Build better relationships with your clients: Communication Strategies

Never let a closing mean goodbye. Goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.* Forgetting is the last thing we want our clients to do.

The value of repeat and referral business is immeasurable. Your clients already know you, like you, and most importantly, trust you. When you work with repeat clients, your job is easier and more enjoyable. You don’t have to spend as much time and money on blind marketing that goes nowhere. You don’t have to work as hard to keep your pipeline full. There’s a key to making sure your happy clients come back: building better relationships through excellent communication.

Understand that building strong relationships with your clients takes time. If someone comes to you for real estate advice, someone who isn’t ready to buy for a year or more, don’t write that person off. Take that time to build a good relationship. Regardless if a client needs help today or down the road, be genuine. Schmoozy, high-pressure sales tactics won’t build trust. They might get the job done in the short term, but won’t garner a lot of repeat clients. Instead, have conversations. Share a little about yourself and then ask questions about them. Listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions. Show an interest in who they are, what they like and what their goals are. Don’t shy away from the hard conversations. People don’t want to talk about money. Do it anyway. Make them go through the pre-approval process. Talk about credit, how it works, and how to maintain it. Talk about LTV, debt load, closing costs on both ends, all of it, early. If you’re not sure about those things yourself, sit in on the conversation with your lender as they walk your client through the process from beginning to end.

In your communications with your clients, there are a few things to remember. First, understand how your client prefers to communicate. Sometimes text is preferred over a phone call. Some clients want face time. Some want email. Be willing to adapt. Do try to connect from time to time over the phone or in person regardless of primary preference. A personal touch does make an impact. Second, respond promptly or predictably. You don’t have to answer every call the second it comes in (we do advocate time blocking) but if your message says you return calls from 1-3 every day, make sure you do that. Be reliable and predictable. Follow up on conversations and questions, even if you don’t have the answer yet. It’s ok to say that you’re still working on something. Be more than an email address. Make calls, use voice mail if you have to, Skype or Facetime are great. Face to face for coffee even better – even if they aren’t in the market, even if they won’t be in the market soon. When you’re under contract, communicate regularly with your client, the agent on the other side, the lender, and the title company with an update of what has been accomplished, what needs to happen next, and who is responsible for accomplishing it. You can prevent a lot of misunderstandings just by making sure everyone is on the same page, and your clients will appreciate knowing how things are progressing.

Remember to have an attitude of gratitude. Say thank you to your client verbally, in a hand written note after the close, and after a referral. When a referral closes, write another thank you note. If that referral makes a referral, go back up the chain and thank each person who made referrals along the way to make the deal happen. Actively seek out opportunities to help your clients make business connections of their own. Do you have two clients who have compatible companies who might work well together? Make an introduction. Do you know someone who has a particular talent who might be able to really help another client stand out? Introduce them, too. Ask people what kind of help they need. Ask them if they know people who offer what others need. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with real estate, but it does have everything to do with being perceived as someone who is generous and useful to know. You can read more about this concept in Michael Maher’s 7 Levels of Communication.

Be seen doing good outside of your business. Volunteer in your community. Invite your clients to join you. You don’t have to slap a logo on everything you do or wear. You are the brand. If you are an active part of the community and you are trying to do positive things, people can feel good about supporting you. They can get marketing messages later, when they’ll be more receptive to them.

*         From J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The whole quote is “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”

Who are Texas’ home sellers?

A recent study of home sellers in Texas has revealed some interesting details about who our sellers are, what they want from us, and how their motivations are changing. Here are our favorite highlights from the 35th Annual Home Buyers and Sellers Survey provided by NAR.

Home sellers are moving for a lot of reasons. The number one reason in 2016 was job relocation, followed by the need for more space, a change in the family situation or in the neighborhood. Those reasons, only account for a little more than half of home sales, however. You’ll need to be prepared to handle a large variety of situations and requests from your seller to make their move easier.

Here are the highlights from the report. In a few days, we’ll take a look at Texas buyers.

Home Sellers and Their Selling Experience

  • The typical home seller was 46 years with a median household income of $105,600.
  • For all sellers, the most commonly cited reason for selling their home was:

o     job relocation (24 percent),

o    the home was too small (16 percent),

o    change in family situation, like a marriage, birth of a child, or divorce. (12 percent),

o    neighborhood had become less desirable (12 percent).

  • Sellers typically lived in their home for 9 years before selling.
  • Eighty-eight percent of home sellers worked with a real estate agent to sell their home.
  • For recently sold homes, the final sales price was a median 99 percent of the final listing.
  • Recently sold homes were on the market for a median of four weeks.
  • Forty-four percent of all sellers offered incentives to attract buyers.
  • This year, home sellers cited that they sold their homes for a median of $43,250 more than they purchased it.
  • Sixty-two percent of sellers were very satisfied with the selling process.

Home Selling and Real Estate Professionals

  • Sixty-seven percent of sellers found their agent through a referral from a friend, neighbor, or relative or used an agent they had worked with before to buy or sell a home.
  • Seventy-nine percent of recent sellers contacted only one agent before finding the right agent they worked with to sell their home.
  • Eighty-seven percent of sellers listed their homes on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
  • Agents receive their compensation predominantly from sellers at 70 percent.
  • The typical seller has recommended their agent once since selling their home.
  • Eighty-five percent said that they would definitely (73 percent) or probably (10 percent) recommend their agent for future services.

Are you taking full advantage of your MetroTex membership?

There are so many member benefits here at MetroTex, sometimes it’s easy to overlook some of them when you join. You’re busy getting your business started, after all. But take a minute to go over our A to Z of member benefits to see if there are some you should be using today.

As they say, membership has its privileges.

Accounting – Did you know our Accounting department can help you keep track of your business expenses? Log in to your member profile and track your TREPAC contributions, dues and course registrations.

Broker/Manager Forums – If you’re a broker or manager, you’ve got unique needs from other practicing agents. Join our forums for specialized events, education and updates specific to your needs.

