Dictionary Inducts New Real Estate Terms

By Jaime Westman

The real estate term “underwater” is here to stay. Look it up. You can do so because the term commonly used now in the housing industry has made it to the big time – Merriam-Webster, which recently included it in its dictionary passages.

According to the 2012 update, underwater in the real estate sense is defined as “having, relating to, or being a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the property securing the loan is worth.” And while it’s unfortunate that such a definition had to come about, there was semi-good news recently when national outlets reported that underwater mortgages had dipped slightly from the end of 2011 to midway through 2012. Perhaps a new definition for “treading water” will be next.

Other commonly used words associated with housing, technology and the economy added to the dictionary include: Continue reading “Dictionary Inducts New Real Estate Terms”

Please Prospects with A Site Done Right

By Jaime Westman

One of the major changes in real estate in the past few years is how consumers acquire information. Before the Internet started having a major impact on our business and personal lives, someone looking for a house had to pick up the phone and call us. Gotcha!

Today most consumers can – and prefer to – get their information online. So it’s up to us to make sure they get it and know that we’re the person to contact when they’re ready to buy. A recent Webinar discussed this topic. Here are some tips: Continue reading “Please Prospects with A Site Done Right”

Remember Your Lines—Follow A Script!

Published by Jim Droz

Verbal communication is of paramount importance when first meeting a prospective client. To make sure you communicate effectively, you should always have a script when talking to new buyers and and sellers in real estate. Here are the key points to include in your script, and why it matters:

Script Remember Your Lines

I recently talked to a new HouseHunt agent in Seattle who is thrilled about the upturn in the market and that more people are starting to search for homes again. In fact, he can’t stop talking about it.

“It’s so exciting to me,” Billy O’Sullivan said. “I have all these people in my pipeline that I otherwise would never meet. Just to be able to communicate with them on the phone, let alone close their real estate transactions, would be worth the check that I write.”

Obviously, O’Sullivan is a people person and has the gift for gab, which is good if you can channel it effectively into transaction closings – which O’Sullivan and his small office are doing with more than 40 closings this year through July.

“I’m growing closer to these people on a daily basis and I’m using all of my technology skills to stay connected to them and let them know that we can be partners for life in the real estate business,” O’Sullivan said about his pipeline. “My sphere of influence is growing daily and I look forward to expanding my business horizons each day.”

Even though O’Sullivan used to direct commercials in L.A., he doesn’t need a script when dealing with prospects and clients because of his infectious personality. But not every agent is like that, so following a script until it becomes second nature is helpful. I’m not just talking about verbal communication because an effective e-mail follow-up to leads is also crucial and might be the preferred way of initially doing business for some prospects. Here are samples depending on if your leads are from buyers or sellers:

BUYERS

Dear (first name),

Thanks for reaching out regarding your home search. I’d be happy to help you find the home that best suits your needs and answer any questions you might have. But first I have a few that will help me assist you better, so please respond to this e-mail at your earliest convenience about the following:

  • Type of home (single family, townhouse, condominium) you are considering and the desired square footage.
  • Number of bedrooms, bathrooms and other rooms you are looking for.
  • Features and amenities, such as a pool or gourmet kitchen, that are on your list.
  • Preferred location and proximity to schools, parks and other sites important to you.
  • Price range in which you’d like to purchase.

This is an important decision for you, so please don’t hesitate to call or e-mail me with questions. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sign off with your name, title, phone number, e-mail address and website.

SELLERS

Dear (first name),

Thank you for your home value inquiry. I’d be happy to offer you a complimentary market valuation of your home. In order to provide the most precise assessment possible, please respond at your earliest convenience to the items listed below:

  • Address/city/state/ZIP code
  • Type of property/approximate square footage
  • Bedrooms/bathrooms/additional features
  • Year built

I will get a market evaluation back to you soon with a price range based on comparable property information. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to call or send me an e-mail if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sign off with your name, title, phone number, e-mail address and website.

