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Iowa police hope new website helps solve Realtor Ashley Okland’s murder

(REAL ESTATE) A tragic end to a young Realtor’s life brought Realtor Safety to the forefront for so many practitioners. While still an unsolved case, police hope a new website will generate interest, tips, and hopefully the missing puzzle pieces.

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Eight years ago this week, Iowa Realtor, Ashley Okland was brutally gunned down in a model townhome while she worked. She was only 27 years old. Open houses in the city were immediately shut down, as it was thought it could be a serial killer targeting agents in the field. That theory has since been put to bed.

But the case continues to plague the officers that have spent nearly a decade investigating, and despite hundreds of leads and interviews, it remains an open case.

Local police say they are still getting tips trickling in, but “It’s like a puzzle that you’re trying to put together and you’re wanting to find those last few pieces to complete it,” West Des Moines Police Department’s (WDMPD) Lt. Anthony Giampolo, told KCCI.

In hopes of finding those final pieces, WDMPD has set up a website called Answers For Ashley where people can submit relevant tips anonymously online.

The site appears to be a work in progress, as only the “submit a tip” feature works, but the wish is that offering an additional outlet for tips could solve this murder.

Okland’s murder inspired the industry to revisit (and establish) safety plans, and several Realtor safety apps were born. Her situation was one that was so relatable, it generated a lot of conversation and idea sharing, making a long-lasting impact on the real estate industry.

Okland is not the first or last Realtor to be murdered – beloved Jacksonville Realtor, Derrick Hartley was gunned down in a road rage incident this month, leaving behind five children. Asheville Realtor, Tina Kessinger was savagely stabbed to death with a screwdriver and tossed into a dumpster. And we’ve lost others – an El Paso Realtor recently died in an ATV accident, a Kentucky Realtor died in a hit and run auto accident, and a Florida Realtor died in a freak accident, falling from a boat. An unnamed Chicago Realtor was recently attacked with a stun gun in what would have been a sexual assault had she not gotten away to call police. The list is far longer, but these recent incidents have scarred the industry.

Okland’s case has always been on the industry’s mind is because it is thought to have happened in conjunction with her career, while she was at work. Potentially similarly to another high-profile case, Beverly Carter’s 2014 murder.

Realtors are often in a vulnerable position, spending time alone in the field, and while Okland’s murder very well could have had nothing to do with her profession and being alone in a model, it is worth considering how your team is educated on the topic of Realtor safety.

The National Association of Realtors offers ample Realtor safety resources and recently launched an alert system, akin to Amber Alerts (read about the Realtor Safety Network and know how to file an incident report).

Real Estate Brokerage

Pocket listings: The key to success in hot housing market?

(REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE) Despite NAR’s attempts to shut the door on pocket listings, the reality is that premarket sales are almost a necessity for buyers in hot markets.

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Dark house at dusk, a possible pocket listing to be snatched up.

Hot housing markets are like the “Hunger Games” right now – and the odds are definitely not favoring home buyers.

In fiery markets like Austin, high demand and low inventory are juicing prices and sometimes bringing an unprecedented number of offers. A home in the desirable, centrally located neighborhood of Crestview recently drew 27 offers, says Lisa Boone, Realtor, GRI, with Waterloo Realty. “Everyone is fighting over the same properties.”

For some buyers, that competition makes tapping into the robust, but controversial, “pre-MLS” private-listing ecosystem feel almost like a necessity. “My job has gone from trying to get people a deal on a house to getting someone a house, period,” says Anna Uliassi, associate broker with Compass in Austin. “I’d say it’s gotten crazier in the last six months.”

That private, or pocket, listing ecosystem is shifting, too.

Well-connected agents who find or sell off-market properties through friendly phone calls to their networks and tapping into private online forums have been told to cut it out. In a bid to level the playing field, the National Association of Realtors has essentially banned pocket listings with its “MLS Clear Cooperation policy,” As of May 1, 2020, agents must list properties on MLS within one business day of “public marketing,” which includes phone calls, forum posts, and even the buzz-building “coming soon” signs.

“There are no more private listings, unless the listing is kept private within your own brokerage,” Romeo Manzanilla of Realty Austin told the Austin Business Journal in August. “It keeps the integrity of the MLS from the data perspective. It also allows all MLS participants to have access to the same listings and not necessarily have to go fish through, ‘What Facebook group am I supposed to join to get these under-the-radar listings?’ “

But there are rules… And there is reality.

With tight inventory and rising concerns about privacy, demand for off-market transactions simply is not going away. Especially when it comes to luxury properties listed on places like Austin Luxury Network.

Now savvy buyers want to check the pocket listings. They’ve read articles on how to head off competition with off-market homes. Or they’ve had their hearts broken too many times by losing out on too many properties.

Also, buyer wish lists are becoming more and more specific based on lifestyle changes, says Gray Adkins, Realtor, GRI, with Waterloo Realty. “As a buyer, if you’re looking for something really specific, you’re just waiting. You’re sitting on your hands checking MLS every morning wondering if it’s going to get listed. We’re only seeing a handful of things getting listed in each market area per week, so it can be a long, drawn out process.”

For sellers, the pandemic has added a new twist. Many want to avoid the showing frenzy’s disruption to their schedules. They’re working from home and helping their kids with virtual school, and the idea of COVID-status-unknown strangers walking through their house is not appealing.

Still, what might slow the use of pocket listings in Austin could come from the seller side rather than policy.

