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Saturday, July 30, 2011

7 qualities of a top listing agent

7 qualities of a top listing agent
REThink Real Estate
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News™

Q: I'm preparing to list my home, and am starting to research listing agents to represent me. Besides being comfortable with my broker, what is the most important quality I need from them: negotiating skills or marketing skills? Both are very important to me. Frankly, I'm afraid of being "roughed up" by aggressive buyers in this market. --Michelle

A: You're spot on, Michelle. Both marketing and negotiating will be uber-important to have in the broker or agent you choose to list your home and get it sold.

Some might see marketing as the most important because, to put it plainly, if your home is not exposed widely and aggressively to prospective buyers, you'll never have the buyer viewings and offer(s) that must come in for you to even be faced with the high-class problem of negotiating the price and terms of a sale.

However, I don't see marketing skills as the requirement so much as your listing agent having a clear, comprehensive marketing plan that she is able to present to you with case studies or specimens of marketing she's done for recent properties somewhat similar to yours. It's critical that an agent's marketing plan for your home include details such as:
•how she would help you prepare or stage your property for sale;
•what her plans are for listing the property on the local multiple listing service(s) and publicizing it to other brokers;
•what onsite marketing she would recommend (i.e., yard signage and/or open houses); and
•how and where she would place your home's listing online, down to which sites she'd list it on and how many pictures she would include.

All essential.

But negotiating is essential too -- especially if you're very concerned about being bullied or taken advantage of.

Ultimately, though, when it comes to negotiations, you're going to be faced with making the ultimate decisions about what your bottom-line price and other terms are, including whether you're able to offer incentives like closing-cost credits or whether you can afford to contribute to any repairs the buyer's inspectors require.

What I suspect you want is to feel like you're protected, which will come from having an agent you trust who's "got your back," but also has the experience and knowledge of local standard negotiating practices and buyer psychology that comes only with experience -- and I mean recent experience getting homes sold in today's market climate.

I cannot emphasize enough that one efficient method of finding such a listing agent is to get referrals! Look to any family members, friends, work colleagues and neighbors whose homes are on the market now and ask them if they would strongly recommend their agent, and why.

If it's tough to get referrals, go into the various online real estate websites and their local discussion boards, and see which local agents are giving sensible, knowledgeable answers to consumers' questions in those forums. During your interview process, ask for references -- and call them! Speak to their recent past seller clients, to see how happy they were with the agents' service.

And I'd suggest you look for several other items beyond marketing and negotiating skills, or even trustworthiness and experience.

If I were listing my home one of my top priorities would be to find an agent who seems to have nailed the art and science of pricing their listings -- I'd want to find an agent whose listings regularly sold quickly, relative to other homes in the area, and for sales prices that were at, near or even above the asking prices.

That's an agent whose pricing recommendations you can trust, and an agent who likely has another strong skill you need: the skill of being able to have frank, tough conversations with their clients about what their homes are worth, and can support those list-price recommendations with facts and sound reasoning.

I'd also prioritize an agent with strong relationships: with their past clients; with mortgage professionals; with other agents in the area; with property preparation vendors (like stagers, painters, handymen/women, landscapers and such); with inspectors, engineers and contractors; and with local escrow companies.

And, if I were listing my home as a short sale, I would absolutely limit my listing agent search to agents who have a strong, proven track record of getting short sales closed -- ideally short sales that involved the same bank or banks as my mortgage lender.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions to ask and traits to seek in your listing agent candidates, but these are certainly where my top priorities would lie.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Friday, July 29, 2011

Couple Documenting a House Flipping Business and Revealing the True Work Involved

Couple Documenting a House Flipping Business and Revealing the True Work Involved

RISMEDIA, July 21, 2011—”This business is a people business and I don’t know many people who would want to meet with and sell their house to someone working in their pajamas,” states Danny Johnson, a full-time house flipper in San Antonio, Texas. Danny and his wife, Melissa, are now making their house-flipping business transparent and sharing everything they do to flip houses on their new blog,

If you have ever seen the house flipping reality television programs or have done any research on flipping houses, you’ve undoubtedly come away with a feeling that it seems easy enough to do. Many gurus will tell you it’s possible to make millions, working in your pajamas just 5 hours a week. Of course, they are trying to sell their information products to as many people as possible. Who wants to buy a program that tells you there is a lot of work involved?