Credit Reports – Property managers find our credit report resource to be an invaluable tool for screening tenants.

Diversity - There’s a place for everyone at MetroTex. Embracing a diverse atmosphere in our programs, committee goals, events and member services are just a few ways we strive to enrich our organization and the real estate industry.

E-News - Weekly emails highlighting MetroTex education, events, local, state and national news.

Facebook – along with our other social media pages on Twitter (@MetroTexRE), LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest, our @dfwre Facebook page is a great place to catch up on the very latest in industry news, local trends, upcoming events and more.

Government Affairs – Candidate endorsements, scholarships, educational grants, and lobbying are just a few of the ways that MetroTex gets involved in our community and ensures our lines of communication with elected officials are open to discuss real estate issues impacting our members and property owners.

Helpful – We aim to be your go-to resource for all things real estate. If you’ve got a question, MetroTex staff and leadership are here to help.

Innovation – We’re the only REALTOR association to offer DFWrealestate.com, a mobile-ready consumer facing website that provides accurate information to your clients and a free lead generation service for you.

Jump Start – Our tech resources, orientation services, leadership training, and extensive list of courses and certifications offered at locations throughout the Metroplex, you’ll always have a team of seasoned professionals here ready to help you jump start your career or give your business a boost whenever you need it. Just ask!

Keybox Sales & Assistance – With the latest iBoxes, plus Display Key and eKey support, you’ve got assistance and support available at six locations here to help.

Leadership Academy – There’s no better leadership training than our own prestigious MetroTex Leadership Academy. Our award-winning program develops many community and industry leaders.

Mobile Labs and MAPS training - We have two mobile training labs to deliver a range of customizable, hands-on learning solutions to your office. MLS Academy for Professional Success (MAPS) offers 6 courses for MAPS certification. Earn your MAPS and get a quarter year of MetroTex MLS fees for free!

Networking – We encourage members to network with each other and provide opportunities through classes, committee events, fund raisers and more. Come on out and join us!

Online Store - A one stop shop to purchase all of your business resources from your own computer.

Professional Development - Over 500 courses a year are available at locations throughout North Texas. We also offer easy online registration and online courses.

Quick & Easy Online Resources - Offering easy access to class registration, pay bills, news, applications, forms and even billing summaries to make your tax reporting easier.

Regional Advisory Councils (RAC’s) - Five regional advisory councils provide the Association and its membership with insight into the state of the market in that region.

Service Centers - Six locations with store fronts are always available to MetroTex Members. All of our locations also host training courses and seminars.

Tech Support - Our Tech Support team continues to excel as the most knowledgeable in North Texas.

United – As an industry leader, we’re working with our members to provide a single voice for the real estate industry on a local, state and national level.

Volunteerism - MetroTex volunteers strive to build our communities with community service projects, hands-on volunteer days, and a focus on giving back, first.

Web sites – both dfwrealestate.com and mymetrotex.com our mobile-ready platforms that are easy to navigate and provide the very latest information. Access industry news, products, services, listings, and more. We also provide a fast and easy IDX site to assist the public.

Xcellent Customer Service – We do our very best to ensure that calls and inquiries are answered promptly and by a live human being.

Young Professionals Network - The MetroTex YPN provides networking and fellowship for both young and seasoned professionals.

Zeal - MetroTex members are always served with enthusiasm and excitement. Your success is our business.

Realtors share their top staging tips: It’s showtime!

(Note: We’ve looked at some of the very best ways to put your best foot forward with Crank up the curb appeal and gotten you in the right frame of mind for staging with How to get started. Start with those first if you haven’t already read them.)

You’re almost there! Your house is in great shape. It just needs a few more touches before your showings begin to really make it stand out from the crowd (remember, chances are pretty good that your house will be one of many that buyers will be viewing). Here are a few tips to set the stage for a great day of showings.

Start by opening some doors and windows for several minutes while you get everything ready. Get fresh air into the house. Open all of the blinds and curtains. Turn on all of the lights, ceiling fans and lamps, even in the day time. This includes outside lights. If you’ve got a surround sound system, turn on soft music. If it’s cold and you have a gas fireplace, turn it on. Run the vacuum and dust quickly if there’s time.

In the kitchen, dining, and/or bar areas: Remove any sponges, used towels, mops, or brooms. Take out all trash and recyclables. Set up a couple of vignettes on tables and serving areas as if you were entertaining later. Keep it simple with a couple of place settings, or a cocktail shaker and a martini glass or two. If you’ve got an outdoor eating space, set up a scene there, too. The goal is to evoke the impression that the home is a great place to gather friends and family. Set out a few vases of fresh flowers, making sure they aren’t heavily scented.

In the bedrooms, make sure laundry is put away and beds are made. Tidy up.

In play rooms and offices, pick up toys, straighten up desks, put away papers and tuck in chairs.

Fold towels in the bathrooms, make sure toilets are clean and lids are closed. Tuck away toiletries and close shower curtains.

If you have pets take them with you if at all possible. If not, crate them. Don’t count on Fluffy not getting out or Mittens not biting anyone. Pets don’t like strangers and things happen, even though we try to prevent it. Buyers are often uncomfortable around strange animals. Don’t present a negative.

Make sure your doormats are clean and swept. If you have a pool, make sure fountains are running. If you have an outdoor sound system, turn on some soft music. Highlight the best features.

You’ve worked hard to get your house show ready and your buyers will appreciate it. You will, too, when the offers come rolling in. Now - on to your next real estate adventure. Congratulations on your new home!

Addressing three common challenges property managers face

Are you a Realtor – or a ringmaster? If you’re a property manager, you probably feel like both at times. Whether you’re managing a big complex or several properties, there are some common issues all property managers face over time. Here are some of the most common challenges you’ll probably see in 2017, and some tips to address them.

