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Updated: 2 hours 57 min ago

Realogy and Cartus Lose ‘Significant’ USAA Business, Introduce Replacement Military Awards Program

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 13:44

USAA is discontinuing its Real Estate Rewards Network, a referral relationship with Realogy—managed by Cartus (a wholly-owned subsidiary)—that provided the real estate giant with military buyer and seller leads.

Realogy announced the news in a recent regulatory filing, stating USAA ended the program due to “increasing complexities in financial services” that drove USAA to instead “shift focus toward its core banking, mortgage and insurance business.” In the same statement, Realogy announced Cartus would be launching its own military rewards program this September.

A USAA spokesperson issued a similar statement, saying, “We made the decision to discontinue the program so that we can focus on delivering highly-competitive mortgage and banking products to our members.”

The loss was foreshadowed in the previous year. Last September, MPA (Mortgage Professional America) magazine reported USAA would be eliminating around 265 roles from the bank’s real estate mortgage business and the Real Estate Rewards Network program, signaling the effort has been struggling for some time due to challenges in the mortgage market.

RISMedia asked if they have plans to restore the program or provide an alternative in the future, and USAA replied “For now, our focus is to support members currently enrolled in the program. USAA always is looking for new and better ways to support our members through innovative products.”

While the USAA program made up “a significant portion” of Cartus’ affinity business and the “in-network homesale transactions for Realogy and its brand,” according to the filing, the company does not believe the loss will have a “material effect” on its financial results by year-end.

In terms of 2020 business, Realogy stated the program’s discontinuation would likely impact earnings at Cartus and could reduce “in-network homesale transactions” at Realogy and related brands.

When asked how many transactions and buyer/seller leads the program encompassed, Realogy would not provide comment. Similarly, the USAA spokesperson said the company could not provide that information as it is “competitively sensitive.”

However, Realogy did state that in addition to “high-quality referrals from affinity partner programs,” Cartus also provides “high-quality corporate relocation referrals to affiliated brokers,” confirming the discontinued program only eliminated a portion of Cartus’ referral business.

The Realogy filing stated the Cartus Broker Network closed 80,000 “in-network” transactions for Realogy and its related brands in 2018, with 36,000 of those closings happening in the six months leading up to June 30, 2019. NewsTimes reports USAA estimated the value of its services to be between $500 to $24,000, depending on the profile of the homeowner.”

According to Realogy’s second quarter financial results for 2019, the parent company saw a 6 percent increase from Cartus-related referrals (from 24,141 to 25,562). However, it is unclear how much of that came from the USAA-affiliated program and how much from Cartus’ corporate relocation business.

As a replacement, Cartus this week launched Realogy Military Rewards, a program with “benefits similar to those offered under the USAA Real Estate Rewards Network,” the filing stated. A representative at Realogy told RISMedia that the new rewards program will provide U.S. military personnel, veterans and their family members with “top-notch services and rewards when they purchase or sell a home in the U.S.”

“Cartus is pleased to continue to serve the extended military community with this new program,” the Realogy source told RISMedia.

The new initiative will provide qualifying consumers with $350 to $7,500 in cash back or rewards—the benefits will depend on the home’s sale or purchase price. It uses Military Rewards Advocates to match consumers with an affiliated agent from the Cartus Broker Network, which is made up primarily of Realogy-affiliated brokers and agents.

“Realogy has a long history of supporting our servicemen and servicewomen during one of life’s most special and critical milestones: buying or selling a home,” said Ryan Schneider, Realogy’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “The new Realogy Military Rewards program extends our support to the entire U.S. military community and their families by providing a real estate agent experienced with military moves, an advocate to offer support along the way and substantial cash back upon closing.”

While USAA cannot comment specifically on Realogy’s Military Rewards program, their spokesperson said they’re “always happy to see programs that benefit the military community.”

The USAA program remained open for enrollment until September 6. Members closing on or before Dec. 31, 2019, may still be eligible to receive the program benefits if the state allows it, according to a statement on the USAA website. However, those closing after January 1 will simply be provided with alternative options outside the Real Estate Rewards Network.

Following the news, Realogy shares were down 23 percent on the New York Stock Exchange despite announcing a replacement program. The company’s stock has been struggling in recent months. While recent collaborations with iconic brands such as Amazon (TurnKey and Agent X) increased Realogy shares by as much as 31 percent, it remains to be seen if long-term investor activity will reflect apprehension toward the brand or if these new partnerships and programs will revive interest.

Realogy also made news this past week over a dispute with rival Compass, which claimed Realogy CEO Ryan Schneider had floated the prospect of a sale to Compass. Schneider rejected that claim, saying it was “simply not true,” and the statement was “designed to inspire sensational news coverage.”

Also last week, Realogy announced a major organizational shift, with NRT CEO Ryan Gorman heading up a “unified Coldwell Banker leadership team” and Coldwell Banker Real Estate CEO Charlie Young moving into an advisory role; Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate CEO Sherry Chris leading Realogy’s Expansion Brands, which includes Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and ERA Real Estate; and ERA Real Estate CEO Simon Chen becoming executive vice president of Product and Innovation for Realogy.

Next week, Schneider is delivering the keynote presentation at RISMedia’s Real Estate CEO Exchange in New York City, where he will address “Surviving the New Real Estate Landscape.”

Stay tuned to RISMedia for ongoing coverage.  

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

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Changing the Way Money Moves in Real Estate—and Beyond

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 13:16

Earnnest Is on a Mission to Create a New Standard for Secure Money Movement

On a mission to make electronic payment the norm in real estate within the next five years, Earnnest—a digital platform that allows buyers to securely and electronically deposit funds directly to an escrow holder—is changing the way money moves in real estate.

Created out of necessity, Earnnest was conceptualized around the closing table two short years ago. Built by real estate agents, escrow attorneys and technology veterans, the digital platform was designed to facilitate fast and secure real estate transactions.

And it’s taking the real estate industry by storm.

“Sitting around the attorney’s table on closing day after purchasing our first home, when asked about what I would change about the process, I confided in my agent that I would change everything,” explains Daniel Jeffords, Earnnest CTO and one of two original co-founders.

At the top of his list? The process surrounding paying earnest money.

Seeking to become the standard for a new way to move money within the real estate industry, the team at Earnnest is pushing to make paper checks a thing of the past by promoting transactions through technology.

“This is something that should have been digitized and simplified long ago,” says Rick Altizer, Earnnest CEO, who is leading the charge to bring the earnest money transfer and other frustrating and time-consuming processes into the 21st century.

Committed to building a wholly transparent digital system and removing unnecessary tedium in the busy lives of agents, the team at Earnnest is changing the home-buying process as we know it.

In fact, all it takes is a few simple clicks for agents to invite buyers to use Earnnest and authorize the earnest money transfer. Then once buyer identity is verified as well as a funding source—Earnnest is connected to more than 12,000 banks nationwide—a buyer is ready to complete the transfer. With Earnnest, there are no physical checks required; everything is completely digital.

“We’re intent on taking out the manual parts of the process, while keeping it safe and secure,” says Altizer, of the proprietary business process they’ve built.

Making the lives of real estate agents—and the brokers who help grow their businesses—easier, Earnnest is putting hours back into their busy days and removing unnecessary stress.

“Agents view the time spent tracking down and collecting earnest money as one of their biggest pain points, so any way we can simplify their lives, make them more productive and put time back on their side is a huge benefit,” says Jeffords.

But the benefits associated with using Earnnest to bring a real estate transaction to fruition extend even further, especially when you consider the number of people who need to be kept in the loop regarding the status of a given transaction.

With so many moving parts that must come together in perfect succession for a successful real estate transaction, simplifying and streamlining these processes for everyone involved is a huge win for the industry.

Taking the onus off the shoulders of agents and brokers alike, Earnnest has gone above and beyond in creating a trackable and secure money movement system.

“We’ve built an entirely transparent and trackable transaction process that provides instant notifications to all parties involved along the way,” explains Altizer.

In addition to making life simpler for a lot of people, Jeffords explains that the level of security inherent in Earnnest’s system keeps buyers in control of the situation.

Built from the ground up to secure real estate payments, Earnnest uses the 256-bit AES encryption standard chosen by financial institutions and the U.S. government. By utilizing the most advanced and secure encryption algorithm, buyers can fund their money payments while keeping sensitive banking information secure.

With a clear focus on safety, Earnnest has a proprietary way of using ACH payment transfers. Additionally, utilizing ACH transfers instead of wires also helps combat the ever-growing issue of wire fraud. Unlike a wire, ACH payments require a buyer to be partnered with a financial institution; this means he or she must have a verified bank account attached to a legitimate and verified bank. ACH payments also take a maximum of five business days to clear and deposit, less than half of the potential 12 days for checks, which means buyers can settle faster.

“Inside our platform, no one ever shares their account information, and more importantly, the information is never stored,” says Jeffords, who equates wire transfers to sending money into a black hole and hoping it works.

