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David Streitfeld from The Los Angeles Times had another great story yesterday indicating the way the housing marking in Southern California has changed over the last year: Realtors, for whom clients are sparse, obtain public listings of homes threatened with foreclosure and approach those homeowners, offering their services.

But, of course, they don’t just knock on someone’s door and accuse them of being a deadbeat mortgage borrower:

As he navigates the suburban streets, map in hand, [agent Dave Hennigan] rehearses his pitch. “Your name came up on a list of people who might be interested in selling their house.”

That sounds neutral, even sympathetic. If it works, he’ll have his first distressed seller.

The story details how subprime loans — those high-interest mortgages for customers with no or poor credit — have changed the face of the real estate market in the region. Lenders weren’t as cautious as they once were, because if they performed the rigorous checks they once did to ensure a borrower’s ability to afford a particular loan, hardly anyone would qualify.

Nobody cared too much as long as prices went up, although many people in the business knew the day of reckoning wasn’t canceled but merely postponed.

But for Hennigan and his fellow agents at an Orange County office, a homeowner’s tragedy is their gain. The end of the story describes Hennigan approaching a house that’s been abandoned.

Hennigan doesn’t know who the owners were, why they couldn’t pay or where they went. It’s much better this way. He doesn’t have to feel sorry for anyone. Instead, he can concentrate on work.

“People are walking away from their houses,” he says. “I’m giddy because I’m going to be so busy.”

The story reminded me a bit of this story I wrote last fall about a San Diego couple who use those same public foreclosure listings to offer counseling and debt management services.

KELLY BENNETT

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