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Loss Mitigation Officers, Gone Wild!

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Loss Mitigation


The Market Dictates

Prior to 2006 Realtors seem to be in a constant fight with the lender to get loan packets to the closing table in time for the settlement. Now it’s an issue of getting permission for short sales. In either case responsiveness of the lender has always been an issue. The new twist however, is that they are not only ignoring you as an agent, but stealing your money as well.

Agents have established their commissions, regardless of flat fees or percentage based fees for their services, based on what a majority of the market would bear for these skill sets. Now, at a time, when purchasers are much harder to find, clients are far more demanding the need for highly skilled practitioners is greater than it’s been in a generation, the Lending industry has decided to take your money to offset the damages of their poor investments.

The M.O.

Before I went on staff as an Education Director I was working with a large number of listings, many of which were short sale and near foreclosure clients. My wife inherited these clients as she moved from assistant to primary agent. In watching her; working with other agents and teaching on distressed property sales I have heard the story over and over again about Loss Mitigation officers cutting the commissions when negotiating the short sale.

The agent works themselves to death, the Seller swallows their pride and somewhere in the process, a buyer emerges. The buyer is not likely to pay the asking prices of yesteryear for a home today, because the chances of equity being available in the next few years is low. The offer to purchase is ratified by the principals and then sent to the Lender to review and permission to sell. If you’re lucky to get an answer from the lender it usually involves a cutting of the commission. The agents then have a huge dilemma – they can violate their fiduciary responsibility to the client and go without any money, or accept the theft of the Lender and salvage some money.

Being Left On Hold

Recently my wife had a seller loose a purchaser because the lender took over seven weeks to tell her absolutely nothing. In this case the purchaser made their offer and it was ratified. They forwarded to the 1st Trust, CIT Group, who promptly told her to send it to the 2nd Trust. That was the last prompt thing that was done. The entire point of being the First Trust is that you are in the driver seat. To send it to the second for review was a huge waste of time. She did however get 2nd Trust’s answer in a reasonable amount of time and ensured the 1st trust had a complete packet. She called diligently almost every day and was denied access to the “decision maker” who had the file on her desk. At one point (3 weeks later) she was told that they were still awaiting the BPO. She happened to know the BPO agent and was shown that it was sent in 3 weeks prior. Extensions were made by the buyer, who eventually walked away from the deal, as there were many other options available to the purchaser. My wife spoke to a “manager” two days ago, who was going to look into it. No one has called back and she still has no answer about the permission to sell the home.

Yeah, thanks for taking the seller’s house off the market for two months and loosing the only buyer they had; had in eight months. Way to serve your employer, Ms. “Loss” Mitigation officer.

Giving You A Pay Cut

If you’re lucking to get a lender rep to review the file, one of the first places they go is your wallet. Evidentially they think it’s OK to take your money. Why? There isn’t much you can do. Yes, you can say “no” to what avail? If you do, the transaction dies, your clients hate you and will re-list with a more willing participant. And isn’t it your responsibility to put the clients needs above your own? It’s a mess and there is no great answer. So, I suppose your children don’t get to eat, so that the Loss Mitigation Officer can look better to their bosses.

A Few Questions

1. Since the contract for compensation (the listing agreement) is with the Listing Broker and Seller, who the heck is the Lender to require the commission be split? Wouldn’t this be tort interference in any other instance? (I am not an attorney, so I’m really asking)

2. How would the Loss Mitigation Officer feel if their employer gave them their check and it was 33% of what their promised salary was? How long would they stay at their job, if the Lender explained that the 66% decrease was due to the employer trying to limit their damages for the Lender’s poor risk taking practices?

3. For the Buyer Brokers… Why are YOU cutting your commission, didn’t the Listing Broker offer you a commission in MLS? Did the MLS commission offering, stipulate that you would be required to take less than promised, if they had to?

4. Why are agents working twice as hard for an almost guaranteed reduction in fees for their hard work only to act shocked and surprised that this was happening. Every time an agent comes to me shocked and bewildered that the commission was cut by the lender, I have to ask why they were involved in a listing that they were obviously not trained or experienced enough to handle.

5. Let’s take the lender out of the equation for second. If the Seller wasn’t getting enough money to sell their home and cover their cost, wouldn’t they reject an offer less than what is necessary to cover their financial commitments? Wouldn’t the buyer be required to increase their price if they wanted the house? Why in short sale situations, isn’t the answer to simply tell the buyer, if you want the house; you’ll need to increase your offer price. Your offer simply doesn’t cover the Seller’s bills….