Danny says there is a lot more to flipping houses than the shows or the gurus would want you to believe. That is why he started blogging about his day-to-day trials as a house flipper. “I wanted to allow people to see how much work is involved in the aspects of the business that the shows tend to ignore,” claims Danny. The areas he referred to were related to how people are finding such great deals with so much equity and buying them with huge discounts and the real costs involved. There seems to be a simplifying of the numbers on many of the reality shows. “Many assumptions are being made that are very far fetched and leave out a lot of the true costs involved in buying and selling a house,” Danny informs us.

Danny and his wife have been flipping houses since 2003 and have learned many hard lessons while flipping over 120 houses. The main thing learned is that the business requires a lot of education and hard work. This should come as no surprise, they said, as most things worth doing require hard work and dedication. This is what bothers them so much, they say, when they see shows and gurus talking about how easy it is to jump in and make a fortune. “It’s just not realistic,” Melissa stated.

As can be seen on their house flipping blog, they filter through dozens of leads to find deals worth pursuing. They then talk about all of the negotiating and patience that is required to get the deal done and closed. Following along with them, you really get a sense of how much of a people business it really is. Their house leads come from people with all sorts of different motivating circumstances which require a fast home sale in exchange for some equity. It appears that a lot of the quality leads come from people that inherit properties and people that want to sell their home, but cannot afford or just don’t desire to fix up the house to a condition suitable for a normal home buyer.

“We are sharing everything that is involved in running a successful house flipping business and we want to help people to get a better idea of what it takes to do this,” Danny continues. “We’ve seen too many people get into this business only to find out that they made some serious mistakes due to lack of education and real direction.”

You can read about Danny and Melissa’s real estate adventures in how to flip houses on their blog,

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tough Real Estate Market Inspires Creativity All Around

Tough Real Estate Market Inspires Creativity All Around

By Tammy Joyner and Rachel Tobin

RISMedia, June 16,2011—(MCT)—The housing market’s continuing funk has metro Atlantans using a grab-bag of creative strategies to buy, sell or just tread water so they can make a career move.

For instance:

• Renting out a property has become the end-run around the market’s chokehold on mobility. More homeowners are turning to real estate agents to keep an eye on their homes, not sell them. Homeowners typically rent out their homes so they can buy or rent somewhere else. This has created a new line of property management work for the real estate industry.

• Home-staging has increased in popularity as a tool—and a necessity—for selling homes now that a yard sign and a quick sweep of the front steps won’t get the job done. Today, clearing clutter and redecorating in neutral hues and designs is key to finding potential buyers.

• Consumers and real estate professionals alike are embracing all sorts of technology. Virtual home tours are de rigueur. A twist on barcodes called QR lets people check out a home on a cell phone or other mobile device. Multiple listing services are not only helping consumers find homes but providing financial help as well.

• With stricter mortgage requirements in place, little-known federal and local programs are emerging as rich uncles for would-be home buyers, and not just for those with low income or first-time home buyers.

“It’s like trying to find buried treasure,” says Rob Chrane, president and founder of Workforce Resources, a 3-year-old Atlanta company that connects people with hard-to-find financial resources.

In metro Atlanta two to three dozen home-buying assistance programs are available, Chrane says. Real estate agents use down-payment assistance programs to market homes. A first-time homebuyer in metro Atlanta could be eligible for help on a home worth up to $300,000. And if you are interested in buying property built with tax breaks, there are deals too.

David Stevenson bought a move-in-ready, three-bedroom, two-bath 1,400-square-foot home in Rex for $55,000 under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, set up in 2009 to help communities deal with foreclosures.

