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Updated: 1 hour 33 min ago

‘My Sharona’ Muse to MySharona.Realtor

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 21:01

Meet the woman who tied her famous name to her real estate domain. Learn how to own your online brand, too.

When a song written about you reaches No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is synonymous with pop culture, you use it in your business marketing. After all, it was Sharona Alperin’s first name that catapulted her to fame at 17 years old when she found herself the inspiration for The Knack’s lead singer Doug Fieger in the hit song “My Sharona.” The catchy pop tune that leads up to those familiar repetitive lyrics—”My Sharona!”—turned the Los Angeles native into an instant household name.

Years after “My Sharona” first topped the airwaves, Alperin says hardly a day passes by when she isn’t asked whether she’s “that” Sharona. She’s never hidden from the song’s enduring success. Instead, she’s found ways to build a powerful real estate brand that leverages her name and her Los Angeles expertise to cater to Hollywood A-listers and international buyers and sellers as a real estate associate at Sotheby’s International Realty. Alperin consistently ranks in the top 2 percent for sales volume among agents recorded nationwide by NRT, the parent company of Sotheby’s International Realty.

She knows when people first meet her, they’ll undoubtedly want to talk about the song. It has become an icebreaker of sorts in her real estate business. She realizes it’s what makes her unique, and so, she’s used her “My Sharona” identity to grow her real estate business.

“I do have an advantage with my name. It’s recognizable,” says Alperin, “but my marketing is what helps sell real estate.”

That’s why when the National Association of REALTORS® started offering the .realtor and .realestate top-level domains for real estate professionals to customize their website addresses, Alperin jumped at the opportunity. She can now directly tie her famous name to her career as a real estate agent through the domains mysharona.realtor and mysharona.realestate.

“The real estate domains convey that I am a real estate professional, and they allow me to distinguish myself in the business,” she says. “It has been a fantastic marketing tool.”

What’s more, mysharona.realtor and mysharona.realestate also fulfill Alperin’s own personal mission. She doesn’t just want to be remembered as the inspiration behind the hit song “My Sharona,” but also as Sharona the REALTOR®, with an equally long-lasting passion and enthusiasm for real estate.

What’s Your Brand’s Domain?
My Sharona was a natural fit for Sharona Alperin’s top-level domain. But, you don’t have to be the muse to a hit song to own an online brand that makes your business stand out. When you think beyond the dot-coms, you may find a greater opportunity to carve out your brokerage’s special space through a unique URL that ties directly to real estate. Both .realtor and .realestate can be used to connect your name, brokerage, niche, geographic location, hobby or personal interest to your real estate brand through customized, memorable URLs, whether your hook is something like keepaustinweird.realestate or countryliving.realestate.

Find your differentiator and take ownership over your online real estate brand. Start by claiming your domain: The .realtor domain is exclusively available to members of the National Association of REALTORS® and the Canadian Real Estate Association, and .realestate is available to the general public. The .realtor domain is free for the first year, one per individual REALTOR®. Learn more at www.get.realtor.

The post ‘My Sharona’ Muse to MySharona.Realtor appeared first on RISMedia.

Locations Close to Public Transit Boost Residential, Commercial Real Estate Values

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 21:00

Neighborhoods located within a half-mile of public transit services outperformed those in areas farther from public transit based on a number of factors, according to a recent report by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of REALTORS®. “The Real Estate Mantra – Locate Near Public Transportation” highlighted the critical role public transportation plays in determining real estate values, revealing that commercial and residential real estate market sales thrive when residents have mobility options close by.

The report explored seven metropolitan regions—Boston; Hartford; Los Angeles; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Phoenix; Seattle; and Eugene, Ore.—that provide access to heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit. Residential properties within these areas had 4 percent-24 percent higher median sale prices between 2012 and 2016, the report found. Commercial property near public transit also witnessed value gains in the studied cities, where four of the regions saw median sales prices per square foot increase between 5-42 percent.

Transportation costs in transit-oriented areas are significantly lower than other regions, with an average annual savings of $2,500 to $4,400 for the typical household. One in four households in close proximity to transit do not own a vehicle, according to the study.

The seven sample areas were examined by residential and commercial sales performance, rent, neighborhood characteristics, local government interventions and housing affordability.

“Public transit’s benefits go beyond moving people from point A to point B,” says APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “Public transportation is a valuable investment in our communities, our businesses and our country. Public transportation gets people to jobs and educational opportunities and helps businesses attract employees and customers.”

“Access to public transportation is an extremely valuable community amenity that increases the functionality and attractiveness of neighborhoods, making nearby communities more desirable places to live, work and raise a family,” said NAR 2019 First Vice President Charlie Oppler, who spoke at a press conference along with 2019 New York State Association of REALTOR® President Moses Seuram. “The results of our report, conducted over multiple years alongside the American Public Transportation Association, should reiterate to policymakers at all levels of government the importance of investing in modern, efficient infrastructure that facilitates growth and helps our nation keep pace in a rapidly evolving world.”

Neighborhoods with high-frequency public transportation are in high demand. While property values and rents have risen, contributing to healthy local economies, the rapidly increasing demand for housing near public transit has resulted in constrained housing supplies.

“As the conversation surrounding housing affordability continues, public transportation agencies are critical allies in working with elected officials and community leaders in the effort to increase housing opportunities and maximize value around stations,” says Skoutelas.

For more information, please visit www.nar.realtor.

The post Locations Close to Public Transit Boost Residential, Commercial Real Estate Values appeared first on RISMedia.

Hitting 100 Agents, One Referral at a Time

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 13:42

In the following interview, Vickye Vasser, broker/owner of HomeSmart Realty South in New Orleans, La., discusses her growth path, and how her agents help her succeed.

Region Served: New Orleans, La.
Years in Real Estate: 25
Number of Offices: 2
Number of Agents: 100

I understand you have a legal background. Has this benefitted your journey in real estate?
Prior to my real estate career, I worked in the legal field, and I keep my license active because I put those skills to use every day. It’s helpful to be able to negotiate with other brokers, and I’m able to identify and avoid pitfalls my agents could fall into and make sure they’re protected and supported.

What is one unique challenge you and your team have been faced with over the last few years, and how have you adapted?
I’m from New Orleans, but I lived in California for 20 years before coming home five years ago. When I moved back, I realized there was a void in the market of a transaction-based real estate company. HomeSmart was already huge in other areas, but not here, so I saw a huge opportunity. However, no one had heard of HomeSmart, so I was trailblazing, and that has been the biggest challenge. In the past two years, we grew from three agents to 100. The key was getting over that hill of people knowing who we were and what we do. Once agents and clients understood that HomeSmart Realty South has incredible technology and broker support, as well as a fantastic company culture, things took off.

How have you facilitated such large growth in that time?
My agents have exceeded my expectation in helping me grow. I don’t pay referral fees because I feel that when a potential agent comes in to interview and they’ve been referred by one of my agents, they usually ask, “Is there something in it for the agent that referred me?,” and when I say no, that makes the recommendation authentic. New Orleans is focused on Southern hospitality, and we do take care of each other. I take care of my agents, and my agents have helped me build my business.

What does success look like for you and your team?
Success to me would be striking that balance of financial success and freedom. A lot of the time when you grow, the price you pay is being a slave to your job. When I started, I was still wearing 18 hats, so success would be having the growth continue without burdening myself or my team. This means having the proper systems in place. HomeSmart helps by offering excellent systems, many of which I’m still learning.

What is your top tip for new agents entering the field today?
I’m a fundamentalist. I know technology is fundamental to success these days, but I tell agents to focus on their relationships. I love Brian Buffini‘s personal notecard system, and I believe that if you target a few reliable people in your sphere that want to see you succeed, and you take them to lunch and let them know how important the relationship is, you will succeed. It’s not just personal contacts, either. Partner with businesses in the area. Ask your dentist if he or she has an agent to refer to their clients. If they say no, take them to lunch and see if they’re interested in having that kind of relationship.

For more information, please visit www.homesmart.com/join.

Zoe Eisenberg is RISMedia’s senior content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at zoe@rismedia.com.

The post Hitting 100 Agents, One Referral at a Time appeared first on RISMedia.

A Chance to Help Is a Gift in Itself

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 13:04

Note: A few weeks ago (at press time), I had an experience I won’t ever forget, and I posted about it on social media. The response from the real estate community has been overwhelming and humbling. It reminded me what type of individuals we have in our space—kind, caring, empathetic and always ready to help. Here’s a shortened version of the story I shared:

I sat down on the plane to fly home from a quick business trip to the East Coast.

An older lady was seated next to me. She said hello and told me her name was Lorraine. She’d been taken onto the plane by wheelchair during preboarding. Super nice lady. I could see it in her eyes.

I went through my business travel routine. It’s the same every time: headphones, podcast and laptop. I was all set for four uninterrupted hours of productivity.

But Lorraine started talking to me. So I took off my headphones. They never went back on.

Lorraine was talking for a reason. She was a little confused and scared. It struck a chord with me. I understood my mission.

She hadn’t flown in quite some time. She didn’t know how to open the tray table or do other little things a regular traveler understands. This was my chance to help.

She’d left Florida to avoid Hurricane Dorian, and said she’d be staying with family in Denver. But she kept repeating things. She spoke with a sense of helplessness.

She was scared about the trip. Scared of being alone. I could see her eyes welling up.

This happens to people who are losing their memory. It’s scary to not know if you have the help you need.

She had good long-term memory, but little recall of today’s events. She wasn’t quite able to tell me what was going on, and she didn’t have a phone with her.

I helped her with her tray table, food and drinks. We had dinner together, and she even tried to share her meal with me. The flight got bumpy, so we made jokes to ease her mind.

The lady across the aisle and I helped her to the bathroom and back to her seat.

I asked the flight attendants to make sure she had someone picking her up; they weren’t sure for a while. Lots of conversation and questions ensued, and the airline worked on figuring it out.

We landed and an airline manager was at the gate with a wheelchair to greet her.

I wrote my cell number on my card and gave it to her. I told her to call me if she needed anything.

I joked that she was a rebel for escaping her retirement community and that her friends would be jealous of her adventures. She liked that. We’d had a good time. She thanked me and said I’d made her day.

What Lorraine didn’t realize was that she’d made my day, too. By needing help, she was giving me a gift—the opportunity to come through for her.

