:

  • Classes at your local board of Realtors®
  • Free short sale webinars and workshops
  • The short sale or foreclosure specialist designations

As the distressed property arena grows and changes, it is important to always stay abreast of policy changes that may impact how you do your job and how you process any short sale that lands on your plate.

The most important thing to do is to read, read, read. Follow short sale specialists and those who blog about short sales on AGBeat, Google+, facebook, and twitter. Set up a Google Alert for the term ‘short sale’ and you will receive Google’s top short sale picks daily in your email inbox. Visit mortgagor websites to read up on their specific policies and procedures.

Don’t take on too much

And, when you get a call from a prospective short sale seller, make sure that you don’t bit off more than you can chew. Agents in most of America right now are clamoring for listings since we are in the midst of a listing shortage. But, if you are going to take on a short sale, be sure that it is a deal that you can close. And, if you have your doubts, why not partner up with a local agent that can mentor your and assist you in getting the job done? After all, half a commission check is better than none!

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