On Thursday and Friday I attended two consecutive forums for real estate agents on short sales put on by Chase and Bank of America respectively. Both forums were informative. Both forums sent a clear communication that the lenders wanted to make the short sale process better. And both forums also sent very differing messages about the culture of each institution. I won’t beat around the bush. The most memorable phrase from the Chase forum was “a graceful exit” for the homeowner. The most memorable phrase from the Bank of America forum was “we did not cause your homeowner to default!” and “I am not taking questions at this time.”
One session was run by a bunch of men in dark suits. The other was run by a singular woman with a charismatic presence, an infectious smile, and a dynamic gift for running the room- if your cell phone rang (they requested them to be set to silent), you had to get up and dance. If you think she was the “graceful exit” person, you’d be wrong. The guys from Chase were mostly loan officers and some supervisors of their short sale and REO departments. The presenter from BOA was a short sale negotiator.
Chase gave us a thick handout with copies of each slide from the presentation for our notes. The presentation was clear about their process and how we could best do things to get our short sales approved. The prevailing message beyond procedure was that of empathy for how hard we work as agents and of compassion for the sellers who faced hardship. They were generous in the question and answer session, and I left encouraged that Chase was serious about getting short sales done so we could best help those facing hardship and move the economy forward. I was really impressed.
Bank of America’s presentation was far more regimented. They did not have a handout, but we were told after that one would be emailed to us. I was glad I brought my tablet for notes. The slideshow was equally informative on their process as Chase’s, but the tone of the session, as well as how questions were handled, left me a little disappointed. No mention of the difficulty we face in the field. Nothing about what our seller clients face. And some subtle references to irritation bank negotiators get when agents submit incomplete or erroneous paperwork. Questions were written on index cards and handed in at the end. The presenter read some and answered them without any interaction or follow up with the person asking.
One particular question was emblematic of the prevailing attitude: The question asked why BOA still sent offers to modify loans to homeowners actively working on a short sale. Such letters cause issues. The answer was disappointing. “It’s the homeowners CHOICE! It isn’t about YOU and your COMMISSION!” What the presenter missed was that these letters are disruptive. They often created false hope among people who previously failed at loan mods and are enduring enormous stress. Some take these offers seriously, to their own peril when they abort a successful short sale only to have another loan modification flame out. They aren’t offers to modify. They are offers to apply.
Failed loan modifications are the poster child for the futility of the housing crash. I found her answer obtuse and insensitive. There was an official from BOA who was eager for my feedback afterward and asked to remain in touch. Good on them for that. But dozens of agents walked out at the end not knowing she was there.
The only criticism I have for both banks in common is the continued lack of commitment to review the broken BPO (broker price opinion) valuation process. I can draw a clear correlation between failed short sales and BPOs performed by people from out of the market area, often 3-4 counties away. That remains broken.
It is possible that had I not attended the Chase session the day before that I would have a more more positive view of the Bank of America forum. Chase hit a home run. Bank of America succeeded in making it clear that they were serious about short sales working, but they dropped the ball in other areas of PR. No bank has any business shouting that they had no hand in the hardship caused by the crash. They all did. Chase seemed eager to get things right all around. BOA made it clear that this is debt settlement. Not very warm.
In short sales, where people are facing foreclosure, the loss of their home, financial strain and hardship, and we agents are their only link to get their lives back in order, compassion and a little bit of warmth both go a long way.
Full disclosure: I am a Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE) and have closed dozens of short sales for seller clients.