No matter what your role in this business, you have a chance to help someone virtually every day. Watch for these opportunities. Take time to listen. And follow up with care and action. As I learned on that plane, it’s worth doing every time.

Adam Contos is CEO of RE/MAX, LLC. For more information, please visit www.remax.com.

The post A Chance to Help Is a Gift in Itself appeared first on RISMedia.

Green Principles Being Baked Into Every Aspect of Real Estate as the Tide Continues to Turn

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 13:03

Introducing the 2019 EverGreen Award Winners

The Green REsource Council’s EverGreen Award, presented at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) annual convention, honors those real estate professionals who have dedicated themselves to sustainable business practices and a green life- and workstyle. In addition to possessing NAR’s Green Designation, EverGreen Award winners are recognized for performing exemplary acts in regard to green practices.

Kimberly Pontius

One of this year’s winners, Kimberly Pontius, is CEO of the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® (TAAR), based in Traverse City, Mich.

“This honor means a great deal to our association, as we will now be the proud recipient of three EverGreen awards,” says Pontius.

While the association was first awarded in 2010 for being a pioneer in greening the MLS, in 2012, then trainer and REBAC Green Instructor Bill Costley was bestowed the honor.

“This third award is personally gratifying for me,” says Pontius. “It signals an appreciation by NAR for over a decade’s worth of service promoting an understanding of the importance of green principles to our REALTOR® members and the consumers they serve.”

Understanding the importance of NAR’s Green Designation, Pontius is seeing the tide turn as more and more real estate professionals share his belief.

“A decade has changed a lot of people’s perceptions as they watch the world changing around them,” says Pontius. “I think that green principles are finally being baked into everything we do as people become more familiar with the triple bottom line approach to profit and prosperity. Personally, I think that the comprehension of the principles of green, sustainability and community resilience—which build upon each other—is what will keep REALTORS® at the center of the real estate transaction. I strongly believe that these principles will also be a part of the new membership value proposition of our association.”

The Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® first made an impression on the committee a decade ago with the greening of its MLS. This put the city on a list with Portland, Denver, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Boston as those leading on green initiatives.

“NAR was surprised when they did a call-in for whitepapers on greening the MLS and we sent a four-inch-thick, how-to manual,” says Pontius.

This was followed by an awareness by the TAAR of the impact of land-based activities on the water given that Traverse City is primarily a water destination that attracts a great deal of people to its inland lakes, rivers, streams, Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan.

“We began changing people’s perception about the relationship of land and water,” says Pontius. “We want them to know that visiting, working or living here in this wonderful place is a privilege that should be handed to future generations in a sustainable way. Therefore, we partner with our land conservancies, watershed centers, food and farming networks, conservation groups, local elected officials and land use professionals. In fact, we have a saying that states that this place is ‘Where Green Meets Blue,’ and knowing and protecting this makes our real estate more resilient to market forces.”

Being honored this year comes from what Pontius describes as “an incredible series of great and understanding board members and leadership teams who get it and have formed a continuum of and approach to systems thinking within our organization.”

These green efforts have helped consumers understand that the environment isn’t always on the outside. In fact, inside their homes is an environmental system that’s connected, and, further, the home connects to other systems that are outside of their personal space. According to Pontius, in order to lead a healthy and fulfilled life, both environments need to work together.

“People want a safe, secure and resilient place to live that reconnects them to the natural world,” he says. “Where I live is one of those regions, and when people come here and get out on the water and look back at the land, they connect these dots.”

Christina Mathieson

Another honoree of the EverGreen Award is Christina Mathieson, LEED Green Associate, Instructor for Green EDU, and REALTOR® with Keller Williams in Woodbury, N.Y.

“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized by NAR,” says Mathieson, who has been working exclusively on exploring the impact of solar and energy upgrades on a real estate transaction for the past four years.

“The goal of this work is to effectively demonstrate the value of solar power and energy-efficient upgrades when we sell a high-performing home,” she says. “It’s one of the great joys of my career to be able to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated with the agents I train at Leap EDU’s Green EDU classes.”

Hundreds of the firm’s agents have taken Mathieson’s Green EDU “Becoming A Solar Specialist” certification class, which uniquely qualifies them to handle the sale and purchase of solar-powered properties for their clients.

“In addition, Keller Williams strives to adopt sustainability throughout its business practices, including limiting the use of paper, encouraging our agents and homeowners to reuse and repurpose, and offering quarterly suggestions on safer cleaning products and ways to live in a healthier home,” says Mathieson. “We have a commitment to sustainability—helping our agents and clients evolve their homes by using clean energy, becoming more energy-efficient and improving their indoor air quality, and then ensuring that they receive the highest possible price when we sell their homes.”

The team at Leap EDU, especially principal Adam Barda, has been instrumental in enabling Mathieson to introduce solar energy and energy efficiency to many real estate professionals.

“We also work with a Long Island nonprofit, PinkTie.org, which has a network of real estate professionals who are ‘go-givers,’ meaning they donate a portion of their earnings back to the community,” says Mathieson. “Through PinkTie, we’ve been able to reach out to this network, as well, and get them on the clean energy and energy efficiency bandwagon.”

For more information, please visit green.realtor/.

Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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Celebrating More Than 20 Years of Savings

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 13:07

NAR PULSE—NAR’s REALTOR Benefits® Program has been committed to providing benefits to REALTORS® for more than two decades and is celebrating several partner anniversaries this fall. Some offerings even predate the Program. Find out which milestones are coming up and how you can save today.

Medicare Open Enrollment Is on Now Through December 7
Remind your Medicare-eligible agents that now is the time to explore or enhance their supplemental Medicare insurance options. NAR’s private Members Medicare Exchange is available through the REALTOR Benefits® Program. It provides access to a variety of plans, and consultative services are complimentary and a benefit of membership.

Take a Fresh Look at C2EX
The award-winning platform just had a makeover! We’ve enhanced the Commitment to Excellence (C2EX) platform for members, plus added new features for brokers. Now, you can add materials to the C2EX Library specifically for your agents. Encourage your agents to start their C2EX journey today!

The post Celebrating More Than 20 Years of Savings appeared first on RISMedia.

Zillow Partners With Giveback Homes to Support the Real Estate Industry in the Wake of Natural Disasters

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 12:58

In recent years, there have been a number of unprecedented natural disasters, from Hurricane Harvey—the second-most costly hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since 1900—to the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. These disasters uproot families and wreck communities.

At Zillow, we have long emphasized a corporate culture of giving, from our support of closing the opportunity gap in public education to our investments in addressing housing insecurity and homelessness. Recently, we partnered with Giveback Homes to launch a Disaster Relief Fund. Through this fund, we are supporting real estate agents, their families and other members of the real estate community facing losses after natural disasters. We launched the campaign with Giveback Homes with a $10,000 donation and have committed to provide a $1-for-$1 match, up to $20,000.

At Zillow, we believe in investing in the real estate industry—to support the agents and brokers we work alongside, especially in the midst of devastating events. Together with Giveback Homes, Zillow wants to help make home feel like home again for those impacted.

The funds donated are being used to help impacted families rebuild their lives. Families receive in-kind donations such as refrigerators, washers and dryers, mattresses and other necessities to help in their rebuilding efforts.

To date, the campaign has helped three families impacted by last year’s California wildfires:

Tammy Spirlock has worked as a REALTOR® since 1997 and has sold real estate in Paradise, Calif., since 2003. She, her daughter and son lost all of their belongings when their home in old Magalia burned down due to the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. The Zillow and Giveback Homes Disaster Relief Fund is providing Tammy with a washer and dryer for her new home, which she is in the process of rebuilding.

Mike Richards was first licensed as a REALTOR® in 1986, leaving the industry to work as a firefighter for several years before returning to real estate. The home he shared with his wife Christy for less than 11 months was destroyed in the Camp Fire. The Zillow and Giveback Homes Disaster Relief Fund will provide Mike with a new fridge, since the one his wife loved, and had only recently purchased, was destroyed.

Kelly Kissman has worked as a REALTOR® for 15 years and served as the 2018 president of the Women’s Council of REALTORS® Ventura. Her family, which includes five children, was displaced by the Woolsey Fire. Their home was a total loss, and they currently share a one-bedroom apartment. The Zillow and Giveback Homes Disaster Relief Fund is providing Kelly and her family one-month’s rent for their apartment while they work on rebuilding.

At our core, Zillow is a mission-driven company working to improve people’s lives through the places they call home. Please help us continue to support those whose lives have been disrupted by disasters by donating or nominating a family.

To nominate a family and learn more about Giveback Homes, please visit donate.givebackhomes.com/campaign/zillow-giveback-homes-disaster-fund/c207920.

Bret Calltharp is director of Industry Outreach, Zillow.

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Women in Real Estate: Ladies of Coldwell Banker Set Leadership Trends

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 13:04

While female leadership within the real estate space is becoming more commonplace, the playing field is still lopsided, with executive roles generally held by men. Today’s female leaders in real estate say the landscape is shifting, and trailblazers are helping to support individual growth and advancement within their brokerage regardless of gender.

Here, female executives from Coldwell Banker provide insights about related trends and what they’re doing to help nurture leadership ambitions within their brokerages.

Alyson Donnelly
Vice President of Sales
Coldwell Banker Caine
Greenville, S.C.

Previously working at Engel & Völkers in Manhattan and licensed since 2007, Donnelly recently joined Coldwell Banker as part of a strategic expansion with a focus on increasing service, training and leadership. She is the seventh woman on the company’s leadership team. Her most recent achievement is obtaining a true work-life balance in the thriving market of Greenville, S.C., she says.

Carla Ponikvar
Regional Tri-County Manager
Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realty
Northeast Ohio

Ponikvar recently made the move to Coldwell Banker after being the No. 1 Keller Williams Chervenic Realty team leader in Northeast Ohio. With 28 years of real estate experience, Ponikvar wakes up every morning grateful to be in the industry and a part of people’s goals and dreams.

Kelli Brennan
Vice President
Coldwell Banker Properties Unlimited
Brenham, Texas

Brennan has worked in real estate for the past 31 years. Her brokerage was founded and expanded by three generations of women, starting with her grandmother. Brennan is proud they’ve maintained a female-owned and -operated company that “steps out in faith and takes on new challenges,” while consistently growing.

