Tag: realestate

The Times They Are A-Strangin’


For those of you who are familiar with the works of Bob Dylan and recognized the allusion I was making with the title of this week’s article, please let me assure you of one thing: some of this is probably going to make as much sense as Bob Dylan’s singing voice is intelligible.  And for those of you who have no idea either who Bob Dylan is or what song I was going for, let me assure you of this: I WISH I was making this up!

Recently, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across a meme that read just like this: “Millennials Are Buying Homes Because of Their Dogs – Not Their Children or Marriages.”  Obviously, something like this would stop me in my tracks, and it did.  But just as I was starting to smile because I believed it was one of those fake headlines that someone who has more time on their hands than is reasonable had created, I decided to type that exact headline into the search engine to see what really popped up – I was curious to see what true headline had been virtually contorted to come up with what I was seeing in my Instagram feed.

I typed it in and was directed to a link for an article published by Money magazine on July 27, 2017, and when I clicked on the link, what did I find?  THAT EXACT HEADLINE!  Had the article been dated on or near April 1st, or had it been published by The Onion, I would have laughed and thought, “You got me.  You got me good!”  Last I checked, though, Money isn’t known for practical jokes.  Still reeling from all this, I dove into the article and began reading.

The author of the article, figuring she had sucked you in with her headline (and she had), opened with these two sentences:  “It’s no secret that millennials love dogs, and now their four-legged friends are starting to influence the decisions they make about housing.  A recent survey by SunTrust Mortgage found that a third of millennials who had already purchased their first home said they were influenced by the need to have space for a dog.”

What the author writes next MAY make your head explode, so you might want to lay down some visqueen and have a roll of duct tape handy:  “The survey asked recent home buyers why they were buying their first home, and their dog was the third most commonly cited reason, COMING ABOVE CHILDREN AND MARRIAGE (the all-caps emphasis was added by me). Only more living space and the opportunity to build equity came above the furry companions.”

This means a complete shift in how we market and appeal to these new homebuyers.  Will these new buyers be bringing their dogs along on the house hunt to see if the neighborhood smells right?  If the dog pees on the carpet in a particular house, is that a good or bad sign?  I promise not to trot out the old chestnut “the world is going to the dogs” . . .  mainly because, it appears, it already has.  Don’t bite the messenger.

Staying Sane in Customer Service


If you ever have the choice of going to the Post Office or walking on broken glass, the latter may be more painful, but you’ll get the experience over with a lot faster with less mental anguish. But that’s just me.

It fell to me this past week to go to the Post Office to mail a package.  I won’t go into the boring details as to why we didn’t just use one of the other courier services, but suffice it to say they really weren’t options.  As I was standing there getting helped by one of the clerks, I was witness to a very strange vignette.  A woman, whom I’ll call Helen, walked up to the stall next to me and prepared to hand the clerk opposite her, whom I’ll call Sam, a package enclosed in one of their specialty envelopes.  Sensing the patron most likely wasn’t aware of what she had in her hand, the clerk just reminded her that she was using an overnight-delivery envelope, which carried with it a MUCH more expensive charge than a standard-delivery envelope.

The patron was a bit befuddled.  After pausing a moment to collect herself, she told the clerk that there weren’t any standard-delivery envelopes in the lobby area. While it’s very possible that the folks at the Post Office had forgotten to stock the shelves properly with the envelope Helen was seeking, I could tell by looking at Sam that he knew they weren’t out of stock – I think he was looking right at them. And then this happened:

Sam:  “Yes, there are.”

Helen:  “No, there aren’t.”

Sam:  “Yes, there are.”

Helen:  “No, there aren’t.”

Sam:  “Yes, there are.”

Helen:  “No, there aren’t.”

For the sake of brevity, I’ll end the dialogue here, but it went on far longer than any sane human being should have allowed until Helen finally found the over-abundant stock of standard-delivery envelopes.  I was getting ready to beat both Sam and Helen over the head, stuff them in the box I was mailing out of the country, and willingly pay whatever amount it would take to get them as far away from me as possible.

No matter how we dress it up with fancy titles and catch phrases, we’re in the customer service business just like Sam at the Post Office.  We deal with people every day who insist they know what they’re talking about (but who are DEAD wrong), so we have a choice: do we let this turn us into passive-aggressive drones because we know we’re right or do we choose to be helpful?

It’s possible that the US Postal Service hired Sam BECAUSE of his ability to engage with customers without being helpful, but something tells me Sam didn’t start out this way.  He could have easily locked eyes with Helen so she would stop insisting on something that was wrong, smiled at her, and helpfully pointed her to the standard-delivery envelopes.  It would have taken far less energy to do than the verbal tug-of-war I witnessed.

How often have we received an email or a text message from a client that was just plain wrong?  And how often have we insisted on sending back an electronic reply rather than picking up the phone and calling because we KNEW we were right but didn’t want to have to talk to them?  More often than not, we tell ourselves we do it because we want to avoid confrontation.  In reality, though, telling someone they’re wrong doesn’t have to be confrontational, and it may save your sanity regardless of how much the client drives you crazy!

Social Media: You Need Them Like Oxygen

Last week, I had the chance to teach a class about Social Media, and I can say it was more successful than the Bay of Pigs. For those of you who didn’t attend, I’ll give you some highlights here – you’re welcome!

