The light at the end of the road

March 2, 2009
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There has long been a connection between Michigan and Florida, two peninsulas that mirror each other at opposite ends of the country. Besides sharing a down housing market and AARP members, the two states share something else: the Foreclosure Response Team.

The Foreclosure Response Team originally formed in Florida under Scott D. Coloney of The Coloney Group of RE/MAX. Coloney is also the creator of Orbitz, the travel Web site. The Foreclosure Response Team is a sales, marketing and technology firm that offers loss mitigation services and streamlines the sale of residential and commercial properties facing foreclosure.

The company has a special focus in short sale transactions — when a bank or mortgage company agrees to discount the loan due to financial or economic hardships of the mortgagor. The proceeds from the sale fall short of the balance owed on a loan secured by the property sold.

In January, the Foreclosure Response Team expanded its reach to the Michigan market through Cathy Sherman Bittrick, 2009 regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors, and broker and owner of RE/MAX SunQuest in Grand Rapids.

"It began when the market started to dip a little bit. I had agents in my office who had offers on short sales, and it would take as long as five months — and sometimes never — to get an answer," said Bittrick. "When I was down at the National Association of Realtors Conference in Orlando in November, I came across a booth at the expo of a company called Foreclosure Response Team. They had started this about a year ago in the Florida market, which is really just as bad as or worse than Michigan and the Great Lakes area.

"What they are is a team they put together that works with the consumer and the realtors and help negotiate with the lenders. They take out that grueling, time-consuming effort that the realtors are trying to get involved in. We're not qualified to give tax advice, we're not qualified to give financial advice; we're marketers and we're trying to bring the buyers together."

Bittrick said the Foreclosure Response Team of Florida had a 75 to 80 percent success rate in being able to go directly to the banks and help the seller get out of a difficult situation.

"We looked at this as an opportunity to unclog the housing market and help the banks, because a foreclosed property is a terrible thing in any neighborhood," said Bittrick. "We use this as an answer to help out the entire housing market."

What this service does is streamline the short sale process, providing one methodology and one voice to the banks dealing with these contracts. Having one voice also provides credibility to the banks, which Bittrick said typically do not know the current market value for each particular house.

"These banks don't want to hear from a million different realtors and often they don't know the market conditions," said Bittrick. "We're keeping track of all of this … so when we finally do get a buyer under contract, the answer is swift, it's informed, it's intelligent and we're saving that property. It's much easier to sell an occupied home than a vacant one."

Bittrick's team serves as the broker affiliate for Foreclosure Response Team of Michigan. Once a seller is identified as experiencing or about to experience a financial or economic hardship, Bittrick's team meets with them and then contacts the Foreclosure Response Team of Florida with the seller's information. The Florida team runs the information and determines whether or not the seller qualifies for a loan modification or an actual short sale.

The Florida team then contacts and deals with the lenders and provides them with all the information up front to help make a quick and informed decision.

"We're looking at it as the answer to Michigan — and Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin," said Bittrick. "Out of every crisis comes an opportunity, and we're looking at this as the light at the end of the tunnel."

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