What is your take on leadership in the real estate space?
Alyson Donnelly:
In my real estate career, I’ve been fortunate to observe and learn from some incredible mentors, gender aside. So many trailblazing men have set important, timeless standards and practices in real estate. That said, I believe women can especially provide the full spectrum of brokerage leadership in this industry. We are able to negotiate and make decisions with conviction and sound judgement, but also to reach and lead the agent population with compassion and a nurturing spirit.

Carla Ponikvar: Becoming a leader in a field where most leadership roles are dominated by men can be challenging. Actually, every boss I have ever had in this business were men. I would say that many of my accomplishments have been encouraged and supported by men I have worked for and I love and respect all of them. Although our corporate leadership has all men at the helm who I have tremendous respect for, I must say, I am enjoying the change at the regional leadership level working for Felicia Hengle in our Ohio region.

Kelli Brennan: Who understands what women need day-to-day in the workplace more than another woman who has dealt with it herself? I know the kind of encouragement and support my female agents need. I know how it feels on those days, when you have so many stresses and responsibilities to take care of, that you can’t speak to another client. Whether you’re male or female, strong support along with understanding and compassion are essential in leadership.

What keeps you excited in this business and what do you hope to achieve?
AD:
I am motivated most by the agents I serve. I realized I truly gained fulfillment from helping agents to become better at what they do by guiding them to learn tools and master concepts to serve their clients and increase their income. That will continue to motivate me through my career, whether I am recruiting talent, triaging a transaction or helping to develop and implement systems to hone agents’ skills.

CP: I am motivated by watching people achieve! When they achieve, I achieve, and we are all climbing this mountain together. I have always said that when you help and care for others, the success and money will come, and I have lived my entire life this way. It is my passion!

KB: I’ve always loved challenging women to step out of their comfort zone and expand their potential. Because of preconditioning, women often get stuck in an “acceptable” role of what is expected of them instead of pushing past those barriers to reach their full potential. They need a little push—some extra support—and there’s no holding them back. I want to be an example of what women can accomplish. I’ve had my share of challenges, and surviving those and succeeding past expectations is my dopamine. If obstacles are placed in my way, I’m usually the one to bulldoze them down.

Thinking back to your own challenges, what advice can you give to those hoping to grow into a leadership role?
AD:
Commit yourself to be an expert on the hard and soft skills of real estate as you gain experience as an agent. Learn as much as you can about the industry through the details of your own transactions and those of your colleagues. Observe changes in the industry via trade media, local roundtables and conferences. There is always something to learn to apply in future transactions.

CP: Remember, it is all about the people you help to achieve their goals. They will remember what you did to help them, and they will absolutely remember how you made them feel. Be passionate about others, their goals and your place in their life journey.

KB: My one mistake was not finding a mentor sooner. No matter how good you are at your profession, there’s always something you can learn from those who inspire you.

Do you know someone who is making strides toward the advancement of women leadership in the residential real estate industry? Contact ldominguez@rismedia.com to learn more about our Women in Real Estate series. 

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com.  

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A Nod to History, a Look to the Future

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 21:02

How Michael Saunders & Company Mastered a Brand Enhancement

An iconic local leader with both national and international reach for 43 years, Sarasota, Fla.-based Michael Saunders & Company (MSC) certainly didn’t need a branding campaign to make its presence known. But an increasing amount of “clutter” in the market led company Founder and CEO Michael Saunders and President Drayton Saunders to view the firm through a fresh lens.

“We knew it was time to enhance and tell our story a little bit better,” explains Michael. “In the competitive world we live in, you have to be clear on your story.”

In this exclusive interview, the leaders discuss how, with partner 1000watt, they clearly defined their messaging and refreshed their brand, all while preserving the company’s rich history on the Gulf Coast.

Maria Patterson: Congratulations on a successful and beautiful brand refresh! I’m curious to know what led to the decision…in other words, why now?
Drayton Saunders:
First of all, there’s never a bad time to go through a refresh. We have always tweaked our messaging to align with what we know is core to the company’s success: our values, our history in the market and our people, all of which are built into every aspect of how we do business. At the same time, we realized a thorough brand review was long overdue and we felt like this was the right time to do it. The industry seems to have more noise than ever about what it is to be a strong real estate platform, and we wanted to be clear about how we’re communicating our story. As the saying goes, if you are not telling your story, somebody else is.

Michael Saunders: A brand cannot be stagnant. It’s a living entity, like a person. You interact with it daily—it needs to be current, and it needs to be interesting. It needs to reflect the community, our leadership, our amazing agents and employees. We knew it was time to enhance and tell our story a little bit better. In the competitive world we live in, you have to be clear on who you are. You have to distill your story and distance yourself from the competition.

MP: You refer to this initiative as a “refresh” as opposed to a “rebrand.” Please explain the difference, and why it’s important.
MS:
There was nothing broken about the brand. It is a respected name, certainly within the community, as well as within the industry nationally and internationally. It just needed to be enhanced—kind of polished a bit. Enhance is an even better word than refresh. It was really about using a lens to make it very clear who we are, how we are different, and what our value is to agents, staff and the community.

Since launching her company in 1976, Michael has pushed the boundaries of real estate brand marketing. She’s pictured here, to the right of her mother, Fran Mayers (left), and her brother, Tom Mayers (center), standing in front of the company helicopter, once used to view the extensive development happening in Sarasota from a birds-eye view.

MP: Why and how did you make the decision to partner with an outside agency?
MS:
We’ve refreshed the brand often since 1976, but we never engaged an agency to work with us. We felt it was time to look at our message—the look, feel and emotional part of the brand story—and we knew if we did this internally, we might miss key things an outside agency with this type of expertise would find. We’ve worked with 1000watt on other projects and trusted their creativity and understanding of our space. But we had them pitch us on their vision. Going through something like this, the agency partner was equally as important as the decision to do it.

DS: Working with an outside agency allowed us to get the external jolt of perspective only new eyes can add. Knowing that everyone has a blind spot, the value of a skilled agency let us look at every aspect of the company—from print to web to the story on the street—to bring out elements of our story that might have been missing. 1000watt brought the creative spark, which was an essential ingredient to the overall success of our process.

MP: Why was 1000watt the right choice?
MS:
We knew that the founders (Marc Davison, chief creative officer and Brian Boero, CEO) are highly creative and speak real estate. And they have built a respectable agency of outstanding creative and strategic thinkers and developed a methodology for producing original work that produces results. What amazed us was how deep they went and how detailed they were. Their approach was formidable and went well beyond discovery with Drayton, myself and our Chief Marketing Officer Jennifer Horvat. They spent a full week living here in the community, speaking to everyone, including our agents, department heads, locals, community leaders and people on the street.

MP: What would you highlight as the most significant components of the brand refresh?
MS:
1000watt pulled everything together to come up with one simple, three-word campaign mantra: “Nowhere But Here.” It speaks to who we are, the quality of our agents and services, and the community itself. We’ve grown up here, we wake up here every day, we have roots here. It’s really a mindset.

At first, I pushed back on the mantra. But one day I sat under a tree and began thinking about it. I started applying it to everything. Nowhere but here can agents find someone as rooted as we are, with an international reach. Nowhere but here can they be involved in a charity like ours, the MSC Foundation. Nowhere but here can agents find fellow leadership, non-selling managers and division heads, tech and marketing support, and a community like ours. So much of the campaign 1000watt created touched on this sentiment. It took time, but I trusted them. When it finally hit me, I got it in a big way.

Michael Saunders (right) and son Drayton Saunders (company president, left) began work on the rebrand with creative agency 1000watt in November of 2018.

MP: How would you describe the visual elements of the campaign?
MS:
1000watt underscored who we are and gave us that saturation of color reflecting the beaches and sunsets and lushness of our landscape. They gave us the power to take the brand color—our blue—that we’ve used for years, and make it pop with the added texture and color they designed. And it’s all about the white space.

MP: Michael Saunders & Company has such a long and important history in the region. How do you tackle revitalizing the brand while not disturbing its roots?
DS:
One aspect was looking at the internal story and how it flows through our associates and all of our branded materials. Michael was very focused on the details of our history, which goes back to 1976. It was all about focusing on those details, then turning the lens and being hyper-focused on what that means in the community. Our agency’s approach was to go out into the community and take what they heard and use it in creative ways to re-engineer our presence through that narrative. We’re a local company that lives and works in the community. Our agents identify that we’re a company with roots and history in the community they love and care about.

MS: People think history is stuffy and old. But it doesn’t have to be. It all depends on how that story is expressed. We wanted to give a nod to our history, but a look to the future with something creative, fresh, bright and sharp. A fusion of historical strength and innovative, creative leadership. 1000watt pulled all those elements together to tell our story in a way that we’d be too modest to say, and really, we would never think to tell it. They helped us express all the things we built the company on over the years: values, trust, creativity, innovation.

MP: So how has the brand enhancement helped clarify the evolution of Michael Saunders & Company?
MS:
In the beginning, the company was just focused on waterfront properties. We’re still the leader in the upper end of the market and waterfront, but we have expanded to serve all markets. We wanted this refresh to give us options for agents to enhance and grow their own brands while proudly connecting to ours. We’ve given them a palette of color and texture to work with and we’re watching the brand enhancement come alive through our agents’ use of it in all media.

Southwest Florida’s coastline is bordered by long, narrow barrier islands. The jewel tones from the natural landscape of the region were the inspiration for the brand’s new palette.

Beyond static colors, the brand’s refresh brings in dynamic tones and textures inspired by the landscape of the region Michael Saunders & Company serves.

MP: How has this effort helped underscore the company’s competitive differentiation?
MS:
One of the first tasks that 1000watt undertook was an analysis of the competitive brands in the marketplace, as well as those who might enter the marketplace. We had to show how we’re different to the consumer and the agent. We’ve built the company based on relationships, and that’s what makes us different. That’s what we wanted to get across to our agents and any agent looking for a home. It truly is our ethos—it’s the sum of everything we are.

DS: We know we are in a competitive industry, and when you look at the ingredients of a successful company, you think tools, local knowledge and creativity. What the brand exercise has done is to remind us that we bring all of those together in a unique way for the people we serve and the markets we are in. Ultimately, the competitive edge was to bring to light that we had a lot to celebrate and offer, and not be hesitant to tell that story. The microsite is a great example of taking that narrative and bringing it back to light in a way that is vibrant and different. It really showcases some of the new ways we are engaging the market.