Stevenson used the $5,000 he got through the program to pay his closing costs.

The program targets educators, medical personnel, police officers, fire fighters and military families and requires at least a $500 down-payment, good credit and other criteria.

“I’ve been so happy. I’ve been telling all my friends about the program and how great it is,” says Stevenson, 51, a quality assurance technician for QuikTrip Kitchens who stumbled upon the NSP program while house-hunting.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pruning Basics: Keep Your Yard in Tip-Top Shape by Pruning Landscape Plants

Pruning Basics: Keep Your Yard in Tip-Top Shape by Pruning Landscape Plants

RISMEDIA, June 2, 2011—Pruning takes many forms. Whether it’s cutting old, overgrown shrubs to the ground for rejuvenation or removing faded blooms from roses, regular pruning creates healthy growth and beautiful plants. Armed with a little knowledge and the right tools, you can tackle pruning with confidence—and get terrific results.

When to Prune
Knowing the right time to prune is crucial. Pruning at the wrong time typically won’t damage plants, but it can sacrifice that year’s flowers or fruit. Use this guide to schedule pruning in your yard.

Late spring/early summer. Prune spring- flowering shrubs and trees which flower before July 1 immediately after the flowers fade. Plants in this category include forsythia, bridal wreath spiraea, weigela, and mock orange.

Midsummer. Several deciduous trees produce a heavy sap flow in early spring. Pruning branches in this season won’t kill the tree, but the sap flow can bleed onto outdoor furnishings, patios, cars, and walking areas. Avoid a sticky situation by pruning these trees in midsummer. Bleeder trees include maple, dogwood, elm, walnut, and birch.

Fall/early winter. Spring- and summer-blooming hawthorns and viburnums are typically grown for their fruits, which attract wildlife. Don’t prune these plants after flowering. Instead, allow fruits to mature, and then prune plants after wildlife consumes fruits.

Winter/early spring. Prune summer-blooming trees and shrubs in winter or early spring, before new growth emerges. These plants include abelia, butterfly bush, peegee hydrangea, sweet bay magnolia, and hybrid tea roses.

Good to Know
High-quality pruning tools will last many years with proper maintenance. Keep cutting surfaces clean and sharp. Lubricate metal parts regularly to prevent rust. Use tools only for pruning plants—using them to cut other materials can dull and even damage blades.

The Techniques to Know
No matter what kind of plant you’re pruning, you’ll use three basic techniques. Pinching is typically done by hand, using thumb and forefinger. It’s a good method to increase bushiness and curtail and control plant size.

Thinning involves removing branches back to the trunk, a main branch or the soil line. With thinning cuts, don’t remove the branch collar (the wrinkled area near the trunk or main branch). This area contains the cells needed to heal the cutting wound. Slicing into the branch collar creates an opening for infection and disease to enter healthy wood.

Heading back shortens branches to a healthy bud or lateral branch. Place cuts roughly 1/4 inch above the bud or branch.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What to Do If a Tornado Is Heading toward You

What to Do If a Tornado Is Heading toward You

By Fred Mann

RISMEDIA, June 2, 2011— (MCT)—A lesson from the tragedy in Joplin, Mo., is that tornadoes may strike with little or no warning, hidden by rain or nearly transparent until they kick up dust and debris. You might be shopping, visiting a nursing home, driving a car or attending a movie.

Emergency officials recommend following these basic guidelines if you find yourself in an unfamiliar building when a tornado approaches:

• Get to the lowest level, find an interior room or hallway away from windows, and try to put as many walls between you and the storm as possible. Flying debris is the leading cause of fatalities and injuries in a tornado.

• If you plan a trip to a so-called big box store and severe weather is predicted, stay home. Big box stores generally are built of light-weight materials that may meet code but are inadequate to protect against a tornado. In addition, they are filled with loose items that can turn into deadly missiles in a tornado.

