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July 28, 2014

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Updated: 1 hour 41 min ago

Make Home Valuation Systems Work to Your Advantage

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 09:30

Sam DeBord

By Sam DeBord

Online home valuations have a rocky history.  From automated valuation models (AVMs) used in lending during the mortgage boom to consumer-focused products like Zillow’s Zestimate, the accuracy of these valuations has always been an issue for real estate professionals.  Despite online valuations’ inability to consistently provide an accurate home value on an individual basis, one thing is clear:  They’re very popular.

While the misinformation creates fairly regular confusion for consumers, the regular annoyance to many real estate professionals has simply become an opportunity for others. Consumers gravitate to online valuations in droves, so many professionals are starting to offer their own versions.

There are plenty of online valuation tools for agents and brokers available, and although they’re not a brand new concept, the number of companies offering them is growing.  The simplest versions are standalone websites that do just one thing: get home sellers to enter their address and contact information, and deliver them an estimated value report.

Companies sell these websites directly to agents, and provide some training and networking online with other users to learn to drive traffic to them.  We tested the product from Home Value Leads in California. Facebook ads and Google pay-per-click campaigns are used to attract home sellers who are curious about their home’s value. The sellers click on an ad about home prices in their neighborhood, fill in their address and contact info, and receive their value report. The agent can follow up to explain the inaccuracies that are inherent in an online valuation and offer a personalized follow-up or CMA to better educate the consumer.

Full-service website vendors are integrating the home valuation tools as well. The most recent one we tested was from Real Geeks in Hawaii.  Customers simply add it to their current Real Geeks website with a call-to-action asking sellers “What’s Your Home Worth?”  They can also drive traffic with paid ads. The same follow-up and personalized explanation with a consumer makes the process educational for the home owner and valuable for the agent. It’s tied in to the back-end of the agent’s current website, so the leads from sellers and buyers exist in the same database.

While it might seem like a simple form on a website could generate the same leads, the simplicity and single focus of encouraging a user to enter their address is the beauty behind these products. Conversion rates are far higher on these tools than when simply asking a user to fill out a form on a regular website. They’re built to prod each user along to the next step, and they do it well. Even without all contact information, simply getting an address from a consumer might be reason to send a postcard to the homeowner who might be thinking of selling.

Many of us roll our eyes when we hear “But Zillow says my house is worth X.” It’s a professional annoyance, but if we’re honest about it, it’s a genius marketing tactic. These new tools create an opportunity to get past being frustrated with the tactic, and to use it yourself to create some new customer contacts. With consumers now on your website, you can start the education process about home values right away.

Sam DeBord is a state director for Washington REALTORS®, and managing broker with Coldwell Banker Danforth. Connect with his team, Seattle Homes Group, at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.

Not Using e-Signatures? Here’s Why You Should

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 13:43

Andrew Janos

By Andrew Janos

The number of tech savvy clients is increasing every day with the help of the Internet and smartphones. Information is at the consumer’s fingertips, which is why the transfer of documents for signature and information should be just as easy. DocuSign recently purchased Cartavi’s transaction management system and dubbed it DocuSign Transaction Rooms. As a real estate practitioner, you will be able to seamlessly and securely share documents with every party of the transaction (check out deals specifically for REALTORS®). Transaction Rooms can also link to Dropbox and Google Drive, killing fewer tress and storing files in the cloud for access anywhere.

The trend is easily visible among consumers who are becoming more eco-conscious, and the DocuSign suite allows agents to go over contracts and other documents on their iPad or computer. This makes becoming a paperless agent easy. Clients can also read the paperwork at their leisure (within reasonable time constraints of course (insert frantic multiple offer situation here)) and ask questions so that they fully understand the process. It also assists for speedy offers if there is interest from multiple parties on a property. Offers can be put together in a fraction of the time, giving your clients an edge when they are pursuing their dream home.

Currently, DocuSign and DocuSign Transaction Rooms accounts can be linked together so that completed documents can be shared and distributed across each platform. With the redesign of DocuSign’s user interface, something tells me they will integrate in the future to form one place for storage, signature, and sharing/distributing.

