A hand shoots up in the back of the room.
"Alexis, she's got one," a student says.
Alexis McGee, real estate instructor and president of Foreclosures.com, scoots around her desk, sits down and picks up a headset.
"Tracy, look up. I'm on the line," McGee, 47, types into her computer, which is linked to a giant screen at the front of the room.
Tracy Romero, 31, and her 17 fellow students have reached the heart of McGee's $9,000 three-day seminar on foreclosure investing: They are cold-calling homeowners who are behind on their mortgages, getting them to talk and, the students hope, convincing them to sell.
But Romero is struggling. The home owner on the other end of the line demands to know who she is and why she's calling. Romero puts the call on hold as McGee reminds her of the sales technique.
To smooth-talk prospects, she teaches, be courteous, ask questions but don't answer them, listen and, if possible, be funny. Romero gets back on the phone. "Sorry to keep you waiting," she says. "Who I am isn't important. What's important is we figure out how to save your house." It works. The woman starts talking.
She lost her job, and poor health has kept her from finding a new one. She's afraid she will have to put her dog to sleep if she moves because most rentals don't allow pets. She begins to cry.
McGee prompts Romero to comfort her and then move in for the key piece of information any foreclosure investor needs. "Find out how much she owes," she urges. "Now or never, Tracy."
Now or never. That could well be the rallying cry for an eager new generation of investors flooding into workshops like McGee's, crowding ever more frequent bank foreclosure auctions and snapping up real estate bestsellers like The Pre-Foreclosure Property Investor's Kit.
Foreclosure investing is nothing new, of course. Its simple and seemingly foolproof premise has long captured the imaginations of aspiring real estate millionaires: Buy at fire-sale prices from homeowners desperate to avoid foreclosure or from banks eager to unload seized homes, then sell for an easy profit on the open market.
What makes the old formula so compelling today is the unprecedented volume of distressed properties to choose from. Earlier this year, homes in some stage of foreclosure hit a 30-year high of 640,000, and a recent congressional report estimated that 2 million homes would be in the process or have gone through it already by the end of 2009.
No wonder newspaper ads are touting today's foreclosure environment as "the greatest fire sale in history."
Maybe so. But a close look at one group of foreclosure investors in action suggests that today's supposedly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity isn't all it seems.
she charges 9grand for 3 days