Confessions of a Short Sale Negotiator
"Don't ever turn the dryer timer counterclockwise," the repairman told me. He will have to get a part and come back in a couple of days. Meanwhile, I will be without a working dryer. Admittedly, I must have known not to turn electronic dials backward. My dad is an electrician, after all. But, somewhere along the way, I fell into the habit of taking a short cut.
An extinguished camel and white cigarette is smashed into the chipping ecru paint of a window ledge of the Leavenworth Laundromat, where I wait listening to the hypnotizing hum of stacked running dryers. Almost in a state of meditation, I relive, in my head, yesterday, the day I lost my job:
December 11, 2012
A couple of minutes before eight, after a forty-five-minute drive to Olathe, Kansas, I park my black Ford Focus with a 19% interest auto loan, put on cinnamon lipstick, and grab my security badge from my cup holder. I buzz myself in through the outer door and then the inside door. Between the two doors, there is lounge furniture and an empty working space that would make an excellent place for an administrative assistant. A bike leans against the wall. Upper management and their wannabes are passionate about cycling. They speak bicycle jargon to each other and change into helmets and bright spandex in the afternoons.
By the time my assigned computer is up and running, it's about five minutes after the hour. Rich coffee aromas fill my team's over-sized cubicle that we call a pod. Six of us, including our supervisor, sit in this pod. We have no barriers between us and no privacy whatsoever.
I have had this job for a little over six months, and I now have my third, and least favorite, supervisor, Graham Todd. It isn't Graham's fault. He just doesn't know what he's doing. He was working in a division that was shut down, so he was shifted over to our group and made a supervisor before being thoroughly trained. But what we do has changed a great deal, as well, so we are all learning some things together. Graham reprimands me one minute and then, with his next breath, asks me how to do something else.
Even though his door is closed, the boisterous, obnoxious laugh of the big boss in the corner office rings out over the cubicles as I notice tears trickling down the cheeks of a coworker. "Can I help?" I ask. She shows me a rejected quality assurance request, or QA, and says she doesn't understand why Graham rejected it—the file is the stack of documents a real estate agent sent in for a short sale. "I can't seem to get anything right! Some initial or date in the top left corner is always wrong." Understanding how she feels, I look the documents over with fresh eyes and tell her, "He's rejecting this because the 4506-T is incomplete; however, because the mortgage loan is delegated, we don't actually need that form, according to last week's meeting. Just remind Graham that this file is delegated and remind him of that discussion in the meeting last week. He'll make sure with his supervisor, because he won't take your word for it or mine, and then he'll approve the docs."
"Pyper, why wasn't file number 149573 declined yesterday?" Graham asks me.
"The agent called in to say her mother died yesterday, and she asked for one more day, so I gave her another day. Overnight, she uploaded everything we need into the file library like she said she would."
"But the file should have been declined yesterday. I told you to decline it. I sent a list of files for you to decline, and 149573 was on that list."
"Well, everything is in now. I moved the offer into the analysis phase."
"Going forward, when I tell you to decline a file, you have to decline it that day, understood?"
"Why? I get a bonus based on how many files I get into closing. Why should I be in a hurry to shut down files when the agents are communicating and cooperating? I thought we were here to close short sales, not decline them. I mean, I come to work to make money, don't you?" I don't understand, and I'm fed up with Graham and all that he represents.
We get most of these files transferred to us from Bank of Amerika on or around day three after the realtor initiates a short sale with an offer in the bank's system, and we send HAFA (government program) paperwork to the realtor on day three or four with a letter that says the seller has ten days from the date of that letter to return the HAFA documents. But, actually, the agents only have six or seven days to get all of that paperwork back to us. If everything isn't in by day ten after the short sale was initiated, we are told to decline the short sale. We're sending false guidelines and then punishing realtors for following them.
Reluctantly, Graham answers my question, "Because, if we, as a vendor of the bank, have more than fifteen percent of our short sale files without all of their paperwork in and through QA after the ten-day mark from when the realtor initiated the short sale on any file, the bank will fine us $400 per file. If we have 151 no-QA files out of 1,000 files, that's a fine of over $60,000. And I don't want to lose my job because an agent's mother died."
I answer my ringing phone. It's Marci, an agent on one of my short sale files. She says, "You sent me a message that says I have to remove the $25,000 incentive from the HUD-1 form. Why?"
"Marci, the $25,000 incentive was the incentive that the seller could get with the short sale program she was in before her file was declined the first time. Let's see... I'm looking back at the previous short sale file before it was declined, and it looks like the short sale was terminated because you didn't complete the listing agreement task on your side when we were working with you on a short sale without an offer."
Marci tells me, "The house was already listed when we started the short sale program with the bank. It's been on the market for about a year. After my seller got into the bank's short sale program for properties without an offer, it took weeks for anyone to give me a list price from the bank. And this price from the bank is called a suggested list price, right? By the time I received the bank's suggested list price, I had an offer for the current list price, and that listing price was $30,000 more than the bank's suggested list price. I was waiting to hear from someone about how to deal with this dilemma when the short sale was declined because I left my "upload listing agreement and MLS" task incomplete for too many days. When I called to complain, I was told to re-initiate the short sale, so I did that but re-started the process as a short sale with an offer because we had an offer at that point. You're telling me that, because I didn't list the price for $30,000 less than my offer, my seller now loses her $25,000 incentive—the one she was promised she'd get for participating in a short sale with the bank to avoid foreclosure? That is ludicrous."
"I'm sorry, but yes. When a short sale file is re-started, I have to treat it as if it is brand new. Any file initiated by an agent with an offer is either HAFA eligible or not—you can go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov for the eligibility requirements. If the short sale is HAFA eligible, then the seller can get $3,000 at closing. If the short sale is not eligible for HAFA, then there is no incentive. The program you were in before was completely different, and that incentive only applies when a borrower who is underwater on a mortgage agrees to participate in a short sale before there is an offer on the property. I understand that your seller did exactly that; however, that file was declined."
"We are working with the same offer, though. But fine. Whatever. I'll file a complaint with the OCC," Marci states. After Marci hangs up, I Google "OCC" because I have no idea what it is. Working files like Marci's is new to me. Our company trained me to work short sales without offers and then abruptly switched to working files with offers instead, and, before Marci called, no one had ever thrown the OCC at me. Oh, "Office of the Comptroller," I say aloud.
"What about the OCC?" asks Graham.
"One of my agents said she will file a complaint with the OCC."
My phone rings again. This time, it's a seller in tears. "I can't go through with a short sale because I just have too many memories in this place. My dog is buried in the back, and I reared three children here. I don't want to leave my home," she sobs. I explain to the distraught mortgage-holder that she will have to move whether she short sells or not because she has an approaching, imminent foreclosure date. The house will be sold on the courthouse steps in fourteen days if she doesn't participate in a short sale. I convince her that she will make new memories in a different place after she gets her incentive at closing if she'll just keep moving forward with the short sale program. The call takes a while.
As soon as I hang up, Graham asks why I was on the call for so many minutes. I say, "The borrower didn't want to sell because her dog is buried behind the house." I am oversimplifying, I know. Graham says, "You should've told her she could dig it up and take it with her. She's getting several thousand dollars as an incentive. We don't care how she uses it."
For lunch, I eat with Samantha, a coworker on a different team. We hit the nearest burger joint, where she tells me, "My hair is falling out in clumps, and I know it's all this stress at work."
At the end of my workday, Graham says, "Pyper, I sent you another email with files to decline. Did you do it?"
The dryers buzz me back to a reality in which I have no job in December. And two kids in middle school. Yesterday, I was fired from ServiceLink for insubordination.