For the Brokers

I can’t think of a better time for Principal Brokers to establish company policies that limit the number of Short Sale listings an agent can carry and to define that only well trained and capable agents be able to handle these special (actually becoming the norm in many markets) situations. How many Listing Brokers want to accept a listing where they may be paying a Buyer Broker more in commission than they are getting in total? Why aren’t Listing Brokers adding clauses to the Listing agreements that if the Seller fails to make timely mortgage payments, or agrees to work with the lender in a short sale, that the listing agreement becomes void?

If the Lender isn’t going to allow payment to an agent for working diligently to reduce the Lender’s loss, by at least getting a buyer for the short sale, than why are agents still taking on these clients?

It’s A Mess

Whereas I am usually careful to try and see all options, I am not immune to the fact that these are troubled times for many markets around the U.S. But in this case the Seller’s are usually paying for poor financial decisions, the Lenders are are paying for loose lending practices; and the agent is the paying for???? I know that some agents could have done a better job of educating the buyer of their options and such when they originally bought, but most agents had nothing to do with the purchase when it comes time to list. So, why exactly is it, that the agent has to pay such a price for the loss of the lender?

( I don’t think I’ve ever used so many question marks in a blog post…)

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is TheAgentTrainer.com.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Suzy

    April 18, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    I recently had the pleasure of working my very first short sale as a listing agent. The listing was a RELO referral and no one knew the sellers had not paid their mortgage in 7 months until we saw the auction notice in the local paper. We immediately got an offer on the property from a seemingly helpful agent with lots of short sale experience. What a total nightmare – this buyer agent turned out to be some sort of short sale shark who used what I later learned was every dirty short sale tactic in the book in order to get the price drastically reduced for a basically unqualified client. In doing so, this agent almost caused my client to go into foreclosure, as we were under a tight timeline. I was absolutely disgusted.

    I will admit I was unprepared for this transaction and it was definitely a trial by fire. Knoxville has never had a lot of foreclosures, so this is not an area most agents have ever had to know a lot about. Most agents in my office don’t really even fully understand what a short sale is. I have suggested that my broker offer some sort of training to agents, because going into a short sale with no experience is a very scary thing.

    And yes, the lender cut the commission on the deal. After that cut and the referral fee to the RELO network, I wound up working my butt off for virtually nothing.

  2. Jennifer Rathbun

    April 18, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    I still feel for the homeowners. I want to at least help them to have the opportunity to sell their home before foreclosure. It is a lot of work, but it has been worth trying. If my clients are willling to work, then I’m willing to work too! Some of these listings may fall through, but I still hope that a few will go to settlement and be worth the effort. Yes, I need to feed my family and I hope that I can express that need to the morgage companies. But should I not take the listing because it might be more work without enough compensation? If I receive a “thank you for trying to help us,” then I think it’s compensation enough.

  3. Natalie Langford

    April 19, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Oh, this is so well written. It only supports what I’ve said in a recent post I shared for my local market. I explained what short sales were but went on to state that for anyone looking to list a short sale, I was not their agent! I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. I am comfortable enough to represent a buyer, but not yet confident in representing a seller. I hung on every word you wrote and had to go back and re-read parts of it. You asked some great questions and I look forward to the discussion…

  4. Bill Lublin

    April 20, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Matthew – Timely post – I have a google alert on short sales and was given an alert to a link which had in it the following perspective from a lender – posted on CNBC’s Funny Business with Jane Wells

    Pat G. says she works for a lender. She got a call from a real estate agent arranging “short sales” (homes selling for less than the mortgage is worth) who referred to Pat’s business as “the stupid bank”:
    “I’m wondering if the agent is reducing her commission? Why is it okay for the seller to lose money and the bank to lose money, yet the Real Estate Community continues to earn their full commission?

    I feel that the Real Estate Community is now starting their own Predatory Sales Approaches. Advertising homes as ‘short sales’ or ‘pre-foreclosure’ is just wrong. There are no ‘short sale’ listings! Everyone is told upfront, we can’t pre-approve a short sale. Hence, the need for a contract. It’s not a ‘short sale’ until the Lender agrees, period. So to advertise it as such is misleading to the general public. Potential buyers feel the Lender has already approved the home for a short sale, and that it will be an easy steal.”

