Aug 21, 2020 | 7 min read

5 ways real estate agents can help avoid foreclosure

This article was updated on January 31, 2024

June is National Homeownership Month, an important time for real estate agents to take stock of their skills, clients, and unique abilities to help neighbors find places they can call home.

An important aspect of a real estate agent's skills is the ability to help clients navigate the difficult waters of avoiding foreclosure. There may be times when you receive requests from homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments and may experience repossessions of their homes.

If you're not sure of how to deal with the challenges involved with selling pre-foreclosure properties, let this article be your guide. You'll learn about how a real estate professional can help clients avoid the foreclosure process, teach them the ins and outs of the short sale process, and more.

1. Talk to the Lender - Avoiding foreclosure 101

Depending on the state of your local real estate market, it may not be in your client's best interest to sell their home. Before putting their home on the market, encourage your clients to talk to their mortgage lender. Because foreclosures can be quite expensive for lenders, they may be open to a loan modification or refinancing. This would lower the amount of your client's monthly mortgage payment and allow them to stay in place.

However, if your client's income has drastically changed due to job loss, a relationship split, or another reason, a renegotiated mortgage loan or loss mitigation agreement may not be sufficient to keep them in their home and the property may be seized by the loan company. If a property falls under the ownership of the lender or investor and the bank cannot sell the home at a foreclosure auction, it becomes a Real Estate Owned property or REO Property. Even if it appears foreclosure is highly likely talking to the lender is still advisable.


In order to avoid foreclosure costs, the lender may be willing to:

  • Postpone the foreclosure process, giving your client the chance to sell their home and pay off their debts.
  • Help the client set up a temporary monthly payment plan while they wait for their home to sell.
  • Agree to a short sale in the event that the mortgage is "underwater," i.e. if the homeowner owes more on their home than it's currently worth. Because consenting to a short sale means accepting less money than they're actually owed, the lender may ask the homeowner to pay off the balance of their debt after their property is sold. But in some situations, the lender may forgive amounts owed that exceed the home's final sales price.

These are various loss mitigation tactics intended to help both the loan servicer and the homeowner. The hope is to slow down or avoid foreclosure proceedings altogether.

Check your state's laws

Foreclosure rules differ from state to state. Before advising your client on foreclosure prevention, make sure you understand how your state's foreclosure laws work.

For instance, some states give homeowners more time to catch up on payments or sell their homes than others do.

The more time you can buy for your client, the more likely it is that you'll receive an appealing offer for their home.

2. Discuss options for selling a home in pre-foreclosure

Not all pre-foreclosure home sales are short sales (although all short sales are pre-foreclosure sales). If your client's mortgage isn't upside-down yet, a pre-foreclosure sale is similar to a regular home sale, with the difference that:

  • Your timeline is shorter
  • Much of the proceeds of the sale will go to cover the unpaid balance of the mortgage, as well as lender penalties and unpaid mortgage interest

The advantage for your client is that homeowners who sell their homes while they're still in pre-foreclosure can evade the negative repercussions of having a foreclosure listed on their credit score.

Clients who sell their homes in short sales will also have more mortgage-friendly credit reports than homeowners who were foreclosed on. In fact, they'll even qualify to apply for future mortgages, should their financial situation improve.

Short sales: Special challenges

While short sales are usually a better option for your clients than foreclosure, they present real estate professionals with several challenges, including:

  • Understanding and complying with any lender-specific short sale terms
  • Negotiating with multiple lenders (in situations where the client has several mortgages)
  • The fact that the mortgage lender must approve of any offer the client had decided to accept can cause lengthy processing delays and turn off buyers

The best way to cope with these issues is to communicate them to your clients. That way, they won't be caught by surprise.

3. Understand differences between pre-foreclosure and short sale processes

Each process is unique; educating a client on the nuances is vital as they try to make an informed decision about how best to avoid foreclosure.

The pre-foreclosure sale process

During the process of selling a pre-foreclosure home, owners are encouraged to stay on-site. On-site owners can actually make a property more attractive to home buyers since they guarantee that the property is being maintained. Lenders prefer on-site owners as well because they eliminate the need for security on the property.

