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Lend an Ear and a Shoulder

by Chicago Agent

By Kelly Molinari

Kelly Molinari

I often read articles about homeowners in foreclosure and I’m shocked by the way they’re portrayed. Typically, these homeowners are seen as over-reaching and irresponsible — and they’re ostensibly getting what they deserve. Naturally, sympathy is in short supply; but it shouldn’t be.

Certainly, there are those who over-reached or were otherwise irresponsible, particularly in the early phases of the housing crisis. However, most of the homes owned by these irresponsible homeowners have already been claimed by the cold, ubiquitous foreclosure process. In this last phase of the housing crisis, most homeowners facing foreclosure are simply caught in the fallout of an economic recession and attendant high unemployment. I’ll resist the urge to discuss structural and frictional unemployment and other mind-numbing principles of Economics 101. Instead, I’ll just say that most current homeowners facing foreclosure are not to blame. So, as real estate professionals, let’s open up our leathered hearts, show some compassion and help them with sensitivity, lest we lose our humanity.

Foreclosure does not discriminate. There’s no age, nationality, creed, color or religion that is not well represented in the courthouses. They’re people from all walks of life, including those who work with their hands and those who carry gold pens. They’re working class and they’re professionals. They’re your neighbors and mine. In fact, I have completed 30 to 40 short sales on behalf of individuals in our own real estate profession. We’ve been hit as hard as anyone. In most cases, homeowners facing foreclosure are just typical people who wanted to build a respectable life for themselves and their families with homeownership, but were unlucky. Now they need your help in every sense of the word, and you can give it to them. But with great power comes great responsibility.

First, lend an ear and a shoulder. Since Realtors are often the first professional point of contact with homeowners facing foreclosure, they’re on the frontline. This means you’ll see homeowners — people — at their weakest. Their shame and the indignity of it all is sometimes palpable. As a result, you’ll often have to wear two hats, serving as their Realtor and their counselor. Don’t shirk the latter, because in this business, both responsibilities are inextricably wound together. Instead, embrace it. Ask your clients what happened, and really listen to them! Listen to their stories of woe the way they tell them. You’ll find that once disarmed by compassion, they’re eager to talk. It is not unusual for me to sit at a client’s kitchen table and cry with them. For their benefit and mine, I try to put myself in their shoes and think like they’re thinking. It is a humbling experience to witness homeowners realizing they can no longer afford their American Dream. They are faced with the cruel reality that their down payment, installment payments and improvements were all for naught. It takes tremendous courage to come to terms with this cruel reality and face unavoidable embarrassment and then to take action.

Next, show them you care by giving them, or getting them, the expert help they need. Immediately direct your clients to an experienced attorney. In Illinois, attorneys, and only attorneys, should analyze your client’s options. Of course, this may be a short sale, loan modification, deed in lieu or some other workout. Sometimes a bankruptcy analysis is appropriate, but bankruptcy generally does not preclude a short sale. As most of you know, ours is an industry beset by misconceptions, and that’s one of them. I tell every client I work with that I want them to pursue their best option, whether that option includes me or not. In the end, your clients will see you are not just soliciting listings, but that you truly care about them.

Foreclosure is always closer than you think. So treat those facing foreclosure as you would want to be treated. You’ll find if you’re compassionate, confident and knowledgeable, and if you refer your clients to good professionals, it will pay off with warm, fuzzy feelings and referrals! Do it because it’s the right thing to do, but kindness and competence pays dividends too.

Kelly Molinari, SFR, is the managing broker/legal assistant with Trademark Realty Group, Inc. and Law Offices of Christopher Haas. She can be reached at 630.222.8362, or visit for more information.

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  • Mike says:

    I understand how quickly someone’s financial situation can change when they and/or a spouse loses their job. However, they should have considered buying a house at a reasonable price WITH A DOWN PAYMENT that was sufficient enough to cover their loss. No one is stopping folks from saving up 20% down payment so that they can cover future losses. Lose a job, then simply sell your house an become a renter or move in with relatives.

    I am a real estate appraiser and can tell you from experience that the vast majority of homeowners whose houses I have appraised in recent years barely had any equity on day one of their purchase. They chose to put themselves at higher risk to lose their house based upon buying with very little money down, and/or refinancing their house so many times and rolling the fees into the new mortage so as to destroy any equity they may have had.

    It’s a very small percentage of homeowners who responsibly save up a reasonable down payment only to see that evaporate with the declining market. California mess aside.

  • Jim Broline says:

    Thank you Kelly for a very insightful and intelligent discourse on our (real estate agents) role during this economic malaise. My simple summation of your comments is, ‘they are we’ and we real estate agents (having some abilities) have a moral responsibility to try to listen-to, understand and help our neighbors.

    I expect that any who read this have met with at least one or many who fought back tears while sharing their fear of the loss of their home, fading dream and doubt of belief that work and patience yields a future of home and family security. I have and I cried with them.

    How can we not be moved by the courage of young people who adhere to a work-for-reward premise in spite of difficulties.

    They are not the slackers. They, like we (in reality we), are the victims of political and social decay that numbs half of the world into expecting something for nothing at the expense of all others. All others is administered by a corrupt government. It is the government that put us in this mess.

    Yes, we must love our neighbors. Yes, we must grieve and pray with them. Yes, we must help each other with what we have to share.

    Yes, share!

    Yes, we must support their faith as well as our own.

    And yes, we must have the courage to speak the truth although our clients, our friends, our family will jeer.

    We must stand up to the despicable political winds that would put us all in a pig sty. Foreign despots in Washington DC that thrive on patronage will continue to be a problem for awhile. Intellectual egalitarianism (socialism) does not work. We are all paying the price of ‘unintended consequences’.

    Be the Realtor you believe yourself to be. Love your neighbor as yourself. Support your clients’ dreams, faith and their freedom. Their fortune will change as will their love for you who believed in them.

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