MS: The microsite is a growing, breathing organism that continues to evolve. It tells our story and gives us the opportunity to never be static or stand still.

MP: How was the brand refresh received by your agents? How will this help them compete and increase business moving forward?
DS:
The rollout of the brand has been a strategic approach that includes layering in elements as we move through the fall and ramp up for 2020. The biggest piece of this was unveiling the concept of Nowhere But Here. The response to the messaging has been extremely positive. How the refresh translates to agents’ day-to-day business is about connecting their own story of Nowhere But Here. Real estate is local, it is people to people, and in an industry where it is easy to be distracted by the latest technology, our brand refresh ultimately doubles down on the importance of relationships.  Whether it is working with our customers or introducing our communities to the newest curious visitor, when it comes to real estate, we want them thinking, Nowhere But Here.

MS: People say agents don’t like change, but it’s a myth. Agents love and want change as long as the change makes sense, is strategic, is executed beautifully and benefits them. Our agents think what we’ve done is very exciting. It helps define them in a new way and gives them a strong foundation and confidence in the company that supports them.

MP: Finally, what do you anticipate from the brand refresh moving ahead?
MS:
I couldn’t be more pleased with our enhancement. It’s a fabulous evolution. But this is not a one-and-done brand enhancement—it is a guideline and map for the future. Our in-house marketing and technology teams will continue to work with 1000watt to launch this campaign and evolve it over time. This is just the beginning, and we’re very excited for what’s to come.

Learn more at the brand campaign microsite, NowhereButHere.net.

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at maria@rismedia.com.

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Stephen C. Roney: Service and Marketing Expertise Make the Difference

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 21:00

Vitals: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Utah Properties
Years in Business
: 43
Size: 30 offices, 475 agents
Regions Served: Northern Utah: Wasatch Back (Park City, Heber Valley, East Summit County, Jordanelle), Wasatch Front (Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber Counties); and moving into Southern Utah: St. George
2018 Sales Volume: $2.195 billion
2018 Transactions: 3,556
www.bhhsutah.com

As the former president and CEO of the First American Corporation’s Residential Group and its subsidiary, MarketLinx, Stephen C. Roney was responsible for building one of the largest residential real estate platforms to provide transaction management, MLS and CRM software and services to more than 500,000 agents and brokers. Today he serves as CEO and owner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Utah Properties, one of the state’s largest brokerage firms.

What are you seeing in the Utah market this year?
Stephen Roney:
Along the Wasatch Back (Park City area), there continues to be significant development activity throughout our market area coupled with enhancements to both Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain. We believe this, in conjunction with anticipated inventory increases and low interest rates, will continue to drive our markets in a positive direction. As the market begins to stabilize, we see increased buying opportunities in Summit and Wasatch counties, especially with the continued growth around the Jordanelle Reservoir and Heber Valley. Along the Wasatch Front (Salt Lake Valley through Ogden), strong demand and low inventory levels persist. We expect appreciation to continue, sales to remain strong, and a variety of development options to emerge across all sectors of the Wasatch Front. We anticipate mortgage rates will reduce slightly in the near term and also expect increased buyer activity, especially at or below median prices. With a strong regional economy in Utah, we see little sign of a market downturn in the foreseeable future.

Are you planning to grow your firm in the next 12 months? If so, in what capacity…increasing agent count, new offices, new markets, mergers/acquisitions, etc.?
SR:
In short, yes. We have recently opened an office in St. George, which has seen rapid growth as retirement, warm weather and business expansion bring more and more buyers to the area. We are also actively evaluating entry possibilities in other markets in Utah and nearby states.

What most sets your firm apart in the marketplace?
SR:
In one word, culture. We have great agents and employees who demonstrate knowledge, services, integrity and teamwork every day. Additionally, we have unparalleled experience in development marketing, sales and advisory services in our markets. We also have an in-house marketing department that includes marketing strategy/planning, graphic design, digital and social media marketing, and print and public relations capabilities.

How are you updating your technology and training to provide the resources agents need to succeed?
SR:
Our chief technology officer and executive leadership team are constantly evaluating new technology and maintaining alignment with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ existing platforms and future initiatives.

How are you attracting new agents to your firm and retaining top producers?
SR:
We have a very selective recruiting process for new agents. We look for strong-producing agents or other individuals with significant sales and service backgrounds who will fit our culture and benefit from the strength of our marketing capabilities, development experience, and leadership team. We also place great value on collaboration and collegiality. Retaining top-producing agents requires building and maintaining the “best in market” leadership team and support capabilities.

What do you look for in someone new coming into the company?
SR:
A successful and sustainable business will flourish in a culture that honors service, knowledge and a strong work ethic. Preserving the trust of our agents and their clients is our No. 1 priority.

Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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All Eyes on the U.S. Supreme Court

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 15:00

I just wrapped up a busy few days as we hosted our sixth annual NAGLREP Conference in Palm Springs. And while the event was incredible, the speakers great, and we had record attendance, every time attendees got together informally, in learning breakouts or in General Sessions, there were expressions of concern.

We gathered in Palm Springs, one of the nation’s top resort communities, knowing that on Tuesday, Oct. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court would begin hearing three cases involving the legal right of companies to fire employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

You read that correctly. In 2019, there is a possibility that it will become legal to fire an LGBT individual for being who they are.

I thought about this during the Conference when we heard from Judy and Dennis Shepard who began the Matthew Shepard Foundation more than 20 years ago. The foundation honors their son, who was killed in one of our nation’s most notorious hate crimes. They are delightful, thoughtful and caring, and have embraced their status as the unofficial “Mom and Dad” of the LGBT community. They inspired all of us to keep working hard to showcase how discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated. Their words about how hatred can destroy lives touched all of us.

I thought about it when Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper, REALTORS® agent Jamie Zapata and her team of three transgender agents took the stage to talk about how welcomed they have been in the real estate industry.

I thought of this when Sotheby’s International Realty CMO Kevin Thompson saluted those who made our NAGLREP Top LGBT+ Agent List.

I thought of it when I placed the pop-up signs around the Riviera Hotel that included all of our partners—some of the largest and most powerful real estate brands, companies, lenders and supporting businesses.

And I thought about it when we discussed the Equality Act, which passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year and now awaits Senate approval. This bill, which was first written in the 1970s, would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in a wide range of areas including housing. The Equality Act had never before even made it to a Congressional vote, let alone pass as it did in May.

You read that correctly too. A renter could currently be evicted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, only 20 states have protections for the LGBT community.

The LGBT community has enjoyed so many positives over the last several years including the right to marry. But with every step forward, we also fear stepping backwards.

Earlier this year, NAGLREP released its annual LGBT Real Estate Report. We worked closely with Freddie Mac in sharing that LGBT homeownership rates stand at only 49 percent, compared to the 64 percent overall U.S. number.

Obviously, the more we can bring that number up, the more the REALTOR® community benefits.

The report also pointed out that concerns about short- and long-term financial security, including jobs, are routinely cited by LGBTs as reasons why they remain on the homeownership sidelines.

If you are one of those people with a desire to become a homeowner and working hard to save for a down payment, what are you to think about the society we are currently living in?

  • The Supreme Court is hearing three cases that may give companies the right to fire you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • The housing discrimination you fear is currently legal at the federal level.
  • Thirty states have absolutely no protections of any kind against the discrimination you might get for being LGBT.

Believe me, our goal to increase LGBT homeownership does not need headwinds. Those who are already nervous do not need any real or perceived deterrent.

So if you think these Supreme Court cases or the Equality Act have no bearing on you or your business, you are wrong. They matter.

Jeff Berger is the founder of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP). For more information, please visit www.naglrep.com.

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Understanding the Mindset of the Wealthy to Create Referral-Worthy Buying and Selling Experiences

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 14:38

Creating referral-worthy buying and selling experiences is what will both create and sustain your career as a luxury real estate agent. In the luxury home market, understanding the mindset of the wealthy is essential for creating these kinds of experiences since your clientele hold a largely different set of priorities than your traditional clients.

A forecast by Wealth-X estimates that total wealth assets in the United States will rise from the $31 trillion reported in 2018 to $46.2 trillion by 2020. With more wealth circulating than ever before, the wealthy have fewer limitations when it comes to spending on real estate.

Learning what motivates high-end buyers and sellers is key to providing them with the kind of service that will keep you top-of-mind when their colleagues ask for referrals when they’re looking to buy a luxury home in your market.

The Mindset of the Wealthy Values the Intangible Over Cost

Nearly a quarter of the country’s high-net worth individuals are in top management, and almost half have children under the age of 18, so when it comes to your services, they value ease, quality and discretion.

If you’re coming from the traditional market, cost is typically one of your client’s highest priorities. When you’re working with wealthy clients, it can take some practice to shift how you pitch and execute your services.

Given that ease, quality and discretion can be highly subjective, learning to ask the right questions up-front and getting to know what your client expects sets you up for creating a referral-worthy experience.

Creating Ease

Since ease is usually at the top of their list of priorities, establishing their preferred mode and schedule of communicating during your first meeting, or even as early as the prospecting stage, will save you and your client the frustration of playing phone tag. These clients typically have many people vying for their time, so it’s important not to take it personally if they’re not always prioritizing your services.

Creating Quality

Similarly, building a concierge-level network of vendors to anticipate the needs of your clients when (or before) they ask is another way to create not only ease, but a high-quality luxury experience for them. This means going beyond having a house painter, a handyman, lenders and the usual gamut, and creating a network of specialized vendors, such as Venetian plasterers, wine storage designers and installers, custom builders, outdoor kitchen installers and international tax attorneys.

Creating Discretion

Even some wealthy clients may be pushing their spending limits on a luxury home purchase. Rather than discussing their position outright, a smart way for luxury real estate agents to establish discretion up-front is to suggest that they prepare a verification from a financial institution in order to negotiate more effectively.

If you’re working with a high-profile individual who requires extra discretion, anticipate ways to preserve their privacy like scheduling private viewings, helping them set up an LLC to protect their identity and choosing properties that are built to provide extra protection.