You can alter these e-mails and set them up in a way that suits your circumstances and personality. The idea is to gather as much information as possible and let the prospect know that you’re the most helpful and knowledgeable agent in the area to work with.

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Why You Should Embrace A Mixed Marketing Strategy

By Jaime Westman

Old-school networking involves meeting and greeting, attending civic events, phone calls, doing lunch, joining organizations, volunteering and, in general, shaking hands and kissing babies.

Social networking is electronically showcasing your brand, promoting your skills, advertising events and open houses, broadening your reach, driving traffic to your websites and allowing prospects and clients to easily discover you and offer instant feedback.

So what works best? While we’re rapidly moving toward much of our business being handled through social media and the like, disregarding the importance of face time and a personal touch could prove to be problematic. When done correctly, a melding of the two practices can be seamless and efficient. And that’s what we all want, right?

It doesn’t seem that long ago when similar questions were being asked about cars and planes, radio and TV, e-mail and snail mail, desktop computers and laptops. Everything progresses, and while the latest form of travel, viewing, communicating and mobility grabs the lion’s share of attention, they shouldn’t and often don’t totally wipe out the preceding way of doing things. Some people would rather go to the bank instead of handling their transactions online, just as some of your clients would appreciate phone calls and sit-down meetings instead of only e-mails and videos. So it’s great to be proficient at both forms of doing business.

As each new option emerges, we owe it to our clients to examine if and how it can contribute to the marketing mix. No matter which way you lean, some basics will always apply, such as knowing your audience, being clear on your objectives, understanding what each type of media does best, developing a plan that takes advantage of those strengths and implementing it with creativity and consistency.

With that last word (consistency) in mind, it’s important to be committed to your plan before starting. That includes knowing your budget constraints and being sure that you’re reaching the right people. Social media has enhanced marketing efforts immensely by increasing our exposure to potential clients. But for it to be effective it must be an intentional blending of online and offline tools and tactics around a singular strategy.

If you need help getting started and figuring things out, start Googling and discover a wealth of integration ideas online. Or pick up the phone and call someone you know who is knowledgeable about this stuff and meet for coffee or lunch. The great thing is … both methods should work! So why not implement a mixed marketing strategy today?

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Going Beyond the Call of Duty

Published by Jim Droz

We have a chance to make a good first impression on clients, especially those new to the area. And, boy, can it pay off when we do! I recently heard from an agent in St. Petersburg, Fla., who let us know that he was doing well and that an interesting thing happened regarding his first HouseHunt clients. The family bought a house in September 2010 for $260,000, sold it this year for $305,000 and bought another house for $1.5 million. That alone is outstanding news but not the fascinating part of the story. I’ll let Don Killam, who works with Diane Cape at Future Home Realty, tell the tale about the clients and how a simple act of kindness can go a long way:

“Their story and how they became good clients is interesting. They fell in love with St. Pete after buying their second home here. On one of their visits, they purchased scooters for going back and forth to the beach. One day the wife was returning from the beach while the husband was painting at home. She lost control and hit a guardrail and went down. She was injured and EMS was called. She could still make calls and tried to call her husband. He wasn’t answering so she called the only other person she knew in town – her Realtor. I answered and found out where the crash scene was, stopped what I was doing and took off in that direction. I alerted my HouseHunt partner, Diane, and she also dropped what she was doing and went to track down the husband.

“I got to the scene as she was being transported by ambulance, gathered her scattered belongings and followed them to the ER. Diane located the husband and alerted him. Long story short, she was pretty scraped up and eventually required surgery on her shoulder and hand but is fine now. I helped the husband retrieve the scooter from the wrecker company the next day.

“I know she has retold this story to friends who are also looking for homes here. Who they’ll use when buying here is obvious. The moral of the story is that it does pay to go above and beyond.”