The practice of using e-signatures will help clean up your company’s file management. Each individual agent can share their transactions with a master account to allow for all necessary documents to be saved in the company’s filing system. This helps transaction coordinators who often receive countless e-mails with files that are not named correctly, which ensues confusion in the workplace and/or missing documents in the file.

Ever get caught in a deal on vacation or in a seminar without a computer? Have no fear, the virtual office is here – and with its help, you can work from anywhere. Spring may be over, but the time to clean and streamline your business never is.

Andrew Janon is a vice president and salesperson with U S Spaces in Philadelphia. Connect with Andrew at andrewjanos.com.

‘Coming Soon’ Listings: The Only Question You Need to Ask

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 11:39

Sam DeBord

By Sam DeBord

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the propriety of pre-marketing listings. Promoting a “coming soon” listing on Zillow has been widely debated.

I’ll attempt to make the discussion for a REALTOR® as simple as possible. Ask yourself one single question, and you’ll know how to deal with this issue.

If you attempt to sell your client’s listing during a “coming soon” time period on an Internet portal that receives less than 20 percent of all real estate Internet traffic, but not advertise it simultaneously on the MLS and other websites (with delayed showing instructions if necessary): “What specific benefit are you telling your sellers they will receive by skipping the exposure to agents on the MLS, and buyers on agent, broker, and other portal websites?”

I’ve asked this question repeatedly to real estate professionals this week and have yet to receive a response.  If we, as real estate professionals don’t have an answer as to why it is in our clients’ best interests, it will be assumed that we’re doing it to benefit ourselves.

Read more in an article by Katie Johnson, NAR’s general counsel: “Coming Soon” – Is it in the Seller’s Best Interest?

Sam DeBord is a state director for Washington REALTORS®, and managing broker with Coldwell Banker Danforth. Connect with his team, Seattle Homes Group, at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.

When a Plank Stops Hurting

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 12:35

Melissa Krchnak

By Melissa Krchnak

I’ve recently starting doing planks – a balance and core-building technique – along with my regular exercise routine. This plank business isn’t a joke though. They started off pretty brutal. I set my goal to add just one second to my time a day. I’m overly optimistic so that goal is a far cry from where I naturally wanted to set it. As I’m writing this, I just finished 1:40.

Here’s what I’ve learned:
-The first time hurt almost the whole time. (Makes you want to jump in, eh?)
-After I got used to doing it regularly, it only hurts for a bit. (Mostly when I’m worn out at the end.)
-When I’m tired, it’s toughest to do it, so I do it before anything else and first thing in the morning. (I switched it up once and that was an extra painful day.)
-When I skip a day or five, it’s really tough to pick up where I left off versus doing it everyday when it’s exponentially easier to add my one second goal.

Does this sound like something in your business? Yeah, that thing that shall not be named: lead generation.

Just because you haven’t done it before, doesn’t mean you can’t start. And if it’s been awhile, just eat that frog. I suggest doing your lead generation first thing in the morning while you have all your energy and before life/work/emails/etc. show up. Doing a little everyday will create more consistency (not to mention strength and balance) in your business – and help your bank account avoid that roller coaster.

Melissa Krchnak is a real estate business consultant. Connect with her on Twitter @mkrchnak.

 

Do We Need Real Estate Tax Incentives?

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:09

Sam DeBord

By Sam DeBord

The U.S. tax code includes multiple incentives for buying and owning real estate. The mortgage interest deduction and property tax deduction are just a couple of the incentives that have come under fire in new “tax reform” plans for their purported special treatment of the real estate industry and home owners.

Do we really need tax deductions for real estate? In short, no. We don’t need them at all. We also don’t technically need government-incentivized public schools, roadways, or infrastructure for businesses. And yet, we find ways in our balancing act of budget spending and revenue to make room for them. There’s a reason for that.

The tax code in the United States, as imperfect as it is, was designed to encourage behavior that is good for the country. We don’t tax purely to attain a certain level of assets in a treasury account. We choose to tax certain activities at lower rates to spur economic growth. We spend those tax revenues on the kinds of programs that create a healthy atmosphere for further growth: an educated populace, safe transportation, viable communities in which to do business, and a stable, secure country.

If a taxpayer’s behavior improves the country’s health via increased economic activity, we support it through the tax code. We allow deductions for student loan debt, for having children (social security revenues are dependent on a growing population), for buying health insurance, and for business expenses. If an activity contributes positively to the standard of living for Americans, our tax code does, and must continue to, make that activity affordable through tax incentives.

