Homeowners searching for help with a short sale might be unnerved to find that almost all of the real estate agents advertising in their city are promoting themselves as “Short Sale Specialists” or “Short Sale Experts,” or some other exemplifying adjectives. With so many experts out there, how can a homeowner be sure they actually have an “expert” to help them? Let’s start out by stating unequivocally, there simply is not any licensing or certification from any governing body anywhere that places restrictions on who can process a short sale, nor are there universal standards on how they can or should be done. Finding a good short sale agent to help you involves the search for knowledge and experience. They’re gonna need both.
It might be helpful to define the word “expert” itself. I suppose common sense dictates that anyone claiming to be an expert at anything would have to exhibit the following qualities:
1.) A deep and current knowledge of the subject
2.) Plenty of current experience with the subject
How much knowledge is enough? Consider this: if you had to hire an attorney, a CPA, a doctor, or a mechanic, how much would you expect them to be “up-to-date” on current trends, law, or practice in their subject? My guess is, most folks would like it if their representative was as current and cutting edge as possible. Until 2009, there was virtually no formal educational training for agents in short sale negotiations. Now, there are many training/coaching/certifying entities. Some agents have been certified by the Distressed Property Institute (CDPEs) to handle short sales, others get trained and certified as “Master Short Sale Consultants,” while other agents may have no certifications because they don’t really need any; these might be agents who are either research hounds, or are very experienced and engaged in the practice.
In regards to the subject of experience, consider the same example. How many cases like yours would you like for the attorney you hire to have tried? How comfortable would you be if your mechanic reassured you that he had dealt with exactly this same problem on numerous occasions? Experience also has a shelf life. If I was a short sale expert back in the late 80s, I might have a foundational knowledge of the subject, but might be well behind in the current methods being used to perform short sales. So, how is the homeowner to select a true expert? By getting the answers to just a few questions, when interviewing short sale experts:
1.) Ask them to tell you about the latest laws and programs that are in place to help you in your situation.
*Here, you’ll want to carefully gauge to the agent’s overall knowledge on the subject. Does he or she speak with authority and confidence on the subject, or can you hear lots of paper shuffling in the background? How much detail is he or she able to go into? When there’s an expert on the other end of the line, you can definitely tell.
2.) Ask them for records of actual success.
*Here, you’ll want actual records of success. Not stories, not letters of reference from beaming clients, actual records. The specific document you want is called a “Closed MLS Plano.” Ask them to show you at least a few recently closed short sale transactions. On an Arizona Regional MLS Plano, you’ll see the following data strip (click image for larger view) near the bottom of the page:
The highlighted portions show that it was a short sale (Short Sale Apprvl Req), it took 144 days to complete, and it closed escrow on 12/14/09. Ask for the agent to show you at least 3 of these that are fairly current.
If you can get a good feel for the knowledge level of the agent, and be assured that they actually have experience, you’ll be well on your way to selecting a good representative. That’s not to say the experience is guaranteed to be good, but at least you can be confident that the person is really at least experienced. Beyond this, it all comes down to customer service. At the bare minimum, I think decent service dictates that your representative be able to educate you, answer your questions, communicate with you on progress, and guide you along the way.
Here’s to hoping you never need a short sale expert!
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*Disclaimer: We DO provide loan counseling services and process short sales for our clients. Please also remember: I am NOT an attorney, and neither do I play one on TV or the Internet. None of these pontifications should be construed as specific legal advice. If you need specific legal advice regarding your personal situation, give us a call. We can help you ourselves, or provide a list of housing counselors that are free!