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If this is the solution, why do I feel empty?



Solution in a box.

If you’ve spent any amount of time here, you’ve probably seen the phrase “solution in a box” (probably more than once). I’ve read it a bunch of times, but it never quite sunk in 100%. Today, I had a phone conversation with Lani. We got to babbling as we do about what’s going on and she dropped the phrase in conversation. Later I couldn’t remember how it was phrased and had to send her a message on Twitter, because I knew that it had struck a chord that moment, but in my busy day, it slipped from my head (I know, I know…write things down).

Our conversation turned to what’s going on in my real estate life, as Lani and Benn have been looking after me since day one. I had some cool news for Lani and it all tied together for me once I had the help of the phrase in my head. So this is my story.

What’s a “solution in a box?”

Please pardon me Benn for paraphrasing, but basically a “solution in a box” is one of the millions of packages/CDs/seminars/workbooks/etc. available to the agent – all promising results and riches. For just $99.95 (few are that cheap), you too can have instant success and wealth, all you have to do is open the box and follow these steps. Within twelve days, expect to see the Brinks truck arriving with your piles of gold! In our desire to not do things the hard way, we line up and shell out our money in the hopes of success.

I’m not knocking these systems, they must work for some and I’m sure there’s a few out there that have taught you something you didn’t learn elsewhere. What I am knocking is our search for instant fame, fortune, and glory. It’s not just a real estate thing, but that’s a whole other topic.

My box, my wait, my change, my success.

I tried a “solution in a box.” Against many people’s private advice. The backers of the system won out and I gave it a shot. I gave it more than a shot. Up until recently, I was still working it. This system wasn’t as bad as some of the others I’ve read about and I never felt it was promising me instant success. It definitely seemed like it was about building for the long term. It taught a lot of common sense. Things you knew were right, but might not have put into practice. There was nothing truly genius about it and nothing I hadn’t read here before, but at the time I started it, I felt it was of value to me. It helped me get my feet wet.

As I worked the system and studied the manuals, CDs, and emails I received; I began to realize that I didn’t feel right with what I was learning. Although I still practice much of what I learned, I was learning that the system made me feel like a phony. Maybe people I met didn’t see that, but I felt it inside and that thought made me feel sort of sick. Months passed with little to no results. Of course, it made me wonder if I was just doing it wrong. Maybe I hadn’t studied it hard enough, so back to the manuals I went. If the system doesn’t work for you, you must not be dedicating yourself to it, right? (I’m amazed at how often I’ve heard phrases like this. Perhaps the system doesn’t work because it doesn’t work for me.)

Months gone, bank accounts smaller, no sales. I waited, I tried, I prayed a few times even. Anything to help me get on the right track. It wasn’t in the box. No matter how hard I tried, the box left me feeling empty. When the box was empty a new one arrived. I worked the system and emptied the box. I was still empty – in feeling and in cash.

Somewhere in that time I began to blog and use social media. I learned from so many different people everyday and I liked what I was learning. I enjoyed blogging. Not just a little, but a lot. I loved sitting in front of my MacBook Pro and thinking of my next post. Some posts were horrible, some were sheer genius. It was (and still is) an up and down ride. Some days the words flow, sometimes I have to force them a bit. I began to create relationships, not just databases. I got to know people. I didn’t just beg them for their number and address. Having grown up in the age of the personal computer, I understood what was happening around me, because I had experienced the same feelings of joy when I discovered my first modem (remember those?).

I’m not a social media/blogging guru, genius, maven, or god by any means. I have tons to learn and I’m still very much new to the “scene.” By studying some of the best and the ones that I found captivated me for one reason or another, I learned quickly though. But, like most new agents, I still wondered where the return was from time to time. I was still looking into the box (of blogging) and wondering why it was empty.