The Wealthy Want to Work With an Expert

A luxury real estate agent’s job doesn’t end when you’re no longer face-to-face with a client. Deliberately creating time in your schedule to stay on top of what’s happening on a macro and micro level in your clientele’s particular luxury market is key to earning and keeping trust.

Beyond having a CLHMS designation, staying on top of inventory levels and the nuances among upper-tier properties such as a listing’s average days on market, the percentage of list price for which the property sold, the level of inventory within each price range and the number of sales by price range will wow your client to the point where they won’t think twice about referring you to other buyers or sellers.

To learn more about the best practices in working with wealthy clients in the luxury home market, sign up for a training course with the Institute today!

Diane Hartley is the president of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, a premier independent authority in training and designation for real estate agents working in the upper-tier residential market. Hartley brings her passion for luxury marketing and more than 20 years of experience growing and leading businesses to her role as president of the Institute.  

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Check In on Holiday Airfares

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 14:29

(TNS)—Filled your gas tank recently? You probably noticed an uptick in prices and may have attributed it to the recent attack on Saudi oil facilities. Then, if you’re a worrier, you said, “If I’m paying this much at the pump, can airfares be far behind?”

No, because…

It takes time for fuel increases to cycle into the airfare flow. “The short answer is months—maybe four to six months—before we see a noticeable change in airfares, if the airlines believe the higher fuel prices are more than fleeting,” Seth Kaplan, an airline and transportation analyst, said in a September 18 email.

“Airlines can’t really adjust prices per se based on fuel price movements. What they do control is the supply of seats in the marketplace.”

But airlines can’t just willy-nilly cut supply, Kaplan said. “Too disruptive.”

“Once you get about four to six months out, you’re looking at flights that don’t have many people booked on them, where an airline can take a few flights out of the schedule and just move the few booked passengers onto other flights, and that’s where you are seeing meaningful fare increases,” he said.

By our count, four months from September 18 is mid-January.

Thanks to basic economy, fares have been reasonable this year, and basic economy continues to gain ground. Once U.S. fliers caught on that they could swap comfort for savings, they’ve warmed to no-frills fares.

“There is such fierce competition for the airlines to attract customers, basic economy tickets are priced very aggressively, which will always attract people to travel,” said Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of Supplier Relations for CheapOair. “Even if there were a slight fare increase in ticket prices, the fares are still very affordable.”

One of the most recent entrants in the basic fare rodeo is Hawaiian Airlines, which on October 21 will roll out its long-planned reduced-rate tickets.

If you look at the Honolulu market from LAX, you’ll find round-trip fares for November 6-13 (both Wednesdays, because those tend to be cheaper) of $358 on several carriers; basic on Hawaiian is $20 more.

Consider also that Southwest is now flying to Hawaii.

Given that competition for passengers has increased and has kept a lid on fares, is it time to panic about holiday fares? A bit, because…

Airline growth has slowed. In an email September 30, Kaplan, the airline analyst, noted that growth in the number of seats this year should have been on par with 2018, a good year. But then came the 737 Max grounding, which slowed things.

“The impact of slower growth, in the context of what seems to be still-robust travel demand, is higher airfares, not dramatically higher because of 4 percent versus 6 percent growth, but every bit matters during a high-demand travel period,” Kaplan said. Your “fare might be cheaper. But it will not be cheap.”

Should you go into raving lunatic mode now? Maybe, because…

Demand.

Airlines, you’ve made flying (at least price-wise) so easy to love that record numbers of us want to do it, especially at the holidays.

“The airlines are expecting yet another year of record numbers of passengers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s travel period,” Spagnola said. “Demand is high so flights will be sold out for the peak travel days within the week of the actual holiday.”

Bottom line, he said: “Don’t wait. Buy now.”

So how jittery should we be? Based on a quick price comparison on a single route, pretty jittery.

Let’s say you want to fly from LAX to Washington, D.C., (any airport) for Thanksgiving. You want to leave November 27 (Wednesday) and return December 1 (Sunday). You do not want to spend your kids’ inheritance, so you’re looking for a basic economy fare.

In reviewing fares on September 30, I found basic economy for those dates was mostly sold out on United, American and Delta. Southwest, which doesn’t have basic, had little availability in its “Wanna Get Away” fares, its lowest-priced ticket.

The most reasonable ticket was United’s round-trip at $642.

So thanks a lot Mom, Dad, Granny, Sissy or whoever is waiting for you at the other end. Our apparently insatiable desire for low fares and our ability to find them most of the time made us believe we’d find a good fare—and most of the time we can, except when, for many of us, it matters most. It’s a lump of coal in the stocking, but at least we have the stocking. Happy holidays.

©2019 Los Angeles Times
Visit Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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One Day at a Time

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 14:44

(NAR)—Do you know about the new SentriKeyTM Real Estate app’s convenient One Day Codes? Your agents can give temporary access to contractors, appraisers or other agents—controlled through their smartphone. Learn how the SentriKey app’s many great features can help generate sales. SentriLock is NAR’s official lockbox solution.

NAR Good Neighbor Award Winners Revealed

Meet the Good Neighbor Award Winners—REALTORS® who make the world a better place through passionate volunteer work. These five incredible REALTORS® will be recognized during NAR’s Conference & Expo and will receive $10,000 and national publicity to benefit their nonprofit. This year’s Good Neighbor Award winners help the homeless, children’s hospitals, traumatic brain injury patients, veterans and people fighting addiction. Watch their inspiring videos at nar.realtor/gna.

Number-Crunching Made Easy

The Center for REALTOR® Financial Wellness is here to support your agents with tools and calculators customized to meet the unique financial needs of real estate professionals. Encourage them to log in, plug in their numbers and use the results to make a solid financial plan. See for yourself!

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Furnished Monthly Rentals—Redefined

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 14:11

Manu Bhagatjee

HouseStay Is Changing the Temporary Housing Industry as We Know It

For Manu Bhagatjee, founder and CEO of HouseStay, an extensive travel schedule that found him living in hotels for months at a time had him longing for a home away from home every time he hit the road.

“The novelty of staying in a hotel was wearing off,” says Bhagatjee, then an investment banker. And so, the idea for HouseStay—an online marketplace for furnished homes and apartment rentals—was born.

“Once the idea was conceived and I began to understand and categorize the various market dynamics and stakeholders involved in the process, I recognized just how fragmented the industry is on the supply and demand side,” says Bhagatjee.

Aggregating the market feedback he received led to a simple solution that involved pooling the overall supply, driving demand to it, and tying it all together with a seamless transaction.

Serving stakeholders on both the B2B and B2C side, HouseStay offers a curated selection of fully furnished turnkey apartments and homes available for rent for 30 nights or more. HouseStay has created an online booking engine from inquiry (beginning) to a signed lease (end) to bring the process of booking temporary housing for individuals and businesses* online.

“HouseStay is changing the dynamics of renting furnished homes for a few months at a time by altering the way we currently do business in the temporary housing space. By bringing the experience online, the platform is essentially automating the administrative part of the transaction with the help of technology for tasks such as tenant screening, identity verification, payment processing and lease signing,” says Dan Carrillo, principal and president of Global Mobility at HouseStay.

Joining the team in 2017, Carrillo notes that his extensive experience in the relocation industry has taught him the importance of getting transferees and new hires into a safe and accommodating space so that they can be productive in their new position as soon as possible and with the least amount of inconvenience.

“In all the hustle and bustle, this is often lost,” says Carrillo, but HouseStay is changing that one rental at a time.

Dan Carrillo

And it’s not just transferees, new hires and consultants that are benefitting.

In fact, buyers and sellers alike are turning to HouseStay to help with their temporary housing needs.

“Today, there are a lot of people living temporarily, and HouseStay provides a stepping stone that makes our lives and the client’s lives easier,” says Debbi DiMaggio, a REALTOR® with Highland Partners in Piedmont, Calif.

“For someone selling a house, HouseStay allows them to move out of the space and live in a temporary place without being tied into a year-long rental while they prepare the property for sale,” says DiMaggio.

On the flip side, those looking to buy now have the luxury of moving into a short-term rental if their home sells prior to them making a purchase.

But the benefits don’t end there.

“HouseStay provides the opportunity for prospective buyers to move their families into areas they may not have found out about otherwise,” says Carrillo.

“This is a huge gamechanger for those moving into large cities across the U.S., as it allows them to get a good taste and feel for the various neighborhoods before they buy a home,” adds Carrillo.

Debbie DiMaggio

Expanding the potential for temporary housing even further, HouseStay provides the opportunity for real estate agents to earn recurring revenue by going to their past, present and future owners of properties.

“I recently had a client who had a lot of unfurnished units that he used as long-term rentals, but by turning some of them into short-term rentals—and listing them on HouseStay—he was able to earn more when renting for a few months at a time because of the lack of inventory of quality non-vacation rental homes,” says DiMaggio.

“We’re currently in an environment where real estate professionals are looking for other sources of income,” says Carrillo. “We’re enlarging the temporary housing supply, if you will, by seeking out supply that isn’t currently on the market.”

“We’re helping landlords who have unfurnished homes see the light by asking if they would be open to renting a home for three months at a time if they were to see a 25-35 percent premium, while having peace of mind that each and every tenant would be high-quality,” says Bhagatjee.

While there’s no shortage of rental sites designed to guide individuals through the booking process, one key factor that sets HouseStay apart is their fully automated process.

“There’s no other platform out there today where you can rent a furnished home for a few months in under an hour—and with just a few clicks,” says Bhagatjee.

The completely automated process consists of the following six steps, which make booking a rental fast and easy:

  • Send host a booking request. Send a booking request for a property that meets your requirements.
  • Make due-at-booking payment. Once a host accepts the request, users have 24 hours to make the due-at-booking payment (first month’s rent, deposit, service fee).
  • Complete background check. After the due-at-booking payment is made, users complete the free online background check.
  • Confirm resident information. Confirm all the information for the users who will be staying in the accommodations.
  • Sign the HouseStay lease. Once all resident information has been confirmed, users will be required to sign the HouseStay lease.
  • Move in and enjoy your stay. After your booking has been confirmed, you will be connected directly with your host to coordinate your move in.

“HouseStay is a necessary addition as it fills a huge void in the industry,” says DiMaggio, who goes on to explain that the decision to take advantage of everything HouseStay has to offer was a no-brainer.

