A Promise Kept

Horror stories abound about short sales that won’t close. But this real estate pro made a commitment and refused to give up.

January 1, 2011

At age 35, Anastasia Stephanopoulos left her job as a deputy district attorney to spend more time with her family. She joined J. Rockcliff, REALTORS®, in Walnut Creek, Calif.

For a decade, Stephanopoulos attained moderate success, closing more than $5 million in sales each year. As the market declined, she moved into distressed-property sales—first foreclosures and then short sales. So when economic troubles caught up with a couple she’d worked with four years earlier, she felt prepared to help. The couple owned two restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they had decided to accept a business venture in Europe and needed to sell their home. Stephanopoulos promised she’d get the job done.

The house went on the market Nov. 2, 2009, at a list price of $995,000—above fair market value. Had the listing been on a different street, the price might have been right, she says. But the house was on a busy road and would have been a challenging sale in any market. "Sadly, banks don’t know locations," she says. "I needed to show Citibank that I was trying to get the best price for the house."

In mid-December, the sellers called with bad news: They were filing for bankruptcy. At that point, "I told Anastasia to walk away," says Jeff Sposito, Stephanopoulos’s broker at J. Rockcliff. Bankruptcy would only complicate the sale, he told her. Colleagues with short-sale experience agreed, Stephanopoulos recalls.

But she had made a promise. She reduced the price to $729,000. That brought five offers, including two for $800,000. The sellers accepted an offer from a buyer who was able to wait out a short sale. With the bankruptcy order for relief in place, though, Citibank couldn’t review the offer. The sellers had to wait for the bankruptcy to be discharged or get Citibank to file a motion for relief. "I was calling Citibank constantly to see if they would file the motion," Stephanopoulos recalls.

Meanwhile, the sellers executed a power of attorney so that relatives in the Bay Area could close the sale, and they moved back to their native Italy. Stephanopoulos agreed to maintain the property and paid to have the pool shock treated. She didn’t want to risk a low appraisal, nor did she want the buyers to walk away.

Finally, Citibank filed the motion for relief. It was granted in April, and the sale closed on June 15—nearly eight months after the sellers had first called her. "This case taught me that nothing is impossible if you educate yourself about the process, stay the course, and don’t take no for an answer," she says.

Katherine Tarbox is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine. Previously, she was editorial director for Washington Life. She is the author of the international bestselling book A Girl’s Life (Dutton, 2000) and has made hundreds of media appearances including The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN.