Buying Foreclosures – Clients for Life

Advice, Appraisals, Buyers No Comments

Just yesterday, I was talking with one of the agents in my office who asked me if, in a transaction which is on a foreclosure, the bank would accept to make repairs.

The majority of the agents who get this question would respond NO, it is sold AS IS.  In my personal experience, I think that is not always the case.  Everything depends on how you write your contract, and the type of stipulations you write to protect your buyer.

Here in Georgia, for instance, you cannot sell a property that has a termite infestation, but the Termite Letter is no longer a requirement to close in some cases.  In one of these contracts which I am working, I wrote that my client (the Buyer) will pay for the Termite Letter, and if the house is found to have termites then the bank/seller will pay for the treatment.  The bank accepted this stipulation, with a dollar amount limit, and guess what?  The house has termites – and the bank is paying for the treatment (no repairs necessary).

I wrote another stipulation which said that the house is sold AS IS, but if the buyer’s lender requires repairs as a condition of the loan, the seller must make those repairs and pay for it.  Sure enough, the house needed some, and we are working on it.

My buyers are thrilled with the fact that all these amounts are not coming out of their pockets, and are ready to close.  I really believe that, depending on the type of transaction you are working on and the type of buyer, Banks are more open to perform repairs if necessary.  In this case, the repairs came to around $2,500.

In another transaction that closed a month ago, the Buyer’s Lender required that the main door and lock (that the asset management company broke in order to get inside the house after the foreclosure) be repaired.  Sure enough, the lock and door frame were replaced and repaired before closing.

Sometimes it is not the amount of money that the buyer is saving, it is about showing your knowledge and integrity.  I am confident that these clients are going to recommend me to their family and friends for all their Real Estate needs.  We are building clients for life.

How are you finding your clients for life?  Share your recommendations with us.

Data Safety – Trust but Verify

Advice 1 Comment

After a recent internal event, I asked my IT department to write up a commentary of what happened which I could publish in order to warn my fellow agents. The cautionary tale that follows is one I urge everyone to read and heed when considering the safety of the data that is used every day to run your business.

Carbonite is a commercial off-site data backup and recovery system.  The principle is simple, elegant, and attractive. You sign up for a subscription, a small piece of software is installed on your PC, and data from your PC is backed up continuously — as it is changed — with nearly no disruption to your day-to-day activities.  The backup occurs to an off site location, providing safety against physical disasters at your location. The data is backed up on redundant systems to provide further safety against hardware failures. They even promise some level of version control which could allow you to recover from a human error by recovering a file prior to the human involvement that generated the error. Carbonite just sits there in the background taking care of your data so that you need not worry about it. That’s the problem…

All of our office systems were “protected” by Carbonite.  We installed the software on every PC and laptop nearly 4 years ago. Approximately 2 years ago, one of the computers experienced a hardware failure corrupting a percentage of the files. We were able to recover all of this data using Carbonite. Around six months before that, a laptop hard disk failed. We recovered the entire backup to the new disk. For a lengthy period of time, a member of the team was away from the office for weeks at a time. Every week, he received a notice that the PC had not been backed up (because it was turned off). This is a good safety measure.

We, the IT department, were feeling pretty good about our selected data safety strategy.  For a small investment, our office had a multiply redundant off-site backup and disaster recovery strategy. Those happy feelings ended last week.

One laptop experienced physical damage to its disk drive (the read head scratched the disk surfaces). No problem, the PC was operating slowly and was aging, it was time to be replaced anyway. So the IT Department goes to work locating backups and evaluating replacement laptops. Then came the ugly surprise. The last backup of this laptop occurred two years earlier. For two years, no backups have been occurring, and no notification had been sent. The nightmare scenario was playing out. It was lucky that this PC was not the sole repository of absolutely business-critical information. It did have, however, a significant amount of unique data that existed nowhere else.

We attempted a forensic recovery of the disk platters, but the damage was too severe. The technician quoted us $1300 for a 50% chance that any data could be recovered.  Two years of important data has simply vanished.

Carbonite’s technical support team was astonishingly unhelpful and uncaring. They simply confirmed the date of the last backup, with no comment on how the backups might have stopped or why there was no email notification.  We found it interesting that the date of the last backup within one week of the subscription renewal date. We also confirmed that we had been paying for the backup subscription for this laptop for two years while no backups were occurring.  This is an unacceptable failure on the part of Carbonite. 

We are requesting a refund of the two years subscriptions, and we are in the process of moving our backup procedures to an alternate service. Rest assured that verification of successful backups will be a part of that plan. We strongly encourage members of both the real estate and IT industries to learn from this cautionary tale and ensure the safety of their own backup systems. Not just when something fails, not just once in a while, but on a regular periodic basis. Also, before selecting a Internet backup service, check out the online reputation of those services.  When we signed up for Carbonite, the company had not been around long enough to have established a reputation — we took them on faith. Now there are multiple companies, and each has been around long enough to have built up an independently reviewed reputation. For example: we just googled Carbonite backup failure during this process and found some interesting results. 

Our entire team hopes that you learn from our problems, so that you never have to experience it yourself. Imagine how bad it could have been if the loss included are only copies of critical customer information, contracts, financial documents, and company books. To this day, we are in awe of how bad it could have been. Don’t let it be that bad for you.

As long as you are here reading this article, help me impress upon all the other readers how important data safety is.  Share your stories with the audience by posting a comment. Feel free to re-blog this article in any venue that might help others to avoid this problem (with proper attribution).

Achieving Healthy-Sustainable Homes for Georgia Homeowners

Advice, Experts, Green No Comments

Healty/Sustainable HomesA catalyst for homes, industries, schools, universities and business, the incredible diversity of enterprises is driven by a common bound to move to a green lifestyle. Inhabiting a world where environmental awareness is a vital concern to the future of our planet, it is important to take note of the consequences of improper building materials and environmental degradation. Having the assistance of a reliable and experienced Atlanta, Georgia real estate agent will make all the difference during the home buying process.

While many homeowners may think that building green can take a toll on the wallet, the benefits outweigh any initial monetary losses. There are many environmentally friendly, green forms of insulation that not only are healthy alternatives to asbestos, but may even help reducing annual energy costs. 

The implementation of eco-construction and green home solutions will play an important role in the transformation to a healthier and sustainable world. Using eco-friendly methods of building may prove to be costly at first, but research shows it can reduce annual energy costs by 25 percent! By building green, you will immediately see the multitude of positive health, economic and environmental benefits, such as: conserving natural resources, energy sustainability, increased property value and improve your quality of life.

Asbestos & Healthy Tips

Throughout the greater part of the 20th century, a naturally-occurring mineral known as asbestos was utilized in a variety of applications. Due to its flame resistant, highly durable and inexpensive qualities, it became the ideal choice for manufacturers as a form of insulation, piping, brake lining and flooring. There are many green, eco-friendly materials that replace the need for asbestos and can reduce energy costs annually.

If any suspected asbestos is located, the best advice is to leave it alone. If you are having home renovations, performed, do not panic. Again, asbestos that is left un-disturbed will normally pose no threat. If asbestos needs to be removed, it should be performed by licensed abatement contractors. These contractors are trained in the handling and disposal of asbestos in public facilities and homes.

Exposure to asbestos has been proven to be the only known cause of a rare but aggressive form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 cases are diagnosed every year in the United States, accounting for three percent of all cancer diagnoses.

GREEN Homes  

Environment Georgia is a citizen run environmental organization seeking to produce real changes in tackling all of the state’s eco problems. Each and every human being would like clean air to breathe and crisp water to drink. It takes a lot of effort and political advocacy to achieve this on a macro level. That is what groups such as Environment Georgia focus exclusively on.

Many cities and states are taking an active approach by updating older homes and buildings to suit the needs of achieving a healthy home and environment. The Green Economy Initiative is designed to assist governments in “greening” their economies by reshaping and refocusing policies, investments towards clean/renewable technologies, green transportation, waste management and green architecture. 