• If you must go to a big box store, stay aware of weather alerts. If you are in a store when a tornado approaches, the best option is leave and find cover outside in a ditch or low-lying area.

• In high-rise apartment buildings or office buildings, get to the lowest floor, then pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building. Central stairways are good if enclosed by concrete, not glass. Elevators are not good places to go because buildings could lose power.

• Stay away from glass walls and windows, no matter how small.

• Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down, and cover your head with your hands.

• In houses or other small structures, prepare a safe place to go in advance. If there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest floor is the best place to wait out a storm.

• Hide under a heavy work table or under stairs to avoid crumbling walls, chimneys and debris. Avoid areas on lower floors beneath heavy objects such as pianos, refrigerators and beds.

• Bathtubs and commodes are anchored into the ground and sometimes are the only things left standing after a storm. Get into a bathtub with a cushion or heavy blankets over you.

• In a pinch, put a metal trash container over your head to protect against flying debris.

• In schools, shopping centers, churches and other large structures, avoid areas with wide, free-span roofs. If possible, get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Crouch down and cover your head. Stay away from windows and outside walls.

• In churches or theaters, get under seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms.

• In vehicles, don’t try to outrun a tornado. If a tornado is visible far away and the traffic is light, you may able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the storm. Otherwise park the car as quickly as possible out of traffic, get out immediately, and head for the nearest sturdy building, or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area.

• If you are caught in the tornado, stay in the vehicle with your seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering your head with your hands and a blanket if possible.

• Don’t take shelter under overpasses. Deadly airborne debris can easily be blown into those areas.

• Mobile homes aren’t safe, even if securely tied down. Residents should abandon them and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately.

• If you are outdoors, get to a sturdy building or low-lying area. Keep your head and neck covered.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

When paying points pays off

When paying points pays off

By Jack Guttentag
Inman News™

Lenders generally offer borrowers alternative combinations of interest rate and points: Low rates are offered when the borrower pays points to the lender, and high rates are offered when the lender pays points to the borrower. Points paid by the borrower are an upfront cash outlay, whereas points paid by the lender are used to pay the borrower's settlement costs. On a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM), a lender might offer 10 or more combinations.

Borrowers frequently don't choose the combination that is best for them for the same reasons they often don't select the best type of mortgage: their own ignorance, poor advice, and inadequate disclosures. Some borrowers don't understand that there is a choice to be made, and their loan provider (loan officer or mortgage broker, henceforth LP) may have no interest in taking the time to explore an issue that can be avoided.

One way to avoid it is to simply steer the borrower toward the rate that carries zero points -- or close to it. While steering borrowers toward a mortgage that carries a larger commission for the LP is now illegal, it is not illegal to steer a borrower toward the mortgage that involves the least time and effort for the LP.

Borrowers saddled with LPs that would prefer not to be bothered should take control of the decision themselves. The issues are not that complex, and are summarized in the table below.

Borrower Is Income-Short

Borrower Is Cash-Short

Borrower Expects to Have Mortgage 4 Years or Longer

1. Select High Fees, Low Rate

2. Select Rate at Zero Fees

Borrower Expects to Have Mortgage Less Than 4 Years

3. Select Rate at Zero Fees

4. Select Negative Fees, High Rate

Borrowers with long time horizons, defined for convenience as more than four years, profit from paying points that reduce the rate because they will enjoy the benefit of the lower rate for a long period. The higher fees can be viewed as an investment that earns a high rate of return. The longer they hold the mortgage, the higher the return. I have two "Points Calculators" on my website that calculate the rate of return in any given case.

If the borrower with a long time horizon is also income-short, the case for paying points is clear-cut because the lower rate reduces the payment. This is box 1 in the table.

Borrowers with short time horizons will profit by selecting a high-rate mortgage on which the lender pays some or all of the borrower's settlement costs. The profit arises from the short period over which the borrower pays the higher rate needed to reduce the upfront cash outlay.

