Let's start by asking "When is it too late to contact a real estate agent?" The blunt answer is: When the Sheriff knocks on your door telling you to remove all your belongings and leave the premises.
Knowing who to turn to and when to seek help can be difficult. It's not new news that there are scores of foreclosures out there, and even more coming every day. Currently 5% of California Mortgages are in the foreclosure process, and 16% are delinquent. Eventually, when the bank's work load lessens, much of that 16% will move to the 5% bracket.
The Role of the Real Estate Agent has changed over the last few years, and now more then ever it is important for your agent to be a trusted advisor, and give you the options available....not just try to sell you on something.
A short sale is nothing to take lightly. They can be lengthy and unnerving, so any Short Sale Specialist will (if they are worth working with) discuss all of your options with you, let you know how it all works, and then answer any questions you may have while you are taking the time to make a decision.
Here are the BASICS of some the options you have available.
REFINANCE: Yes it is possible. However, unless you have sufficient equity this option is not available. Credit considerations factor in here as well. If you are currently late on mortgage payments or have a history of late mortgage payments this option is very unlikely. Due to the downturn in the real estate market in the majority of markets most homes don't have enough equity for banks to refinance the loan.
LOAN MODIFIATION: Very difficult to obtain; especially without intimate familiarity of your lender's policies and procedures. Often a homeowner strives for a loan modification for months only to be declined or receive a marignal modification that does not accomplish enough to resolve mortgage hardship in a lasting fashion.
SHORT SALE: Choose an agent that has familiarity with short sales and your lender in particular. This option is far superior to foreclosure (Short Sale vs. Foreclosure). Put your home on the market at an attractive price, get an offer from a QUALIFIED (and I cant stress this enough) buyer, submit it to the bank, and see if they short sale. Banks here are usually looking for at least 70% of their investment for a first trust deed.
FORECLOSE: No redeeming benefits.
At any rate, something needs to be done. Don't put it off before it's too late, just know that you are not alone, and somebody is there to help.