Staffing

Keeping a good staff of motivated employees can be a difficult challenge to address. Try to maintain good communication with your employees. Ask them about their concerns, listen to their successes and frustrations and try to help them find solutions to the challenges they face. In the office, look for ways to help them increase efficiencies, like investing in better software, or improving workflow through good design. Encourage ways to help staff continue to grow and develop, either through promotion in the company, continuing education, or learning a new skill that can help you in the business. For instance, if you’ve got someone who is artistic on staff, maybe that person could take interior design, graphic design, or photography classes to help with staging, marketing, or social media. The point is, find their talents and help them find a way to use them at work.

Effective communication with tenants

Similarly, maintaining good communication with your tenants will make everyone’s life easier. Be responsive and timely. You’ll be able to more readily access units for maintenance and inspection, and tenants will feel like you care about their living conditions and concerns. People want good customer service. If you give them the time and respect of good communication, you’ll be more likely to have a higher percentage of tenants who interact positively with you, the property and the staff.

Controlling Costs

Keeping costs under control is a constant battle. Finding ways to save money without reducing the quality of life or having a negative impact on the property value is always a balancing act. Start by looking at smart ways to save on energy and utilities. Often a good long-term investment is to hire an energy auditor to evaluate your property. The resulting report will likely include a long list of improvements which can save you significant money over time. Keeping a solid maintenance schedule will also ensure your investments last longer – clean and maintain HVAC systems, roofs, gutters, landscaping, plumbing, and siding. Interior maintenance is important, too. Don’t forget to replace caulk and grout in wet areas and worn fixtures or fittings as needed. A well-maintained property costs is less costly and is more attractive to tenants. Keep in mind that it’s not always in your best interest to replace something that’s broken with the cheapest model. If a dishwasher needs to be replaced, an energy-efficient model that gets good ratings for durability might be more cost-efficient on the whole than the budget brand. Hire licensed professionals to do repairs. Don’t let your tenants fix things themselves and deduct the cost from the rent. You don’t want the liability if the injure themselves performing the repair, or the damage they can cause if they don’t do the repair properly. Get it done right the first time, by a contractor you know and with whom you have a good working relationship. Have a few go-to contractors on speed dial rather than trying to find a new one every time something comes up. Good contractors are invaluable resources. Give them repeat business and nurture the relationship.

Fair housing issues – How White and Asian homebuyers are treated differently

Ensuring everyone has equal access to secure housing is an important part of the Fair Housing Act and why it was enacted in 1968. As we approach the Act’s 50th anniversary, we are evaluating how we’re doing. How far have we come toward achieving the goal of housing equality? A recent study published by HUD indicates that the move toward equal housing has made some tremendous strides, and we also see where we still need to work harder.

When it comes to Asians and people of Asian descent versus white Americans, discrimination is still a factor, though seemingly less so, or less obviously than with other minorities. In four types of testing, HUD researchers found that whites were slightly favored or received favorable treatment more commonly than with Asians in all categories.

For instance, when whites and Asians inquire about available homes, they are equally likely to be shown at least one home However, when one group is shown more units than the other, whites are 13.9 percentage points more likely than to be favored than Asians. This means that for every two visits in which at least some available homes are recommended, Asians inspect one fewer home than a comparable white home buyer. The quality of units or prices points offered to be shown to whites and Asians does not differ significantly.

Further, Asians tend to be offered help with financing less often than whites, by about 10 percentage points. Real estate agents are more likely to discuss available financing options, pre-qualification, interest rates, and personal finances with whites. They are more likely to suggest an affordable price point and mortgage amount to whites.

More troubling, the study shows that real estate agents follow up more thoroughly with white homebuyers than with equally qualified Asians. Whites are more likely than Asians to receive information about noise, schools and investments, while Asians are more likely to information about safety. Disturbingly, whites are far more likely than Asians to hear negative comments about minority neighborhoods.

It’s important to remember that your comments and enthusiasm for working with clients matters. Monitor your own behavior with client interactions. Are you offering everyone the same level of service? If not, why not? Are there changes you should make to your business to ensure that you are treating everyone equitably? You may be inadvertently shifting your behavior based on what you assume clients want. It’s better not to make assumptions, but to ask questions and have conversations instead so you ensure people have the level of service they want. Of course, we encourage you to aim for going above and beyond the level of service your clients expect, every time.

Elections are coming up in May. How do we choose candidates to endorse?

Local races are pretty critical to our business. Our local governments decide our tax rates, steer our schools, and create zoning rules. They make important and long-lasting decisions about transportation and utilities that directly impact all of us. That’s why we’re so involved in getting to know our candidates and endorsing those whom we think are best for property owners and Realtors.

We begin with candidate interviews whenever possible. Whether we’re looking at a local council race or a state office, candidate interviews are the best way for us to make informed decisions about candidates.  The screening panel is committed to being non-partisan and focused on the issues. The six to ten panel members are Realtors who have served in leadership roles within Government Affairs or TREPAC. All candidates are invited to participate, though not all will choose to do so. Candidate interviews are ideally held on a single day so all participants can meet all candidates.

Often, we will support a “friendly incumbent” over a new candidate. A friendly incumbent is a current official who has been supportive of TAR policy issues and open to the lobby team. Typically the local association will support that official. We want to be clear to challengers of friendly incumbents that about our friendly incumbent philosophy.

When seats are open or when there is no existing relationship with the candidate and no voting record to go by, determining the candidate’s position on important issues may be a bit more difficult. In those cases, we look for agreement with TAR positions, and ask about the candidates’ campaign infrastructure and funding. We want to know if they are able to win the election. We might also ask why the candidate is running and if there’s any chance the race will turn contentious? If so, how will those issues be addressed?

We won’t necessarily endorse a candidate in every race. Sometimes the panel may end up favoring several candidates or the panel is divided equally over two previously friendly candidates. Staying out of a race is always an option.