 The use of green alternatives such as cotton fiber, icynene foam and cellulose can reduce annual energy costs by 25 percent. Cotton fiber is also becoming a favorite insulation method. Made from recycled batted material, it is then treated to be fireproof. Water based spray polyurethane foam, icynene, is a healthy insulation which contains no toxic components. These green options have the same beneficial qualities as asbestos, minus the health and environmentally deteriorating qualities.

IT Search Providers

Advice, Experts No Comments

My IT Department recently switched the IDX provider for my web site, and I thought I would share that experience with my fellow agents.  The process, and the bumps we encountered along the way, might help others.

The main reason we decided to switch providers was because I am branching out into commercial properties.  The current provider (Wolfnet) uses FMLS data feeds.  I do not know if the issue is with FMLS’ data or with Wolfnet’s service, but the commercial search abilities provided were absolutely inadequate.  So, my IT department spent a week reviewing other providers.  What follows is the review by my IT department.

The provider we settled upon was IDX Brokers.  Their residential search was just as good as the old provider, and the commercial search options are even better than the residential ones.  One reason for the difference was the fact that they use GA MLS data instead of FMLS.  We cannot speak for the underlying quality of the data provided by the two multiple listing services, but we can compare the results received from the two IDX providers.

With Wolfnet, we were allowed one “skin” that determined the look and feel of the listings displayed, and the only way to integrate it with our own web site’s branding was the use of an IFRAME.   The width was not adjustable, nor the height, number of listings returned, in short nothing was customizable.  There was no control over the search options.  The only thing that could be controlled was the initial view of the map-based search (coordinates and scale).

With IDX Brokers, we have a choice of approximately a dozen different display  options for each page: map search, basic search, advanced search, results, and detail.  Each page came with 1 to 3 different display widths.  They have  CSS that I can customize to change it even more.  And they take our existing web site, harvest the “look and feel” and create their own wrapper to provide our look and feel on their page.  On top of that, they gave us access to the wrapper code to customize even further.  Since it is PHP based, it fits well with our PHP based web site.

A feature we had never expected when we signed up turned out to be one of the best.  We can sub-domain our own url.  That means what shows up in the address bar is not www.provider.com/searchstuff but rather propertysearch.adrianawest.com.  Another bonus feature was that this sub-domain allowed our Google analytics code to work so that all search traffic gets indexed in Google analytics with the rest of our site traffic.   For the first time, we can see how much time our visitors spend searching, what their searches were, what properties are popular, etc.  Both providers allowed us to see who signed up and what properties they saved, but that was the limit for the old providers.

Three negatives about the new service: it is a little slower than the old search, they offered no trial period so I could check them out before cutting off the old service without paying two providers at the same time, and the map setup was considerably more difficult.

Finally, the straw that broke the camels back and made us decide to publish this review as widely as possible was the way we were treated when we tried to cancel the old service.  First we were sent to a voicemail box that no one answered twice.  Then we were told it had to be in writing.  Then we got an email saying that we had signed up for a year-long contract and will be billed until the year is complete.  Reminiscent of the old days of AOL or how the current major cell phone companies are – captive audience contracts.  The new provider is confident enough about the quality of their service to offer a month-to-month agreement. 

We believe it is not only our right to express our opinions when we receive bad service, but our obligation to reward good service by expressing our opinions as well.  We thought you should know.

We would love to hear other people’s experiences.

Searching for Properties

Advice, Buyers, Investors, Welcome No Comments

There are dozens and dozens of real estate searches out there, which one should you use?  There are two major answers to that: the one you are most comfortable with, and the one that is best integrated with your realtor.  It all depends on how you want to work with your realtor. 

You could use a general purpose consumer Real Estate search site such as Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com (or a half-dozen other common ones).  They are nice, and they are also pretty friendly.  But it means that you have to do all the work.  Once you’ve found properties in which you are interested, you need to write down the MLS number or address to tell your agent.

Most agents also have a search available on their web site, and my site does too.  But an agent’s web site search tends to have less functionality or be harder to use than the major public sites.  Mine is in-between, almost as friendly as Zillow but with many more detailed search options.  Like the public sites, you can save searches on my site, and tag properties you like as “Favorites”.  Unlike the public sites, when a new property comes on the market that meets your criteria, you will get an email. 

