My Site Under Construction
I need a new web site. I have built dozens for myself and others over the last 11 years, but circumstances being what they are, it’s time for a new one for moi. I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, having created two sites that have stayed at or near the top of Google for my targeted serps since Google was launched. They also generated business – as they converted traffic to leads.
The challenge now is to see if I can pull off the hat trick and do it a 3rd time. With the constant posts on SEO, conversion, IDX issues, and social media as a business source, I thought this might be an interesting adventure to share. Here is you opportunity to see what I think works, or watch me crash and burn.
I have a domain and my WordPress platform and am ready to rock. Everyone knows the rest of the punch list right? All I need now is a theme, some basic content, an IDX solution, a few cool plugins, some on page SEO magic and links or a ppc campaign to drive traffic, and I’m golden.
Well, not quite. See, the thing that matters most with a web based business model is that it needs to actually generate business, not just traffic. You could have the coolest plugins and the best SEO going, but the only magic that happens is when the traffic converts to a lead. Overlooking or not understanding conversion is why most real estate sites online are more hobby than business. My approach and focus is first and foremost on conversion.
Determine The Goal(s) And Then Work Backwards
With this site I want to find people who are going to buy or sell residential property in San Diego County. I want to do this effectively, and I want to get as many as I can by converting as much of the site traffic as possible. I also know that I’m greedy and I want to hit every community (well, almost every one). To that end I have already started to create a page for each.
You Can’t Measure Conversion If There Is No Goal
So now you may be thinking that I already stated the goal – buyers and sellers. That is the big picture – the goal of the site as a whole. However, conversion occurs at the page level, so in order to create high converting pages, we have to first determine the following:
- What is the intent (goal) of each page
- What drives the visitor to each page
- What is the intent (goal) of the visitor
- What is the call to action
Conversion Occurs When Visitor Intent Intersects With The Intent of the Page
Once you have created a page, there are four likely scenarios you will see:
1) Bounce rate above 50% and very low or no conversion rate
Synopsis: Little or no relation between the visitor intent and the intent of the page.
Exception: The page is informational with no conversion goal intended or defined. Most blog posts fit in this category.
2) Bounce rate above 35% and low to medium single digit conversion rate.
Synopsis: Some relation between the visitor intent and the intent of the page manifested in one of a few ways:
a) Some overlap exists, but not very much,
b) Some overlap exists, but the intent of the page is hard for the visitor to figure out.
c) Some overlap exists, but it’s too hard or annoying for the visitor to complete the goal.
3) Bounce rate above 25% with medium to high single digit conversion rate.
Synopsis: Good match between visitor intent and the intent of the page. These pages generate business.
4) Bounce rate under 20% and double digit conversion rate.
Synopsis: The brass ring. An excellent match of visitor intent, content, and the third critical factor – the call to action. You have reached Nirvana.
The difference between #3 and #4 is frequently due to usability. If so, then this will likely be reflected in your analytics where the top referring keywords closely describe the content on the page and matches visitor intent. Time to play with the call to action. For the average real estate site, this would be the IDX for buyers and a form of some sort for sellers.
Moving from scenarios 1 and 2 to scenarios 3 and 4 may seem like an easy task, but this is where we see the most common problem issue – the disconnect between the strategy behind the intent of the page, and the strategy behind what is actually driving traffic to the target. Something has to drive traffic (the visitor) to a page. If the visitor expects ‘x’, are they getting ‘y’ instead? Look at what traffic sources deliver to the page. Is the promise ‘x’ or ‘y’? Many tend to confuse this with longtail. The longtail is great, but if it delivers to the wrong page, it isn’t really longtail and conversion isn’t likely.
note: This is also where a PPC campaign can serve as an effective a/b testing ground as well as drive traffic while you are working on your organic rankings. Just remember that if the page doesn’t convert with a PPC campaign, it wont convert organic traffic either.
You can also use this as an outline to evaluate the pages of an existing site, but in reverse.
1) What is the call to action I want the visitor to follow on this page? Does this page have one? Is it intuitive? Eliminate anything that distracts or detours the visitor away from the desired course of action. Add one if one doesn’t exist.
2) What is analytics telling me about the visitor intent? The top referrers and keyword searches are representative of the visitor’s intent. Are they collectively on target with the intent of the page? If not, you have a few options:
a) Adjust the SEO or PPC campaign that is driving the traffic so that it matches up better.
b) If it’s SM driven, then change the target to a more appropriate page
c) modify the page intent to be in align with the traffic
3) Evaluate your goals within the context of your content. If you are goal is more business, then your content needs to be in line with that. We’ll examine this aspect in more detail next time.
Ok, any questions or comments?
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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:
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.
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 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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