    I really sympathize with the situation as you described your wife’s experience, but it seems that what you see is determined to a degree by where you stand doesn’t it?

  5. Bill Lublin

    April 20, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Jennifer- You keep on doing the right thing – It always pays off- sometimes more obviously then others, but its what makes you a professional (and yes, its just fine to be working to make a living- but you knew that)

  6. Matthew Rathbun

    April 20, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Bill,

    There are lenders who will approve shortsales in the front-end, without a contract. I was along the same thought pattern of asking “should the agent be exempt from loosing money in this poor market”. I’ve answered my own question to say this – they are! The lack of buying and selling is already hurting the agent. So, in order to make a living, the agent can’t continue to work for “free” or near free for the work they are doing. The short-sale is a result of the Lender’s risk and Seller’s in ability to pay and not the agents failure at all.

    I think it’s important for the listing agent to remember that they can’t disclose the short sale status unless approved by the seller, as it’s confidential financial information of the seller. However, there are damages that can occur to the buyer if the short sale is not disclosed. I’ll outline those in a later post.

    So, to Pat G… are they willing to reduce their salary by 33% or more because their employer made some poor choices? I bet if we required loss mitigation officers to reduce their salary the same percentage as they reduce the agent’s – this issue would go away.

  7. Mack in Atlanta

    April 22, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I received an email about a new designation – CSP. Certifies Short-Sale Professional. Has anyone else gotten this type of email?

  8. Matthew Rathbun

    April 22, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Mack,

    I am actually going through the CSP instructor program now. It seems pretty good. Maybe not as good as the ABR Foreclosure elective, but pretty good, none-the-less.

  9. Maureen Francis

    April 22, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    There is no short sale without a long and sad story that goes along with it. Personally, I advertise that the buyers agent commission is subject to third party approval, and have the agent sign something that states they understand that before I submit their offer. Then I fight like heck to defend our commission and get the best deal for my client and the bank.

  10. Glenn fm Naples

    April 23, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Matthew – good questions within your post and I will offer some thoughts.
    1) We might be shooting ourselves in the foot when we put together a real estate transaction by cutting our commissions – normal transaction.
    2) Volume of business can offset the reduction in commission percentage, so it truly isn’t a pay reduction. In your analysis you referred to an employee – we are independent contractors. An employer and employee have a mutual agreement as to the pay, we are commission based.
    3) Our local board has addressed this issue, by allowing brokers to add to the confidential notes section of the listing that notifies other agents that the commission may be subject to reduction and needs to say how it will be allocated.
    4) Most real estate agents truly do not have the appropriate skill sets or resources (attorneys, title companies and tax advisers) to handle a short sale from the beginning. Prior to accepting the potential short sale listing, I do lots of research and review of the seller’s purchase – I do end up with less listings, but much easier to handle with the lenders.
    5) Unfortunately, in the potential short sale situation the monetary loss is for the lender – not the seller, not the buyer, not listing agent nor the selling agent.

    As Suzy mentioned in her post that her seller was 7 months behind in their payments and it was not known until the notice was published in the newspaper. My question is why didn’t someone do some research and find that a lis penden or NOD was filed previously?

    Real estate agents that want to get into the short sale business should be able to reverse engineer the entire real estate transaction, perform financial forenics, and understand the mentality used in the a collection process.

    My personal opinion on why potential short sales hang up is 1) the lenders are stupid when they tell people that are anticipating financial problems “we can’t help you now, but when you are behind in your payments call us back and we will be able to help you.” Years ago when mortgage insurance was used the education programs taught people to call if they were anticipating financial hardship. 2) the lenders are telling people two things – “don’t pay” and “you are in hopeless situation.” 3) the lenders are not thinking part of the pie is better than no pie – interest rate recasting. 4) too much “junk” transactions are hitting the loss mitigation departments, unrealistic prices as a method to force an idea of what the lender might accept.

  11. Jon Sigler

    April 23, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    If the lender didn’t get enough net for them, don’t accept the offer. Doing all this junk on commissions is only taking money from the people helping them out of the mess.

  12. Mack in Atlanta

    April 27, 2008 at 6:33 am

    There was a question posted by an agent on Trulia Voices about short sale pricing and how an agent had listed a home for less than the bank would accept to generate traffic and covered his rear end by putting in a “subject to bank approval” clause. Here is a twist on the commission portion of this discussion that was posted by Chris Freeman from Grand Rapids:

    I thought I would share a related anecdote regarding
    ————–“all offers are subject to bank approval”—————

    2 weeks ago, our board handled a grievance where the short sale in question was listed for (say $100,000, because I didn’t ask the actual price). They had the “all offers are subject to bank approval” clause in the listing.

