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Leaving on a Jet Plane? A Vacation Lesson for Agents

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Please welcome Agent Genius’ newest contributor Brian Block (you’ll love his bio at the end of this article). He’s a Realtor hailing from northern Virginia, he’s an attorney and can kick ass with his Krav Maga skills, so pay attention folks, because he’s also a smart guy and great writer! -Lani Rosales, New Media Director

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Beach

Cold Winter + Obama Inauguration = Vacation!

The other week, my wife and I decided to get out of town. Winters can get awfully cold here in the Washington D.C. area. Add to that the millions of people streaming into the region to attend Barack Obama’s Inauguration, road and bridge closings, creating a recipe for a paralyzed real estate market. With some of the main highways closed to traffic, it wouldn’t have been possible to show homes to clients even if I tried.

So a few weeks before, we booked a vacation to sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I won’t make you jealous with photos of us on the beach and tales of whale watching, resorts, and relaxation. That’s not what this story is about.

The oldest rule in the book:

As anyone who’s been in the business for some time knows, business inevitably perks up and in fact becomes crazy right before you leave on a vacation. This time was no different. Between a ratified contract, another offer pending, waiting for bank approval on a short sale (and a regional lockbox exchange), I was working right up until the time I packed my bags late the night before departure.

While some agents have a team to cover for them while they’re gone, like hundreds of thousands of REALTORS around the country, I’m working solo.

What I Did Right

  • Coverage – I made sure to have another agent in my office cover my business while I was out of town. I briefed him on all the pending transactions that I had and provided him with the contact information for all the parties involved. The night before I left on my trip, I e-mailed him all the documents that he’d need in case things happened on any of these matters.
  • Alerted Clients – In the days and weeks leading up to the Mexico trip, I alerted my current clients that I would be away. I told them who to contact if there were any questions or issues they needed addressed while I was gone. I told them that we’d talk when I returned.
  • Told Other Agents – My clients informed, I made sure to let the co-op agents on pending transactions know that I would be out of town and gave them the contact info for my covering colleague.

I thought everything was all set. Time to pack my bag. Time to go to sleep and catch a 7 a.m. flight (my wife always swears that she’ll never wake up at 5 a.m. except for an international flight). A week without e-mail or cell-phone.

What I Did Wrong

  • Forgot to Change My Voicemail – When I returned from vacation, I had 23 voice-mails waiting for me! In the last minute rush to inform my clients and other agents, and to brief my colleague, I neglected to change my voice-mail to let potential clients and other agents that I was on vacation.
  • Didn’t Set Up Vacation E-Mail – While everyone hates getting these vacation replies in their inbox, I realized that they at least notify people that you are away so they don’t expect an immediate response. I had to apologize to several potential clients when I returned for not getting back to them sooner.
  • No Pre-Vacation Blog Post – I had a potential buyer send me an e-mail when I returned from vacation that said “I love your blog… but some of your posts are looking dated.” I had to explain that I was away on vacation and hadn’t had the opportunity to update the blog for a while.

Lesson Learned:

It may seem easy, but because the days leading up to a vacation tend to be busy and stressful and many people forget to make the necessary preparations be sure to create a vacation business to-do list for yourself. You already have your grocery list, your pre-listing appointment list, and no doubt many other lists. Here are some of the things you need to do before you go on a vacation and leave your business for a week or more:

  • Change your voice-mail. Have it reflect the fact that you are away and inform callers who they can talk to regarding their real estate needs. Alternatively, you can have your phone forwarded to someone else in your office.
  • Take stock of everything – EVERYTHING going on in your business. Your listings, your buyers, your potential business, your blog, your unanswered e-mails, your leads, etc. Write down everything.
  • Get someone in your office to cover for you. If you don’t already have a team or work as part of a team, find a competent and professional agent who has the time to handle your business while you are away. Many agents will do this for you with the hope that you reciprocate when they go on vacation. Sometimes you can have a referral arrangement, or just buy them one of those “My friend went to Vegas and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” shirts.
  • Alert all your clients and all other agents with whom you currently have a transaction. Let them know you’ll be away and who to contact.
  • Set up a vacation e-mail alert. This is easy to do in most e-mail programs and will avoid embarrassment when you return from your trip.
  • If you have a blog, let your readers know that you won’t be blogging for a while.
  • Most importantly… Relax. Have fun & enjoy your vacation. Your real estate business will still be there when you get back.