Once we have found our slate of candidates and our board of directors has approved them, we send our recommendations and the candidates’ questionnaire answers to the TREPAC trustees and the Political Involvement Council for final approval. The TAR Executive Board gets a slate of candidates, usually identical to the TREPAC support list, and votes to endorse. TREPAC trustees approve financial support for candidates, but only the Texas Association of REALTORS® Executive Board may endorse a candidate.

And that’s basically how it all works. We’d love to have you get involved. Join the Government Affairs Committee and help shape the path of the industry today, tomorrow, and in our next 100 years. Visit http://www.mymetrotex.com/index.php?q=about_us/committees/government-affairs to find out more.

Affordability and fair access to mortgages

NAHREP advocates for better lending policies

Access to affordable mortgages is a concern we all have, and it’s especially troublesome issues for minorities and low-income families. Local affordability is quickly becoming a major concern in North Texas. We’re going to have to make access to credit a priority issue in the public mind and for our lawmakers if we want to keep our market strong.

That’s why it’s important to know about the work of National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP). In 2016, some of their policy positions included access to credit as well as addressing the unintended consequences of TRID implementation.

Improving access to affordable mortgage credit stems from three areas of concern: (1) Loan level price adjustments (LLPA) and guarantee fees (G-Fees), (2) FHA underwriting certification, and (3) credit scoring.

LLPA and G-Fees are lending fees imposed on high risk borrowers. Essentially, lenders are saying they will make the loan but the borrower will have to pay a substantially higher effective interest rate for the loan than other borrowers. This is in addition to mortgage insurance premiums, which are costly. By imposing both LLPAs and G-Fees, low-income and first-time borrowers are essentially being charged extra fees twice for risk reduction on the loan. NAHREP advocates eliminating LLPAs.

Unclear FHA underwriting certification guidelines are driving lenders out of the marketplace. Lenders are struggling with the guidelines. Many have stopped issuing FHA loans rather than risk large fines imposed because of unwittingly committing underwriting violations. Because of this, borrowers are finding it more difficult to access affordable mortgages. NAHREP advocates the clarification of these guidelines so that credit may be loosened again.

Additionally, credit scoring models currently used do not capture transactions that take place outside of the conventional banking system. This model tends to put “credit invisible,” “unbanked,” and “unscorable” borrowers at a disadvantage since cash transactions are not considered, however timely payments may be. The CFPB noted in a 2015 study that 27 percent of both Hispanic and Black consumers and were thus not given accurate credit ratings. When the CFPB looked at income levels, about 45 percent of low income consumers were unscored, and a further 30 percent of moderate income consumers were similarly unscored. NAHREP advocates using a broader spectrum scoring tool rather than allowing lenders to rely solely on traditional scoring models.

When the new TRID rule change began implementation in 2015, concerns about delayed closing times were addressed and most lenders have been able to return to a timely closing pattern. However, CFPB guidelines remain murky, and do not often provide written approval for non-traditional incomes. Because of this, lenders are leery of these types of loans, should an audit raise questions in the future. This adversely impacts younger workers and Hispanics in particular. NAHREP recommends the CFPB provide more documentation to allow lenders to accept self-employment and temporary work income to qualify for loans.

In just a few weeks, NAHREP will be holding their annual policy convention in Washington, DC. We’ll be watching to see what the focus will be on for 2017.

 

When tenants complain about noise

Someone’s playing loud music again. Someone else cranks up the volume on their television. Apparently you’ve got heavy walkers living upstairs and noisy neighbors who aren’t even your tenants. Somehow you’re supposed to fix it. Now. So what’s a property manager to do?

If the problem is a physical one, like the noise from the road is unbearable, or doors are slamming too often, see if you can fix the problem with upgrades to the building. Installing better windows, soundproofing insulation, planting shrubs or slow self-closing hinges might resolve some of your noise issues.

When the noise complaint stems from one of your other tenants, you’ll have to do a little more to resolve the issue. Act quickly and stay in close communication with both parties so that everyone understands that you take the issue seriously and want to resolve it for everyone’s benefit. Try to keep tempers from flaring by listening carefully to both sides. Do not force one side to confront the other to resolve the issue themselves. That can create undue tension and could escalate the situation unnecessarily. Determine if the complaint has merit by speaking with the tenant in question and with other tenants at the property. Has anyone else heard excessive noise? Is it an ongoing issue or does it appear that the noise was a one-time occurrence? Can you identify the source of the noise and are you able to witness it first-hand?

If it’s determined that the noise is from normal activity, like cooking or walking, are there steps you can do to help reduce the noise levels, like installing carpet or adding area rugs? Could the person on the first floor run a fan a a white noise machine to help cancel out the sounds? Be empathetic to both the person who is the subject of the complaint and the one disturbed by the noise, and regularly communicate the steps that are being taken to resolve the issue.

Having an enforceable Quiet Hours clause in your lease can help. Repeated violations of the quiet hours can subject the offending tenant to penalties and/or breach of lease terms. Sometimes getting rid of a troublesome tenant is the only cure for keeping the good, respectful tenants in place. If the problem continues despite everything you’ve tried, you may choose to give the tenant a Cure or Quit notice, if provided for in your lease. Allowing a noisy tenant to choose to wither simmer down or leave is sometimes the easiest solution of all.

You have more dollars in your pocket today because of TREPAC. Find out exactly how much now.

When you’re a Realtor, you know how quickly commissions can get eaten away by expenses. TREPAC has successfully fought to keep significantly more money in your pocket by advocating on your behalf in the state legislature. Exactly how much money you’ve saved thanks to TREPAC depends on how much you earn, of course.

Transfer Tax

Probably the biggest difference to the industry is preventing the transfer tax on property sales. Transfer taxes have been shown to reduce sales volume by 7 percent. If you had an annual reduction of your sales volume by 7 percent, how much would that impact your bottom line? Here’s a simple formula to figure that out:

Your annual sales volume x 0.07 x your expected GCI = the impact of a transfer tax

Example: $2,000,000 X 0.07 X .03= $4,200

Mixed-use vehicle tax

Realtors were also being targeted for a property tax on personal vehicles used for business purposes. That could have meant that you would have been assesses taxes on your vehicle twice annually. Once for having a personal vehicle and once more because you used it for business. TREPAC successfully fought against this unfair proposition. This probably saved you at least hundreds of dollars annually.