As the future unfolds, there’s a lot of growth on the horizon for the online marketplace.

“Short-term, we’re looking to launch the service in every major metro across the country,” says Bhagatjee, “which we’re aiming to complete no later than Q3 2020.”

“On that road, we’re going to find new ways to enhance the platform that we haven’t even thought of yet,” says Carrillo.

From there, it’s all about educating real estate professionals and bringing the fragmented, furnished-home inventory under one umbrella.

For more information, please visit housestay.com.

*Businesses: global mobility professionals, third-party relocation, licensed real estate agents and HR professionals

Paige Tepping is RISMedia’s managing editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at paige@rismedia.com.

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Renovate Now, Sell for More, Pay at Closing

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 13:57

(Above) After Curbio’s renovation, this kitchen is show-ready.

For Home Sellers, Curbio Eliminates the Hassle of Renovating

Despite the iBuyer promise, for most home sellers, closing the deal doesn’t happen overnight—and neither does preparing the property for sale.

By investing in cosmetic improvements or large renovations prior to selling, many homeowners hope to maximize returns, without adding to an already expensive process—but, depending on the project, this can be a costly, stressful undertaking. There’s calling contractors. There’s choosing and ordering materials. There’s paying for the project. It’s no wonder most say “no thanks”—and, knowingly or not, lose thousands.

For Rick Rudman and Matt Siegal, the pain of the process prompted them to co-found the company Curbio, a pre-sale home renovation platform quickly racking up accolades in the industry. Over the summer, the company was crowned the startup winner at the Innovation, Opportunity and Investment (iOi) Summit, hosted by the National Association of REALTORS®, and more recently, recognized as one of Remodeler Magazine’s Top Remodelers. The company is also a member of NAR’s REACH Accelerator Class this year.

Here, Rudman, CEO and president; Rikki Rogers, vice president of Marketing; and James Bruno, senior vice president of Construction, discuss the fast-growing platform, and the company’s goal of helping homeowners keep more in their pocket.

In the past two years, Curbio’s gained impressive traction. How did the company get off the ground?
Rick Rudman: In 2017, our co-founder Matt Siegal was approached by a friend who was getting ready to sell his home. He told Matt that his real estate agent said the home would sell for an additional $90,000 if he were to invest just $45,000 to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms, paint the house and refinish his hardwood floors. Matt was a little skeptical about the agent’s claim—he knew that flippers were making money, so he didn’t doubt the profit potential, but he also knew it took a lot of time and expertise to do this type of renovation successfully. He knew instinctively that this was probably a huge problem for millions of home sellers, and he and I recognized that technology could transform the slow and archaic renovation industry.

Your mantra is “Renovate Now, Pay When You Sell.” Can you break that down for us?
Rick Rudman: To overcome all the obstacles to pre-sale renovation, Curbio had to basically reinvent home renovation. We started with the easy part, by creating a 100-percent, pay-at-closing business model. We don’t charge interest, fees or surcharges, and we will wait as long as necessary for the home to sell. Next, we built a talented team with experience as real estate agents, flippers and designers, so we could work with the sellers agent to create a scope of work that would lead to faster sales and the best possible ROI. After the scope of work is defined, we use our on-site project manager, curated and pre-selected materials and extensive network of pre-approved and trained contractors to create a true turnkey solution that takes the time burden off of agents and home sellers. Curbio handles the entire renovation from beginning to end, selecting materials based on what is popular for buyers in each market. Our proprietary supply chain ensures that everything we recommend is readily available and will not slow down the project.

How does your technology work?
Rick Rudman: As software pioneers, we knew we could dramatically improve so many of the broken steps that seem to ruin most renovation projects. One example of this is the wildly different pricing on proposals for similar work. Most small business owners aren’t trying to pull a fast one; they just don’t have a structured or consistent way of estimating jobs, so they resort to guesstimates or simply look at how busy they are that month. We saw an opportunity to use technology and market-driven pricing to not only speed up the process, but also ensure that every customer would get a fair proposal every time. What the customer sees is same-day estimates and detailed fixed-price proposals without ever having a contractor or crew tromp through the property. The customer also sees fair pricing and projects that get completed 60 percent faster than industry average.

During every project, the REALTOR®, homeowner and project manager share an online project portal with complete visibility into the project schedule and on-time performance, from contract signing through final walkthrough. Real-time notes, pictures and videos eliminate the frustrating task of tracking down contractors, reviewing progress or wondering about completions dates. It’s all online, updated in real-time with complete transparency.

So, are you farming out projects, or bringing contractors on full-time?
James Bruno: Curbio is the licensed general contractor on every project we do. We employ full-time general contractors to manage every project in every city where we do work. That’s a big difference between us and other solutions on the market.

Rick Rudman: Our project managers manage a network of subcontractors in every city, too. We’re asked a lot about how we find our subcontractors—there’s a common belief that there’s a shortage of them, but there are over 650,000 contractors in the U.S. that focus exclusively on residential remodeling. It’s an algorithm problem, based on matching real-time project demand with real-time contractor availability. At Curbio we’re solving this problem similar to the way Uber solves the problem of matching drivers with people looking for rides. The homeowner and agent use Curbio to get a market-rate, fixed-price contract. Curbio uses its proprietary platform to let qualified contractors select work that meets their schedule, geography and skills, at a pre-negotiated price. Contractors love this model because they can select a job, do the work and get paid by Curbio in a matter of days. Curbio in turn gets a loyal following of great contractors and better pricing.

If I’m the average homeowner, what can I expect as far as project recommendations and ROI?
James Bruno: Ninety-five percent of our renovations include updates to the kitchen and baths. Overall, we are going to collaborate with the real estate agent to recommend improvements that will increase the value of the home. For some homes, that might just be interior paint and landscaping. For others, it might be a six-figure renovation of the entire property.

Rick Rudman: According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the average home flipper made a profit of $65,000 per home in 2018. We are seeing similar results for our home sellers, who are averaging a 209-percent return. To illustrate, if the homeowner spends $55,000 with Curbio to renovate their home, the listing price goes up an average of $115,000. So after paying Curbio, along with the additional commissions and closing costs, the homeowner would net an additional $50,000.

What about agents and brokers? How is Curbio partnering with them?
Rikki Rogers: Agents across the country are leveraging Curbio to strengthen client relationships and win more listings. By partnering with Curbio, they can offer sellers an easy solution to sell their home quickly, make much more money and pay nothing until closing. We’re also helping agents save time and avoid becoming the de-facto general contractor. Many REALTORS® end up investing a great deal of time and energy managing projects for their sellers. Curbio lets agents offer all the value of pre-sale renovation without adding more work to their already full plate.

We also have strategic partnerships with larger brokerages of 1,000 or more agents, including Ebby Halliday, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Fox and Roach, REALTORS® and PalmerHouse Properties. These create a joint marketing, education and rewards program to ensure agents maximize the benefits of working with Curbio to win listings, generate more referral business and reclaim their time previously spent on project management.

You’ve expanded rapidly in a short timespan. What’s next?
Rick Rudman: We’re currently in the metro regions of Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, South Florida, Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Phoenix and Chicago, with plans to launch in Minneapolis, Boston, Las Vegas and Seattle within the next few months (at press time). Early next year we will be in New York City, LA and San Francisco, and an additional 20-30 of the largest metro areas by the end of 2020.

Before Curbio

After Curbio

Before Curbio

After Curbio

For more information, please visit www.curbio.com.

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at sdevita@rismedia.com.

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How Retirees Can Check If They’re Having Enough Taxes Withheld

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 13:54

(TNS)—If you’re retired or soon to retire, one big thing you’ll need to ask is: Am I going to be socked with a huge income tax bill come April?

“During the first year or two of retirement, it’s a big transition tax-wise,” said George W. Smith, a certified public accountant with his own firm in Southfield, Mich. “It’s a whole new tax reporting ballgame for them.”

Many times, newbies to the retirement game get caught short on how much they’ve withheld for taxes out of their pension checks. And many times, they’re not even aware that they’re dealing with a new set of retirement-related tax forms.

“No more W-2s. Now it’s 1099-Rs for pension and IRA distributions,” he said. “And SSA-1099s for Social Security benefits.”

This summer, the Internal Revenue Service launched its much-anticipated Tax Withholding Estimator. For those still on the job, the idea is to spend some time plugging in your own numbers to calculate whether you’re having enough money withheld from each paycheck to cover your income tax bill.

There’s much publicity about getting a “Paycheck Checkup” to review your potential income tax bill now. Someone who just bought a home, had a baby or just saw one of their kids turn age 17 is going to want to use the estimator. (Tax breaks are less generous for families who have children age 17 and older.)

But what about a checkup for those pension checks? It’s a smart idea for retirees. The IRS has begun making a push to alert retirees that the new estimator can help judge where you’re at tax-wise if you’re retired and getting a pension check or withdrawing money from a 401(k), too.

The task is essential if you’re unsure how your tax deductions changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Are You Withholding Enough?

The new tax rules included a higher standard deduction—$12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married couples on the 2018 return—and that may mean that you’re not going to itemize and deduct as much in charitable contributions as in the past.

But retirees may even have a higher standard deduction than that. An additional standard deduction can apply for those who are 65 or older, or blind. Single filers 65 and older can claim an additional $1,600, and married filers who are both 65 and older can claim an extra $2,600. Another $1,300 is available if an elderly taxpayer is blind.

A married couple filing jointly, for example, might have a standard deduction as high as $26,600 if both meet the age requirements or both are legally blind. So you need to take into account some specifics in your own situation.

The IRS notes that people most at risk for having too little tax withheld include those who itemized in the past but now take the increased standard deduction. “They also include households with two wage earners, employees with non-wage sources of income and those with complex tax situations,” the IRS said.

And yes, some retirees.

“Retirees are one of many groups of taxpayers that may be left owing (money) at year’s end if they do not have enough taxes withheld and fail to make the estimated tax payments during the year,” said Andy Phillips, director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

A retiree, for example, can use the tool to enter any pension income or Social Security benefits that a couple might be receiving. The estimator goes over your finances, line by line, to give you a more accurate picture.

The IRS online estimator is broken into six sections: information about your household, income, adjustments to your income, deductions from income, tax credits and your results.