Recently, my blogs have started to get comments. Yesterday was a big moment for me. The phone rang. And my email dinged. The phone was a caller looking to list their property. I went on the appointment today and will find out tomorrow what their decision is (I feel pretty good about it). They found me on the internet. Read my blog, knew my history from my profiles, they saw me “everywhere” they said. The email was from someone requesting some information on some areas of town. They had been watching my market reports and wanted some more detailed info. People are finding me. Lani doesn’t even know this, but I got another call later today – someone who lives a bazillion miles from me owns a house here, they want to sell it. They found me…you guessed it, on the internet. My “solution in a box” provided me with little, but blogging and social media has given me work, hope, and a sense of belonging.

Blogging is not a “solution in a box.”

You don’t type a few words and sell a house. Its not like that. I’m glad it’s not. With a little hard work and dedication (probably the most important part of blogging), you just might find yourself getting business. Treat it like a “solution in a box” and you’ll be left empty. I saw a blogger on ActiveRain the other day who posted to the effect of “I’ve been here four weeks, where’s the money?” It doesn’t work like that and when/if it does, I may have to leave it behind. I don’t want to become an overnight sensation – I did that once before in my life. It was a blast, but it didn’t last all that long. I’m not here to make a buck and run. I’m here for the long haul.

photo courtesy of donger

Matt is a former PA-based rockstar turned real estate agent with RE/MAX Access in San Antonio, TX. He was asked to join AgentGenius to provide a look at the successes and trials of being a newer agent. His consumer-based outlook on the real estate business has helped him see things from both sides. He is married to a wonderful woman from England who makes him use the word "rubbish."

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  1. Clint Miller

    April 29, 2009 at 10:24 pm


    Ya know, for a retired rocker, you got a really good head on your shoulders. Im certain that is why AG has you on here…the good head, not the retired rocker part…but, maybe that helped too. 🙂

    Too many people out there fall for this type of thing on a daily basis. You and I both know (and have talked about this very thing) that there is no “magic bullet”.

    Face the facts….if you suck, nothing you buy that claims to make you better is really going to help you without you working your tail off to get to that point. And, by drinking that KoolAid, you are only setting yourself up for failure.

    Awesome post, as usual. Keep em comin!!

  2. Dan Connolly

    April 29, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    The “solutions in a box” are not a complete waste of time. I have gone through many of them, but I didn’t embrace any of them. I just took a little piece here and a snip there and crafted my own version of a plan.

    One of the main things the “solutions in a box” did for me when I was starting out (24 yrs ago) is they gave me a lot of help in figuring out answers to commonly raised objections. They also helped me understand a lot of the basic concepts, like how to do a professional listing presentation, what to say and how to say it…how to think like a successful Realtor. I didn’t take anyone’s scripted presentation and actually use it. My worst fear was competing with another agent who took the same course.

    I seriously took probably 20 different training programs or seminars. I did Flloyd Wickman’s Sweat Hog program three times! (Cold calling) The way I looked at it, most people who make 6+ figures have to spend some time and money studying the field they are working in. I took the appraisal course and was certified. All of this was over my first 8-10 years.

    Now a major percentage of my business comes online. If you combine the 2.0 skills to find clients, with the in the box training on how to actually sell them something, once you find them, you will prosper.

  3. Missy Caulk

    April 30, 2009 at 6:24 am

    I’ve thrown many of my “solutions in a box away” too. Once I gave them away in a White Elephant Christmas gift.

    Not that they are bad…but just clutter in my house after a while.

    Glad that phone rang.

  4. Kristin Espraza

    April 30, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Hi Matt,

    I love the feeling of knowing without a doubt that your efforts have paid off (& you had fun doing it!). It’s a great sense of accomplishment & justification of your time & effort. KM

  5. Chris Somers

    April 30, 2009 at 8:22 am


    Very powerful insight here. I think at the end of the day, people will be successful due to their own voice, goals, passions, drives and so forth. As a result of that, they find their own “solution in a box”.

    It seems as if you are finding yours…

    Congrats !


  6. Matt Stigliano

    April 30, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Clint – Lani and Benn were just starstruck, that’s all it took for me to get the job. Haha. Just kidding. Imagine if I hadn’t had my head rattled by a few million dBs every night. I might actually be smarter.