Vehicle value X 0.0275 = Potential mixed-use vehicle tax

Professional fees
TERPAC also strongly supported legislation to repeal the $300 “occupational tax” that real estate brokers paid for their two-year license in Texas. This measure saves you $300 every year.

Tax on services
There have been many attempts in the legislature to extend the state sales tax to include professional services. TREPAC has thus far defeated all of them. Should they have passed, your commissions would be taxed at 8.25%. If you’re an agent with $2M in sales, that’s just about $5000 that you don’t have to pay in taxes. Calculate your own rate here:

Sales volume X 0.0825 X your GCI = tax

Try it for yourself. If you add up just these four ways in which TREPAC has directly protected your bottom line, can you see the value of the work they do? Find out more about the important issues that TREPAC is advocating this year and join us as we storm the Capitol on April 4. When we show up in numbers and we speak with a united voice, we get things done. Find out more at http://www.trepac.com/trepacroot/home.cfm

Do you know how to spot the signs your clients might be being subjected to credit discrimination?

When you’re working with clients you need to know pretty early on whether they will be able to secure a loan and what kind of product they are pursuing. But what do you do if you think they may be being treated unfairly? Can you spot the signs of possible credit discrimination? Remember, both the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act strictly prohibit discriminatory lending practices.

Always advise your clients to do their research and learn about credit, how it gets scored what impacts scores and how reporting agencies work. Instruct them to get a free copy of their credit report and review it for errors or omissions. Have them talk to a few lenders to learn about different products and the pros and cons of each of them. Encourage them to ask a lot of questions, and to work with a lender with whom they feel comfortable communicating. They will need to have good communication with them through the process. Of course, it helps if you have good relationships with a few lenders whom you know to be reliable and that you can recommend.

If your client is struggling to find a lender, ask a few questions to see if you notice any signs of credit discrimination. Often discrimination can be subtle or even hidden. Listen carefully to the answers your client gives you to see if you think they may have been treated differently based on their race, national origin, sex, or other protected groups. For instance, did they feel that they were discouraged from applying for credit, or did anyone make negative comments in the office? Were they denied without reason or offered a higher rate than the one for which they applied? Were they pressured to make a decision or treated differently in person?

If you believe a lender has discriminated against your client for any reason, you can advise your client to look into the matter and potentially file a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. They can look on the CFPB website or call their 800 number to get more information.

Even if they don’t choose to file a complaint, the CFPB wants to hear about consumer experiences. It’s helpful for them to know what issues consumers are facing on a daily basis. Have them visit http://www.consumerfinance.gov/fair-lending/.

New agents! Are you trying to wrap your head around this whole real estate thing?

If you’re a newer agent, navigating the ins, outs and whys of a brokerage can be frustrating at times. You’re trying to cobble together a business and it seems like your manager is preoccupied with keeping you busy with paperwork. How are you supposed to earn a living if you’re stuck behind a computer or in meetings all day?

The learning curve for Realtors is steep, and the pressure is on to start earning a living. Make the most of getting in your required continuing education hours by choosing those that will teach you not only how to build your business, but also how it all works behind the scenes. For example, would you know how to protect your client’s data from identity theft or be able to select the proper amount of E&O insurance on your own?

GRI Brokerage examines the day to day workings of a real estate office, like why certain policies need to be in place and the best practices for keeping files and records. It also takes a close look at the independent contractor agreement and how it differs from a regular employee/employer relationship in the eyes of the law.

Sometimes people who are eager to market themselves can get some pretty wild ideas about how to go about it. Some are amazing, creative and terrific. Others are simply terrifying. GRI Brokerage class can protect you from yourself. It takes an in-depth look at the Code of Ethics and the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and important steps you can take to limit your liability. At the same time, it offers legitimate ways to help you create a professional image, business plan, and budget. The class also covers marketing and prospecting and goal setting.

The GRI Designation is a mark of excellence that signifies the graduate is a cut above other real estate practitioners. It represents the knowledge and professionalism needed to perform successfully in today’s multifaceted real estate field. Earn 30 hours of SAE credit or 10 hours of CE credit. After successfully completing GRI Finance, Marketing and Brokerage, REALTORS® are awarded the prestigious GRI Designation. GRI courses may be taken in any order. The GRI program is designed for agents with one to three years of real estate experience.

Multi-day GRI classes are being offered in throughout the year at MetroTex. GRI Finance will be offered in two rounds in May; May 3&4 and May10 & 11. Plan ahead and take advantage of this great opportunity to learn a lot about the business you’re entering.

 

A place for everyone

Home buyers face big challenges in the market today – sometimes just finding an available home is hard. If you’re one of the 57 million Americans with a disability, finding the resources you need to secure a suitable home and a Realtor who knows how to help you can be even more daunting.

As a Realtor working with clients with special needs, you have to understand that some of the issues your clients faces may be unique to them. You’ll have to be able to have conversations with them to understand their challenges and how they use adaptive technologies in their daily lives. You’ll need to be able to communicate with contractors to help explain how a home needs to function to see if it can be modified. You’ll need to be creative and resourceful. If you’re really on the ball, you can create a niche market for yourself. You’ll be able to help an often overlooked segment of the market with a deeper quality of service and create a business opportunity for yourself. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Create a local resource guide. Share it on your website, on your social media page, and as an e-book. Include maps of accessible parks and recreational facilities, and lists of local services like public transportation for the disabled, child care and support groups.
  • Make sure your office design is accessible.
  • Reach out to special-needs support groups. Offer to hold a home buying counseling sessions or a seminar on the resources your community offers.
  • Keep a current list of mortgage products and initiatives available to the families of those with disabilities.