Brian Block practiced law until he heard every single attorney joke and decided becoming a real estate broker was a more fun way to earn a living. Proud of the plaques and diplomas adorning his office wall, he's even more proud of his marriage to a beautiful and talented ballroom dance teacher and fellow entrepreneur. Every day, you can find Brian, doing what he does best – advising Northern Virginia home buyers and sellers. If you want, you can follow him on Twitter @blockrealestate.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Chris Shouse

    January 30, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Welcome Brian look forward to your posts:) This was a good one and a good reminder of what you should do.

  2. Brandie Young

    January 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Brian – welcome to AG! I look forward to your posts!

    Great reminders, thanks. Making sure everything is managed back at home will probably make for a better vacation!

  3. Christian Nossum

    January 30, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks Brian! I was away as well last week (I actually saw Puerto Vallarta from my airplane window seat on my way back home from Belize). I can second all of these preparations. One thing I forgot to do was to put my mail and newspaper (yes, I still enjoy reading the morning paper) on hold. When I came back I had a big pile of newspapers sitting at my front door (is that an invitation for a break in or what?). Oh well, thankfully nothing happened while I was away, and I had a great relaxing trip. Welcome to AG! I look forward to reading more from you.

  4. Kim Hannemann

    January 30, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    So, welcome to AG – I already see most of your AR posts!

    You are right about things always busting out when you go away. Except for MLK/inauguration weekend when we went to Charleston (good times but no business) it seems I work like crazy. In 2006 I went to London for a week and sold three homes while I was there (two buyers and a listing).

    Makes me want to stay on vacation all the time and only come home to rest.

  5. Missy Caulk

    January 30, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Brian………

    Welcome here, so happy to see this post. Are we going to get to see your true personality…humor and videos?

    Reading this makes me so happy I have a team.

  6. Heather Elias

    January 31, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Brian,
    Welcome to the AG family! Glad you got a chance to get away, that was a well earned break! Absolutely right about biz picking up during vacation time..had the same thing happen to me numerous times. Perhaps you could work aroumd the blog issue by doing a ‘best of’ series with classic posts and setting those up to publish in your absence?

    Can’t wait to read more of your writing here…

    Congrats!
    ~Heather

  7. Brian Block

    January 31, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Chris — thanks for the warm welcome.

    Brandie — vacation is definitely better when you can relax and know business is being taken care of at home.

    Christian — mail & newspaper holds — that’s on my personal list of things to do before vacation. I’ve made that mistake in the past too. How was Belize?

    Kim — I’m always saying we need to take more vacations!

    Missy — thanks for the welcome. We’ll just have to see!

    Heather — I’ve thought about trying to have posts publish while I’m away. Good idea.

  8. Candace Robinson

    January 31, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Brian — Nice to see your talent being spread around in some other blogs! Looking forward to some more informative posts coming our way. Loved Puerto Vallarta and other Mexico destinations…just a quick trip for us Arizonans! I’ve done the same and failed to hit the vacation auto-responder…makes for a big catch-up day! Great advice! Cheerio!

  9. Nicole Ford

    January 31, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Brian – great post. I was also on vacation the week of the inauguration and can relate to your post. Like you, I had an agent covering and took all the steps to prepare beforehand, but in forgot in my haste to update my voicemail and email out-of-office messages. Nothing frustrates a customer like an agent who doesn’t respond for a week! Lesson learned…

    Welcome to AG – I look forward to reading your future posts.

  10. Sally

    January 31, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Hey Brian!
    What a wonderful debut and actually…very good lessons learned here. Bloggomania man is loose!