Keeping buyers at the center of the process also negates the need for paper checks that contain account, contact and personal information, preventing them from being placed in the hands of unknown individuals.

“We’re working to become an end-to-end solution for transactions,” says Jeffords, who is looking forward to a bright future of continued growth that will spread far beyond the real estate industry.

“Since we’re platform-agnostic, there’s a huge opportunity to transition into other verticals and industries where money is moving and needs to be collected in time for a transaction to take place,” adds Altizer. Expanding beyond the confines of real estate, Altizer has his sights set on being able to integrate with any software platform by the end of the year.

“We’ve hit our sweet spot,” Altizer says. “And we’re truly looking forward to this next year of growth.”

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

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

The post Changing the Way Money Moves in Real Estate—and Beyond appeared first on RISMedia.

Homebuyers Torn: Should I Buy, or Hold Off?

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 13:09

Are homebuyers making moves, or sitting it out? Both narratives take, a new report shows.

According to August data from realtor.com®, there are buyers locking in low mortgage rates today, and buyers delaying due to economic uncertainty.

How do we know? The movement of prices and supply. According to realtor.com, in August, inventory slid 1.8 percent year-over-year—a first in the past year—and the median national price rose 4.9 percent.

However, comparing month-over-month numbers, the median price reversed 1.8 percent—the biggest fall for that period since 2012, and a likely marker of uncertainty.

“The state of the housing market as we head into the latter half of 2019 is a tug of war between increased affordability and economic anxiety,” explains George Ratiu, senior economist at realtor.com. “We’re starting to see this tension play out in our August data. On the one hand, lower interest rates have given buyers more purchasing power, which is contributing to August’s decline in national inventory.”

The average 30-year fixed rate recently sunk to 3.49 percent, according to Freddie Mac—a low not seen since 2016.

“However, concerns over trade wars and cutbacks in corporate spending are causing some buyers to postpone their search,” Ratiu says. “This is contributing to both the slowdown in prices, as well as the inventory decline, as buyers stay put in their current homes.”

Beyond current events, if a downturn hits, 56 percent of buyers could postpone purchasing, according to a recently released separate survey, also from realtor.com. Of those findings, 36 percent of buyers expect a recession in 2020.

“If the headwinds of economic uncertainty intensify, it could prompt a decrease in buyer demand and shift housing inventory’s current trajectory, but if increased purchasing power prevails, we could see even more inventory declines and intensified competition between buyers,” Ratiu says.

In another recently released survey, conducted by Pulsenomics and Zillow, analysts believe construction could stall until 2022, or even later, exacerbating the inventory shortage. In July, housing starts ticked up 0.6 percent year-over-year, the Commerce Department reported—but, in preowned supply, there were 1.6 percent fewer for-sale homes, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

“The American housing landscape was shaped in a big way by the drive for the classic American dream; swaths of cities were set aside solely for single-family, detached homes, with big minimum lot sizes and slow local review processes,” notes Skylar Olsen, director of Economic Research at Zillow. “Jump ahead three decades and housing affordability is a major issue across the country.”

The affordability challenge hampers millennials significantly. In fact, according to Bankrate findings released this week, 22 percent of millennials “don’t ever think they’ll be able to save enough for a down payment.”

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

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Stay Safer With SentriKey

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 13:49

NAR PULSE—The new SentriKey app gives REALTORS® an innovative way to make home showings more secure with the Agent Safety Feature. It automatically and discreetly alerts emergency contacts when your agents don’t feel safe or can’t confirm that they are. SentriLock is NAR’s official lockbox solution.

Join the REACH Insight Panel, Earn With MVP
Join the REACH Insight Panel by September 15 and demo one (or all!) products from 2019 REACH Companies to receive exclusive discounts and offers, valued at $1,500. Act now with NAR’s Member Value Plus (MVP) Program!

Spread the Word: It’s FREE! Financial Webinar for Your Agents
NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Financial Wellness is proud to announce the new Financial Source Webinar Series. This resource is designed for all agents with different financial backgrounds. Encourage your agents to register for the October 10 webinar to discover tips on financial planning for your succession/exit strategy.

The post Stay Safer With SentriKey appeared first on RISMedia.

Real Estate Q&A: What Happens When a Storm Disrupts Home Deals?

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 13:21

(TNS)—Q: I have been on a tear, damaging homes up the Atlantic coast. How does this affect people who are under contract to buy or sell a home? – Dorian (yes, that Dorian!)

A: Here in Florida, we are experienced in dealing with you and your siblings. When we get wind that you are coming to town, it becomes next to impossible to get homeowner’s insurance and financing approval, delaying most closings.

The standard real estate contract used in most closings will contain a clause dealing with the issue of a natural disaster or “force majeure.” Typically, the closing will be delayed for a week after things return to normal.

However, if the delay lasts for more than 30 days, either the buyer or seller would be able to cancel the contract. Of course, it’s important to carefully review the terms of each particular contract as it might be different from the standard.

After you leave town and power and water are back on, the buyer will need to have the home carefully inspected for damage. Generally, if the repair cost is no more the 1.5 percent of the purchase price, the seller must fix the problems, hopefully before closing. If they take longer to fix, the funds will be held in escrow while the seller keeps at it.

If the repairs cost more than that, the buyer can take the 1.5 percent as a repair credit on the closing statement and close as-is, or cancel the contract and get the deposit back.

The buyer and seller, or their real estate agents, should stay in good communication with each other, the closing agent and lender to determine what must be done to continue to closing. Everyone should stay patient and work with the process as things return to normal. In my experience, things get back on track fairly quickly, and very few deals are lost due to a storm.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar.  

©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
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Productive Agents + Best-in-Class Tech

Sun, 09/08/2019 - 10:09

RE/MAX Launches Into a New Era of Ever-Evolving Advantages With the Rollout of Its Booj-Built Technology 

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

In February 2018, RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos stood on stage at the RE/MAX R4 Convention in Las Vegas and told the crowd of over 6,000 attendees, “We just acquired a technology company called booj.” The news was a home run, signaling an aggressive, innovative move by the iconic brand.

In early August 2019, at the RE/MAX Broker Owner Conference (BOC), Contos was back on stage, this time launching the booj Platform.

“This is a milestone moment in the history of our network, a huge step forward into a new era of RE/MAX technology,” Contos said at the BOC. “We’re arming super-productive agents with top-shelf, best-in-class technology—it’s a combination unmatched in the industry. This is phenomenal, mobile-first technology, designed specifically to help RE/MAX agents save time, build their business and elevate the customer experience.”

If the 2018 news was a home run, this was a game-winning grand slam, as it made good on a promise to deliver industry-changing, end-to-end technology built with and for RE/MAX agents.

By design, 18 months had passed since the initial announcement—18 months filled with research, scaling, user feedback, testing, strategic planning and intense product development. The result: an integrated suite of digital products that helps high-producing agents, teams and brokers establish, manage and grow client relationships.

RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos announces the launch of the booj Platform at last month’s Broker Owner Conference.

Power Tool: The booj Platform
Developed by booj engineers in collaboration with thousands of RE/MAX affiliates, the booj Platform provides a premium end-to-end solution customized for the RE/MAX network. It delivers a better customer experience by streamlining the work of agents, from lead generation to deal management to post-close nurturing and beyond. The powerful CRM tool is at the core of the booj Platform, which provides deeply integrated solutions for:

  • Digital Branding
    RE/MAX agents, teams and offices can build and customize their own branded RE/MAX website in just minutes. Each site seamlessly integrates with social accounts and provides in-depth analytics. Real estate is a local business, and these sites position affiliates as local experts.
  • Lead Capture
    Agents can be more strategic in their interactions with potential clients. They can reach out with relevant, targeted communication based on insights from the platform. Client engagement is also generated through home valuations, market snapshots and individual property websites.
  • Client Engagement
    The booj Platform has several tools to keep agents top of mind, including the Sphere Interaction tool, which displays recent customer interactions and a visual indicator as to whether the agent should reach out. The platform also automates email campaigns and other content deliveries based on a consumer’s actions on the site.
  • Deal Management
  • A fully integrated Deal Pipeline offers a comprehensive, orderly view of an agent’s current transactions and potential new business. As deals move through stages of the pipeline, the system can automatically mark tasks as completed and/or open the next list of tasks.

Layered Advantages
The addition of booj technology adds to the many competitive advantages already enjoyed by RE/MAX agents, who are affiliated with one of the most recognized brands in the industry. The network ended Q2 with over 127,000 agents worldwide—its highest count ever—and a presence in more than 110 countries and territories.

A deep-rooted culture of productivity and high achievement has defined the brand for decades. In the U.S., RE/MAX agents average 15.1 years of experience and 8.7 years with the brand, although newer agents who are driven and passionate also enjoy successful RE/MAX careers. In many ways, RE/MAX remains “a home to top producers.” And the stats bear that out.