The more you learn about how to provide better service to your clients with special needs, the more you become a valuable resource to your customers. By taking the time to listen carefully to the family’s needs, you’ll be able to help them find the right home for them. Whether your client needs very specific schools, access to medical facilities, or physical modifications to their home, you’ll be prepared to respond. Take the time before you encounter a situation with a special needs client to learn more. Go to http://www.reachcils.org/ and http://www.nod.org/ for resources.

Are your clients dreaming of getting away from it all?

Whether they’re headed to the beach or want a chance at the American Dream, CIPS provides the training, resources you need

It’s time to confess. We’re addicted to a certain international house hunting show. It’s a guilty pleasure. Just look at all that sand and the gorgeous views! Plus, it’s so unrealistic that it’s not really like going to work. At least, that what we tell our families. It’s not really all that far from the truth though, is it? Sure the show is completely ridiculous, but the idea isn’t. Last year, about 14 percent of Realtors reported having a client who was trying to buy a house abroad and nearly half of them didn’t have a referral partner abroad. What a huge missed opportunity! Imagine how many fees could have been earned if they had used the CIPS network to refer their clients to a trusted partner overseas. What if those agents had co-marketing relationships with international developers as well? If their clients were building a vacation home instead and were happy with the experience, wouldn’t they tell their friends? Might the developer and agent sell a lot of homes together that way?

Now consider this: if you happen to be one of those agents who knows an international buyer – whether they’re coming here or buying there – and you demonstrate a deeper knowledge and understanding of what it takes to live in the global village – would you be a more attractive agent to handle their business and that of their friends? What if your CIPS training taught you how to leverage that knowledge online to maximize the power of your network? It can and does.

For instance, if you begin to showcase yourself as a global expert, you will demonstrate your value is in who you are rather than what you are selling. It’s what sets you apart from the crowd. Search for and share (or write) content that targets your niche market. For instance, if there is a specialty restaurant or grocery store that caters to your target in the area, write a profile or review about it. Or, create a post about an upcoming cultural event that matters to your community. Make it relevant and add sensible hashtags so people can find it easily, especially when posting to Facebook and Twitter.

Next, if you’ve got clients going to a particular area, get to know it – at least on paper. Find out flight information like connections, frequency, duration, and airlines that fly the route. Know what language(s) are spoken and whether classes are available for non-native speakers. What’s the climate like and are there precautions that need to be taken? How does financing work? How easy is it for expats to buy or own property? What is the tax situation like? Can your buyers obtain a mortgage? Would it be better to rent first? Do properties come furnished? What’s included?

As you can see, there’s a whole lot to learn when it comes to handling international transactions. CIPS can teach you the answers to all of this and so much more. It will also open the door to an entire network of like-minded professionals and the potential for an entirely new income stream. CIPS classes are offered this spring at MetroTex  

Get off the rollercoaster!

Are you headed for a career - or a carnival ride?

You chug, chug, chug your way up the hill. Your little train is full of excited passengers. Every now and then you might look back and your realize some of your passengers have left your train and you didn’t even realize your train had made a stop. But it’s ok. You’ve still passengers on board and you’re still chugging up that hill on the way to the closing table. Sometimes it feels like you’ll never get there and then suddenly – WHEEE! – It’s smooth sailing baby, down that hill, and around the bend. You’re moving now!

Then the leads run out and you’re struggling to chug up that hill again.

Sound familiar? Most Realtors have ridden that rollercoaster before. It’s hard to stay on top of service to your clients and working on building and maintaining a solid business no matter the current economic trend. But there are things you can do to change that. Veteran agents will tell you that the knowledge you gain when you earn certain designations is key to leaving the carnival rides behind and beginning a real career.

The Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR) designation is for real estate buyer agents who focus on working directly with buyer-clients at every stage of the home-buying process. Those who have the ABR earn as much as twice as much as agents without designations, and they have access to both a referral network and an exclusive set of resources just for ABR designees. Like most accreditations, there are core class and exam requirements for earning the designation. Achieving the ABR isn’t just about taking classes though. You have to prove that you’ve earned your stripes by completing transactions in the real world, too.

Perhaps the most important part of the ABR designation is what happens after you achieve the status, however. Not only do you have a deeper and better understanding of your business to serve your clients, but you also join a network of like-minded professionals whose goal is not to compete with you, but to work together to raise the bar in the industry. This rich resource is a community of people who genuinely care – and it’s full of referrals, tips, and expert advice.

The ABR toolkit is also full of many other useful items, such as downloadable printable handouts for to help you clarify your buyer-counseling sessions, a 10-step Home Buyer’s Toolkit, and a step-by-step guide on how to host your own home buying seminar. You’ll also receive scripts, continuing education opportunities, newsletters, and special networking opportunities at the annual National REALTORS Conference and Expo.

Still wondering if accreditation is worth pursuing? Check out the flyer here. Registration for the next two-day ABR session is open now.

We’ll see you in Dallas on March 22-23!

Advertising and Fair Housing – What you can say and what to avoid

When we think of Fair Housing guidelines, we need to make sure we separate fact from fiction and myth from reality. In an effort to follow the letter of the law, it seems some have gone off the deep end and taken HUD’s meaning a bit too literally. The intent of the guidelines is to provide people an equal opportunity to pursue housing. It is to discourage the unfair practices of the past by some who would choose those who could buy or rent from them based on their appearance, religion or perceived lifestyle.

Just - Don’t.
When you are advertising residential real estate, you must avoid discriminatory language or images used in a context that would indicate a violation of the Fair Housing Act. For example, avoid using words that are descriptive of the owner, landlord or tenants: white private home, colored home, Jewish home, Hispanic residence, adult building. Similarly, there’s no proper use of words to indicate race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender, handicap, familial status or national origin. Note that nothing in this part restricts the inclusion of information about the availability of accessible housing or dwellings which are intended and operated for occupancy by older persons and which constitute senior housing.