“It’s not really the best route for the seller unless that’s really what they want to do for personal reasons, because the market is so excited about every new listing that comes up, and that’s what tends to drive things into multiple offers,” Uliassi says. “So I’d say that finding off-market properties now is harder and harder.”

That tight inventory means Austin agents are working harder and harder just to find properties. Prospecting agents are calling, texting, emailing, mailing and even old-fashioned door knocking. Some are using companies offering “predictive analytics” to identify owners who are more likely to sell fairly soon.

They’re also looking at sources outside of MLS. “There are companies that are trying to compete with Zillow and MLS and have their own private listings,” Adkins says, as well as iBuyer programs uncovering homes. But there’s still no substitute for developing hyper-local expertise, keeping your ear to the ground and networking.

“If you’ve been in the business in Austin long enough – everybody knows everybody, and you can get a lot of information just by making a few phone calls,” Adkins says. “Word gets around, especially if you want it to.”

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Real Estate Brokerage

Customer satisfaction feedback comes best from your own service

(BROKERAGE) How you collect feedback can determine whether your service actually improves or not. #science

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Woman looking at laptop reading customer satisfaction surveys.

Every significant endeavor utilizes measurements and scorekeeping to record activities and progress. The most trivial of human pursuits often involves record keeping and statistical analysis. While the sales and production side of real estate services are measured in-depth, the service and customer satisfaction side of the business enjoys less measurement, scorekeeping, and analysis than one might find associated with the performance of a neighborhood Little League team.

What does this truly say then about the importance many brokers, owners or managers place on service delivery, customer satisfaction, consistency, and service performance?

It’s true that a few organizations do attempt to measure service performance by means of a customer satisfaction survey. Most of these programs are produced and administered internally. The surveys are sent under the company banner and the company tabulates the results.

First, when a customer is asked directly by the professional or the company for performance/satisfaction feedback, that feedback is always more positive than what is obtained by an independent, third-party asking the same questions.

This is known as the halo effect. Consumers are more diplomatic in their response to the person or company that provided the service.

Second, internal service/satisfaction assessment programs typically develop standards and objectives to validate the belief that good service is already being delivered. Thus this positively biased feedback data suits the objectives of the internal program just fine.

It’s just that measurement of those areas of service performance that sellers and buyers feel are important is not taking place.

For those more serious about customer service satisfaction and service performance assessment, there is recognition that the halo effect lessens the value of the data for internal use, and that keeping score of one’s own results has less credibility externally.

Instead, they seek the objectivity and credibility that third party validation of service assessment can provide.

Ironically, even without expert resources and objectivity the attention that measurement brings to the organization will effect positive results and performance improvement. This phenomenon is known as the Hawthorne effect.

The effect was first noticed in the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric. Production increased not as a consequence of actual changes in working conditions introduced by the plant’s management, but because management demonstrated interest in such improvements.

Unfortunately, this phase of initial improvement is not sustainable. Sustaining improvement requires more than measurement and leadership interest. Action steps that result in the actual improvement of the situation must follow collection of data.

Measuring service results and satisfaction in the real estate organization is an important first step. It will certainly gain the attention of the organization and send a serious signal.

Sustaining organizational interest and performance improvement requires more.

It requires systematic and timely feedback, objectivity, systems and service delivery processes, coaching and recognition/awards. But it really all does start by keeping score.

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Real Estate Brokerage

7 red flags that could scare off potential home buyers

(BROKERAGE) While houses are selling quickly right now, there are some things that will almost definitely turn a home buyer off.

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Open home and kitchen that home buyers will be considering.

The process of buying a home is incredibly overwhelming – as is the process of selling a house. There are so many aspects that potential home buyers are investigating when they enter a spot that’s for sale.

Without realizing it, many sellers can be hurting their chances of selling by overlooking simple things. The Ascent recently determined seven things that scare away potential buyers. Let’s dive in.

We all know the market is hot right now and houses are selling like crazy, but there are certain things that just cannot be ignored.

  1. Listing an unrealistic price: Be realistic about what your house is worth and don’t be misleading. People can easily search the worth of the houses around yours and do some digging to find out if what you’re listing is representative of what the house is worth.
  2. Skipping the deep clean: This is never a good idea – especially this year. The cleanliness of your house is akin in the buyer’s mind to the overall upkeep and maintenance of the house. They assume that if you don’t clean, you don’t care.
  3. Personalization: Since you’re moving, try and pack up some of your family photos and leave up less “personal” items (or color choices) to better help the potential buyer envision themselves living there.
  4. Expecting payment for features that are high maintenance: Things like pools and hot tubs don’t always return their value. Many home buyers aren’t interested in keeping up with that maintenance and it’s unreasonable to charge them for the assumption that they’ll keep up with it.
  5. Believing “It’s okay if this doesn’t work”: If your shower head is broken, the A/C is messed up, or a ceiling is cracked, you should do all you can to replace or repair it before listing your house. If you can’t, don’t expect anyone to pay the full listing price.
  6. Being nose-blind: Like those Febreeze commercials tell us, it’s common that we go nose-blind to our surroundings simply because we’re so used to them (i.e. a smoker doesn’t notice their house or clothes smell like smoke). Go back and check off deep cleaning, and then ask someone you really trust to come in and tell you how the house smells to an outsider. Trust me, this will be one of the first things a buyer notices.
  7. Leaving pets home during showings: Due to the unpredictability with strangers – or the potential allergies the strangers may have – it’s best to make arrangements for your pets to be elsewhere during showings.

At the end of the day, you have to look at your house from an outsider’s perspective. Getting feedback and opinions from friends and family can help this process.

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