For instance, in RISMedia’s 2019 Power Broker Report analyzing 2018 sales data from the top 1,000 U.S. brokerages, RE/MAX agents averaged 15.5 transaction sides each. That’s more than double the figure (7.1) for all non-RE/MAX agents in the study.

The RE/MAX community is a great fit for agents who push themselves to reach new heights and deliver more to buyers and sellers.

“I try to improve myself or learn something new every day,” says Alexa Kebalo Hughes, who co-leads The Kebalo Group with her mother, Cheryl Kebalo, at RE/MAX Right Choice Real Estate in South Windsor, Conn. “People are counting on me to be the best I can be and to guide them through the largest financial decisions of their lives. I take that responsibility seriously, and so do all my RE/MAX friends.”

Tech Ninjas
Making great agents even better is the goal driving booj technology, says John Sable, a booj co-founder.

Sable and Ido Zucker established booj (“be original or jealous”) in 2005 and built it into a juggernaut of real estate tech innovation, service and product development. Now senior vice presidents at RE/MAX, the two lead the booj team of over 100 “tech ninjas” devoted to creating a transformative platform designed specifically for RE/MAX agents.

The process is just getting started, Sable says.

“The release of new technology is when the magic really begins,” he says. “Moving forward, user data will help us make smart adjustments and enhancements. We launched on an incredibly strong foundation based on tons of user testing and feedback, but by design, the technology will be even better six months from now, a year from now, and so on.”

The initial booj release—a powerful customer relationship management (CRM) solution at the core of the platform—is systematically rolling out in U.S. RE/MAX company-owned regions this fall. Initial user feedback has been universally positive.

Intuitive and Easy
“To me, booj seems intuitive and easy to learn,” says Stephen Baker, broker/owner of RE/MAX Realty Central in Lake Mary, Fla. “I’ve used other CRMs combined with various third-party systems, but booj has put together a complete package of agent productivity and marketing tools. We’re excited about the untapped potential booj has brought to our agents.”

Kristen Jones, broker/owner of RE/MAX Around Atlanta in Georgia, thinks the booj Platform will appeal to agents across the entire spectrum—from tech-savvy to tech-adverse.

“The booj technology is really robust, and it’ll have a big impact helping agents build their business,” says Jones, who spent time in Denver learning the platform ahead of launch. “I’m most excited that booj is ours—and we’ll be able to decide how it evolves from here. I’m in for the long haul, and this is about positioning RE/MAX for a very bright future.”

Nate Martinez of RE/MAX Professionals in Arizona was an alpha tester for the product. He saw how feedback earlier in the year resulted in adjustments and shaped a better launch version.

“I honestly believe RE/MAX will have the best CRM on the market,” Martinez says. “I’m excited about the feel and functionality of the product. I’m a relationship guy, and I believe in building strong relationships with my database of contacts. The software will be a major upgrade over any other products agents are using.”

Thousands of Sites
By the end of the year, booj technology will power the significantly enhanced remax.com website and consumer app, syncing both with thousands of content-rich websites promoting listings and RE/MAX agents, teams and brokerages. The comprehensive booj Platform—which integrates transaction management partners such as DocuSign, dotloop and others—will help RE/MAX affiliates capture leads, streamline operations and maximize results.

Over time, it will eliminate “data islands” among the membership, enabling affiliates to enjoy the benefits of being with a thriving global organization.

“The goal of the technology is to connect people,” Zucker says. “We believe technology works best when it amplifies what humans would do on their own. When agents use the platform to work more efficiently and strategically, they have more time to manage new business and cultivate new relationships.”

Power of the Network
Beyond agent-client relationships, agent-to-agent connections are another major aspect of RE/MAX value.

RE/MAX agents exchange referrals directly, with no additional costs, middleman or interference. And the annual R4 convention, which last year drew attendees from over 60 countries, presents a perfect opportunity to learn, grow and make invaluable referral connections.

“I never miss an annual RE/MAX convention, and I’ve met so many top agents who open their playbook and share their tips on being more successful,” says Hughes, who joined the network in 2011 upon graduating from college and currently serves as vice president of the 4,200-member Greater Hartford Association of REALTORS®.  “Plus, about 25 percent of our team’s business comes from RE/MAX referrals. It pays to be part of all this.

“The power of the network has absolutely helped my career.”

Insight From Global Leaders
The RE/MAX global expansion has been steady and spectacular, especially since the formation of RE/MAX Europe in the mid-1990s. The network now has more than 60,000 international agents and a presence in more than 110 countries and territories, including Australia, virtually all of the Americas and Europe, and large portions of Africa and Asia.

A common trait among the most successful international regions: a transformative, resilient leader who is passionate about helping others. Here are some insights from several global pioneers:

Dario Castiglia
Region Owner, RE/MAX Italy (3,700+ agents)
Co-Owner, RE/MAX Germany (500+ agents)

“From the very start, we were certain we were on the right track. What I learned is that if you believe in what you’re doing and never give up, eventually you will shine.”

Michael Davoren
Region Owner, RE/MAX Australia (500+ agents), RE/MAX New Zealand (170+ agents)

“It’s a very, very close network. We’ve received a lot of helpful input from broker/owners and regional owners from around the world. The insights they’ve shared have been invaluable.”

Adrian Goslett
Regional Director & CEO, RE/MAX of Southern Africa (2,400+ agents)

“I joined RE/MAX in 2005 because of the people already with the brand. Their passion, their commitment, their drive, their enthusiasm. We fed off their positive energy.”

Bernard Raskin
Region Owner, RE/MAX Israel (550+ agents)
Co-Owner, RE/MAX Germany (500+ agents)

“Being in RE/MAX is a way of life. I greet every day with enthusiasm and energy. We’re all from different countries and we speak different languages back at home, but when we get together, we’re very close. It’s great fun and always an incredible learning experience.”

Beatriz Rubio
Region Co-Owner, RE/MAX Portugal (7,500+ agents)
Co-Owner, RE/MAX Germany (500+ agents), RE/MAX France (200+ agents)

“I think people need to dream big and set big goals for themselves. If you don’t challenge yourself and set big goals, any place you get to will be enough. I want to always reach higher, and I want my people to always reach higher.”

Dotti Penate-Sosa
Region Co-Owner, RE/MAX Argentina (3,000+ agents), RE/MAX Uruguay (100+ agents)
“We use the RE/MAX brand everywhere and put it on everything. Why wouldn’t we? It stands for quality.”

Sebastian Sosa
Region Co-Owner, RE/MAX Argentina (3,000+ agents), RE/MAX Uruguay (100+ agents)

“I’m much better off today than I was when I started with RE/MAX. I believe I’m a better person, a better professional. I continue to grow just by hanging out with the great people in this network.”

4 Questions for CEO Adam Contos
Contos, who shares his insights on a podcast called “Start With a Win,” is focused on leading the RE/MAX network and raising the customer experience throughout the industry. Here are a few of his thoughts:

  1. How are you adapting the brand to compete in today’s market?
    Our surveys show that agents want the company to focus on three main things: tools, training and technology. We’re playing offense in all three areas, freeing agents up to do what they do best: working with clients, cultivating relationships and building their business.

We’ve released multiple tools this year, including all sorts of marketing resources that enable agents to combine our massive brand power with their own personalities. In technology, the booj Platform will provide an entire, data-driven ecosystem. And in training, we’ve invested heavily in our exclusive Momentum professional development program. It helps brokers and agents systemize their operations—which, in turn, can save them time and can increase their productivity.

  1. What’s the one piece of advice you’d have for agents?
    Use video to connect. It’s an amazing resource and not enough people are using it. I know it’s hard to get started—and trust me, your first videos will not be good—but in this business you really should jump in. It’s become so easy to shoot a video and get it onto social media; there’s really no excuse anymore. Things like Facebook Live turn everything you do into an opportunity to create content and connect with people. Once you try it, you’ll see a difference right away. Video helps people see your face and hear your voice, so it’s much more powerful than the written word. It helps them know you before they’ve ever met you.
  1. What’s the main reason agents join a brokerage and stay?
    It’s easy to think it’s about the cost, but I don’t think it usually is. Any agent in any brokerage can find a better deal, in straight financial terms, somewhere else. But agents at a quality brokerage providing great value generally stay, knowing full well it’s not the cheapest option. They stay because of community, culture, support services and the leadership of the broker. To me, the broker’s main role is to create an environment where agents can be as successful as they want to be. An environment that develops agents and helps them maximize their abilities—and their results—is the goal. And I think RE/MAX offices generally have that environment.
  1. Boil it down: What’s the key to success in this industry?
    Be a skilled professional who elevates the customer experience. Provide world-class service and the sky’s the limit.