What makes my site better than the public sites is that it tells me what you like.  You don’t have to remember or write down the property information.  When you find a property you like, mark it as a favorite.  Then when you’re ready, you send me an email to set up a showing time.  I will go in, look at your favorites, and start making the appointments.  Simple.

If you are getting too many properties you don’t like showing up in your search results, I have an even better search engine at my disposal – but it is open only to agents.  In this search engine, I enter the criteria for the type of property you are seeking to a much finer level of detail, and set it up to mail you every day with properties.  Like my web site search, you can mark favorites, and I will see them.  The good side: You only see those properties that are just right for you.  The bad side: I have to set it up for you or change it for you.

My site also allows you to search for foreclosures for free, something most sites charge for.  I also provide a search of commercial properties that most agents cannot show.  Finally, there is another search that most agents do not even know about – HUD Foreclosures.  These can only be searched on the government site for it, no agent can provide a search of them.  But give me a call or an email, and I will send you a document with detailed instructions on how to get there, how to use it, and how I can help you with the houses you find.

There are tons of good Real Estate search sites out there.   There are also a few bad ones.  The ones to stay away from are those that offer to show foreclosures for a fee, or those that say they can tell you about foreclosures before they happen.  These are both … well I would not say “scams,” but less-than reputable.  If you would like to know why, give me a call and I’ll discuss it at length.  But for now, don’t waste your time and energy on this type of site.  Find the site that will allow you to work with me in the way that is most comfortable for you.  They almost all show the same properties.  If you’re not sure which, just stick with the one on my website until you become more comfortable.  Then, once you know how they work, you can start comparing these other sites and see if you like one of them better.

Here’s the key to a good search.  It should find between 50 and 100 houses that match your criteria, and it should let you know when new ones come on the market.  It should be finding between 5 and 15 new ones each week.  If you are getting more than that, you may have set your criteria too wide and it will take you too long looking through houses that will not work for you.  If you get less, you will be frustrated because weeks may go by without seeing a good house for you. 

Now I’ve gone on and on about searches, probably telling you more than you want to know.  There’s a lot more to tell you, but I think it would be better to wait for you to ask me questions when you are ready.  So go search, and even better, go find.

Tax Credit Extended – through April 2010 and to Existing Homebuyers

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The First-Time Homebuyer tax credit was about to expire at the end of the month.  Our government leaders have decided to extend it to the end of April 2010 – and to extend it to existing homebuyers as well.  As long as the contract becomes binding before April 2010, you have until May 31 to close.

For First-Time Homebuyers, the only thing that changes is the deadline – it moves from November 30 to May 31.  The credit is still $8,000.  It is still capped to homebuyers making $225,000 or less.  They added a purchase price cap so that it would not apply to houses with a purchase price of over $800,000. Some new anti-fraud measures were also adopted. 

New credits are extended to existing homebuyers – $6,500 to those purchasing a home if they sell their previous home and lived in it for at least 5 of the last 8 years.  Active Duty Military get another year, until April 2011.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has put together a handy table showing the key changes in the tax credit law, and a Frequently Asked Questions document.  Feel free to peruse and share.  Let me know if this helps you decide to go out house-hunting this weekend!

First Time Home Buyer Credit Expiring

Advice, Buyers, Taxes No Comments

If you have been “on the fence” about buying a house, consider this:  If you buy a house now, you get:

  • An $8,000 first time buyer Federal tax credit
  • An $1,800 first time buyer Georgia tax credit
  • Up to $1,800 per month for 6 months (10,800) Job Loss Protection to pay your mortgage if you lose your job
  • Instant equity in today’s low-priced buyers market

Right now, with the quantity of Foreclosures and Short Sales on the market, prices are about as good as we are likely to see for several years.  And these tax benefits will not last several years.  In fact, they won’t last several months.  In order to qualify, you must close by the end of November to qualify.  Closing can take from 3 weeks to 3 months depending on the property, so you should get moving quickly if you are thinking about buying a house this year.  Please call us and we can help you get started!