  11. Gary White

    February 1, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Hi Brian, I would say you had some very good advice, as usual, it takes time to cover all the bases…preparation it the key. Numeral Uno

  12. Lisa Sanderson

    February 1, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Welcome to AG, Brian!

    This is great advice and I’ve found that if you do all this, when you get back things are much more manageable. I start bragging….er, I mean *informing* people about my upcoming vacation for about a week ahead of time. Then I send an email to all of my active clients the day before I leave letting them know I’m away. I’ve found that people are very understanding and will wait for you to return, for the most part. The blog post idea is a great one that I may have to add to my list.

  13. Castellum Realty

    February 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    As we mentioned on your Ar post, congratulations to your new position here. We’ll look forward to seeing you blossom from here on out. Keep up the good work as always and don’t be shy to do some more videos 🙂

  14. Danilo Bogdanovic

    February 3, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Howdy neighbor! Welcome to AG!

    Hope you enjoyed your vacation to PV. I just got back from vacation myself and guess what…I forgot to do some of the things you mentioned in your post too – oops.

    Looking forward to reading your posts and the priceless humor.

  15. Vickie McCartney

    February 3, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Hi Brian~ I saw where you wrote about your posting in here at activerain, so I thought I would come to AG and check it out. Of couse you did a great job, as usual! Great advice for things to remember to do BEFORE you go on vacation. Now, I just need to take a vacation!

  16. Kim Wood

    February 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Sorry I’m late to the party, Brian – but a BIG WELCOME !!! Yay, so happy ! I’ve always enjoyed your writing, and will love to see it here on AG.

    And I’ll another “What I did Right” and that is that you took the vacation in the first place !!!

  17. Vicki Moore

    February 6, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Welcome to AG. At least you had fun – right!

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Coaching

Disputing a property’s value in a short sale: turn a no into a go

During a short sale, there may be various obstacles, with misaligned property values ranking near the top, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker!

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magic eight ball

magic eight ball

It’s about getting your way

Were you on the debate team in high school? Were you really effective at convincing your parent or guardian to let you do things that you shouldn’t have been doing? How are your objection-handling skills? Can you flip a no into a go?

When working on short sales, there is one aspect of the process that may require those excellent negotiation or debate skills: disputing the property value. In a short sale, the short sale lender sends an appraiser or broker to the property and this individual conducts a Broker Price Opinion or an appraisal, using special forms provided by the short sale lender.

After this individual completes the Broker Price Opinion or the appraisal, he or she will return it to the short sale lender. Shortly thereafter, the short sale lender will be ready to talk about the purchase price. Will the lender accept the offer on the table or is the lender looking for more? If the lender is seeking an offer for a lot more than the one on the table, mentally prepare for the fact that you will need to conduct a value dispute.

Value Dispute Process

While each of the different short sale lenders (including Fannie Mae) has their own policies and procedures for value dispute, all these procedures have some things in common. Follow the steps below in order to conduct an effective value dispute.

  1. Inquire about forms. Ask your short sale lender if there are specific forms that you need to complete in order to conduct a value dispute. Obtain those forms if necessary.
  2. Gather information. Your goal is to convince the lender to accept the buyer’s offer, so you need to demonstrate that your offer is in line with the value of the property. Collect data that proves this point, such as reports from the MLS, Trulia, Zillow, or your local title company.
  3. Take photos. If there are parts of the property that are substandard and possibly were not revealed to the lender by the individual conducting the BPO, take photos of those items. Perhaps the kitchen has no flooring, or there is a 40-year old roof. Take photos to demonstrate these defects.
  4. Obtain bids. For any defects on the property, obtain a minimum of two bids from licensed contractors. For example, obtain two bids from roofers or structural engineers if necessary
  5. Write a report. Think back to high school English class if necessary. Write a short essay that references your information, photos, and bids, and explains how these items support your buyer’s value. This is not something that you whip up in five minutes. Spend time preparing a compelling appeal.

It is entirely possible that some lenders will not be particularly open-minded when it comes to valuation dispute. However, more times than not, an effective value dispute leads to short sale approval.