An Unstoppable Force
A few more highlights of a dynamic, global brand:

  1. The RE/MAX Collection® luxury brand provides agents with elegant marketing materials, business-building education, networking events and a dedicated listing website. The brand’s impact is global—in the first half of 2019, RE/MAX global leaders taught the “Luxury Live” course to agents in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
  1. RE/MAX Commercial® is a network of more than 3,400 practitioners in over 665 commercial offices and divisions across 73 different countries. In 2018, these agents closed more than 36,500 commercial sides for over $14.6 billion in volume.
  1. RE/MAX agents and brokers help millions of kids each year through their support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. RE/MAX affiliates contributed $10.3 million USD in 2018, the highest yearly total in the partnership’s 27 years.
  1. RE/MAX actively supports homeownership for all through its involvement with professional groups such as the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) and the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP).
  1. RE/MAX University® (RU) features over 1,000 videos and offers 70-plus professional designations and certifications on its digital, on-demand platform. More than 15,000 unique users visited the RU platform in the first half of 2019.

Marketing That Moves the Needle
Billions of dollars have been spent to promote the RE/MAX brand and its agents, creating a competitive advantage for all RE/MAX affiliates to build upon. RE/MAX marketing features an aggressive omni-channel strategy that’s targeted, localized, mobile and digital.

“Our approach is to get the right message to the right people at the right time—that means having a huge presence in digital and social,” says James Schwartz, vice president of Marketing and Media Strategies. “We want to help RE/MAX agents connect and build relationships with consumers at every stage of the journey—not just when it’s time to buy or sell a house.”

Schwartz enjoys the game-on environment at RE/MAX headquarters.

“Starting at the top with Adam Contos, RE/MAX senior leadership embraces innovative, creative marketing,” he says. “They’re excited about pushing the envelope and trying new things, which is great news for our agents and anyone who’s thinking of joining us. We’re all-in on modern marketing strategies that connect with consumers in today’s digital world.”

Part of the strategy is enabling agents to leverage brand resources easily. For instance, agents can:

  • Connect to the national campaign, “The Sign of a RE/MAX Agent,” created by the award-winning Camp + King agency of San Francisco. A wide range of marketing collateral—in virtually every media—enables agents to use the campaign’s messages and images.
  • Use RE/MAX digital stickers to enhance their texts and social posts. The colorful, playful images add sizzle and personality to the agent’s digital interactions.
  • Customize and post material with their phones. Agents can download an app containing a curated collection of approved videos, photos and graphics to use in their marketing. They can create custom content as well, and they can do it all on the go, taking photos or creating videos to send right after a listing appointment or client meeting.
  • Share unique RE/MAX content created in collaboration with BuzzFeed, the online powerhouse. Agents can bolster their social media messaging with quizzes, lists, videos, and more.
  • Create personalized 15-second commercials using a first-of-its-kind tool for real estate. To date, agents have created over 42,000 custom videos, which feature imagery from the national campaign and are perfect for social sharing.

“The RE/MAX membership understands how crucial it is to push the envelope and engage with consumers wherever they are,” says Abby Lee, SVP of Marketing and Communications.

100 Open Offices for Motto Mortgage
The first of its kind in the U.S. mortgage industry, Motto Franchising LLC, another member of the RE/MAX Holdings Inc. family of brands, reached a big milestone this summer—the opening of the 100th Motto Mortgage brokerage.

Helmed by president Ward Morrison, Motto Franchising, LLC launched its innovative mortgage brokerage franchise model in 2016. Since then, the Motto Mortgage brand has received numerous accolades, including being named as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2019 Top New Franchise brands, as well as an Entrepreneur 2019 Fastest-Growing Franchise.

Motto Mortgage Alliance in Dayton, Ohio, was one of the first offices to open its doors. Mike Seagraves, broker/owner of Motto Mortgage Alliance, who is also broker/owner of RE/MAX Alliance, says, “The value that I had being there in the beginning is that I got to be part of the solution, helping to grow the brand.”

The growing 30-state footprint of 100 open offices illustrates the value created when the power of enterprise is paired with the connectivity of local. The Motto Mortgage model creates a path to an ancillary business for current real estate brokerage firms, while offering real estate agents convenient access to mortgage professionals.

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

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

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Humanizing Real Estate: How NextHome Bridges Technology and People

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 21:03

In one short year, the NextHome franchise has made a series of impressive accomplishments, from being named the No. 4 franchise in the country by Franchise Business Review to being on track to close more than 20,000 transactions and $5 billion-$6 billion in sales volume in 2019.

But for NextHome, it’s not about accolades and achievements.

“For us, it’s about creating a professional, collaborative, community-based organization that truly cares about people,” says CEO James Dwiggins.

Here, Dwiggins shares the firm’s unique approach to culture, and explains why NextHome is perfectly poised to withstand the disruptive forces currently shaking the real estate landscape.

Paige Tepping: It’s been about a year since we last spoke. Could you tell us where you are now in terms of size and national footprint?
James Dwiggins: We’re just under five years old and we’ve opened 380 franchise locations across 45 states with more than 3,500 NextHome associates in our network. We have announced at least one new office every week since our franchise launched, and we’re humbled by this record-setting streak. In 2019, we’ll close more than 20,000 transactions worth $5 billion-$6 billion in sales volume.

For such a young company, NextHome has grown at a tremendous rate, especially considering we’ve never acquired any of our marketshare. Our members work hard to be the absolute best in the business, and it shows in the professionalism they put forth each and every day. They don’t settle for mediocrity, and buyers and sellers continue to choose them over others because of it. We couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments in such a short amount of time.

First-time homebuyers hold “Luke” on closing day.

PT: NextHome has had a lot of national recognition in the past year. Tell us about that.
JD: In February, we were honored to be named the No. 4 franchise in the country by Franchise Business Review. Based on their findings, NextHome also ranked as a Top Services Franchise and a Top Franchise for Women in 2019. Franchise owners from more than 310 brands were asked the same questions to decide these rankings, and to have NextHome place fourth against all other companies the first time we applied for this award was quite a surprise. What we’re most proud of is that this award was determined by honest feedback from our franchisees. It feels good to know our members truly love what we are building together.

Most recently, we were named one of the fastest-growing private companies in America by Inc. 5000. This was truly humbling as it’s a recognition bestowed upon very few companies, such as past winners Patagonia, Oracle, Microsoft, and others.

PT: We’ve heard from multiple sources now that the culture at NextHome is like nothing they’ve ever seen before and that you call yourselves “NextHomies.” What’s the secret?
JD: There is no secret. You have to make a choice on what you’re trying to achieve with your culture early on and never waiver from it. Being a “NextHomie” means you bleed orange, put others before yourself, and deeply care about the buyer and seller experience. The idea-sharing and drive to help each other are the best things about our NextHome members.

We’re fortunate to be a privately-held company, so we don’t have investors or shareholders pushing an agenda that’s only about the bottom line. For us, it’s about creating a professional, collaborative, community-based organization that truly cares about people. The only way to do that is to be selective about who joins.

In our case, it starts with having the right franchise owners, since they are the ones who recruit the agents representing the NextHome brand in each local market. We knew early on that if we brought on the right owners, they would inherently attract the right agents. This is why we often turn away people who inquire about franchising with us. They need to share the same vision in order for our culture to remain strong as we continue to expand nationally—and to ultimately ensure the success of the company.

NextHomies help drive donations at a local pet adoption event.

PT: Everyone is concerned about all the disruption that’s occurring in the industry. Tell us your thoughts, and where you see things in the next 10 years.
JD: There is no question that our industry continues to face massive change and disruption. For too long, mediocracy has reigned supreme in the real estate brokerage business. Hundreds of thousands of agents have a real estate license to help people buy or sell the single biggest asset they own, but have little education, oversight or understanding of what they’re actually doing. In most cases, these agents charge the same fees as tenured professional agents who have done hundreds of transactions in their career. As a whole, our industry charges double what most other countries charge—and provides little extra for it. In 2018, it was estimated that real estate commissions in the U.S. totaled $62 billion. Wall Street and Silicon Valley want a piece of that amount, while buyers and sellers are questioning why they’re paying so much. And while many agents across the country are worth every penny, too many are not. The customer wants and deserves better.

iBuyers like Opendoor have popped onto the scene because they know there is a segment of the market that would take a reduction on the sales price of their home in order to sell it faster. This will certainly be a growing trend nationally, especially amongst “generation now” who don’t view money the same way as their parents. Early estimates are that iBuyers will eventually take up to 20-25 percent of the existing national marketshare in the next 5-10 years.

And finally, Zillow and realtor.com® control online real estate search with hundreds of millions of unique visitors each month going to their websites versus to brokerages and agents. In addition, they are moving toward a referral fee-based lead distribution program. In time, they will identify the 40,000-80,000 agents across the country who effectively convert online leads and will provide them with all their leads to increase revenue and profitability. Watch for them to eventually tie in mortgage, title and escrow to disrupt those sectors next.

All of this combined means we’ve arrived at the perfect storm for change and a consolidation of the real estate agent base. Candidly, I think it’s a good thing. The higher the standards become in our industry, the less long-term disruption will occur to the remaining agents because our value proposition will be well understood by buyers and sellers. Real estate agents will be here long term, just a lot less of them offering a very different value proposition than what we do today.

