Serving International Bargain Hunters

Real estate pro Debra Allen is taking two specialties and combining them for more closings.

December 1, 2008

Closing a short sale is tough—all that complicated paperwork and those lengthy negotiations. Working with foreign buyers can also have its challenges—acquainting far-flung prospects with a whole new set of laws and financing procedures. Combine the two, and most real estate practitioners would just as soon look somewhere else for business. 

Not Debra Allen, ABR®, e-PRO®. This sales associate with Prudential Arizona Properties in Gilbert, Ariz., has found a new niche in selling Phoenix-area short sale properties to Canadian buyers. In fact, to this winner of her company’s 2007 top customer service and listing awards, it seemed a natural.

Born in Germany to German-Asian parents, Allen’s comfortable working with different cultures. She moved to Arizona in 1996 and joined the real estate business in 2003, and soon she began expanding her international contacts as a member of her state association’s International Real Estate Council. She’s also studying for the Certified International Property Specialist designation.

The short sales skills are a more recent acquisition. A course at the 2006 REALTORS® Conference in New Orleans cued her into the fact that short sales were on the rise. Soon she was developing a how-to guide for putting together a good short-sale package, which she made available on her Real Town blog, and began coaching her peers. And somehow she found time between the 18 transactions she closed in the first half of 2008 to teach a short-sale class.

Success in short sales requires "a good system and great attention to detail," she says. "For example, you have to put the loan number on all correspondence with the bank or the process can quickly go awry. These practices may not shorten the process, but I believe that a good system is why I’ve been able to close 95 percent of the 20 short sales I’ve negotiated."

Allen’s international and short sales expertise finally intersected earlier this year when someone from HiFX, a company that provides advisory services to currency exchanges, saw articles she’d written about working with international buyers and asked her to make a presentation to a group of second-home buyers in Calgary, Alberta. Calgary seemed a good choice because it’s just a couple of hours due north of Phoenix by plane. 

Although her initial PowerPoint presentation focused on all aspects of the Arizona housing market, it was the discussion of short sales—and the bargains they represented—that got the buyers’ attention, says Allen. "Since the median price in Calgary is around $300,000 [Canadian], Phoenix homes priced as low as $200,000 look like great deals."

From the group of 355, she got 65 requests for information. But the desire for bargains, fueled by media stories of a Phoenix market meltdown, also created problems. 

"The buyers thought they could get rock bottom prices because of what they’d read," she notes. They didn’t understand that in a short sale, the bank is already accepting less than the full loan amount and is not going to cut the price further.

As a result, for the first few months, she says, "buyers just kept losing deals because they were trying to lowball the price." Now, she’s finally writing offers that are getting accepted and has two short sales with Canadian buyers set to close.

What’s next for Allen? She’s expanding her knowledge of REO sales, which she expects to take off next year.

Mariwyn Evans

Mariwyn Evans is a former REALTOR® Magazine writer and editor, covering both residential brokerage and commercial real estate topics.