Wikipedia describes WordPress as “ an open source blog publishing application and can be used for basic content management”. At WordPress.org the description reads, “WordPress is a state-of-the-art publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability.” These two descriptions probably articulate the two most common perspectives on what WP is and does. With the WordPress one though, it is clear that they are evolving beyond a blog platform to a full-fledged publishing and content management system that is fairly easy to use.
So Easy A Caveman Could Use It
The 5 Minute Install feature is the online version of the easy button, and a big reason why WordPress has taken off. You can be up and running quickly. But what if you could hand code a site as easily as setting up a WordPress site? It would certainly make it easier to employ many of the information architecture concepts that usability experts like Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug extol, and by extension, improve the conversion rate on sites where generating business is the primary goal.
The Missing Link
In the past two articles I have focused on content and navigation infrastructure. Now it is time to implement the strategy. This is where it can start to get difficult, or frustrating though. Enter the theme.
There are literally thousands of theme options at our disposal. All we have to do is pick the prettiest one or the one that best fits our persona, right? The problem is that most themes, even premium themes, give you limited options. How you can use the theme and where you can display content is limited to what the designer imagines you should put into their boxes. Unless you hack it up, the freedom of adding anything else beside what the designer has allowed for doesn’t exist. Maybe they’ll give you a cool drop down menu, but that is more of a space-saving gimmick than a function of good usability.
What if you could manipulate a theme to give you the same benefits of hand coding a custom site, but without doing any coding?
Intelligent Design: Frameworks vs Themes
In a nutshell, a framework is a master theme than can be extended by using child themes. A child theme works by hooking into the parent (the framework) where it uses its template files and functions. The child theme can change both the way the parent theme looks and functions. The difference between a framework and a premium theme is that the typical premium theme has little flexibility or extensibility. If your goal is to use WordPress to its full potential as a CMS, a good framework can run circles around a regular theme.
A few widely used frameworks are Thesis, Thematic, Hybrid and Headway, with new ones popping up all the time.
I set up Thematic with a beta child theme (still may see some IE6 bugs so use a real browser) on SanDiegoHomes.org to illustrate the flexibility a framework can provide. Whereas most of the premium themes may have two side bars and a few other widgetized areas where I can place content, Thematic gives me far more options. The child theme gives me even more. and by using a few cool plugins, I can leverage almost every inch of the onscreen real estate to take maximum advantage of how I can content and navigation.
Here are a few examples of what you can accomplish:
Flexible Content Management
The three content areas above the main content on the home page can be displayed site wide or on specific pages.
Usability and Conversion Testing
You can do A/B testing. I can create a 2nd home page with different content. On this page I added three content areas at the bottom of the page. It’s only a matter of checking a box in the settings to have this as the home page, so I can see if users will click on content that far below the fold. Again, those three content areas can be page specific or site-wide, with unique content on different pages.
Fine Tune My SEO
Frameworks that allow you to utilize multiple widgetized areas can also help getting granular with your SEO efforts and really integrate aspects of the blog with the static part of a site.
I have one site with a static page that ranks well for short sale related terms. My best short sale content are the blog posts though, so while the static page ranks well, it doesn’t convert. With this framework, I can create a hybrid solution where I use my short sale category in place of a topic specific category which I added to the top nav menu. The downside to doing this normally is that as the blog posts change, the ranking can fluctuate. By using a widgetized area at the top of the short sale category page, I can now add some static, topic specific content and keep that page ranking at the top of the serps.
Surf through the site and you’ll see more examples. Keep in mind what you see now is just for demo purposes. Any questions? Fire away.
Added: This page here shows most of the different widgetized areas this child theme has as options.
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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