PT: With all this disruption, what are you doing to make sure NextHome agents stay at the center of the real estate transaction in the future?
JD: At the end of the day, we are focused on serving the humans buying and selling real estate. The future is about changing the perceived value of a real estate agent. Instead of homebuyers and sellers only seeing value in their agent for the duration of the transaction, we are currently developing a proprietary system that allows our agents to remain the focal point of everything to do with the home long after the deal has closed.

NextHome CEO James Dwiggins presents on the trends shaping our industry.

Currently, most agents receive 30-40 percent of their business via referral, and it’s also how a majority of buyers and sellers choose their agent. However, agents as a whole do not consistently and effectively work their sphere for new business or follow up with past clients. This is mostly because they lack the technology to do it efficiently and have very little to talk about with them once the transaction is complete. They either never follow up with them again, or when they do, it’s with information their clients care little about.

For us, the future is about providing our agents valuable pieces of information about the home, whether it be a recall on an appliance, a notification about the roof warranty expiring or other information the homeowner actually wants to know. This gives our agents a reason to reach out, stay in touch with the homeowner, and nurture that relationship for the 7-10 years they own the property.

The result is more referrals, repeat business and a higher perceived value proposition, which helps our agents justify their commission. We’re calling it the “Lifecycle of Homeownership.”

PT: And finally, what’s on deck for the future of NextHome?
JD: We are continuing to focus our growth in new markets across the U.S. and are beginning to prepare for our international expansion. Since launching NextHome in 2015, we’ve had inquiries from 28 countries to franchise outside the U.S., and we’re looking forward to opening our first international location in late 2020 or early 2021.

Next year will mark the launch of our new luxury brand. We partnered with world-renowned design firm Pentagram to help us create it and the result is truly different than what’s available in the market today. We’ve spent a year studying the luxury market and what great brands do well, and not so well, to make sure we hit a home run upon launch. One significant difference is that the new luxury brand will only be available for use in the top 10 percent of any given market, and only NextHome agents who have become luxury-certified will be able to use it.

And while we already require minimum marketing and advertising standards at NextHome, the luxury brand will be at a whole new level. The brand identity includes all new yard signs, presentation materials, global syndication of properties, and strict minimum marketing and advertising standards on every listing so sellers receive the professionalism and exposure they deserve. This is all part of our long-term strategy for increasing marketshare and expanding globally. It’s truly an exciting time for our company.

NextHome members celebrate their production awards at the company-wide annual conference.

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

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

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Opendoor Now Tackles Mortgages

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 21:01

iBuyer Startup Looking to Offer Streamlined, Full-Service Platform for Real Estate Transactions

“If you build it, they will come.”

That’s the line of thinking real estate iBuyer Opendoor seems to be subscribing to with its streamlined suite of real estate offerings.

Opendoor announced recently that it is moving forward on previous plans to expand into the mortgage business with a new business arm: Opendoor Home Loans. The service will start off in Arizona and Texas, and is open to all consumers residing in these states regardless of whether or not they buy a home through Opendoor.

The latter location has been holding a pilot program for the last few months—there, the closing process has been shortened to 27 days, on average, according to Curbed. In addition to its existing iBuyer program, Opendoor has said in the past that it is looking to extend its suite of services, covering the entire real estate transaction all the way from financing to offer to close through a single platform.

Touting the service as “simple and frictionless,” as they’ve purported to make the buying and selling process, Opendoor says it hopes to cut down the time it takes to obtain financing while also saving consumers money. The company states it is offering “competitive interest rates, no lender fees…and up to $1,000 towards buyers’ closing costs,” for a limited time. In addition, Opendoor guarantees to credit the buyer $100 per day for any delays past the scheduled closing date. In terms of a lender, Opendoor says it pairs the borrower with their own mortgage consultant that provides “guidance, updates and support at every step.”

“Financing is one of the most complicated and intimidating parts of a home purchase. It typically takes 45 days for buyers to finance and close on a new home. That’s 45 days of uncertainty, anxiety and stress that we can cut in half with Opendoor Home Loans,” said Nadia Aziz, head of Opendoor Home Loans, in a blog post on the company website. “In the last 10 months, we’ve built a mortgage business from the ground up that combines savings, convenience and certainty into a simpler, more transparent process for buyers. It takes us one step closer to providing an end-to-end experience where you can buy, sell or trade-in a home in just a few clicks.”

The company’s website states borrowers can get prequalified in minutes, currently offering conventional fixed-rate mortgages in 30-, 25-, 15- and 10-year terms, and adjustable fixed-rate mortgages in five-, seven- or 10-year fixed terms, with adjustable rates for the remainder of the 30-year lifespan. While the company does not offer FHA or VA loans currently, some borrowers may be eligible for as little as 3 percent down on conventional loans, states the website. There is a minimum credit requirement of 620 for all Opendoor home loans.

“To build Opendoor Home Loans, we started with what we’ve learned from buyers. Having helped over 50,000 customers buy or sell with Opendoor, and hosted over 1 million on-demand self-tours of Opendoor homes, we know our customers value flexibility, simplicity and speed,” Aziz added. “We’ve taken those same principles and applied it to the home loan process.”

Opendoor’s mortgage business comes at a time when the company is looking to widely expand its services to compete in the marketplace. In July, Opendoor partnered with discount-brokerage Redfin to reach more markets—Redfin has also branched out into lending. Opendoor is also facing competition from fellow iBuyer Zillow, which announced its own version of a lending subsidiary earlier this year.

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

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Wendi Harrelson: Staying in Front of a Changing Business

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 21:00

Vitals: Keller Williams Realty South Texas, Austin (Lake Travis) and San Antonio (CityView)
Years in Business: 27
Size: 2 offices (CityView/Lake Travis), 1,125 agents
Region Served: South Texas
2018 Sales Volume: $1,713,868,555
2018 Transactions: 5,854 units
www.kw.com

It was 27 years ago that Wendi Harrelson began her real estate career with Keller Williams, and over that time, she has catapulted to become one of the company’s most trusted and productive leaders.

Today, Harrelson is regional director for Keller Williams in South Texas, the second-largest region with 9,600 associates and 28 offices, and is also operating partner for a pair of offices (CityView in San Antonio and Lake Travis in Austin), with 850 associates in one and 275 in the other.

Additionally, she serves as regional operating partner for Upstate New York, which currently has more than 1,200 associates and 11 offices—and was recently named a divisional leader for five regions: Gulf States, North Florida, South Florida, Maryland and D.C.

You’ve spent your entire career with Keller Williams. What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Wendi Harrelson: What I love about the industry is that it’s constantly changing and I’m helping people with one of the biggest decisions of their lives. I also enjoy giving others the platform to run their own business as big as they want and brand themselves in the industry. What I love about Keller Williams is the endless opportunities available to our associates, as well as the leadership.

How is the South Texas market this year?
WH: Our market is strong and thriving. The economy is strong in South Texas, and more people are moving here from other parts of the country than ever before.

What is your growth strategy in the year ahead?
WH: We’ll continue to grow and attract other agents due to our advanced technology that stays ahead of the game, in addition to providing all the tools agents will need to compete.

What are some of the biggest challenges the real estate industry faces in 2019?
WH: The biggest challenges are the new companies popping up daily, staying in front of technology changes, and understanding that the business is constantly changing; therefore, it’s not the same business as in the past. You must provide leadership, stay competitive with costs and provide a positive culture for agents to stay.

Can you provide an example of how you’re helping agents?
WH: We’re analyzing daily how to keep the cost low for agents to run their businesses. Keller Williams’ Labs program, led by our top executives, allows agents to be the audience and provide feedback and ideas on tools that are being developed.

What makes your firm unique?
WH: I believe that what sets my firm apart is the highly trained leadership team that’s very plugged into all of the new tools and technology. We realize that the agents are the product, and the team is there to serve them and make sure that everyone is trained on all new tools and technology. I also think the longevity of the staff/leadership team in the office—most have been in the office for more than 14 years—has created a culture of family and trust that most offices don’t have.

What is the secret to bringing in top agents to the firm?
WH: Asking good questions is always the key in hiring a new associate. It’s important to make sure they understand that this is a very competitive business that costs money, while educating them about the fact that they need to plug in 100-percent for training and education and be dedicated to building a database as soon as possible. If they have a database coming into the industry, they need to work it daily and continue that in a structured manner for the life of their business. 

Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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5 Milestone Strategies for Success in the Upper-Tier Market

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 13:30

Are you just stepping into the upper-tier real estate market, or are you already a successful luxury real estate professional? No matter your stage, the following milestones should be part of your strategy as they will help you achieve your career aspirations.

