Long Strange Trip

As a Realtor, I am fortunate enough to meet many diverse people on a daily basis. Between networking with potential customers and keeping up with past clients there is never a shortage of interesting people. I have been working with out of town customers for almost two years now as they search for the perfect Florida home for their family. Working with this family has become somewhat of an adventure. We have had the good fortune to find some amazing properties together, however none have panned out up to this point. There have been many opportunities but for some reason not all of the stars have aligned for them to this point.

They are not cookie cutter kind of people. From our first phone conversation I knew that these buyers were not representative of the typical kind of buyer that we all work with on most days.  From the start, I knew that they were looking for something unique, and in Florida, aka the land of subdivisions and HOA’s, that this was going to be a challenge. They wanted acreage, a workshop, a pool and something that they could put their own stamp on. Together we have toured a vacant monastery, complete with bell tower and a chapel that was missing portions of the roof. Initially they considered opening, renovating and operating a bed and breakfast property that could also double as a residence for their family.

Given that these clients are from up north, they have had to make special trips down when they have had time to get away. We have built a relationship over the past two years and at this point I pretty much know what they want and do not want. Last summer, we put a contract on their perfect home, however there were issues with the financing given that it was a VA loan. We named this one the EPCOT house as it was a custom home built in the 1980’s and literally looked like something from Future World. This broke both of our hearts for many reasons. Even now, this home is still the measuring stick for what their new home should feel like. Throughout this search I have always reminded them that when the time and place were right that things would fall in place and become a reality.

To date this has not happened. Each go around we have made more progress toward the goal of homeownership for them in Florida. As a Realtor, I often hear complaints from other agents about working long and hard and not having a commission check to show for it. I have also been told that some agents have dropped clients because on paper they were losing money in the end because the time spent with them had not yielded a pay day. I suppose I could be one of these agents. I am not. I am honored and rewarded by the fact that these clients have chosen to stick with me this whole time. My business model has always had loyalty and hard work as its top priority. Sure, it has taken some time to find them something that feels like home and fits their needs, but all good things take time.

On their last trip down a couple of weeks ago they wanted to tour a home about 90 miles from my main area. A home that was dome shaped and a peachy flesh color. We agreed to refer to it as “The Boob” home. It seriously looked like a boob. We all got a middle school chuckle from this property for sure. Did I mention that these clients are perhaps one of my favorites of all time? They felt awful about my having to drive so far to show them this home. They even gave me the opportunity to refer them to a new agent given that their latest round of unique properties were out of the immediate area. They let me know that they wanted to continue working with me, but understood if it would be too far for that to happen. Their consideration is something that I truly appreciated. Of course, I let them know that I would be happy to work with them. When you invest time in high quality and kind buyers, you have no problem going the extra mile, literally, to show them homes.

At this point I am just as invested in seeing this happen for them as they are. I love a challenge. Weeding through properties trying to find that one unique home out there that was meant for them is high on my list of things to do. The lesson that I have learned with these particular buyers is that selling homes for a living is much more than paperwork and commission checks. Realtors work with humans, with wish lists, and questions about schools and inspections. We console disappointed buyers when contracts are not accepted or banks change things and financing hits a wall.

Our need for patience with the deals that may take years to complete is something that cannot be stressed enough. Our job depends on our ability to remain as loyal to our long term clients as are with us. I have had more fun with these buyers over the course of the past two years than any other to date. It hardly seems like work given the relationship we have built while we waded through muddy fields, laughed at weird floor plans and discovered really awful record collections in dilapidated workshops with mold. Working with this particular family has been a long strange trip indeed and I am certain when their buying journey is over that my compensation will include not only a commission check but things that money cannot measure.

Old School Real Estate

Recently I realized that there is no better way to test the skills and commitment of someone who sells real estate for a living than to work with a customer who does not travel on the information super highway, at all. As real estate professionals, we rely upon technology, the internet, our smart phones and the variety of time savers known as CRM systems on a daily basis. The art of selling real estate is evolving not only for our customers but for us as well. Each month I come across many articles and suggestions about how other Realtors are utilizing the latest Apps, email marketing plans, advertising, or leads management systems. The business model is changing and adapting as more informed buyers and sellers quench their need for information at lightning speed. Social media has become an invaluable tool in staying connected to our sphere of influence and in communicating with the public. These are all wonderful things and greatly enhance our overall productivity on most days, but what happens when your client is 100% unplugged?

