How To Perform A Delinquency Interview.

Admittedly, one of the more awkward services rendered in the REO business is that of the delinquency interview.

The word “interview” is misleading because every interview I have watched on television was rehearsed. The person being interviewed was usually an interesting person and acted like they wanted to be there.

When “interviewing” someone who has become seriously delinquent on their mortgage payments, none of these niceties come into play.

Like a Jehovah’s Witness, they were not expecting you but knew you would come around at some point. You arrive with a form designed to obtain (a) their contact information, (b) why they have become delinquent, and (c) what ways they have tried to come current on their payments.

You knock on the door, perhaps hoping no one will answer so you can leave a door hanger with call back info. Maybe you knock and run. Then, you move on to your next victim.

In the beginning, I felt embarrassment when approaching delinquent homeowners on their own turf (soon the bank’s turf). I was embarrassed for them. I imagined how I would feel if put in their position — which is not impossible to imagine.

The weird part is being a seemingly disconnected party as the field agent and providing this service. Many times I have been asked, as people waved my dirty minivan down just who I was and how did this involve me.

Awkward for sure when they questioned my reasons for being involved.

Here are two things I have picked up while being yelled at and chased down to give me a mental edge during the delinquency interview:

— You are providing a service for the delinquent individual. On a professjonal level, you are being paid, probably not enough, to make contact with this party. For all intents and purposes, while on the premises, you function as a bank representative to inform the delinquent individual of their responsibility to the bank.

However, on a personal level, you are there to assist the delinquent party. Because of you, and your friendly approach, they may make a turnaround or at least know they have options. In a sense, being a Joe Schmoe is the best thing when doing a delinquent interview. This is because, you will probably look more casual, less authoritative, and this goes a long way toward dropping the borrower’s guard. Remember that you are really there to help the delinquent person.

— Everyone has a story. I have found that when I just talk to the person who is delinquent, their humanity spills out. I don’t go into counselor mode by any means, but when I just talk lots of things come out. By being willing to talk, you will hear some interesting stories, often sad, and you will see fear come to the surface. If you are compassionate, it is an opportunity to let them talk to someone who cares. You also can encourage them and give hope.

I have found that few people in delinquent status who I am asked to approach will refuse a moment’s conversation. In that amount of time, you can both come to know that individual and wish them well.

That is a service that any bank would put its name on.

A short list of things you can do to make the delinquency interview a professional experience:

1. Arrive in a professional manner. This deals primarily with your appearance, which extends from your physical dress to your vehicle. Dress professional casual — don’t slip on camo shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. This looks more like their little, irresponsible brother is coming over to lecture them on their mortgage debt. You’re likely to get your butt kicked for that. You are not required to dress like someone working inside a bank, but put forth an image that you care about your appearance. When approaching the delinquent individual, it is more likely that you will be taken seriously. Also, wash your vehicle. I have learned this the hard way. To pull up in someone’s driveway looking like a bum makes you look like a suspect. Be professional.

2. Have Your Forms Ready. I have been forced to re-design some of the forms I have received from clients who expected me to approach a delinquent homeowner about their debt. The “forms” they gave me were hard to read, poorly worded, and the numbers to all for counseling were illegible. So, with a little experience in Excel, I drafted a new form (without telling my client) that could be read. Do not show up at their door with just scratch paper or something you pulled out of the car that could be jotted on. No — bring your forms with you. The form will be a prompter for you. If you can read it, you can use it to start and end the impromptu meeting you are having with this person.

3. Tell Them Quickly Who You Represent. The first question in their mind will be, “How does this concern you?” With that in mind, them them soon that you are contracted as a field agent for XYZ Bank. If you have a company name, don’t mention it. Just your name will not be sufficient. Their debt is with the bank. Tell them you are with this bank to minimize confusion.

4. Resist Being Confrontational. “Hey, you don’t know me, but I’m here to tell you that you’re about to get kicked out of here unless you cough up the money you owe your bank. When are you going to pay??” Not good. This really isn’t a personal issue between you and the delinquent individual. You are a courier of sorts to inform them adequately of where they stand. They are in charge of making the decision, but you are not in charge of forcing them into it. Your demeanor should be friendly, professional, and patient. Even though you have a form to prompt your questions, you can leave yourself open to broader conversation. Think about how the questions you would have if confronted by someone from the bank, and how you would want to be treated.

5. Be Conversationally Prepared. Just know they will likely ask questions for clarification. You could simply point them to the number on the form to call. But it’s better to anticipate these questions and at least have a lead answer to them. The bank will be able to thoroughly help them. You want to reduce confusion and encourage action on their part. So, spend some personal time finding answers about the delinquency process and what the bank typically does. Then, you can arm the person with knowledge (and most importantly, hope).

6. Do Not Let Confrontation Escalate. Do everything in your power to minimize a negative interaction between you and the delinquent individual. If you arrive in a professional manner and they persist with a confrontational demeanor, continue patiently with the message you have been given to deliver. However, if it reaches a point at which you feel physically threatened, the best thing to do is defer to the individual and leave. Also, it helps to have another person there with you who can serve as a buffer. It is very rare when you will see this sort of encounter, but it helps to be ready for it.

7. Leave Them With Hope. The most important service during the interview is to provide a sense of hope to the delinquent individual. They most likely are weighing how they will respond to their status anyway. Many people just walk away from mortgage debt and take a hit on their credit. Irresponsibly, they do nothing to reverse their debt. With a little effort, you can offer hope to this person. Let them know they are not without help – there are agencies they can call on to become current. Their lender may work out a deal with them on payments to come current. Let them know their possibilities.

To perform delinquency interviews in this manner will put an edge on your level of service. You will be surprised at how much this will help not only your client, but the delinquent individual as well.


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