There are many incentives for a real estate professional to work with the affluent; however, it can seem daunting to find the time to scale your business so that it integrates with your current workload. Luckily, there are myriad opportunities for professionals to set themselves up for long-term, successful growth. For instance, as a member of The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, you will be able to access a plethora of tools, strategies, training and coaching dedicated to this niche.

If you are still wavering on the decision, then consider using this simple equation to discover the financial benefit for yourself. You may be surprised by how few higher-priced sales are needed to increase your commission significantly—by as much as 40-50 percent. In most markets, this number is between four to six properties, priced only 30 percent higher than the current average in your market. If you are already selling homes at this higher price point, then scale up your business to sell homes 60 percent above the average, and you’ll only need to add 2-3 new sales per year.

Example: If the current average sold price is $395,000 and a REALTOR® sells 12 homes per year, this would give a commission (based on 3 percent on the listing side) of $142,200. Now add four sales at 30 percent higher. The average sales price will be $513,500 for these four properties, equalling $61,620—a 43.5 percent increase in commission!

Below, we’ve given you a few suggested milestones to include in your strategy as you make your way towards your career aspirations.

Milestone 1: Understand Your Local Market
Analyze and understand what’s happening in your hyperlocal upper-tier market. This is perhaps the most important thing that you can do. It will help you identify where the “sweet spot” lies in your market.

The sweet spot is the price band that has the most turnover in the upper-tier market and, therefore, the greatest opportunity. Start by drilling down what the price bands are in your market. Calculate the number of listings against sales in each band to determine where the highest ratio lies. Then analyze the demographic of the homes and property owners in this price band to establish who they are and what types of properties are in demand.

It is also important to understand your competition in this price band and determine what strategies you need to implement to differentiate yourself.

The Institute provides a step-by-step guide, in their online and live training courses, on how to leverage this information to maximize your success.

Milestone 2: Learn From an Expert
If you are stepping up into the next tier of your market, then consider learning from a seasoned expert. Note there are advantages for both parties, as all real estate professionals are open to expanding their network if it affords them an advantageous opportunity.

Build relationships or leverage existing relationships by connecting with established luxury professionals outside of your market who are listing or searching for a home in a community in which you have significant connections. Offering to hold open houses or connect with local homeowners you know are two great ways to open the conversation.

Another great strategy is to co-list your luxury property, especially if you are new to this price point. Learning the methods, strategies and skillsets of an experienced professional during the selling process is priceless. This also connects your name with a recognized REALTOR® and, by association, establishes a trust with other professionals. Giving up a little commission to gain a sale, to which you can put your name and leverage its success, is a small price in the long run.

Milestone 3: Become Recognized in Your Industry
You may find yourself with some good advice on how to scale your business, but the benefits of having a relevant professional certification against your name, such as The Institute provides, cannot be understated. The Institute provides the resources and knowledge necessary to be a member in the top tier of real estate agents and offers an effective program for both new and experienced REALTORS® alike.

Gaining The Institute’s education certificate and attaining the CLHMS designation assures affluent sellers and buyers that you have the necessary skills and expertise to provide the service they are looking for. Real estate professionals with the CLHMS designation have documented performance in the top 10 percent of their residential markets, and a proven record of their expertise in the luxury home and estate market.

Milestone 4: Establish Your Brand and Communicate It Often
Don’t underestimate the ability of good marketing to draw in the right clients. Ensure your marketing decisions are made from the perspective of both a marketing professional and a potential client. Once you’ve determined the experience you want to give your clients, it is important to have well-designed promotional tools that resonate with that specific audience.

This goes without saying, but is a great reminder: Be knowledgeable of the product you’re selling, and do not underestimate the importance of online reviews and referrals. Affluent clients want to know that they can trust you—seeing positive reviews from peers can break down walls that impede trust. If you are someone who answers their questions and takes care of your clients, you will see the rewards.

At the end of the day, a luxury client will choose a competent REALTOR® over a friend. It is amazing to build your network and meet new people, but it will mean nothing if clients don’t recognize you as a “professional” REALTOR®.

Milestone 5: Build the Right Network
It is critical to build a network that both brings you business and establishes your reputation. Grow your network strategically by understanding how to communicate and connect effectively. Relationships need to be nurtured, so it’s important to establish your value. Ensure your network is diverse but relevant to your business. Your network must be more than clients—it must stretch the gamut of other real estate professionals, mentors, experts in their specific fields as well as sources that provide you reliable information and opportunities.

For instance, do you have relationships with private lenders and bankers that cater to the luxury market? “Working the room” on this front can greatly increase your chances of finding the right buyers, as private lenders and bankers can funnel those looking for a luxury home in your direction. This will save you an immense amount of time in the long run. Rather than just solely relying on direct contact with potential buyers themselves, go to the source and establish a good relationship with a private lender or banker.

No matter where you are on the journey, see these milestones as guides to help you on your path to becoming a top-performing real estate professional. Put in the work necessary to understand the upper-tier market, and you are sure to see the rewards.

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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Is the Tipping Point Coming to LGBTs and Real Estate?

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 13:25

I enjoy business books and obviously remember “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. The book described those magic moments when an idea, trend or social behavior catches a wave.

Despite quite a bit of anti-LGBT policy coming from the current administration, it seems like everyday society is moving towards a tipping point of positive support and acceptance of the LGBT community, and that includes continued momentum in the real estate industry.

There are a few recent examples. The Equality Act drew unprecedented corporate support, including real estate titans and NAGLREP partners Realogy, Keller Williams, RE/MAX and HSF Affiliates, who joined us and the National Association of REALTORS in calling for housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation to be made illegal.

About a month after our annual NAGLREP Housing Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., which included U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, we celebrated in May when the Equality Act passed in a historic House of Representatives vote. The bill, which was first drafted in the early 1970s, had never come to the floor of the House for a vote, let alone a win, leading to what will likely be a long process to get Senate approval.

Another example, albeit a quieter one, was also incredibly exciting for us. For the first time, NAR—long an advocate of LGBT rights, including prohibiting discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity in the REALTOR® Code of Ethics—issued its first LGB Report.

Following on the heels of a groundbreaking Freddie Mac consumer survey and NAGLREP’s LGBT Real Estate Report, NAR pulled data reported by gay, lesbian and bisexuals from a four-year span since first including a question about sexual orientation in its 2015 Profile of Buyers and Sellers survey.

I also see the incredible support our 37 NAGLREP chapters are receiving locally, averaging about 50 percent more attendees than those from a year ago.

You can see why I think a tipping point is coming. A lot is happening.

NAGLREP’s 6th annual Conference in Palm Springs on October 1-3 is coming at the perfect time. There is obviously so much to talk about when we bring together some of the most important people in the real estate industry and LGBT community.

From CEOs, top speakers, down-to-earth and approachable superstar agents who made the NAGLREP’s Top LGBT+ Agent List and icons like Judy and Dennis Shepard, the conference on October 1-3 has it all.

The Shepards saw their life change when their son Matthew, just days into his freshman year at the University of Wyoming, was murdered in a hate crime that captivated the nation. They went on to become leading voices in the LGBT rights movement with their iconic Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Their friend Jonathan Lovitz, the senior vice president of the NGLCC, will also attend and provide attendees with insight into the economic power of the LBGT community. Other attending LGBT leaders include PFLAG’s Drew Griffin, HRC’s JoDee Winterhof and Micro Rainbow International’s Sebastian Rocca who works tirelessly to help LGBT refugees from more than 70 countries where being LGBT is a crime.

There is also no other conference in real estate where attendees mingle so easily with, and learn from, the leaders of our industry. We will hear from John Peyton, the CEO of the Realogy Franchise Group, who took the leadership role in the Equality Act push. We also have Engel & Vӧlkers CEO Anthony Hitt, the only openly gay CEO of a major real estate brand, Tami Bonnell, the CEO of EXIT Realty, who is matching our Denver chapter’s fundraising drive for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Better Homes and Garden’s Real Estate CEO Sherry Chris, who brought the word “inclusion” to the real estate forefront with her brand’s mission statement.

These are the people who will guide us to the coming tipping point. I sincerely hope you can join us in Palm Springs. 

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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Quarterly Tax Time Is Here: QBSE Can Help

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 13:35

NAR PULSE—Quarterly estimated taxes are due September 16. QuickBooks® Self-Employed helps your agents calculate how much they owe and makes filing easy. Users find an average of $4,628 in potential tax savings per year. Enjoy a 30-day free trial and then 50 percent off the first year through the REALTOR Benefits® Program. Learn more.

Register Now for a Free Safety Webinar
You and your agents can participate in REALTOR® Safety Month by joining NAR on September 17 at 1:00 p.m. CT for a REALTOR® Safety webinar. Tune in to learn how real estate professionals can reduce the risk of being targeted by predators. Register here. 

What Are Brokers and Agents Saying About C2EX?
Those who’ve earned their C2EX, or Commitment to Excellence, Endorsement report that the most important aspect of the program was that it created a well-rounded agent educated on an impressive array of topics. Remind your agents to take advantage of the award-winning C2EX program today!