You need some paperwork on hand. You must know how much in taxes has been withheld already, for example. The taxpayer can use the estimate to calculate their projected tax liability for the year. And then, if necessary, they can withhold more money now from their payouts.

The estimator makes things a bit easier for retirees by linking directly to Form W-4P, the withholding certificate for pension and annuity payments. Retirees can get a specific withholding recommendation by using the estimator to review their own tax situation. Many times, retirees would want to talk with their tax professional, too, to get a better idea of how much money to have withheld.

Someone who is getting two or three pension checks—maybe from earlier jobs—wants to take particular care with withholding enough money to cover taxes. If you’re working part-time now, you’d want to take that into consideration as well. The same’s true if you have income that you’re receiving from your investments.

 Where You Get Retirement Dollars Matters

Where you’re getting your tax dollars in retirement matters, too.

Most often, distributions you receive from a 401(k) plan are taxable, too, and you’re automatically going to see 20 percent withheld from those payouts if it’s not a required minimum distribution. But that doesn’t necessarily mean enough in taxes are being withheld.

In general, income tax will be withheld from your pension or annuity distributions unless you choose for it not to be withheld, Phillips, at H&R Block, said.

Even so, retirees can get caught short and need to pay more than they’d expect at tax time if they don’t carefully review their own situation.

One point to consider: Did you retire early and end up taking an early distribution from your 401(k) plan when you were younger than age 59? Early distributions may be subject to a 10 percent penalty unless one of the long list of exceptions applies.

“The key thing to remember here is the issuer is not going to determine that a taxpayer is subject to the 10 percent early distribution penalty,” Phillips said.

So the taxpayer would need to take that 10 percent penalty into account and consider taking action to have more taxes withheld or submitting an estimated payment during the year. At the very least, the taxpayer needs to be prepared for the potential tax liability when they file their tax return for the year when the early distribution was made.

Stay on Top of Your Situation

Of course, your tax situation can change year to year, even in retirement. So you may want to review how much you’re having withheld for taxes even after you’ve been retired a few years. Sure, no one wants to sit down and run their the tax numbers as part of fun and festivities in retirement. But it’s an exercise well worth doing.

Anyone who changes their withholding later in the year needs to do another checkup in January, too, so they’re having the correct amount withheld for all of 2020.

©2019 Detroit Free Press
Visit Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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HomeSmart: Under the Hood

Sun, 10/06/2019 - 10:05

Matt Widdows, HomeSmart CEO and Founder, Talks Revolutionizing the Industry Through Tech and Building the Brand That Will Change the Game

Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the October issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine. Subscribe today.

Just shy of its 20th anniversary, we asked HomeSmart International’s tech visionary, CEO and Founder Matt Widdows, about the rapid growth of the Inc. 5000 Hall of Fame company. Here’s what he had to say:

‘We’ve had the tech this whole time!’
“We always hear about new technology entering the space, or funds raised to develop back-end systems and more tech. We read articles about ‘firsts’ in the industry, and we shake our heads, as we’ve had a full proprietary tech stack this whole time,” says Widdows.

Maria Patterson: How did you know tech was going to be so critical to the future of real estate?
Matt Widdows:
I spent years working for various real estate brands and felt technology was lacking in the industry. I started HomeSmart in 2000 because I knew there had to be a better way to serve agents. The traditional way of reviewing a file was antiquated and inefficient. As a small brokerage with one broker and a receptionist, I needed a way to eliminate redundancies and give real-time status updates to agents. This need led to my first web app. It was rudimentary, but it did the job. I then hired developers to continue what I had started.

MP: How has your technological approach to real estate provided long-term growth and stability for the brokerage?
MW:
My vision was to utilize technologies that supported systems and services to make both the agent and brokerage successful. By using tech in our day-to-day processes, we can be more available for answering calls and helping our agents. The software reduces the number of team members needed, therefore allowing the brokerage to be profitable with a flat-fee model. In short, we hire people to service agents. We build technology to serve the business.

MP: How is HomeSmart’s technology driving the company’s success?
MW:
HomeSmart is an industry leader in innovation. Our proprietary technology provides an efficient and systematized structure to the real estate brokerage. It allows for operational excellence through efficiencies and enables agents to have successful careers without paying high fees. We provide our franchisees the systems and support they need, from marketing to transaction management to training. This allows them to function with low overhead. Franchisees in almost 30 states wouldn’t be able to leverage our Centralized Services team, which provides a national level of consistent service and support, if they weren’t all running on the same tech platform. Investing in creating technology that moves us forward is part of what makes us successful.

MP: Why did you build RealSmart Agent and RealSmart Broker?
MW:
I knew allowing agents to keep more of their commission was the model of the future. Technology was the only way that could happen while still being profitable. I built RealSmart Broker and Agent as a way to differentiate HomeSmart from the rest of the industry and innovate the way real estate was being done.

In general, if it’s a repeatable task—or something that can be forgotten or prone to human error—I program it. Our technology stack has allowed us to do just that and made it easy to scale due to the automation built into our systems. I wanted a way for agents to manage their entire business in one place, using a single login. That philosophy remains today, and when you look at our tech, it isn’t just a bunch of fluff that slows you down. It makes the jobs of our agents and brokers easier and more efficient, while allowing them to provide outstanding customer service in a consistent, repeatable and profitable manner.

HomeSmart International employees celebrate 20 years of amazing culture.

MP: What does it mean to be fully integrated, and what does an end-to-end platform look like at HomeSmart?
MW:
Fully integrated means not bolted together. No APIs, no multiple logins or windows, no double entry. Just seamless workflows. Our systems are built in the same platform and are inherently integrated. On top of that, we aren’t held hostage to a third-party company and its development priorities and contract renewals. Our technology is in-house and end-to-end, from the listing or buying appointment to post-closing.

MP: How do you use technology to improve service to your agents?
MW:
Often, technology is created for the sake of creating technology, not to solve specific problems. We create technology to imitate human processes. If we’re doing something manually, we take those “human” steps and translate them into an automated solution. Our goal is to remove manual processes for our agents and make it simple with a more error-free digital experience, saving them time and making them look better in the eyes of the consumers. Through automation of tasks, what one person can do manually in 120 hours, they can now do in 40.

‘We’re poised for explosive growth operationally, technically and culturally.’
“We’re business first, real estate second. We understand what it takes to accomplish our goals. We focus our team in four key areas: growth, operational excellence, technology and culture,” says Widdows.

Matt Widdows answers agents’ questions at the 2019 HomeSmart International Growth Summit.

MP: There are a lot of brokerages and technology companies in real estate. What makes HomeSmart different?
MW:
Integration and adoption. Our end-to-end technology is built in-house, allowing HomeSmart to seamlessly integrate every aspect of our tech stack, from transaction management to CRMs to marketing tools. If we see a tech need in the market, we build it and integrate directly into our existing platform. And because we developed it in-house, we provide most of it for free across our entire brand. This provides a consistent experience and offering for every HomeSmart broker, agent and consumer across the nation. When I see other brokerages who are just now rolling out proprietary tech, I think, “Good luck!” We’ve been doing this since 2002, and it’s not easy.

MP: What sets HomeSmart’s culture apart?
MW:
Our focus on outstanding customer service for everyone we serve. We’re heavily motivated by metrics. They’re part of our company fiber. We expect a lot from everyone at HomeSmart, but we also give back and take care of our people. I want a place where people come to work to work hard, have fun and make an impact. I never want to dread coming to the office or working with people that I don’t enjoy being around. It never ceases to amaze me when I go to functions and everyone is relaxed, casual and fun to be around. HomeSmart is not a place for stuffiness or egos, and those qualities generally don’t last long within our culture. I love that! We treat each other as family and with respect. Preservation of that culture is hugely important, and we protect it with a vengeance. It took a long time to get here, but it’s real and company-wide.

MP: How can HomeSmart brokers manage such a large volume of transactions with such a lean staff?
MW:
Technology allows our departments to maximize their output by focusing on their specific roles within the transaction. This keeps our brokers on high-level calls, file review and legal matters while the rest of our team handles the other aspects of the transaction. We also have a dedicated support team to answer calls about anything non-transaction-related. When each team is hyper-focused, we can do more with less.

Matt Widdows launches SmartReception technology in 2002.

That’s the beauty and one of the key differentiators of our proprietary end-to-end systems. As the fifth-largest brokerage in the United States, we’re able to manage a 9,788-plus agent brokerage with 100-percent agent tech adoption. We processed 36,064 transactions last year, answering our phone 92 percent of the time before going to voicemail with a team of only 38 brokerage employees. We’ve figured out a smarter way to run a brokerage.

MP: I get the 100-percent model and why it’s a benefit to agents, but how can you run that model, still make a profit and provide leading-edge technology?
MW:
It’s all about scale and smart business. We run a business that happens to be in the real estate industry. I think that’s a unique viewpoint. We build business processes that allow us to be efficient and lean without sacrificing service. Then we scale it. The technology is what enables us to do so at a profit. 

‘HomeSmart is THE company to watch the next 20 years.’
“We’re not interested in a few key stories or wins. We’re in this for the long game. We know the industry, brokers, agents and consumers. We’re here to ease the path to homeownership while revolutionizing the industry as we go,” says Widdows.

Matt Widdows and Development Team Manager Gina Ippolito collaborate on advancing HomeSmart’s in-house technology.

MP: Why push yourself so hard? What are you trying to accomplish?
MW:
I’m working to revolutionize the real estate industry. I want HomeSmart to be the brand that does so—the brand that made real estate better for brokers, agents and consumers. HomeSmart will stand the test of time and will continue to innovate through the ever-changing industry landscape.

MP: What is your day-to-day involvement in HomeSmart’s tech and systems?
MW:
Technology is one of my passions. I’m heavily involved in the design, development and implementation of our software. I meet with the team regularly and strategize with our leadership group about what’s needed to improve our technology. I have a clear vision of the different areas in our business that have processes that can be made better and faster for clients. As the industry continues to change, brokers, agents, buyers and sellers all experience different pains, so we adapt our technology to keep up and relieve them. Creating productive and useful tech is my most significant focus. It’s the biggest impact I have on the company today—and has always been a large part of what I do.