If the borrower with a short time horizon is also cash-short, the case for paying a higher rate is clear-cut. The borrower reduces the cash outlay and doesn't pay much to do it. This is box 4 in the table.

But some borrowers may be forced to compromise. If the borrower has a short time horizon and is income-short, as in box 3, he is in a conflict situation. Though he would profit from paying a higher rate, he can't afford it. A compromise is necessary, perhaps by selecting the rate closest to zero fees.

Similarly, the borrower with a long time horizon but cash-short, as in box 2, is in a conflict situation. Though he would profit from paying points, he can't afford it either. The compromise of selecting the rate closest to zero fees makes sense in this case as well.

The United States is unique in offering borrowers the rate/point option. To my knowledge, it is not offered anywhere else in the world. While the option provides little benefit to many borrowers who depend on others for guidance, borrowers do not need a Ph.D. to find their own best path.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ways to Avoid Falling into the Worry Trap at Work

Ways to Avoid Falling into the Worry Trap at Work

By Liz Reyer

RISMEDIA, July 22, 2011— (MCT)—Q: I’m a worrier. I dwell on what might happen, for example, at a meeting, and then revisit what did happen over and over. I know this isn’t productive, but I can’t seem to stop it. This mostly happens at work; it’s not as big a deal at home. Suggestions?

A: Remaining grounded in the present moment leads to greater contentment and productivity.

It’s easy to get caught in a rumination cycle. Before an experience, there are so many unknowns to consider, and after, so many “if only” possibilities. You’ve already recognized that this isn’t helpful, which is the first step to changing your pattern.

Because this is a work-focused issue, it suggests that it’s situational. Take some time to identify the triggers. Are there certain types of meetings or projects, or prospective interactions with certain individuals that set off your thinking? Also notice situations at work that don’t lead to this ruminating, and put it all together to understand the patterns that may be at play.

You’ll then want to plan ways to catch yourself in this cycle. Know your cognitive, physical and emotional cues. For example, if you know that you start getting crabby or get a stomachache when you start to worry, watch for those feelings so you can see if you’re falling into worry.

Finally, develop a set of tools to facilitate breaking the habit. If you’re worrying prior to an event, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What’s happening with this right now?” If it isn’t posing a problem then, choose to think about other things. This is possible, but it does take discipline.

Another option is to ask yourself, “What can I do right now to get a desirable outcome?” This can lead to useful planning and preparation. Use a similar approach after the fact, asking yourself about ways you can learn from the experience.

Now that you’ve increased your awareness of your worry triggers and some approaches to breaking the pattern, it’s time to put them into action. Here’s one method that may be useful as a starting point.

When you start your day, use your commute time for relaxation and distraction. Music, audio books or quiet can all be very calming. If your mind drifts to work, observe it and let it drift away. You’ll be able to focus on that once you arrive, and will be better prepared if you’re fresh.

Then, when you arrive at work, take a few minutes to reflect back on recent experiences, gaining closure on any stressful events or interactions. Scan forward to anticipate any trigger events that might be coming up so that you can take a proactive and constructive approach to challenging areas, rather than a “fretting” approach.

At a more general level, look at your orientation to living in the moment. Looking backward and forward rather than being present in the current moment is common, and developing a sense of presence will make all of this much easier. Mindfulness practices are very helpful for this and can serve as a great preventive device for worrying.

Take a big-picture approach through developing mindfulness, while learning to better anticipate and address episodes of worry.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Thursday, July 21, 2011

5 Questions to Ask Your Mortgage Professional

5 Questions to Ask Your Mortgage Professional

Posted under: Home Buying | July 20, 2011 10:31 AM | 12,010 views | 18 comments

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Everyone knows you’re supposed to be proactive and assertive when you take out a mortgage, carefully collecting and evaluating all sorts of information before you make the biggest deal of your life. But when the mortgage broker starts shooting sheaves of papers (OK, PDF documents) at you, it’s easy for your eyes to glaze over at the sight of so many zeroes, and tempting just to start signing whatever it takes to get that house!