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TRG Helps Prevent Fraud With New Online Game, Fraud Racer

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 13:32

The real estate industry has unfortunately been hit with a major epidemic. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) releases data every year to warn everyone involved in a real estate transaction about the problem, but unfortunately the data continues to show that the problem isn’t getting any better. That issue is fraud, and it can impact every aspect of a real estate transaction, from listing a home, and getting a mortgage to closing on the property.

According to the latest statistics from the FBI’s 2018 Internet Crime Report, cybercrime, including title and real estate related fraud, cost victims more than $7 Billion in the last five years—including more than  $2.7 Billion in 2018 alone. The most populated states in the nation were impacted the most: California, Texas, Florida and New York.

Title Resource Group (TRG), the leading title services provider, is launching a new campaign to help educate consumers and agents about fraud in hopes of lowering those numbers. As a part of this initiative, TRG has developed Fraud Racer, an online game designed to educate and raise awareness of fraud in a fun and engaging way. Players answer questions about fraud correctly to reach home safely, while avoiding criminals that pursue them. The game is available to play at fraudracer.com and on all TRG family company websites.

Education is crucial to the prevention of fraud, since it is the only way to make sure that people are aware of the potential risks of fraud during a transaction. This is especially true when you look at older generations of homebuyers. Of the $2.7 Billion that victims lost in 2018, approximately $649.2 Million were from victims that are 60 and older. Meanwhile approximately $900.5 Million were from victims that ranged from 40 – 59 years old.

“Fraud is a major problem, especially for victims who suffer during what is usually the largest purchase of their lives, but by gamifying this billion-dollar problem with Fraud Racer our goal is to raise awareness of potential issues and how to steer clear of them,” said Walter Mullen, TRG’s Chief Strategy Officer. “Awareness leads to vigilance, and everyone in the industry has a role in helping consumers protect themselves and drastically lowering those fraud statistics from the FBI.”

Think you have what it takes to outrun the tactics of a fraudster? Get behind the wheel and test your knowledge on the track at FraudRacer.com.

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Enjoy the Vibe in These Great College Football Towns

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 13:26

(TNS)—You don’t have to be present for game day to appreciate the enthusiastic ambience of a great football town. Here are five places that may appeal to the sports fans in your family:

  1. Ann Arbor, Mich.
    It’s all about the maize and blue in a community where the University of Michigan Wolverines capture the town’s attention every fall. Those lucky enough to snag tickets to the “Big House,” as the 100,000-plus-seat stadium is called, will revel in the sweet smell of barbecue as fans fire up their grills before the game. While in town, check out the local farmers market, enjoy breakfast at Zingerman’s, a local fan favorite, and visit the botanical garden. Stay at the cleverly renovated and centrally located Graduate Hotel, where you’ll appreciate the classic collegiate inspiration and the nod to local history and tradition. Contact: www.annarbor.org, www.graduatehotels.com/ann-arbor/
  1. Los Angeles
    It’s fun to take in a spirited college football game in a stadium that is also brimming with Olympic history. The Coliseum, home to the University of Southern California Trojans, has twice hosted the world event and in remembrance, has integrated the lighting of the torch ritual into every home game. Before the start of the fourth quarter, the Trojan rider and the USC mascot, a majestic white horse named Traveler, ride onto the field, accompanied by the band’s rendition of the William Tell Overture. On the rider’s command, the torch is lit and play resumes. From the Harry Potter fun at Universal Studios to the Getty Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall and Starline tours, the beaches and hiking in the hills, there is no shortage of family fun in the LA area. Contact: www.discoverlosangeles.com
  1. Boise, Idaho
    The Idaho capital city, named by French-Canadian fur trappers, is a dynamic destination known for a plethora of outdoor activities, a thriving culinary scene and an enthusiastic fan base that comes out in force to support the Boise State Broncos. You’ll want to ride bikes or stroll along the wooded Boise River, where a scenic greenbelt provides recreational access for visitors and locals. On game day, “Smurf Turf,” the artificial blue playing field at Albertsons Stadium, is center stage for the sporting action. The unique blue surface, the brainchild of athletic director Gene Bleymaier, was introduced in the 1980s and continues to set the venue apart. Contact: www.boise.org
  1. Columbus, Ohio
    Along the shores of the Olentangy River, Buckeye fever rises to red-hot as fans prepare for the annual rivalry with the Michigan Wolverines. For every home game, expect tailgate parties around The Horseshoe, as the stadium is known, and enthusiastic support for The Ohio State Marching Band Skull Session, a pregame music fest. Later the band famously spells out O-h-i-o on the field, and on rare occasion reserves the option to “dot the I” with an honored Columbus resident or alum. While in town, visit the world-famous Columbus Zoo; COSI, the Center of Science and Industry; and explore the historic German Village. You’ll find a burgeoning art, culinary and fashion scene. Contact: www.experiencecolumbus.com
  1. Your SportsTown, USA
    Do you or someone in your family have a sports tradition to share? Take the kids to your own high school or college homecoming game and take a stroll down memory lane. Wear the school colors and sing the old fight song. Revisit your favorite haunts, recall the taste treats, music or other details that have made the memory stick. Head on to campus and revisit your classroom time and share what you learned along the way.

©2019 Lynn O’Rourke Hayes
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Survey: If a Downturn Hits, Homebuyers Plan to Wait It Out

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 13:04

As the conversation on the possibility of a recession swells, homebuyers plan to postpone their search until the storm subsides, according to a new realtor.com® survey.

In the event of a slowdown, 56 percent of buyers could delay their home search, according to findings from the survey. When asked their expectations regarding timing, 36 percent pegged the recession in 2020, 17 percent said in 2019 and 14 percent said in 2021. Notably, 17 percent were uncertain—a feeling likely motivated by unknowns, such as global tensions and the trade war.

Still, there is growing positive sentiment, according to responses to the survey. Approximately 44 percent believe the next recession will not be as damaging as it was in 2008—a boost from 40 percent earlier this year. Twenty-two percent, however, fear a Great Recession repeat.

According to analysts at realtor.com, the cycle is turning—but anticipate a dissimilar outcome.

“Economic activity is cyclical, so yes, undoubtedly we will face another recession at some point in the future, but we do not expect it to be anything like 2008,” says George Ratiu, senior economist at realtor.com. “The next recession will likely be driven by factors outside of housing, such as a prolonged trade war, cutbacks in corporate spending or contagion from a European recession. Unlike 2008, mortgage underwriting has been more disciplined and regulated, which should provide a more secure foundation for housing during the economic ups and downs.

“When warned about an incoming storm, Americans know to prepare by stocking up on necessities and reinforcing their shelter,” Ratiu says. “Similarly, given the cyclical nature of economic activity, consumers can and should prepare for the next downturn now. Taking steps to shore up their financial well-being, strengthening their professional networks and having adequate savings would provide cushioning during the slowdown.”

For more information, please visit www.realtor.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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Backtrack for Pending Sales, Lift From Rates Still Unrealized

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 13:01

After climbing in June, July’s pending sales stumbled, highlighting uncertainty, despite historically low mortgage rates, according to the latest National Association of REALTORS® Pending Home Sales Index, based on contract signings.

The Index lowered 2.5 percent month-over-month and 0.3 percent year-over-year.

Credit: National Association of REALTORS®

“Super-low mortgage rates have not yet consistently pulled buyers back into the market,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR. “Economic uncertainty is no doubt holding back some potential demand, but what is desperately needed is more supply of moderately priced homes. A boost to home-building would greatly improve economic growth. More free market prices on construction materials without government interference about where home builders have to get their supply will also help produce more and grow the economy. The housing industry cannot grow without more supply.”

According to NAR, inventory in July slid to 1.89 million, down 1.6 percent year-over-year.

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

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Relocating? Best Cities for Buyers

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 13:00

While homebuyers can’t always relocate to enjoy the best market advantages, if you’re looking to buy in a new locale, the financial site WalletHub.com published a list of communities where new homebuyers might want to consider as their newest “home town.”

According to WalletHub, nearly 40 percent of 2018’s single-family home purchases were made by first-time buyers. Researchers at the site point out that all homebuyers must balance what they want and need with what they can afford. All too often, WalletHub says, people begin searching for their dream homes without a realistic idea of market prices, interest rates or even their eligibility to get a mortgage.

To simplify the process, WalletHub compared 300 cities of varying sizes across 27 key indicators of market attractiveness, affordability and quality of life, and qualified affordability as the median house price divided by median annual household income.

Among some of the findings are: 

  • Akron, Ohio,has the most affordable housing (median house price divided by median annual household income), with a ratio of 1.83, which is 8.2 times cheaper than in Berkeley, Calif., the city with the least affordable housing, with a ratio of 15.04.
  • Honolulu has the lowest real estate tax rate, 0.29 percent, which is 12.9 times lower than in Waterbury, Conn., the city with the highest, at 3.74 percent.
  • Cleveland, Ohio, has the highest rent-to-price ratio, 16 percent, which is 6.1 times higher than in Sunnyvale, Calif., the city with the lowest, at 2.61 percent.
  • Shreveport, La., has the lowest average energy cost per household, $93.58, which is 4.2 times lower than in Honolulu, the city with the highest, at $388.65.