Wow! That’s a great lesson, folks. If we interact with our prospects and clients rather than only try to sell them on our services, the residual effects will go way beyond a real estate transaction. Providing them with tidbits about the community along with the nuts and bolts of the business end is crucial at the beginning, and letting them know that just because the deal is done doesn’t mean the relationship is over will increase your pipeline and maybe give you someone to have coffee with from time to time. Or, more dramatically, come to the rescue of someone in a time of need!

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8 Apps for Real Estate Agents

By Jaime Westman

There are apps available that produce farting noises or make it look like you’re drinking a beer. Those might be fun to break out at a frat party but not so cool to show prospects or clients. There are a lot of intriguing and inane technological options these days but lets focus on the former since we’re all responsible adults, right?

As real estate professionals we need to be mobile and accessible, which is where the following apps for real estate agents can be useful. Some are free and some have a fee. We’ll leave it up to you to decide which might or might not work for you.

phone apps for realtors

CamScanner

This device converts your phone’s camera into a portable scanner for copying documents, notes and receipts. Once scanned, the information can be saved as a PDF and shared or saved in the cloud. There’s also a CamCard option that reads the information on a business card and saves it as a contact record for storage in your phone’s address book.
Visit www.camscanner.com for more.

Dropbox

This service allows users to save files in the cloud and retrieve them on any of their devices where an Internet connection is available. The mobile apps extend all the features of the service to smartphones and tablets so users can share, save, edit or retrieve documents, photos, videos or other files.
Visit www.dropbox.com for more.

HomeSnap

Retrieving property information in the field looks like a snap with this app. All you have to do is snap a picture of a home for sale with your smartphone and the service matches the image and GPS location to display data from your local MLS and other sources on price, size, features, pictures and information on when it last sold. The server also tracks and updates information on any price changes.
Visit www.homesnap.com for more.

Mortgage Calculator

This app can be used to calculate monthly mortgage payments and amortization and includes monthly expenses and a debt-to-income ratio calculator. That version is free, but a more detailed Pro version is available for a fee.
Visit Mortgage Calculator for more.

Open House Manager

Use this app to manage open houses and follow up with potential buyers who sign in on your iPad. Their contact information can then be synced with other devices through iCloud. You can also create and e-mail a report to sellers and follow up with buyers through an e-mail containing a brief survey.
Visit openhouseapp.co for more.

Agent Alarm

This security app provides you with a system to keep others informed of your status and location and can initiate an emergency alert if needed. You can input your open house location, how long you expect to be and whom to contact in case of emergency. The Safety Check feature will check in with you at preset intervals for verification of your safety.
Visit Agent Alarm for more.

Evernote Premium

This app provides a cloud option for collecting and organizing digital content. The Premium version allows file uploads of up to 1GB a month, offline access to information stored in notebooks, text searching in images, searching of PDFs and protection of files stored on certain smartphones.
Visit evernote.com for more.

HootSuite Pro with Mobile

HootSuite provides the tools for managing your social networking activities through one interface. It’s compatible with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Foursquare and other sites. The Pro app extends that to mobile handsets and tablets so you can stay on top of social networking and marketing any time of the day.
Visit hootsuite.com for more.

 

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5 Ways to Save a Tree—Use an Apple

By Jaime Westman

As agents we’re sort of new to the technology party and there’ll always be tweaking by agents who want to blend old-school touches with the rapid wonders of gadgetry. One thing we definitely need to be is mobile, and a recent Webinar touted the iPad as a must-have device. That was backed by a claim from Mobile Peek that said mobile Internet usage will bypass desktop Internet usage by 2014.

Broker Krisstina Wise of The GoodLife Team in Austin, Texas, said that the 25 agents in her office are required to invest in an iPad and that her office, which has won technology awards, has almost gone paperless. She also said on a recent Webinar that her agents often complete a transaction from A to Z by only using an iPad.

Whether you’re ready for that or not is up to you, but some of the apps suggested sound intriguing. Some are well-known and others not so much, so the first thing you should do is write down everything you do in your daily business life and then see if there’s an app for that. (Hint: there probably is.) Here are some apps that work on an iPad that can be used for real estate purposes:

LISTING PRESENTATIONS

    Keynote: Allows users to create, deliver and share presentations.
    Slide Rocket: Lets you create customized slides with text, images and media.
    Prezi: A zooming presentation editor that allows you to collaborate with others, display information online and offline and import images, videos, PDFs and more.