This is what I call Old School Real Estate. I have been working with a very lovely man, who happens to be an octogenarian. He sought me out specifically as a result of an old fashioned mass mailing that I grumbled through at the beginning of the year. My reluctance was related to how expensive it seemed at the time and that I did not believe that it would yield any real leads or contacts. I especially questioned my decision as I sat at my dining room table for over 6 hours folding, stuffing and stamping over 1200 envelopes with a personal brochure and a letter. No one in the family would help me, so I was on my own on this one. I was certain that after this I could say that this kind of marketing method was going to be a bust. Come on, it is the age of technology. Who does mass mailings anymore? I came to find out that he had gone into our small office and spoke to my broker and informed him that he was only interested in working with me. I was pleased that the information contained in my mailing made that much of an impression on him. Within moments I quickly found out that he was completely unplugged. No computer, internet, wi-fi, smart phone or even a fax machine. This is a very common situation when working with elderly customers.

I set an appointment, got the listing, brushed off my old school real estate suit and began the work. For this customer, my typical way of operating was not going to work. I have to say, that overall, I prefer this way. The act of selling his home and finding him a new one was one of the most challenging and enjoyable I have had in months. We communicated by phone and I used no less than 12 reams of paper as I printed out listings and disclosures for weeks. Each time I called I was greeted with a “What’s up doc?” and every time we hung up he would tell me “Over and out.” It was sweet. In the end, after sending apologies to the forest that was sacrificed for this sale, we toured a total of 5 homes. He was relying on my judgment in choosing the homes based on what he had expressed as important features. I had to listen more and talk less. I realized that I was his only way to get information. He was a very sharp gentleman and I had to be on my game. I was both pleased and humbled when he said to me, “You done good” at the end of the day. That is a good day as a Realtor if you ask me.

I have noticed that when working with this age demographic things that may cause 90% of younger buyers to voice an objection, i.e “I wanted granite, stainless, open concept”…blah blah blah…are not in play. This generation is concerned with functionality and actually enjoy a home that may be deemed outdated. Wallpaper, border print, mauve walls are just not that big of a deal. Where they may be more laid back in terms of décor or layout the opposite is true when it comes to their expectation of superior customer service, patience and professionalism. In dealing with this transaction I was reminded of the value in returning to the old school way of selling and helping customers buy.

When I was a teen, I helped clean my uncle’s real estate office for extra money. The one image that has forever stuck in my mind was the table that housed the giant machine that was used to input listings. I also remember the room with the 7 inch thick books with listings in them that were the only way an agent knew what was on the market. It was a labor intensive process to sell homes in the “olden days,” as my kids would call it. Real estate sales has come a long way since I was a kid and as a Realtor I am grateful for the role technology and social media play in today’s marketplace. Even though technology is changing how we work, in order to be truly successful we must remember that we can still be “Old School” in our relationships and effort with each customer. There is no substitute for good old fashioned hard work, customer service and listening to our customers. Over and out.

SEO What! I’m Still a Rockstar

SEO What! I’m Still a Rockstar

I have spent the last few weeks putting together a new website for my Real Estate Business. I had decided to move from the drop and drag format that I was using and step into the big leagues with a Word Press site. I was feeling quite confident in my ability to figure it out on my own. How hard could it be?

I quickly discovered that this was like learning a totally new language on a completely different planet. On top of learning the intricacies that is Word Press, I also had to dive in head first to this tricky little thing called SEO. I spent many hours researching other Realtor sites and found out quickly that this task would not be for the faint of heart.

I learned that Search Engine Optimization is something that many Realtors overlook when creating a website. Property search boxes and IDX feeds constituted a majority of the well ranked sites when it came to look and functionality, but the SEO was just not there. Good SEO is what helps direct home buyers, sellers or those interested in other real estate services to a site. SEO is more than just making sure that your page title includes your name or brokerage. The reality is that in today’s market most potential clients, buyer and seller alike, initiate their first searches online.

I work for a smaller local brokerage. We have a great office vibe, are hardworking and like to have fun. I often refer to myself as the “rockstar” agent in our office. Rockstar has become my superstar Realtor alter ego. Don’t judge. It works for me. We are a confident bunch and often discuss how we are going to take over the world at staff meetings. Taking over the world requires SEO. Our quest is going to fall short unless we focus on improving the online marketing of our brand. We do not benefit from the advantage that belonging to a national real estate company affords when it comes to online presence. For me, and the other agents in my office, having a website that will come up when a search for homes or a Realtor in our local area is beyond important.

After many hours of trial and errors, including a good deal of time spent trying to figure out how to get my posts to say Dawn Waters instead of my username, rockstar, I finished with a content rich, easy to use site. I chose to not include IDX right now. Baby steps. The time I invested in learning Word Press and making sure that the site would begin to rank in the major search engines will result in future potential listings and sales.