No matter what stripe our politicians bear, they almost universally accept the notion that we’re all better off when the economy is booming, tax receipts are increasing, and our citizens’ net worth is rising. Real estate accounts for around 15 percent of our GDP. It’s one of the biggest drivers of consumer purchases nationally and excise taxes locally. Every single home purchase drives tens of thousands of dollars in related economic activity. Real estate’s ability to spur economic activity is unmatched.

We could spend a lot of time extolling homeownership’s impact on the stability of communities, schools, and families. These are all important. For fiscal discussion purposes, though, we need not go past the dollars and cents. Real estate activity has led us out of every economic downturn in recent history, and it is on its way to doing so again today. Incentivizing real estate sales and homeownership has a net positive effect on jobs, on communities, and on tax revenues in the long-term.

Do we really need tax incentives for real estate? We don’t need them any more than we need to be economically prosperous. The choice to keep those incentives or not is ours, and the answer seems obvious.

Sam DeBord is a state director for Washington REALTORS®, and managing broker with Coldwell Banker Danforth. Connect with his team, Seattle Homes Group, at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.

Give Them What They Can’t Google

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 11:27

Melissa Krchnak

By Melissa Krchnak

For years I’ve been harping about highly suggesting agents give consumers “what they can’t Google.” That is, after all, where our value lies.

Once upon a time, consumers needed a REALTOR® to tell them everything about a home. Now, they have it all at their fingertips…literally. Their cell phone’s in their hands right now. So much of what used to be private, close-to-the-chest information is now super public. So, real estate professionals have to step up and step in.

We often can’t even begin to see where our value lies because we take our knowledge for granted. Like how this subdivision has roof problems, or that floor plan’s garages always leak when we have heavy rains, or how this sliver of a city actually is in a better school district.

So, give your people what they can’t Google. Don’t know where to start or you’re new in the industry? Start with WalkScore.com. Then favorite/follow every city website and calendar. Go to city hall and compliance departments and ask questions; get to know the staff. Find out what charity events and festivals are coming to town. Become a student of your cities, then communicate your knowledge to your clients and potential clients.

Melissa Krchnak is a real estate business consultant. Connect with her on Twitter @mkrchnak.

 

The Irony of Leading Trends

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 14:56

Dave Robison

By Dave Robison

Lately, I have heard numerous agents at many different brokerages talk about their experiences trying to get listings. These stories are from top performing agents, not rookies. One of the agents expressed how frustrated they are because, for the first time, the referrals they are getting are interviewing other agents too.

We know that many home buyers or sellers find their agent via referral – and those consumers are getting multiple referrals. Here’s an example: A consumer recently posted a request on their Facebook page for help finding a good agent. That person received about 50 comments that suggested different agents.  So what is the frustration of some of these top performing agents? They are getting interviewed and they are often being chosen based on commission and costs, not on reputation, experience, benefits, and results.

Here’s the irony: A recent report came out from IMPREV that discussed the biggest challenge for brokerages. It’s recruiting. What is the major reason why agents switch brokerages? Commissions/better split and lower brokerage costs. The least important reason why agents switched, according to the report? Culture of a brokerage and stronger leadership. In the same ways the majority of agents are frustrated that consumers are choosing them based on commission, agents are actually picking their brokerage based on commission as well.

I have to admit, this survey left me feeling perplexed. And in the same breath, it points to opportunity.

I love books such as Good To Great (HarperBusiness, 2001) by Jim Collins. That book talks about how the best companies have the best leaders. Another example of a great leader is John Wooden (a basketball coach legend). Where does success come from? It comes from great leaders, cultures, and teams. However, agents aren’t picking brokerages on great leaders and cultures…they are picking based on commissions and costs, according to the study.

What is the opportunity from all this? First, when consumers pick agents on commissions and costs, that shows signs of a commodity market. Second, when the overwhelming masses are picking their brokerages on commissions and costs, that shows signs of a commodity as well. Every market that is a commodity has an opportunity for someone to provide an experience or value, meaning, people will pick you based on reputation, culture, benefits instead of commissions, and costs – if you prove it worthy. This opportunity is the next Starbucks or Cirque de Soleil. Out of a commodity, great companies can be built.