Locally, it’s important to be aware of colloquialisms and directions to real estate that can imply a discriminatory preference, limitation or exclusion. For example, using specific directions which refer to a racially or ethnically significant area may indicate a preference for that group. In the same way, using the specific name of a facility which caters to a particular racial, ethnic or religious group, such as a country club, church or private school may signal a preference. If you’re uncertain, check with your MLS or find another way to describe the location.

Perhaps the hardest advertising guidelines for REALTORS to meet are the ones regarding the selective use of advertising. Selective advertising means that the advertisement is intended to exclude a particular gender, race, or other group. There are different ways to discriminate by selective advertising. HUD understands that budgets aren’t infinite and that you can’t necessarily advertise in every media outlet, in every language, etc. However, if a pattern emerges with several questionable practices in combination, there might be cause for concern. A good rule of thumb is to vary your human models if you use them and always use the equal opportunity logo.

Some examples are:

  • Advertising only in English media when other language-based media is available, and
  • Advertising in only select geographic areas, and
  • Using human models in a way that might indicate a preference for a particular race, gender or lifestyle, and
  • Using the equal opportunity slogan or logo only in select advertisements

Finally, in the words you use to describe the housing or potential residents must be chosen with care. Here are samples of the protected classes:

  • Race: Avoid anything that might be show a discriminatory preference or limitation based on race, color, or national origin. Don’t use such terms to describe the neighbors or neighborhood, either.
  • Religion: Advertisements should not contain an explicit reference to religion. Advertisements containing the name of an entity with a religious reference (i.e., St. Mary’s Catholic Home), or those which contain a religious symbol standing alone, may indicate a religious preference. In these cases, it’s acceptable if a disclaimer is included (such as “This home does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status”).
  • Sex: Ads should not use any terms which would indicate a preference for sex, gender, sexual orientation, or person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. Terms like mother-in-law suite, family room, or master suite are commonly used expressions to describe architectural features and are thus acceptable.
  • Handicap: Avoid indications of discrimination based on handicap or disability (i.e., no wheelchairs). Advertisements containing descriptions of properties (second story floor walkup, walk-in closets) or neighborhoods (walk to schools) are acceptable. Ads describing the conduct required of residents (non-smoking) are also acceptable.
  • Familial status: Ads may not contain limits on the number or ages of children or indicate a preference for adults, couples or singles.

Tax deductions for REALTORS

A hectic fall market followed by a crazy spring season, and now it is now tax time. There’s just no rest for the weary when you’re a Realtor! Hopefully, you’ve been able to keep up with your mileage and receipts because it’s time to take stock of all of your deductions. To make it a little easier, we’ve compiled a handy checklist for you here. Keep in mind, we’re Realtors, too - not tax professionals - so do verify that all of your intended deductions are allowable for your circumstances before you send those forms to Uncle Sam.

Allowable deductions

If you’ve spend money on your business, it might be deductible. Business expenses are deductible if they are:

·         ordinary and necessary;

·         directly related to your business; and

·         reasonable in amount.

As the tax filing deadline looms, don’t forget to review all of the possible deductions that are available for real estate agents. Remember, as a self-employed individual, you could shave quite a bit off your 2015 tax bill.

First, take a look at your health insurance premiums. If you provide your own (and don’t rely on an employer or a spouse’s employer’s plan) your premiums could be 100% deductible.

Next, consider your accounting fees. If they’re connected with your business or if you’ve installed a new accounting system, they could be deductible. Similarly, attorney’s fees related to your business may also apply.

If you’ve spent money advertising your business, bought business cards, spent money to create presentations or hold open houses, you might be able to add those into your calculations. Small business gifts (under $25) and website fees are eligible.

Your car can be a big source for deductions as well. You can only deduct that portion which was used for business, so If you use your car 50% of the time on your business, you can deduct 50% of your expenses related to your car . Remember, this includes things like taxes, insurance, maintenance, mileage, gas, interest, car washes, and parking. Pretty much anything you spend money on in relation to your car for business.

Speaking of travel, if you’ve spent time at a convention, or done other business travel, consider adding lodging and travel expenses to the pot. Meals, entertainment, newspapers, and magazines may all be deducted. And while you’re thinking about that great TAR meeting from last fall, don’t forget to deduct professional memberships to your associations and chambers of commerce.

Once you’ve returned home, make sure to look at your office expenses. From rent to utilities, supplies, cleaning and maintenance may all be legitimate claims. So can phone, security and interest expenses.

Of course, you’ll want to have a professional tax preparer go over all of these items with you (and more). And don’t forget to sign up for the class Your Taxes and You, offered three times in March through MetroTex. Just like all of our CE classes, it’s tax deductible!

Keeping your car ready for business

In our previous blog post, Top 3 car care tips for REALTORS, we discussed the three most important ways to maintain your car and improve its performance. Here are a few more things you can do to keep your car running in top condition for as long as possible.

Keep it clean. Even if you never take clients around in your car, you should keep your car clean inside and out. Everyone can see your car and it makes an impression. Beyond that, just like a house a clean car will last longer and have a better resale value. Dirt and grime will break down the plastics, leather and fabrics in the interior, and eat away at the finish on the exterior, so it’s best to keep it clean in as much as possible. Throw away trash every day and vacuum the interior at least once a month. If you get targeted by a generous flock of passing birds, wash it off as soon as possible. Bird droppings are actually pretty acidic and you don’t want to leave it on your car longer than necessary. Remember to clean the windshield inside and out, and condition the upholstery often. Detailing does make a difference in how long the interior lasts.

Take it easy. Give your car about 30 seconds to warm up before shifting into gear. That way, all of the oil that has settled back into the oil pan will have a chance to lubricate the engine before you start working it. If the car hasn’t been driven for a few days or has been in storage, give it a little more time before you head out. Once you are on the road, don’t turn on the radio right away. Listen for a few minutes for any changes in sounds, like squeaking brakes. Often these early warning sounds can save you hundreds in extra repairs. Unfortunately, they’re easily drowned out by radios. Go easy on the brakes and don’t drive too hard unnecessarily. Aggressive driving reduces the life of your vehicle. Similarly, save your transmission by making sure the car has stopped before you shift into reverse or going into a forward gear.

