Show Me the Stats!

When it comes to short sales of houses, there are really only a couple of objective measurements for the real estate agents doing them. How quickly did the houses get sold, and how many (what percentage) of the contracted houses sold?

Everything else is pretty much a matter of opinion. Is the agent responsive? A good communicator? A go-getter? People can and do care about those attributes differently, but it’s the statistics that prove success.

It’s like football: We may like the quarterback and his style and that rebellious, unshaven look he has, but his success is measured by how many passes he completes, how many times he fumbles on the one-yard line, and how many games the team wins.

That’s why we were so proud of the way that we have shortened the duration of the short sales our agency handles that we put out a news announcement about it. We close most of the sales we take on, and we close them more quickly than most everybody else.

But a funny thing happened while we were researching the numbers to see how we stack up against other short sale agents. We found that the numbers can sometimes be wildly misleading. In the third quarter of this year, our average sale duration is 48 days, and we know that is far better than just about anybody else in the region.

But we kept finding instances where agents claimed to be closing sales in three days, or even as little as one day. That’s not only unrealistic, it’s an impossibility. Conceivably it could be done in 30 days, but even that is the equivalent of pitching a perfect game in baseball. It may happen, but so rarely that it would make big news when it does.

What’s happening is that some agents get an offer on a short sale house, yet keep the sale active (open to other potential buyers) while they handle the negotiations with the lender. Then when the negotiations are wrapped up, they declare the sale closed on Thursday with the deal final on Friday, hence the one-day “result.”

There’s nothing illegal or unethical about keeping a sale active, as long as all subsequent bidders on a short sale house are aware that another buyer is ahead of them, but when you work the numbers this way, it distorts the results.

The reason we’re explaining this is that when it is time to choose a short sale agent, a homeowner should be sure to ask the right questions. Ask the agent to show you his or her MLS (Multiple Listing Service) data, to prove how many short sales they’ve done and the specific results. An agent who won’t do that, or is reluctant to, usually doesn’t have a lot to be proud of. But that’s the objective measure of success you need, no matter how charming, or otherwise impressive, that agent may seem.

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