Here are 5 questions every smart buyer (or refi-er) should add to the list of issues to cover with your mortgage professional:
1.Are you a bank, a broker, or both? Generally speaking, mortgage lenders that are banks or have their own banking divisions (which many reputable brokerages do) have more control over the appraisal process, including the ability to submit your file to a pool of appraisers they know have some knowledge of your local neighborhood. Given the fact that non-local appraisers and the inability to communicate with appraisers under relatively new guidelines for brokerages are responsible for killing loads and loads of deals, working with a company that is or has a bank could be a deal-saving move, especially if the property is in an area that hasn’t had many recent sales or is otherwise challenging to appraise.

Also, some broker/banks that originate loans and sell them straight to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac under the FHA loan programs offer the same benefits of an FHA loan - low down payment and moderate qualification guidelines - without the “overlays” imposed by some larger banks, which actually place a more restrictive set of guidelines on FHA loan programs. For example, FHA guidelines do not impose a minimum credit score, but many banks overlay their own 640 minimum FICO requirement. Broker/banks that sell straight to Fannie and Freddie often mirror the FHA minimum guidelines precisely.

Finally, brokerages with their own in-house bank and a large roster of lenders and programs provide the advantage of offering a wider range of fallback options than plain old banks or plain old brokerages - Plans A, B, C and D, if you will - which many borrowers need these days, in the (increasingly common) case your first choice bank or loan program doesn’t work out.
2.Will you explain my Good Faith Estimate to me? May I also have a fee sheet or estimate of funds to close? The current, national standard Good Faith Estimate (GFE) is pretty clear, clarifying all sorts of deal points, from the broker’s commissions to the costs associated with the loan, but as a point of customer service, you should ask your mortgage pro to explain it to you (if they don’t do so under their own initiative).

The one shortfall of the the latest edition of the GFE is that, while it clearly shows the costs associated with a particular loan scenario, it does not always show so clearly the actual amount of funds you’ll need to close the transaction (which might be more or less than those costs)! So, ask your mortgage representative to prepare a fee sheet or an estimate of funds to close as early in the transaction as possible.
3.How long will it take to close my loan? How much time will I need for loan and appraisal contingencies? The time frames for closing your mortgage - which often drive the time frames for closing your home purchase - often vary widely depending on the type of loan and even the type of lender you work with.(Large bank loans originated by the bankers who sit inside the branch are notoriously slower to close, on average, than loans originated by brokers.) Similarly, the time it takes to get through the FHA loan appraisal and underwriting process might be much longer than it would take, all things being equal, to clear those hurdles and remove your loan and appraisal contingencies on a Conventional (i.e., non-FHA) mortgage.

When you first meet with your prospective mortgage pro, talk with them about these time frames, so they can help you set realistic expectations and insert realistic time frames into your offer when you make it, to minimize the drama of a contingency clock that ticks way faster than your mortgage process.
4.Are there any fees for the mortgage loan application/approval process? Some lenders charge for credit checks up front, and most require that you pay for your appraisal in advance (although the latter happens only after you find and get into contract on your property. One of the first questions you should ask, when you sit down with a new mortgage broker is how much cash you’ll have to come up with just for the privilege of having them run your application and take the first steps down the road to loan approval.

5.How long have you been originating loans? And how long have you been with your company? Mortgage pros who have been around for a long time have the knowledge of advance troubleshooting, workarounds and backup plans, and the current underwriting practices it takes to get a loan closed in this restrictive mortgage market. If you found them in some way other than a referral, you can even ask for references from a few clients. Most mortgage pros who have been in business for awhile will be able to give you names and numbers of clients they’ve worked with on multiple purchases and/or refis: that’s a very good sign. You’ll rest a lot easier if you know that your loan is in the hands of a seasoned pro who others like you trust with their largest asset - and largest financial obligation.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

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