WalletHub’s overall top five best cities for first-time buyers are: Tampa, Fla.; Overland Park, Kan.; Thornton, Colo.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Boise, Idaho. When it comes to quality of life, the study says Colorado hits the jackpot with Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley, Thornton and Centennial dominating the top five positions.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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Now, a New Way to Estimate Next Year’s Tax Refund

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 13:04

(TNS)—Summer will soon be fading out of view and, like it or not, 2019 will move toward a close.

So what exactly have you done to withhold more money out of your paycheck to cover that 2019 tax bill?

If you need a motivator, the Internal Revenue Service has launched its much-anticipated new Tax Withholding Estimator. The calculator reportedly makes it “easier to enter wages and withholding for each job held by the taxpayer and their spouse, as well as separately entering pensions and other sources of income.”

Stepping back to fine-tune how much money you’re withholding in taxes now can make a huge difference between dreading having to write a big check to pay taxes in April or actually looking forward to getting a tax refund.

The estimator, which replaces the old IRS online tax withholding calculator, should help you see how on track you are right now. If necessary, you could make adjustments and dedicate more or less money toward federal income taxes out of your paycheck, and your spouse’s paycheck, too.

Many people found the old calculator to be a more than a bit cumbersome, but the new estimator is getting some good reviews. So it’s clearly worth a look.

See www.irs.gov and click on “Tax Withholding Estimator.”

Why do I need to think about taxes now?
Getting your withholding right, of course, takes on greater importance after a rather unsettling tax season earlier this year when many taxpayers ended up paying more than expected or took home far smaller tax refunds than usual.

If you’re working in the gig economy and juggling more than one job, the new program can take that into account, too.

Remember, take-home pay went up in 2018 once withholding tables were adjusted to reflect the lower tax rates in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

For some tax filers, though, the extra money that ended up in their paychecks turned out to be even more than the amount their taxes would have gone down under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, according to H&R Block data.

Were you upset by a smaller tax refund?
Under the new tax rules, some people lost key tax benefits. Maybe your children are 17 or older and you don’t get as big of a tax break. Maybe you now can only deduct up to $10,000—and no more—for the money paid for state income taxes, local taxes and property taxes.

If your tax story fell into one of those buckets, you could have faced more significant swings than the averages would indicate.

The average tax refund was $2,729 this year through May 10. That’s down 1.7 percent from a year earlier. The total amount of refunds was down 2.7 percent for that same time frame, totaling $277.26 billion through May 10. That’s the latest IRS information available; other statistics will be released later in the year.

While only a few months remain in 2019, it is still possible to have more money taken out of your paycheck to cover income taxes now to avoid unwelcome surprises in 2020.

How does this estimator work?
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, such as your most recent pay stub and pay information for your spouse. You must know how much in taxes has been withheld already and how much you plan to contribute to your tax-deferred 401(k) plans this year.

You can be more detailed by entering any adjustments to income, but that’s not required. The IRS site notes that most taxpayers don’t have a large enough adjustment to have a significant impact on their tax obligation. Adjustments could include a student loan interest deduction, alimony paid that could be deductible for some in many cases and other factors.

What do you do next to update your W-4?
The online tool gives you step-by-step instructions for how to fill out a W-4, and you’re easily able to download a blank W-4 to give to your employer. If you want to withhold more money in taxes, you need to fill out that W-4 and give it to your employer.

Will this exercise even be worthwhile?
The more willing you are to dig for your real numbers, the better your odds for a clear tax picture.

Amazingly, the format of the new estimator is extremely straightforward. To get more comfortable with it, I played around by plugging in some random numbers to see how you move from one point to the next.

The only challenge, as I see it, will be getting your correct paperwork in order. It’s important to know information about your tax situation, such as if you’re going to claim deductions or take the standard deduction.

If you can do that, well, a clear graphic pops up at the end to spell out what kind of refund you might expect after you file your tax return in 2020.

You’ll be shown an estimate for how much you might owe in taxes or the size of you estimated tax refund.

And there’s a bar to show you how to make adjustments—even now. There’s process to follow if you want to get a refund and another if you want to owe as little as possible.

“Just as before, the more detail you put in the calculator, the more accurate the outcome will be,” said Nathan Rigney, who is a lead tax research analyst at H&R Block’s Tax Institute. “Unfortunately, we know that most people aren’t comfortable updating their W-4 on their own and that very few did, even after tax reform.”

So it’s important that the IRS took the step to make it as easy as possible for people. What’s attractive about the online format is that it’s not intimidating and you’re not handing over anything personal like a Social Security number or your bank account information.

“It’s easy if you’re sophisticated enough and organized enough to use it correctly,” said George W. Smith, a certified public account in Southfield. “Do I like and support it? Yes, definitely.”

Some tax experts say they’d view the new estimator as a much more helpful tool than previous online calculators at www.irs.gov.

“It’s user-friendly and takes a more comprehensive look at a person’s overall tax picture,” said Patricia A. Bojanic, a certified public accountant at Gordon Advisors in Troy, Mich.

One highlight: A married couple has a simpler time taking into account the wages, as well as the taxes being withheld, for both spouses.

“If used with the right information, it should result in much more accurate withholding,” Bojanic said.

Maybe it won’t turn out exactly on the money—but even if you make a good faith effort, things could turn out far better than if you simply kicked next year’s tax return down the road and totally ignored the potential problems.

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

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Buy or Sell Without an Agent? No Thanks!

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 13:04

Although the vast majority of U.S. home sales involve real estate agents, the notion in the industry that consumers would be fine buying or selling a home without one is not really a new one. After all, the for-sale-by-owner route has been an option forever, and other industries have shifted to a “buy-it-now” mentality that some suggest will fit real estate, too.

But with all due respect to consumers who try to go it alone—and those in the industry who encourage consumers to go it alone—it’s a terrible idea.

DIY real estate is on par with DIY surgery or DIY legal defense. When so much is at stake, it’s always best to have a professional on your side. Period. That certainly applies to the largest financial transaction of a person’s life.

The good news is that most buyers and sellers agree.

Most People Agree
The National Association of REALTORS®’ 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report notes that 87 percent of the buyers in the survey used an agent or broker, while another 6 percent purchased directly from a builder or builder’s agent. That leaves only 7 percent who made their purchase without the guidance of a professional.

The figure on the selling side is similar: 91 percent of the surveyed sellers worked with an agent. For-sale-by-owner properties accounted for just 7 percent—the lowest share since the annual study began in 1981.

Gen Z Weighs In
It’s worth noting that the value of an agent crosses generational lines. A recent Homes.com survey of more than 1,000 adult Gen Zers (aged 18-24) showed that nine in 10 plan to use an agent when the time comes to house-hunt. It’s telling that this group—the most digitally inclined generation yet—understands that buying a house isn’t as simple as purchasing a commodity, arranging a ride or planning a trip. The risks are exponentially higher.

The fact is, there’s much more to a successful transaction than meets the eye. It can all seem so simple, especially with online home search being what it is today, but there’s a big difference between seeing a great home online and walking in the front door as its new owner. An expert real estate agent can provide guidance an app can’t touch—and, at the same time, provide all the value and data that can be found on the app.

In the Right Hands
Technology provides all sorts of advantages, but in the end, it’s a tool. Technology in the hands of an expert agent, though, becomes much more. That’s when data meets real-life instinct, insight and local knowledge. That’s when agents deliver their irreplaceable value by negotiating, working through contingencies, being a voice of reason and guiding clients through a long, complicated process.

The real estate industry is clearly targeted for disruption, and we should all celebrate innovation that elevates the customer experience and raises the standard. At the same time, make no mistake—nothing in practice or on the horizon matches the value delivered by a great agent who’s armed with great technology. That remains an unbeatable combo. 

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

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See Opportunity Zones in Action

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 13:03

NAR PULSE—Watch this how-to video on revealing Opportunity Zones within RPR®. Opportunity Zones are federally appointed areas that present opportunities for real estate investment and development in economically disadvantaged communities.

Are Your Agents Juggling Their Finances?
The Center for REALTOR® Financial Wellness provides online tools and calculators to help your agents keep all their financial balls in the air—from savings and expenses to budgeting and retirement. They can even practice decision-making skills with the interactive Financial Journey tool. Learn more. 

New MVP Offer for Members!
Earn The Little Red Book: Safety Rules to Live By for REALTORS® – Download, along with a chance to win a Guard Llama Personal Protection Kit when you register for NAR’s REALTOR® Safety webinar, taking place Tuesday, September 17 at 1:00 p.m. CT. Act now—this MVP offer expires August 31!

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