When an agent is approached to sell a home by someone who appears to be in trouble, some agents will ignore warning buzzers and present a regular Marketing Plan to the homeowners. Some sellers will tell you upfront there is a problem and some will try to hide it from you out of embarrassment or even anger. It is important for you to know there is a problem before you can provide the professional services you are to be paid for. Dig a bit deeper with the sellers if you notice that they are anxious or unclear about their reasons to sell. There is nothing worse than having a ready willing and able buyer for a property at a price that the bank won't accept and you can not deliver clear title.
In the past, I have heard agents trying to negotiate with mortgage holders who have not gotten through to the right person in time. I was days away from a closing with buyers when the house was pulled out from under them because we could not find the right person to talk to. I not only lost the sale but I lost the clients as they were so turned off they decided to stay renters rather than continue.
After hearing the complexities of everything that can affect a sale I believe the best we can do is to get advice from an attorney who can delve into the homeowners full financial picture and offer options. In NY the bankruptcy laws may be used to allow your potential sellers to keep some of the equity in a house if there is any available. Also there is a way to guarantee your payment at closing as a real estate agent if a bankruptcy is approved by the courts.
Perhaps there is a way to work with the banks to restructure the loan to keep the people in their home. Some of you may say "Hey wait a minute I don't get paid unless the house sells" but those happy people will return the favor by referring others and by using you at some point in the future. When you do things like this you gain a reputation as a caring individual.
A word of caution against getting too involved with the lives of these unfortunate individuals. It can bring you down if you let it. Try to refer them to someone who can help them with the whole issue that they are facing, such as an experienced bankruptcy attorney, and be there to help with the real estate part only. It is always good to be a resource but if you try to be the source you may end up burning out, or worse, in trouble for practicing law or giving financial advice without a license to do so.
I'm Paddy Pizappi - Work with Me and You'll be Happy!