MP: What are some of the recent changes to your proprietary technology?
MW:
We recently rolled out a complete rewrite of our RealSmart Broker and Agent platforms and released the RealSmart Agent Mobile app, which allows agents to track transactions, listings, contacts and documents, and perform anything they would do on their desktop in the field. We will soon incorporate our eDocs and signing platform into RealSmart Agent, creating a completely server-based transaction for both HomeSmart agents as well as agents with other companies. Our newly released tools provide an upgrade from our previous offering and strengthen our foundation.

HomeSmart International Senior Leadership Team plans strategic corporate initiatives.

We’re working on building technology for the consumer to connect all aspects of the transaction. We want to take the same positive impact our tech has had on our brokers and agents and bring it to the consumer. This means not only providing the typical home search capability, but also better insight into the transaction process. Integrating with other vendors such as title and mortgage will allow our platform access to past transactions and electronic documents with any of our brokers or agents. It’s all about thinking of tomorrow and implementing today. That’s how we will win with our disruptive model in a rapidly changing industry.

MP: There are critics of the 100-percent model that call companies who use it “discount brokerages.” How do you respond to that?
MW:
Most of those critics are now scrambling to figure out how to either switch to our flat-fee model or maintain a value proposition with high fees. We’re seeing a shift away from the traditional model. We provide the tools you get at a split-fee brokerage, plus proprietary tech that makes it easier for our agents and brokers to run their businesses at maximum profits.

We’re agile and efficient, and no matter if the market is good or bad, the model is profitable…and it’s working. Twenty years ago, we were looked down upon in the industry, but that’s not the case anymore. I invite anyone to come by our headquarters for a tour. HomeSmart offers everything a traditional brokerage provides and then some. We have beautiful offices with conference rooms, technology and private workspaces. We have broker support seven days a week and a department approach to servicing our agents quickly and efficiently for their specific needs. We provide mentoring and training, including CE, and offer community impact events for our agents to participate in. Our agents receive excellent support, training, marketing tools and free technology—and keep their commissions.

Matt Widdows discusses HomeSmart International’s next franchising opportunity with Chief Counsel Susan Watson and Senior Vice President of Franchise Sales Bryan Brooks.

MP: Next year marks the 20th anniversary of HomeSmart. Two decades later, how do you see the company today?
MW:
What started as an idea to offer a low-cost, technology-forward real estate company has grown into a technology company operating in the real estate space. For us, this is a substantial competitive advantage. HomeSmart’s technology is the best-kept secret in the industry. Other companies are getting billions of dollars in valuations for technology that we have had for years and that our agents and brokers are currently using to streamline their businesses. They’re focused on bells and whistles, whereas HomeSmart focuses on technology that makes people’s lives easier. Agents need technology that helps them move faster and increases their transaction velocity. Other companies want it and are trying to get it. We’ve had it and continue to improve it.

It’s important to understand that we’ve always been about continuous innovation. We created virtual reception technology in 2002 to allow for scale of service to multiple branches. We went paperless in 2008 when everyone said it would never happen. A year hasn’t gone by where we haven’t created or improved what we offer from a technology perspective, or any perspective, for that matter. I think that’s part of the secret to our success. The status quo has no place in our organization.

For more information, please visit www.homesmart.com.

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at maria@rismedia.com.

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Long-Awaited Win for FHA Condo Approvals

Sun, 10/06/2019 - 10:03

Condominiums are often the most affordable homeownership option for first-time buyers, small families, single people, urban residents and older Americans looking to downsize. Beginning Oct. 15, 2019, buying a condo with an FHA-insured loan will be a whole lot easier. After years of lobbying by REALTORS®, a number of FHA rules have changed that previously prevented buyers from purchasing condominiums, harmed homeowners who need to sell their condominiums and limited the ability of condominium projects to attract resident buyers.

Unlike conventional mortgages, FHA borrowers have been limited in their ability to purchase a condominium. First, the entire building had to get FHA approval to allow units to be purchased with an FHA loan. This is a time-consuming, burdensome and somewhat costly endeavor for often volunteer condo boards. Many condo boards simply did not want to go through the process. The certification was also eligible for just two years, and took about six months to obtain, so it hardly seemed worth it for some properties. Under the new rules, the FHA certification will be good for three years, with an additional six-month grace period to re-certify. In addition, instead of having to submit the same paperwork every two years, the rules now require any necessary documentation to be updated. This should greatly reduce the burdens on condo boards, and will hopefully lead to more buildings being FHA-approved.

Under the new rules, if a building is not yet FHA-approved, an FHA buyer may still be able to purchase a unit. FHA is bringing back single-unit approval (previously called spot-loan approval). Under this process, a lender can approve an individual unit for FHA mortgage insurance. The building has to meet a number of criteria, but this change should greatly increase the supply of available condominium units for buyers with FHA loans.

One of the most popular types of condominium projects, the town-center model, also got a boost. In these types of projects, there is often retail space on the first floor, with perhaps one level of office space, and condominiums above. Under the new rules, FHA increases the allowable commercial space from 25 to 35 percent and will allow exceptions up to 49 percent. Parking garages have been a specific problem in town-center developments, because the garage is considered all commercial space. The new rules will now allow any parking spaces allocated to residential units to be considered residential—and not commercial space. That should be a significant help for these properties to be approved.

The number of units that are rented within a condominium building affects FHA certification. Unlike Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, who do not restrict the purchase of primary residences based on the number of rentals in a condo building, FHA required 50 percent of the units to be owner-occupied to be eligible for certification. The new FHA condo rules lower the owner occupancy rate requirement to 35 percent for properties that are more than one year old and have less than 10 percent of units in arrears on their dues. This should greatly improve the number of properties that can be certified.

There are a number of other changes that will also benefit homebuyers. They are outlined at www.nar.realtor/condominiums/fha-condominium-rule-assessment.

According to a HUD press release, “While there are more than 150,000 condominium projects in the U.S., only 6.5 percent are approved to participate in FHA’s mortgage insurance programs. As a result of FHA’s new policy, it is estimated that 20,000 to 60,000 condominium units could become eligible for FHA-insured financing annually.”

The new rules go into effect on Oct. 15, 2019. Real estate professionals should work to educate condominium boards about the changes, as well as the advantages of having FHA approval.

Megan Booth is the director of Federal Housing and Commercial Policy for the National Association of REALTORS®. This column is brought to you by the NAR Real Estate Services group.

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Imagine the Possibilities at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 21:01

When the NAR leadership sat down to brainstorm the 2019 convention, the goal was clear: design a conference that reflected the endless possibilities on the horizon for REALTORS®. After all, in this age of proptech, opportunity zones, increased professionalism and advocacy initiatives that expand homeownership, the landscape is ripe for REALTORS® to strengthen the value they already bring to communities.

Enter this year’s Conference and Expo. With 100 educational sessions, 400 exhibitors and 20,000 REALTORS® in one place, the possibilities for building your knowledge, expanding your network, and finding inspiration are endless!

I am thrilled that San Francisco is the site of the National Association of REALTORS® Conference & Expo, taking place Nov. 8 – 11. With world-class cuisine, a vibrant art and cultural scene and incredible natural beauty, San Francisco provides the ideal backdrop for this unforgettable event.

Designed to propel your business forward, the REALTORS® Conference & Expo will give you new ideas and innovative tools to save time, increase efficiency and grow your profits. Monday, Nov. 11 is designated solely for educational sessions and hands-on workshops to further enhance the value of attending.

While there, I hope you find time to visit the Expo. With hundreds of diverse exhibitors, the Expo is a dynamic place to be, and at the heart of it all is NAR Booth No. 5545. Be sure to stop by to take advantage of the many exclusive member offerings.

Discover savings and unique offers just for REALTORS® from more than 30 industry-leading partners through NAR’s REALTOR Benefits® Program. Then, visit the Member Value Plus (MVP) program kiosk to sign up for the eNewsletter and start earning free rewards!

Take advantage of tech tools like Realtors Property Resource® (RPR®) to access data, tools and reports that help REALTORS® “wow” clients and close more deals, and zipLogix, the leading technology included in your NAR transaction management benefit, including zipForm®, zipTMS and zipVault®.

Learn how to stand out by building your unique brand online with the .realtor and .realestate domains. And see how the REALTOR® Sustainability Program supports REALTORS® on topics like solar, green valuation and smart home features.

Looking to increase your expertise and leadership qualities? Enroll in the award-winning Commitment to Excellence program to demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to conducting business at the highest standards. Develop and grow strong Volunteer Leadership skills through programs and resources from the REALTOR® Leadership Program and NAR’s Leadership Academy.

Find out how the Center for REALTOR® Financial Wellness helps you meet specific financial planning needs with educational resources on topics regarding wealth building, business planning and investing in real estate.

Get to know the Member Experience, Engagement & Legal team and their services, including Association Governance, Association Leadership Development, Commercial, Global, Legal, Library & Archives, Member Support, MLS, Professional Standards, outreach to industry partners, and the Young Professionals Network. Also, meet the editors of REALTOR® Magazine, the award-winning business tool and news source just for NAR members, to pitch your story ideas and subscribe to the digital edition.

Like to shop? The official REALTOR® Store offers business-boosting products at 10 percent off! And the REALTOR Team Store® carries all your REALTOR®-branded product needs. Look for That’s Who We R® merch and the 2019 limited-edition conference lapel pin.

Need a little inspiration? On Saturday, from 1 – 3 p.m., meet and take a photo with Billie Jean King, sports icon and champion for social change and equality. Receive a signed tennis ball while supplies last.

And while you’re at NAR Booth No. 5545, learn how to leverage That’s Who We R®,  NAR’s national ad campaign, and snap a selfie at the photo display!

Beyond the Expo floor and convention center, there is so much to see—whether you register for an NAR tour or explore on your own. You can jump on a trolley, take in the art and amazing food, tour Napa Valley wineries, wander through Chinatown, escape to Alcatraz, and enjoy the comical seals at Fisherman’s Wharf!

The years ahead represent endless possibilities for REALTORS®. What better way to prepare than to register for the REALTORS® Conference & Expo. To do so, visit www.conference.realtor.

I can already imagine the possibilities in the future. Can you?

Victoria Gillespie is the chief marketing and communications officer for the National Association of REALTORS®.

The post Imagine the Possibilities at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo appeared first on RISMedia.

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