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My Top 5 Favorite Real Estate Ghouls… I Mean TOOLS



Trick or Treat?

I figure before I go and get all hopped up on the Halloween candy that I plan on stealing from my kids tonight, I will share a few “treats” with y’all (<- that one was for Lani …)

I LOVE tools that make my life, as a real estate agent, easier. (Heck! I love tools that make my life, as a HUMAN easier, too, so I read Lifehack for that…) Today I am going to share 5 of my favorite real estate tools that I have not shared with you before.

Tools for Getting Real Estate Business

#1 SnagIt – Screen Capturing Software:

One of my favorite things to do is make stuff. I like to put together tutorials and promotional materials for potential buyers and sellers. The one tool that makes my life a million times easier is Snag-It Screen Capturing Software (by TechSmith). With SnagIt I am able to grab screen shots from anywhere – online or off-line, edit them and save them for future use.

Cost: It has a FREE TRIAL or you can purchase it for a one-time cost of $49.95

#2 Xpert CMA – CMA Building Product

Finding a good CMA product has been a difficult mission for use since we started real estate back in 2001. Most ones that we have tried are either complete brain-damage to set up and/or do not offer all the elements that we are looking for. And usually it costs too much for too little.

We finally found Xpert CMA. It is a customizable program that uploads and formats your MLS data in a clear, precise and easy-to-understand way. The product is very easy to set up, and the tutorials, video support nad phone support are awesome. We also like the philosophies behind the software itself … It is designed to help your potential seller clients REALLY understand value and HOW recent SOLDS and ACTIVES play a part in determining price.

… and it is always a hit at our listing appointments.

Cost: $200 for a lifetime licence that can be installed on each of your computers at no additional charge

Real Estate Contract Tools

#3 CTM eContracts – Paperless Contracts

Ever since we started using eContracts, I just want to hurl myself off a mountain top whenever I get a hand-written offer (which isn’t good, seeing as I am surrounded by 14,000+ feet-above-sea-level mountains with very high peaks ...).

eContracts manage your dates and contacts, and update real-time for all parties involved. You can sign ALL the PPW online (although most signatures look like they were drawn by an ameture Etch-A-Sketch artist …) or, as an agent, you can upload a nicer version of your signature. (Unless you are Derek, in which case the Etch-A-Sketch version would be an upgrade…)

I can email the contracts to all parites involved: Buyers, Sellers, Agents, my Office, Title Company, Lenders … ALL with a simple click of a mouse.

Cost: We paid about $100 for the whole year, but I think prices vary depending on which office/state/board that you are affilliated with.

#4 eFax -Convenient Fax-to-Email Solution

I have saved a small rainforest by switching to eFax. AND? I don’t have to listen to that annoying fax-screetch anymore. eFax is a office solution that gives you a unique toll-free number that people can fax stuff to. From there, it converts it to a .PDF and sends it to your email as an attachment.

How I use eFax:

  • Fax all loose ppw and notes from contracts to myself and store them on my computer
  • Initiate the paperless process in all contracts by using “forward” in my email instead of fax and re-fax and re-fax and re-fax of all contracts, offers and disclosures. At least MY end of the process will be more Green.
  • I fax everything to myself that I want to store virtually – to include kid’s report cards, letters, etc. I use it in place of a scanner in some cases.

This is an awesome tool. One of my favorite.

Cost: Somewhere between $14-$20 a month depending on volume

Real Estate Everything Tool

#5 Primo PDF – PDF Converter/Creator

I use this for everything. No one seems to have the same version of Word/Excel/Publisher/etc. as I do, and therefore cannot open half the documents that I like to send out (reports, flyers, marketing reports, tutorials …). When I send out something via email, non-PDF attachements are always so bulky, too.

Converting everything (or almost everything) into a .PDF is the answer for ALL my email woes (well, except for figuring out how to stop winning the European Lottery … I really should be a Gillionaire by now…) And Primo PDF is easy to install and use. It works just like a printer.

Cost: FREE (with some paid upgrades, if you wanted…)

Now, I have a lot of OTHER great tools that I use in my business, like Real Estate Shows (for listing shows), Jott (for “turning my words into action“) and Picnik (for editing and plying with pictures), but we all KNOW about those tools, right?

What tools to you use in YOUR business? Do you have alternatives to the above 5 tools?

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  1. Chris Shouse

    October 31, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    As always awesome things to check out to make our business easier. Thanks:)

  2. monika

    October 31, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    We use the same ones you’ve listed but I’m hoping someone will comment here with some great ones that I’ve been missing.