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Coaching

Short sale standoffs: how to avoid getting hit

The short sale process can feel a lot like a wild west standoff, but there are ways to come out victorious, so let’s talk about those methods:

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short sales standoff

What is a short sale standoff?

If you are a short sale listing agent, a short sale processor, or a short sale negotiator then you probably already know about the short sale standoff. That’s when you are processing a short sale with more than one lien holder and neither will agree to the terms offered by the other. Or… better yet, each one will not move any further in the short sale process until they see the short sale approval letter from the other lien holder.

Scenario #1 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they will proceed with the short sale, and they will offer Bank 2 a certain amount to release their lien. You call Bank 2 and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, the folks at Bank 2 want more money. If Bank 1 and Bank 2 do not agree, then you are in a standoff.

Scenario #2 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they cannot generate your approval letter until you present them with the approval letter from Bank 2. Bank 2 employees tell you the exact same thing. Clearly, in this situation, you are in a standoff.

How to Avoid the Standoff

If you are in the middle of a standoff, then you are likely very frustrated. You’ve gotten pretty far in the short sale process and you are likely receiving lots of pressure from all of the parties to the transaction. And, the lenders are not helping much by creating the standoff.

Here are some ideas for how to get out of the situation:

  • Go back to the first lien holder and ask them if they are willing to give the second lien holder more money.
  • Go to the second lien holder and tell them that the first lien holder has insisted on a maximum amount and see if they will budge.
  • If no one will budge, find out why. Is this a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan? If so, they have a maximum that they allow the second. And, if you alert the second of that information, they may become more compliant.
  • Worst case: someone will have to pay the difference. Depending on the laws in your state, it could be the buyer, the seller, or the agents (yuck). No matter what, make sure that this contribution is disclosed to all parties and appears on the short sale settlement statement at closing.
  • In Scenario #2, someone’s got to give in. Try explaining to both sides where you are and see if one will agree to generate their approval letter. If not, follow the tips provided in this Agent Genius article and take your complaint to the streets.

One thing about short sales is that the problems that arise can be difficult to resolve merely because of the number of parties involved—and all from remote locations. Imagine how much easier this would be if all parties sat at the same table and broke bread? If we all sat at the same table, then we wouldn’t need armor in order to avoid the flying bullets from the short sale standoff.

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Coaching

Short sale approval letters don’t arrive in the blink of an eye

Short sale approval letters may look like they’ve been obtained simply by experts, but it takes time and doesn’t just happen with luck.

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short sale approval

Short sale approval: getting prepared, making it happen

People always ask me how it is that I obtain short sale approval letters with such ease. The truth is, that while I have more short sale processing and negotiating experience than most agents and brokers, I don’t just blink my eyes like Jeannie and make those short sale approval letters appear. I often sweat it, just like everyone else.

Despite the fact that I do not have magical powers, I do have something else on my side—education. One of the most important things than can lead to short sale success for any and all agents is education.

Experience dictates that agents that learn about the short sale process
have increased short sale closings.

Short sale education opportunities abound

There are many ways to become educated about the short sale process and make getting short sale approval letters look easy to obtain. These include:

  • Classes at your local board of Realtors®
  • Free short sale webinars and workshops
  • The short sale or foreclosure specialist designations

As the distressed property arena grows and changes, it is important to always stay abreast of policy changes that may impact how you do your job and how you process any short sale that lands on your plate.

The most important thing to do is to read, read, read. Follow short sale specialists and those who blog about short sales on AGBeat, Google+, facebook, and twitter. Set up a Google Alert for the term ‘short sale’ and you will receive Google’s top short sale picks daily in your email inbox. Visit mortgagor websites to read up on their specific policies and procedures.

Don’t take on too much

And, when you get a call from a prospective short sale seller, make sure that you don’t bit off more than you can chew. Agents in most of America right now are clamoring for listings since we are in the midst of a listing shortage. But, if you are going to take on a short sale, be sure that it is a deal that you can close. And, if you have your doubts, why not partner up with a local agent that can mentor your and assist you in getting the job done? After all, half a commission check is better than none!

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