Be safe, not sorry. Routinely check online to see if there are any recalls on your car. Millions of cars are under recall notices for reasons large and small. Check to see if your vehicle has any outstanding recall on it by running the VIN through NHTSA’s website. You may find that you need to get new air bags, or a have potentially dangerous electrical harness replaced.

Don’t be cheap. Follow your manufacturer’s advice when it comes to the right fuel for your car. If your manual instructs you to use premium fuel, do so. The engine won’t perform correctly on the cheaper stuff and you won’t get the performance or longevity out of your car. Conversely, if the manual doesn’t say you need the expensive stuff, you won’t benefit by using it. Use the correct fuel, fluids and parts for your car and it will last much longer and perform much better than if you try to go a more economical route.

 

Is my elderly client being abused?

Elder abuse is tragic and heartbreaking. Unfortunately, Realtors can unwittingly be dragged into the middle of elder abuse situations when the abusers attempt to sell property without the elder owner knowing or fully understanding the situation. What should you do if you suspect there is a problem? How can you act in your client’s best interest and protect your business?

Before you encounter such a situation, you should educate yourself. The Senior Real Estate Specialist designation will help you gain a deeper understanding of mortgage finance and loan schemes and scams that victimize older borrowers. You can also visit a number of helpful websites for local resources that can help you learn how to spot and report abuse.

·         www.ccgd.org; Community Council of Greater Dallas, Dallas Area Agency on Aging: Plans, advocates for and coordinates resources to provide services for seniors and their caregivers in Dallas County. Types of assistance include minor home repair, benefits counseling, legal assistance, rent/utility assistance, respite, homemaker services, minor outdoor chore and assistance in acquiring health maintenance supplies.

·         www.nctcog.org/cs/aging/; North Central Texas Area Agency on Aging: Information & Referral, benefits counseling, Benefits Enrollment Center, care coordination, caregiver support coordination, respite, health promotion.

·         www.preventelderabuse.org/; National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse: tips and resources if elder abuse is suspected.

Knowing what constitutes elder abuse will help you spot it. A common scenario is the theft of a title by forgery or coercion. Often the elder doesn’t even know what they are signing, they just sign documents because they are told to do so. This may be considered fraud and undue influence. If you suspect a senior may have a form of cognitive impairment and may not understand the significance of transferring their title, you should contact a lawyer or an ombudsman at one of the above links. Other signs of elder abuse may be in unusual financial patterns, such as a sudden interest in using the equity in a home to invest in time shares, annuities, make large contributions to charities, or to fund large and extravagant gifts.

If an elderly person wants to use your services to them sell their property, by all means you should try to help. However, if you spot any warning signs that there might be trouble, you will need to ask some questions to ensure that they are not being pressured to sell by an outside party. For instance, if the person is tells you they don’t want anyone knowing about their decision to sell, make sure to understand why they are selling. If they further express that they don’t want a particular family member or caretaker involved and that person insists on having involvement in the sale, that can be a warning sign. Have your client’s wishes in writing and firmly enforce the owner’s wishes.

If you do get the sense that your client is being pushed into a sale when there may be other options available, suggest alternatives, such as looking into whether a reverse mortgage could provide enough funds to make staying in place longer feasible.

Be sure to document your interactions with your clients and follow up at every stage of the transaction. You want to ensure that your client fully understands and consents to every bit of the negotiations. Always provide written records to confirm your conversations and any decisions made.

If there is a caregiver who has power of attorney, make sure you receive a copy of it and provide it to an independent attorney who can verify that it both legitimate and applicable to the transaction. If anything appears to favor the caregiver over your client, advise your client immediately consult with an attorney.

Find out more about the Senior Real Estate Specialist designation program offered at MetroTex here.

Build better relationships with your clients: Maintaining relationships after closing

When you close a deal, do you say goodbye to your clients – and mean it? Or, do you become their trusted advisor for life? It’s easy to move along to active clients who need your time and attention right now. After all, they’re the ones paying next month’s bills, with any luck. However, maintaining solid relationships with past clients is the best way to keep your pipeline filled with referral business and is at least as important to your bottom line as any farming activities or marketing campaign you do.

One of the best ways to stay connected with your client base is to hold a client appreciation event of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a big networking cocktail party – though it could be – but it should be something that you think would be appealing to the biggest share of your base. Are many of your clients adventurous types or new to the area? Host an urban scavenger hunt so they can both get to know the area and try something new. (Just type “Dallas scavenger hunt” in your browser and you’ll find a bunch of companies that run these events.) Does your client base prefer to stay closer to home? How about hosting a volunteer day in your community and ask your clients to come out and help? Whether it’s beautifying a park, painting a community center, lending a hand at the food pantry, or some other great cause, there’s always someone who could use a hand. Find out what causes your clients like to support and see how you can lend a hand.

Maintain a good database of referrals for trusted contractors of all types and let your clients know that you have it. Post notices about upcoming local community events, new restaurants, cultural events and other opportunities on your social media and in your e-newsletters. Be a go-to resource and stay top of mind. If someone calls you with a question and you have no idea what the answer could be, tell them you’ll find out and follow up later. Keep their interest in maintaining your relationship and make it fun and useful.

Touch base from time to time just to ask about what’s going on in their lives. Don’t wait for them to call you. Make it a goal to call everyone in your database at least once per quarter, or more often if they send you lots of referrals. Personal touches matter. Handwritten notes just to offer a compliment are a nice touch.

Leverage technology. Add reminders to your calendar when you have conversations with clients, or see posts about important events coming up in your clients’ lives. Use them as a conversation starter. Watch their socials for signs of milestones so you can send congratulatory notes. Remember that with milestones often comes the need to transition to a new home.