I created the site from scratch, using a theme from Word Press and did the best I could in making sure the SEO was in a great starting place. It cost me a few dollars. As Realtors, we can really be penny pinchers and when it comes to SEO and websites this is not the place to scrimp. I decided that paying a Word Press/SEO consultant to boost my site up with internal coding and keyword tracking for a few months was well worth the relatively small expense.

Using Word Press is something that I highly recommend. I am not a programmer, but know enough to be dangerous. This experience has opened up a new skill set that I can share with my fellow agents at McBride Realty Group, LLC in Debary Florida. I also have a new appreciation for those who are the real “rockstars” in the world, professional web designers and computer programmers.

Feels like the first time.

I love first time home buyers. Many Realtors that I have spoken to pick this group as their least favorite to work with on a transaction. There is nothing more gratifying and enjoyable to me than experiencing the buying process with someone who has never gone through it before. Sure, there may be more explaining to do about every little detail and step of the sometimes long process, but the joy that you see as the keys are finally handed over makes the journey well worth the commission.

The time spent with each buyer is like a constant reminder of how important it is to communicate clearly and effectively. They may be green around the gills, but there is no more willing and interested student than a first timer. As I spend time explaining the process, my skills are being honed as not only as a real estate agent, but also as a teacher. Every buyer is different and may need a different approach. There are those who are decisive and set in what they want and there are others who really just know that they want to buy a home. Helping them navigate the process includes not only great communication, but also a very good understanding of multiple aspects of the journey to homeownership. Dealing with lenders, title companies and the sellers can be very overwhelming at times. Even as a Realtor I have had many days where it seemed like everytime I checked my phone or email there was a newly discovered issue. In fact, this is the case for most transactions and the frequency and urgency of each little fire that needs to be put out is inversely proportionate the the amount of days until the sale is scheduled to close.

As Realtors, it is so critical to remember that we were all once first time home buyers. Keeping a positive and patient approach to those new buyers is always the key to a really happy conclusion. Working with the first time buyer can be a great opportunity to grow professionally and personally. If you have not worked with one in some time I encourage you to seek some out and enjoy being a part of their special once in a lifetime event.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

There is no better feeling than when someone calls you out of the blue and would like to discuss a new listing. This is especially true if the home is large and worth quite a bit more than most listings in the area. I live in a very diverse community where the prices can range from the low 30’s to over 400K. My last call was one of the out of the blue calls. I answered the phone and landed a listing appointment. Easy peasy. Until it wasn’t.

In this line of work there is a dance that we all do. For me a listing presentation is just as much about deciding whether or not I would like to work with a seller as they are about whether or not they want to list with me. In my experience, a good fit for both seller and agent is critical to a successful transaction.

I began to spend time putting together my presentation. This property was a unique property and finding comps was quite a challenge. I had some background and the seller had informed me that she had just fired her last agent. Red Flag. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt since she shared that he did not list the property on the MLS and they were upset that they were not getting any showings. In my research, I discovered that the home was listed for an insane amount. Not just high, but fall down, hit your head on something price. I proceeded anyway with the work needed to give her a comprehensive picture of the market and what a realistic expectation for sales price could be. She originally had let me know that she wanted to walk away with $150K after the sale. Red Flad #2. I knew that the comps and what they owed would not even come close to this net amount. Seller’s wanting more than they will actually will get? Unheard of. Convincing them of otherwise was going to be a challenge. I am always up for a challenge.

I am an optimist which is why what happened next is so frustrating. The day before our scheduled appointment I called to confirm the time. She informed me that she had decided to go with another Realtor that she had spoken to a couple of days ago. This would not have been such a big deal if I had not spent money on materials for the listing presentation and the hours of time preparing a very complicated CMA. Consummate professional that I am, I wished her the best. She seemed surprised and felt bad about not calling me sooner. By the end of the call she had waffled and wanted to ask her husband about still meeting with me and she could not find him but wanted me to call her later in the afternoon. I had an opportunity to swoop in and have her choose me, thereby bailing on another agent, who, she mentioned, was a friend for a long time.

Needless to say, i did not. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not to stay or go when it comes to working with a seller. Other times the decision is clear before you even get out of the gate. In our world, some consider it crazy to walk away from a potential listing, no matter the circumstances. The rule of thumb I have learned is that all people show things about themselves. These are clues about how things may roll as they pick up and get running. I consider that had just dodged a bullet and potential disaster before I did any other work. Instincts can be just as valuable as facts in real estate. Sometimes walking away is the most profitable choice.

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