Anyone can play the commission/fee game. “I’ll give a better fee than the next agent,” or, “I’ll provide a better split than the next brokerage.” That isn’t visionary nor revolutionizing. That is a dog-eat-dog world.

So you want consumers to pick you based on commission? Or do you want them to pick you based on your value, reputation, and benefits? The first step is to change your own mindset. You also need to pick a brokerage based on their culture and leadership.

Your value and creation of value is about your mindset. If you don’t believe in value, neither will your clients.

Dave Robison, known as “Utah Dave,” is broker/owner of UtahDave.com Neighborhood Experts.

The Real Estate Pro’s Guide to Pinterest (Part 1)

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 14:46

Charlie Allred

By Charlie Allred

Last month, I wrote “How to Capitalize on Pinterest,” where I said the main benefit of Pinterest for agents and brokers is driving visitors to your real estate website. Well, last week I read a statistic that stated 70 percent of home sellers and 74 percent of buyers found their real estate agent online.  These numbers prove that we as real estate practitioners should be focusing our marketing efforts online as more consumers start their home buying or selling process online.

This blog post is my “Guide to Pinterest” kickoff, where I will explain how to get started on Pinterest in order to connect with potential clients and drive traffic to your website.

First, you want to set up a Pinterest account. When creating your profile, keep in mind that you want your potential client to be able to get to know you, your interests, and what you do (sell real estate) all in one glance. So anything that is tangential to this one-glance approach should be skipped.

What is important in your Pinterest profile?

  • Your photo: This gives your potential client a chance to know you better, so choose a photo that represents who you are.
  • Your profile description: Include your interests and the city in which you sell the most real estate. This is a short description so be concise.
  • Your real estate website: Very important! This gives your potential client the chance to learn more about you and your company.
  • Connect your social media accounts: In the settings area of your Pinterest account you can connect many of your social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
  • Your top 12 boards on Pinterest: The first/top 12 boards in your profile are your “prime real estate” in Pinterest. When a potential client visits your profile, they will see your bio info and about a dozen boards. You’ll want to create boards and arrange them so that potential clients immediately see: personal interests, real estate-related topics (i.e. “buy a house in Phoenix”), and home ideas, such as renovations or decorating. Follow those boards up with a community-related board, such as “Best Phoenix restaurants” or “Best Phoenix parks for kids.”

Lastly, a few pinning tips:

  • Pin a few images to each board daily.
  • Don’t pin all your pins at one time; spread out your pins throughout the day.  You can even pin from your smartphone through the Pinterest app.
  • Write your own description for each pin (image), because you want potential clients to get a feel for your real voice.
  • Lastly, be engaging. The goal of social media is to be social, so don’t forget to comment on and like other people’s pins.

Next month, I will go into more detail about what to include in your top 12 boards.

Charlie Allred a Phoenix based real estate broker with Secure Real Estate, and is the author of the upcoming book “Pinnable Real Estate: Pinterest for Real Estate Agents.” Learn more at her blog: www.PinnableRealEstate.com.

YPN in Washington: #RPCTE Recap

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 09:00

Rob Reuter

By Rob Reuter, YPN Manager

YPN members from across the country converged on the nation’s capital May 12-17 to attend the 2014 REALTOR® Party Convention & Trade Expo (#RPCTE) where thousands of REALTORS® annually meet to address the most recent issues facing the real estate industry. Over the last five years, the number of YPN attendees has increased as the group continues to grow their networks, and a greater number serve on NAR committees and in volunteer leadership roles.

The 18-member YPN Advisory Board was established in 2010, and meets in-person twice a year – during RPCTE and the REALTORS® Conference & Expo each November – to discuss initiatives that further the network as a whole. Here is a recap of what was discussed/presented during the  90-minute RPCTE meeting:

  • 2014 NAR REach Class: For the second consecutive year, the advisory board was introduced to the newest class of NAR REach, a Second Century Ventures program that focuses on upcoming real estate tech companies. Naturally, YPN members are technologically savvy and the REach program offers advisor/mentor opportunities for those interested in testing and providing feedback to the companies. For more information on these opportunities and to learn more about this year’s class, visit the NAR REach website.
  • Next Generation Find-a-REALTOR® Profiles: Ernie Graham, Move Inc.’s senior director of product development, gave an overview of the latest feature coming to realtor.com® that allows consumers to find agents based on criteria such as activity (closed properties, current listings, showings, etc), client recommendations, and “badges” earned for designations and certifications. This new feature is expected to go live later this year. Stay tuned for other opportunities for YPN members.
  • ’10 For 10 With YPN’ Update: Launched at the 2013 REALTORS® Conference & Expo, the “10 For 10 With YPN” initiative has gained momentum in the quest for 1,000 YPN members to pledge $10,000 over the next 10 years to RPAC. Prior to RPCTE, more than 100 YPN members have taken the pledge with an additional 20+ members joining on-site in Washington, D.C. If you are a REALTOR® or association staff member interested in taking the pledge, please visit www.realtoractioncenter.com/10for10.
  • YPN Accountability Survey: The YPN Advisory Board conducted a survey earlier this year of YPN network chairs and liaisons to discover the current strengths and weaknesses of YPN. While many of the networks are hosting very successful events, the primary demand among survey respondents was the ability to search events that other networks are hosting. A “YPN Event Bank” is nearly ready to launch where networks will be able to: A) submit details of successful events they’ve hosted, and B) search for details of events other networks have hosted. The event bank is expected to launch this summer at realtormag.realtor.org/YPN. The second largest survey request was advice on how to keep a network active after getting established using the YPN Startup Kit. The California YPN is spearheading a solution to this by compiling a “YPN Playbook” in which details such as establishing a leadership succession plan, staff support, raising sponsors, and many other topics will be outlined. The playbook is expected to be completed by July 4.
  • YPN Leadership Retreat: Over the past four years, YPN members have been invited to NAR’s Leadership Summit to learn more about volunteer leadership. Due to capacity and financial restrictions, the number of YPN attendees was reduced to 40 last year, and YPN will not be invited to attend this year’s Summit. However, due to the high number of requests to have a live meeting for YPN members, the YPN Advisory Board is planning to host a YPN Leadership Retreat in Chicago on Tuesday, August 19 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. While the exact details and agenda are still in progress, 150 YPN chairs, vice chairs, and liaisons will be invited to attend. Registration and other information to be released as soon as it becomes available.

Finally, after an afternoon of business meetings, YPN members attending RPCTE gathered for a fourth consecutive year at The Park at 14th for a night of networking and fun. Initially, the annual reception drew around 200 attendees, but now more than 325 have attended in each of the past two years. We hope to continue the tradition at The Park in 2015!

Marketing to Expired Listings

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 09:00

Brandon Doyle

By Brandon Doyle

Many books and seasoned real estate experts will tell you to go after the expired listings. Your competition knows this – they may be going after your listing that just expired right now! While there is nothing we can do to stop them, what we can do is make sure to provide enough value and stand out from the competition.

I’ve had sellers tell me they received over 50 letters in the mail in the weeks following the time off the market. This can be overwhelming for some, and they may need time to re-evaluate their needs. It is very likely that they will receive offers to relist the property at a discount, some agents may even claim to have a buyer for them, or offer to buy the home themselves if it does not sell. There are many different tactics to go after expired listings, some are more aggressive than others.

I would recommend you do what you think is appropriate and most closely matches your style. I’m not a big advocate of looking up people’s phone numbers, or showing up at their door, but I will send them a letter or two, or maybe even three. The follow up is very important to me, like I mentioned earlier that seller may receive 50+ letters in the mail. Until the property is relisted, I view that as a potential listing lead, and I want to nurture it just like I would with a buyer lead.

My first letter introduces myself, and how we conduct business. After that I follow up by offering tips/suggestions that have helped other sellers in the past effectively sell their homes.

There are many different reasons why a home may not have sold including price, condition, staging, availability for showings, market timing, and the agent’s marketing. I’ve heard of agents sending a FedEx of their listing presentation, or using colored over-sized envelopes, but none of those add any additional value to the seller. If you’re consistent with your message over time, marketing to expired listings will pay off.

Brandon Doyle, ABR, e-PRO, is a second-generation real estate pro with Edina Realty in the Twin Cities. Learn more about Brandon at www.doylerealestateteam.com.