Continue reading “5 Ways to Save a Tree—Use an Apple”

Set the Stage for Sharp Listing Photos

By Jaime Westman

Selling our services to clients and selling their houses to buyers are two different skill sets. After we’ve promoted ourselves it’s time to entice the shoppers. So, how do we go about that?

A recent webinar touched on that topic with exposure, photos, open houses and staging being the main strategies. However, the lion’s share of the discussion focused on the visual side of things, with photos and virtual tours touted as the most important ways to get the house noticed and sold. The moderator even said virtual tours are starting to replace open houses, but I think buyers will always need to step inside and poke around no matter how technically advanced we get. A virtual tour can whet their appetite to take that step, so if you haven’t thought about that strategy you should check it out.

Regardless, since most of today’s buyers use the Internet for research, it’s crucial to have photos and visual elements that look sharp and capture their imagination. Here are some tips the panel put together to help with that task:

  • Invest in a digital camera that allows you to take high-resolution images that are editable on your computer. That way you have control over the images and can refine and crop them to create the best quality shots for online and print use.

  • Make sure the house or yard looks tidy, with no toys, clothing or other items on the floor. You want the consumer to picture their own furniture and belongings in the space.
  • Make sure there’s enough natural light or use a flash if necessary to get the best final product. If the photo is too dark or fuzzy, the consumer will squint and move on.
  • Be current or season-neutral with your photos. A picture of parkas hanging on a rack by the front door will look odd if you’re trying to sell the house in July.

  • Every property has special features, so be sure to show them off. If a certain room doesn’t grab your attention, why show it?
  • Only take pictures of the property and actual views. Buyers will feel duped if they discover that the beautiful scenery in the listing is from a nearby park.
  • Play all the angles. It can be difficult to tell when you’re in the room, but a straight-on photo isn’t always the best for maximizing the view.
  • Stay out of the photo, and watch out for mirrors. The same goes for pets, no matter how cute they are.

  • If you’re including a photo of a beautiful media room, family room or den, make sure the TV is turned off.

    Don’t include other houses in the photo. If you’re taking an outdoor image of the property, make sure that only your listing is included in the photo.

  • Use a lighting filter if you’re shooting in direct sunlight or, better yet, wait until early morning or evening when the light isn’t as intense to take exterior photos.
  • Don’t use a cell phone to take pictures. Even though many phones have good picture quality, it’s often hard to get a clear shot.
  • Keep things professional. The house might have a cool bar you’d like to show off, but a picture that includes bottles of alcohol might not be the best choice when showing potential buyers. When in doubt, play it safe.

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Make a List, Check it Twice

Published by Jim Droz

I know the phrase “sphere of influence” has been around for a while but I never felt like it applied to me. It always sounded so empirical, like it only pertained to politicians, leaders of industry or celebrities. I work in real estate, so other than trying to convince someone to use my services, how much influence do I have? Do I even have a sphere?

As it turns out, yes. And you have one too, even if you might not know it. So it’s time to dig in and use it, because statistics show that a sphere of influence is a fantastic source of referrals for agents.

Our sphere of influence goes way beyond a prospect, contact or client list. It can be a combination of people – personal and professional – you have contact with on a semi-frequent basis or even sporadically. I (begrudgingly) see a dentist or doctor, go to the grocery store and gym, see an occasional movie and have favorite places to eat. I’m sure you do, too. These are all great places to cultivate relationships that could turn into referrals. That doesn’t even scratch the surface when you consider school events, church, city organizations, volunteering, family, friends, your children’s friends, former co-workers, address books and former clients, to name a few.

Obviously, there’s a fine line between staying in contact and pestering. If all you do when you see or talk to people is ask if they know anybody who wants to buy or sell a house, it’s going to be seen as an all-take, no-give relationship.