As mentioned above, the pre-foreclosure sales process doesn't differ significantly from a typical home sale. However, in the best-case scenario, your buyer will obtain a loan through the same lender that your seller did, which simplifies the process of transferring ownership.

The short sale process

As previously mentioned, short sale rules vary from state to state. However, in most cases, if your client accepts an offer, you'll need to send the lender copies of:

  • The listing agreement
  • The buyer's pre-approval letter
  • A copy of the earnest money check
  • The seller's short sale package
  • The executed purchase offer

Remember, the lender has the power to approve or deny the short sale. Unfortunately, while they may approve the buyer's offer within a few weeks, some lenders may take several months to respond.

4. Review tips for selling a pre-foreclosure home

If you're selling a home that's in pre-foreclosure, it's recommended that you take the following steps:

  • Capitalize on buyer interest - Potential buyers like real estate investors are often drawn to pre-foreclosure homes because they see them as bargains. But that doesn't mean you can't get a good price for your client. Check Nextdoor's real estate section to see for-sale, pending, or recently sold homes in your client's neighborhood. Set your client's home's price at slightly under the market value of similar homes in the neighborhood. You'll still attract a flurry of interest.
  • Establish regular communication with lenders - Your client's bank or lender may be willing to settle for less than they're owed, in order to avoid the ordeal of selling the property themselves. Speak to them on your client's behalf and emphasize the win-win aspects of everyone working together. You may be able to buy yourself and the client more time to sell the home.
  • Encourage the client to be proactive - To sweeten the relationship between the lender and your client, advise your client to treat the lender as a business partner, rather than as their enemy. The lender's worst nightmare would be for the homeowner to abandon their home to vandals, resulting in it losing further value. By collaborating with the lender, the buyer may be able to obtain better terms.
  • Promote the home on Nextdoor - With an audience of local homeowners, Nextdoor is one of the best real estate tools for professionals. Create a free Business Page to start.

5. Review tips for selling a short sale home

If you're acting as the listing agent or pre-foreclosure specialist for a short sale, it's recommended that you take the following steps (you'll notice some are very similar!):

  • Use Nextdoor and other property sites to accurately gauge the market value of the home - Again, a property needs to be valued appropriately. By using Nextdoor's real estate section, you can gain accurate information on the going neighborhood rate. The main difference here is that the short sale property needs to be valued at an amount that's lower than the mortgage balance. That way you'll set the home's selling price at an amount that's likely to attract sellers and be approved by the bank.
  • Create a short-sale package - One of the most important aspects of guiding your client through the short sale process involves helping them craft their short sale package. These packages, which all lenders require, generally include financial statements, a description of the situation that led to the short sale, and other lender-specific documentation.
  • Promote the home on Nextdoor - Similar to pre-foreclosure homes, Nextdoor allows real estate professionals to maximize their advertising budgets by creating a Nextdoor Ad. You can spread the word about short-sale properties by setting up a free Business Page and creating posts about them. Consider also hosting a virtual open house or private home showing to speed up the process.


The bottom line: Help clients avoid foreclosure by acting quickly

  • When showing your clients how to avoid foreclosure, take the following steps:
  • Recommend that your client talks to their lender. Lenders are incentivized to steer clear of foreclosures as much as clients are, due to their assorted expenses and lengthy timelines. Because of this, they may be willing to make a number of borrower accommodations.
  • Make sure you're fully up-to-date on every foreclosure law in your state, so that you can give your client accurate advice.
  • If selling a pre-foreclosure home, use the real estate listings on Nextdoor and other metrics to accurately gauge the value of the property, then set an appropriate price. If guiding your client through a short sale, use the same tactics to set your price, but make sure you get approval for it from the bank or loan servicer.
  • For short sales, make sure you understand any lender-specific short sale terms and abide by them. You'll also need to create a short-sale package.
  • Use Nextdoor's free Business Page to capture the attention of qualified local home buyers.
  • Reassure the lender by bringing them along for every step of the process.

If you can hit all these marks, you'll provide your clients with the helping hand they need to avoid foreclosure.

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