  3. Kathy Drewien

    October 31, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    A few weeks ago I was re-installing to a new hard drive. Which means I was digging through my box of software.

    One of the tools I discovered was an old copy of Xpert CMA. Don’t have a clue why I quit using it (most likely didn’t make it back into one of the many re-installations). Anyway, I’ve left it on my desk and will check it out again.

    The fax to email program I use is, and I can use it for voice mail as well. Voice mail is forwarded to email, too.

    I have a full version of Adobe to handle printing files to pdf. But, another alternative is Print2PDF – free.

    SnagIt has more features than my alternative. But, Firefox Screengrab! extension is very handy.

    Here’s a fex extras:

    FolderShare is just what it says. A way to share folders – FREE. My buyer agent and I share the Client folder with all the individual client sub-folders. All our contracts are converted to pdf and stored here. We also share Marketing files, folders with logos. It syncs seamlessly behind the scenes.

    LogMeIn is a great tool for working remotely. My primary computer is a laptop, but I also have desktop at the office for my assistant. The other night I was at home and our printer went on the fritz. Using LogMeIn enabled me to access her desktop and print to the office printer for my morning appointment. Oh, it’s free.

    And, then there’s my online backup system… Um, maybe I need to go write a post!

  4. Missy Caulk

    October 31, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    I use Impact Fax. I have my faxes sent to my assistant too, and e-fax was running me 60.00 per month.Impact Fax was designed by a realtor who knew how many papers we store and use, so it runs me 12.00 per month unlimited.

    I’m trying to download SnagIt, not downloading correctly so reading the help section.

    Thanks !

  5. Mariana

    October 31, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Chris – Thanks!

    Monika – It looks like Kathy has some great ideas …

    Kathy – WOW! Those are AWESOME. I am definitely going to look into MaxEmail, LogMeIn and FolderShare.

    Missy – We must get an office discount. We pay $6 a month – unlimited.

  6. Paula Henry

    November 1, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Some great tools here! I use MyFax, but may have to take a look at Impact Fax. I like the voice mail option. The hard thing is changing fax numbers.

    I will be checking out Foldershare and ExpertCMA.

    One of my favorite tools is ScanSnap – a bit pricey, but have had it for five years; it’s like the ever ready bunny – keeps going and going and going. I scan all my documents for storage or sending by email.
    Quick, simple, efficient, but I now only have one computer with XP and will have to buy a ScanSnap which is compatible with Vista. Oh how I wish I were a MAC user 🙂

  7. Mariana

    November 1, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Paula – Sometimes I wish I was MAC user, too … but I am quite happy with my Vista for now 🙂

  8. Cindy in Indy Marchant

    November 1, 2008 at 9:27 am

    Great tips, I may have to look into Maxemail; I use Egix (that is probably so old school!) and thus far I haven’t had any problems with it. It is nice to have a single phone number on my business card that is VM, Phone and Fax and to pick up faxes wherever I am.
    Does anyone have a tool for creating your own virtual tour; in this market it is one of the ways I may look to cut costs.

  9. Mariana

    November 1, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Cindy – The BEST “Virtual Tour” company that I have ever used is It is $125 a YEAR – UNLIMITED tours, and up to 15 Photos.

  10. Kathy Drewien

    November 1, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Cindy, a great tool for virtual tours is Real Estate Shows. You simply upload photos from your computer into the show, slap in a few descriptions, and you’re good to go! The cost is $125/year. Easy to use and great support.

    Oh, they also have a built-in flyer tool so you can upload listings to Craigslist in no time.

  11. Chris Shouse

    November 1, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Cindy In Indy
    Real Estate Shows is the best tool for creating your own virtual tours and it does so much more. It is Jeff Turners product so you can not go wrong.

  12. Nicole Boynton

    November 1, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I’ve used Screen Hunter 5.0 in the past for screen shots. It is free but I will check out SnagIt. Thanks for the tips.

  13. Mariana Wagner

    November 1, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Nicole – Thanks for the tip – I think SnagIt has more features than Screen Hunter … but SH looks like a great free alternative.

  14. Karen Rice

    November 2, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I use Open Office (free office software suite) to convert all documents to PDF, with no advertising or promotions like some other PDF creators. Not sure if the one you linked here adds a tag line to it or anything…. I can also create powerpoint presentations and flyers with open office.

  15. Danilo Bogdanovic

    November 4, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    I use Easy Screen Capture 2 (for my pc) and love it. It’s $15 for a lifetime license. I love it.

    And check out Efax, voice services, virtual tours (not as good as, TMS and more. Not the flashiest or most feature-rich, but never had it go down, lose a fax or anything like that.

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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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