“I think it’s really important to speak to your clients at least four times a year in person, and you also need to send them things at lest once a month so they have your picture and phone number handy,” said Mary Beth Buckles, a HouseHunt agent in Southern California who works in Dana Point. “Anyone I’ve ever sold a house to gets greetings, messages or items from me. It’s a simple thing to do and has a big impact.”

If anybody knows about how successful a sphere of influence can be it is Buckles, who had $12 million in sales in 2011 and said nearly 100 percent of her business comes from past clients and referrals, which includes a jaw-dropping 14 transactions from one family over a 10-year period. That number grew into even more closings when they referred her to some of their friends and co-workers.

Don’t think of these contacts as sales calls, acts of desperation or killing time. Be positive and ask how their kids are doing in school or if they’ve been on a recent vacation. Ask how their job is going and make mention about how the housing market is improving but you can never have enough contacts. That’s when you can ask about any signs they’ve seen or people they know thinking about buying or selling. Make it a conversation that leads into the possibility of picking up business. Make it a daily routine. That will make the practice more comfortable and feel less robotic. Who knows, you might discover that you have a lot in common with someone who becomes a person you go to ballgames with or meet for lunch in the park from time to time.

As agents, we do have a sphere of influence and would be foolish not to tap into it. So it’s time to start asking who you know that can be added to your list. Sit down and think about it. You’ll be surprised at all the potential contacts you run into each week. Write some of them down and, if you’re an organized person, categorize them in terms of family, friends, professionals, peers, prospects, vendors, city leaders and the like.

The list will grow and you might even end up selling a house to the guy next to you on the elliptical machine at the gym or the woman you see a lot at the coffee shop.

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Merge Highlights Your Value to Clients

Published by Jim Droz

What have you done for me lately? If you get tired of clients asking you what you’ve been doing in the last week, day or hour to sell their house, there’s something you can do other than scream or try to recall from memory all the work you’ve put into the effort.

A recent Webinar touted Merge, a new app that has practical uses for Realtors. Much of the activity we do is behind the scenes, so the perception remains that we don’t work hard enough for our commission. Using the Merge app, however, would enable us to report listing activities to sellers via a timeline that updates all parties involved in the process.

“What’s going on with my listing is the No. 1 question Realtors get from their clients,” said Merge co-founder and developer Joel Beasley. “That means sellers aren’t being updated, which is a real problem. This lets them know your schedule, when you’ll be updating them, what type of activities you’ve performed, what the marketing strategies are and anything else pertinent to the listing or process.”

Merge also looks like a good tool for general business use because you can set up widgets as reminders to do certain tasks, manage your clients, organize your calendar, schedule tours, create brochures and store business ideas, among other things. The company recently revised its platform to promote collaboration with four new widgets:

    Collaborator: Invite other people, such as clients, to participate, ask questions and share items in your timeline.

    E-mail connector: Add e-mails to your timelines by searching for keywords or names of senders.

    Request: Track items that have been requested and fulfilled.

    List: Set up a checklist of pending activities that can be pushed to the timeline as completed. The list can be viewed by people with access to the timeline or it can remain private and viewed only by you.

Beasley, who spent a lot of after-school hours in real estate offices because his parents are Realtors, said that even though Merge is designed to be a management and interaction tool for all business ventures, he designed the software with a real estate agent in mind, particularly since he commissioned a survey that showed 73 percent of respondents saying Realtors don’t do enough to justify getting a listing.

“That says that the agent isn’t informing them about what’s going on,” Beasley said. “If people know when they’re going to be informed and know that they’re going to be kept up to date, they’ll be satisfied.”

He also said Merge is “a different concept than most traditional to-do lists,” making it good for personal and business applications.

“It’s a whole new way of thinking about software because it’s easily adaptable to your way of doing things,” Beasley said. “It allows users to choose how they want to implement the system … and it lets people see what you’re doing as you do it.”

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