    We have discussed these same sorts of things and for a guy who works for a company selling leads, I think you actually get it. I’ve never heard you promise the “magic bullet” to anyone in your references to RECR and I think that’s part of what makes you so well liked. You’re not selling snake-oil, you’re selling a tool.

    I’m feeling pretty good this week, just renewed my license this morning so looks like I’m in for another year. You guys can’t get rid of me that easy.

    Dan – My point with the “solutions in a box” is similar, but worded differently I guess. I don’t think they don’t provide anything since I did get some value of mine, but it wasn’t a “solution.” It was a tool to add to my growing list and it helped teach me a way of thinking I didn’t have previously. Remember, I didn’t come from the corporate world, so my mindset needed some adjustments. Pieces and snippets will provide value, but not the “solution.”

    Missy – I’m sure you’ve tried all sorts of things in your time as an agent, most agents I’ve ever spoken to have. I feel lucky in many ways for coming onboard (real estate) when I did. There have been a lot of new ideas and thoughts thrown out there since I came along. I don’t think any of it is the panacea, but combined with hard work, determination, skill, and some new ways of looking at it – it can certainly be a huge step in the right direction. Jeff Turner’s constant reminders of YEO bring it all together (in my opinion) and make it possible to shrug off much of the “old way” without becoming nothing more than a spambot.

    Kristin – I meant to ask you the other day if I needed to learn your new name. When I saw it I was confused until I saw the familiar KM at the end. Congratulations once again. As you know I’m fond of talking about, we met via Twitter and spoke about your business and it coming from online sources. You were a bit encouragement in those early days, but you were a concrete example in my local area of it working.

    Chris – When you put it that way (…their own “solution in a box”) I think it becomes clear that there is only one “solution.” You. The typical manuals and CDs and workbooks are all valid information, but they’re only as good as you are. I saw some comments a once about how blogging wasn’t for everyone. I agreed. Its not as hard as it seems to many people, but the fact is, some people will never be very good at it. And for those people, there are other ways to create business. We all are free to run our businesses how we want and we have to find the things that not just work, but work for us. My “solution in a box” didn’t fit me. I felt like a phony and made myself feel a bit sick when I spouted the words I was told to say. I didn’t believe myself. What good is that?

  7. Ken Brand

    April 30, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Nice article! I’m a life long learner and the curious type. I like solutions in a box. I’m selective though, I like the boxes that might hold the promise of something I’ve rarely heard of if it’s unique.

    I am with you, usually, flowing their “formula” sucks and doesn’t work the majority of people. What I’m interested is the concepts, principles, twists and odd angles. Then I those little gems and figure out how to add bling to my own approach.

    I also tell people who ask, “The magic bullet is YOU”, not the box, program, approach, system.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Brad Rachielles

    April 30, 2009 at 10:49 am

    You get “it”. Have been on my own quest for that solution to all things and believed that the big name trainers offering box-fulls of success must have it right. Recently, I reread Brian Tracy’s “Goals!” and have decided to trust my own judgement and do what I’m good at rather than what someone else is good at. Sound familiar?

    Doing the same old things, or the same things as others and expecting different results above the other practitioners of the boxed programs is insanity if it isn’t right for me.

    Matt, best of success in doing your thing. Keep the posts coming.

  9. Danilo Bogdanovic

    April 30, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Millions of dBs may have led you to prefer email over talking on the phone, but it doesn’t seem to have made you any less smart.

  10. Matt Stigliano

    April 30, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Ken – That’s just it, there is something in those boxes, but its just not the “solution.” There are hints, bits, and suggestions to the solutions, but you can’t just pull the rabbit out of the hat. “The magic bullet is YOU.” Phrase to remember.