6 Months of Payment Protection Now Available

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Prudential is Here to HELP

Prudential Georgia Real Estate is now offering a revolutionary program called Homeowner Education and Loan Protection (HELP) designed to offset fear of buying in this economy and market.  Many people who might consider buying a house right now are putting off that decision becasue of uncertainty about the economy and their job.  Car companies have been offering Payment Protection programs for this very reason, now Prudential is taking that idea to the Real Estate market.

With unemployment hovering around 10%, this is offsetting the effect of the Federal $8000 tax credit, Georgia’s $1800 tax credit, and the indredible buyer’s market we are experiencing.  Even with these incredible numbers, people are hesitating because they are understandably worried about the safety of their job.  This program will help alleviate the hesitation.

The HELP program is administered by the Rainy Day Foundation and available now from certified Prudential Realtors.  It combines the Payment Protection program with an Education program to help the buyer during the first two years, with the goal of helping the buyer stay in the home.  The program costs $500 and is funded by the Seller at closing.

With this program, if the buyer loses his job within 24 months of purchasing the house, the program will pay up to $1,800 per month for up to six months.  Buyers may negotiate it into the purchase contract, or sellers may offer it in order to make their properties stand out and be more attractive to buyers.

Click on http://vidego.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=44059 to view a video explaining the program.

What’s Important in Your Life

Mortgage Loans, Sellers No Comments

Now is the moment to really understand what is most important in our lives…

In speaking with various people I’ve found it interesting that for us human beings these moments are going to be a new history in many areas.  One of them is changing our idea about pride and what success means.  Having to decide between trying to do a Short Sale or lose your house in a foreclosure, many people opt to ignore their situation until it is too late.  In their eyes, it is shameful, and their sense of loss of confidence is very high for many of them – ending in depression.

I am not a psychologist, but I can share with you that I am a human being, one that life has taught from a very young age that having pride about the wrong things can lead me to disaster.  Over the years, I have understood that the life these things have taught me were not something to be ashamed of.  They were to raise me up, learn a lesson, and keep going forward being stronger and smarter.  What tough lessons they were….

Two weeks ago, I had an appointment with a young gentleman who wanted to understand his options about Short Sales.

When I met with him in my office, he apologized for not speaking well…  At first, I did not understand, it seemed to me that he spoke perfectly (he does not have a thick accent like mine… ? ).  After a few minutes more, I understood – that because of the level of stress that he was living with the economic problems and with the thought of losing his house, half his face was paralyzed.

We spoke for several hours, and after a couple of days he called me.  He said that he was ready to begin the Short Sale process.  When we met again, several days later, he was another person.  His face was much better, and he was very optimistic about the future.

For me, it is an honor when a person allows me to walk with them during these difficult times, and show them that there is hope and a new beginning at the end of the Short Sale process.  I have no doubt that I will meet all my clients again in a couple of years, and they will be strong again – in their mind, their spirit, and their family.

Once again, I come back to the fact that while these transactions are harder and sometimes less financially rewarding, the personal reward that I get out of helping people more than makes up for it.  Share your stories with us about helping people, or about people who could use this kind of help.

What are you looking for? An Agent or an Advocate?

Advice, Buyers No Comments

Last week I closed on a property located in Loganville, GA, representing the buyer.  The property was brand new construction; the bank had foreclosed on over one-third of the subdivision.

Even though it was a foreclosure, the bank agreed to pay for:
$5,000 in closing costs
$   480 for a home warranty
$   330 for HOA transfer and assessment fees
$   300 to install two new windows that had been broken
$   400 for a termite bond

As we were closing, the attorney saw those numbers on the HUD and told my client that he might have had a good advocate in the process, and my client agreed with him.  When the closing had ended, the attorney turned to my client and told him that he had closed that morning on a house in the same subdivision, with the same floorplan, for a price $35,000 higher than we were paying.

In these times where everyone is counting the pennies, you need to look not just for an agent who will represent you, but for an advisor who will advocate in your favor during the whole process.  One who will help you to purchase your dream home while looking out for your best interests.

I would like to earn your business by providing you with that same level of service, and have a client for life.  What do you buyers think of this kind of service?  Leave us a comment here and tell us what kind of service you are looking for.

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