    The offer came in at full price with no contingencies. The listing agent tried to get the bank on board, and they said “NO!” The deal was unable to go forward, BUT the selling agent filed a grievance for their commission and the board ruled in their favor. The listing Realtor had to cough up the commission.

    I am a little more skiddish about short sales since this ruling.

    The thing that actually makes me most nervous is that the board has not announced the ruling to the rest of the REALTORS. The only reason I found out is that I know the Realtor who lost the grievance.

    I guess there are no guarantees but death and taxes.

  13. Glenn fm Naples

    April 27, 2008 at 7:09 am

    I would have ruled against the payment of the commission, based upon the quote “all offers are subject to bank approval” as this is an upfront contingency – however, did the listing agent not add that clause to the offer and send it back as a counter-offer. By adding the clause to the offer or contract would have made it a contingency.

    We have been discussing issues with potential short sales in both the Legal Resources and MLS committees here.

    Our next go around should be on the pre-foreclosure and possible short sale listings where the seller moves and is not reachable via mail or telecommunications. This is an issue to the listing contract being a bi-lateral contract.

    Another issue is when a “short sale export” is handling the short sale aspects, the property is listed with another real estate agent and the “short sale expert” brings in a buyer.

    The potential short sale transaction has many issues which need to be addressed.

  14. Bill Lublin

    April 27, 2008 at 11:33 am

    @Mack in Atlanta;
    Your board would not make public a decision becuase all such decisions are confidential and you may (probably) have only part of the story, and none of the documentation, so don’t jump to coclusions

    @Glenn frm Naples – Your point about how you would have ruled has the same problem – we just don;t have enough info to make an infomred decisions (that’s why arbitrations take so long and som man y questions can arise.

    @everyone – I agree that negotiating the commission in a potential short sale situation in annoying at best, and I can understand why anyone would resent it, but we need to remember that we have an obligation to put our client’s needs before our own, and if we allow the commission to be placed in front of needs of our seller or buyer client, we’re just plain not doing the right thing.

    After all , the responsibility to pay us rests with the client, not the lender, so if you have a real problem with the difference in the earned commission and the negotiated commission you might want to address that with your client. But do you really think someone should face a foreclosure when there is a potential short sale just so we can be paid a specific amount? Or should the buyer lose the home they and their family will live in for that reason? And should the lender (who is already taking a loss) be responsible to pay a commission that they never agreed to pay? We’re no different in their eyes from junior lien holders who have even more to lose if the sale doesn;t go through.So while I don;t like it, I think we need to do the right thing to get the client what they need.

  15. Mack in Atlanta

    April 27, 2008 at 11:39 am

    @Bill This was not from my board. It was from the agent in Grand Rapids. I was just posting it in this forum for informational purposes.

  16. Natalie Langford

    April 27, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    I just had to comment on the @ sign being used. I’m getting pretty good at recognizing the twitter addicts!

  17. Bob

    April 28, 2008 at 5:14 am

    Call any loss mit department and you will hear a recorded message disclosing the debt collector status. By definition, the lender has an adversarial position. Simply stating that the short sale is subject to lender approval is not enough. A clause stating that the transaction is contingent upon seller approval of all lien holder terms and conditions any chance of should always be included in a counter.

  18. Glenn fm Naples

    April 28, 2008 at 6:14 am

    Bob – your “the transaction is contingent upon seller approval of all lien holder terms and conditions” is very inclusive and should be used – I know I will be adding it from now on. Yes the lender does have an adversarial position – it is called cutting their losses.

  19. Bo Buchanan

    May 1, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    Our MLS recently added a section to the SCI (special compensation information) section of the mls when we enter CC – it now adds the text “Requires Lenders Approval” next to commission offered. I hope this covers us here regarding the comment made by Mack in Atlanta. In too many situations, owners owe more than the property is worth. I would hope that if you show comps and a market analysis that you could back it up to the board. We also have a clause in our contract that says “Requires Third Party Approval” that should be checked with a short sale offer.

  20. Bluenote

    January 30, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Every think that the time has come for Brokers to reduce their exhorbitant fees. While there are really great agent out there. Most aren’t worth the price of a gallon of gasoline!!!

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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