    Brad – Much like I’ve said in the past about choosing an agent, I think comfort is key to just about everything in life. When a consumer chooses an agent, they should think of comfort, and not just designations, number of houses sold, and who’s got the biggest billboard. You have to sit in a car with this person (the agent) you ought to be comfortable to tell them your ups and downs during the process. Just as that is important in my opinion, so is the comfort level of me talking to strangers about real estate. I don’t want to feel like they can see through my robotic delivery of the latest hot-selling script. I want them to see me, a guy who loves what he does and really wants to share what he knows. Comfort is my couch, my lawyer, my old sneakers, my real estate agent.

    Danilo – I was a genius before rock and roll. I swear.

  11. Benn Rosales

    May 2, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Matt, for a guy that’s had a wrecked economy, lending issues, disintermediation and other things thrown at you during your into to real estate, you’ve managed to come thru it all with positive momentum – that’s why you were asked to write at AG, that’s the point of AG, agents surviving. Carving the internet space your own way, trying new things, fleshing out old with new, and disintermediating the solution in a box so many agents waste thousands on.

    When I wrote those posts back in the day, it was all about ‘show me the blogging numbers,’ just like today it’s about show me the ‘social media numbers’ rather than seeing opportunity and carving the space to make it their own- you’re making it your own.

    I admire you, and your conviction to survive, and overcome the trials in the current real estate climate to find your own success.

    Thanks for this!

  12. Bill Lublin

    May 2, 2009 at 10:32 am

    You kno wthese solutions in a box aren’t that different from Guitar Hero – Imitating a rock star doesn’t make you a rock star. All of those systems have the benefit of helping people to focus on doing something, which has some advantages, but none of them are magic bullets, or everyone would have the same easy level of success. And you know,most success doesn;t come easy –

  13. Brad Nix

    May 2, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Wisdom in your words RockStar! Doing what works for YOU is more important than imitating someone else. I love Bill’s analogy of Guitar Hero – clever!

  14. Matt Stigliano

    May 3, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Benn – You know, when I made the decision to walk away from the band life and take my real estate classes, I had a justification in my mind that this was the right time. My theory revolved around the fact that as things were just beginning to slow, I knew many would be moving away from real estate. The people that have dove in because they saw the riches possible thanks to the constant barrage of news, TV shows, and friends of a friend who bought low and sold high. There were plenty of people looking to make a quick buck. I wasn’t one of them. I love money more than the next guy, but making it overnight doesn’t solve anything.

    I think I was well prepared for the market thanks to the music industry. I spent five years making very little money (in the middle of our success no less), I ate Ramen noodles when we started, I went on tour and ate nothing but half rotten lunch meat backstage to conserve money – I (along with the rest), built an empire that made money while we slept. It took forever and when you averaged out our yearly pay, it wasn’t riches – sometimes it looked more like the paycheck for a fry cook at McDonalds. Sure some years I brought home a check worth more than I could imagine, but that check then had to last me a long time.

    I got into real estate because it was interesting to me. As for money – it gave me the potential to earn it. I needed that, but I didn’t need to be showered with checks for little to no work. That’s where people failed and that’s where the concept of “solution in a box” fails. You don’t open the box and suddenly have a million dollar bank account. You need to open the box and work just as hard as you would have without the box.

    Would I prefer to be making more money? Absolutely. The last year was tough on me. No doubt about that. But, like I said – the potential is there and slowly but surely, its beginning to show signs of life. I got this far, now its time to begin to kick things into overdrive and see if I can’t push it to the next level.

    I thank you for inviting me to AG, since it gave me a place to learn, but also a place to really help solidify my thoughts, convictions, and feelings. I got to learn the hard way – by diving in and doing. (I’d also consider that the fun way too.)

    Bill – Your Guitar Hero analogy is excellent. To make it even more poignant, I am the worst Guitar Hero player in the world. If Guitar Hero is like the “solution in a box” you can see where my feelings lie for those. You can learn a lot from the box, but I think everyone here agrees – its not the “magic bullet” in any way, shape, or form. If they were, we’d all be retired by now.

    Brad – “Doing what works for YOU is more important than imitating someone else. This needs to be one of those motivational posters in offices. I hate those things, but this one I might actually read every day as a good reminder.

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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!



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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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:



short sales standoff

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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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.



short sales

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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