On which social media outlets should you have a presence?  While some of you might be hoping that I’m recommending Tinder and Snapchat, let me assure you my recommendations run to the mundane.  Sorry. I’ll make this simple:  post everything on Instagram and set it up so that all your posts are fed both to Facebook and Twitter. Why Twitter?  It’s free and doesn’t take any extra effort to have your Instagram post go over to Twitter.  A few of the agents I know who do this actually get an occasional connection from their Twitter feeds.

What does an “effective” post look like?  In one word: simple.  But note that “simple” does not mean “plain”.  Simple means that you have an easily readable message that’s informative and valuable.  Near the end of 2018, an agent posted a photo of a group of people celebrating with a headline that announced that home loan limits are increasing in 2019.  Easily readable, informative, and valuable with an eye-catching graphic. Open House, Sale Pending, Just Closed, and other such posts are great, too.  They show your followers you have stuff happening, and they can be a part of it.

Are there posts that will HURT you?  Obviously, photos of you kicking a puppy or something divisive is not the way to go.  There are posts that won’t necessarily hurt your online presence as a real estate or mortgage professional, but they certainly won’t help.  The biggest mistake I see a lot of folks make is posting the mass-created memes that EVERYBODY else posts.  If you do this, you’re telling your followers that you don’t have anything original to say and that they should look elsewhere for meaningful content.  Also, an overabundance of selfies(for the sake of posting selfies) tells your followers that you’re far busier looking at the camera than looking to help them. With that said, posting photos of your dog, sunsets, the latest eatery is NOT a bad thing – they show personality so your followers can get to know you – but don’t overdo it, that’s all.

How often should you post?  Put simply: at least once a day, five to seven days a week.  If you post once or twice a week, even if the post is knock-your-socks-off awesome, you’ll get lost in the shuffle.

A word to the wise:  video may not be your friend.  I say this for two reasons: (1) on social media, the average attention span is less than that of a 2-year-old who’s hopped up on sugar, and (2) you may not look as good or come across as funny as you think you do on video.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.

The whole reason I insist that real estate and mortgage professionals must have an online presence is simple: that’s today’s marketplace – it’s the place where we get the chance to make the MOST first impressions.  And once you’ve had that chance to make a first impression, then the three Es of social media must be followed: ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE.  Don’t assume your pretty pictures are going to turn people into buyers.  When they like your photo, send them a note.  Start a conversation.  Follow them back.

Let’s look at this in a slightly different way – and please don’t think I’m comparing any of you to car sales people.  When you walk onto a car lot, why do the sales people descend on you like locusts? Because they know they have one shot to make a sale – once you leave, you’re gone.  With social media, you’ve created both a place for buyers to “walk onto your lot” AND a chance to STAY engaged with them without you being a pushy locust.  The key is to ENGAGE . . . not ENRAGE.  Makes sense, right?

Easy Can Be a Nasty Four-Letter Word

The other day, my car’s “check engine” light came on, so I motored on over to the auto parts store to have them plug in their code reader and tell me what’s going on under the hood.  When the store clerk ran down the code, he said, “It’s the EGR.”  (While I smiled outwardly, inwardly I groaned because usually things that are referred to by their initials cost a lot of money: MRI, ACL, IRS, etc.  Ugh!)   He explained that EGR stood for Exhaust Gas Recirculation valve, and that it was a $90 part that . . . and I stopped listening because I was amazed that I finally had something on my car that wasn’t going to cost the naming rights to an unborn grandchild and a vital organ to fix. However, before I got cocky and thought the automotive gods were finally smiling upon me, I decided I better ask the guy if he could show me where on the engine this three-letter wonder resided. With my luck, it WAS GOING TO COST ME a vital organ because it will require a special tool of which there are only two in the world, and the one that’s available would need to be flown in from Madagascar.

While Auto Parts Guy was looking up a diagram on the store computer, he told me, “Oh, just thought you’d like to know: the part has a lifetime warranty.”  I stopped him and said, “Do you see the irony there?”  He just blinked, so I added, “If the part is so reliable to have a lifetime warranty, why does mine need to be replaced?”  He smiled and went back to looking for the diagram.

Auto Parts Guy showed me that it was a VERY accessibly spot and explained that replacing the part only required removing the snap-onelectrical connector and two nuts.  The old part slips off, and the new part goes on. “It’s easy,” he said. “Anyone can do it.”  Upon hearing that, dread suddenly filled me.  I looked him in the eye and said, “Those are six very simple words that, when taken individually, are absolutely harmless, but when you arrange them in this particular order, you’ve just created an incantation to summon demons from the deepest corners of Hell and insured SOMETHING will go wrong.  You do realize that, right?”  He thought I was kidding.  I was not!

I got home and popped the hood to change out the EGR valve.  After removing the snap-onelectrical connector, I went to remove the first nut with the socket wrench.  The nut didn’t want to budge, and I had visions of something catastrophic happening because I applied too much pressure.  Just as I was about to lose myself to anxiety, the nut gave and began to unthread smoothly from the bolt.  With one nut removed, I could see that the valve WAS easily removable,so I felt a calm wash over me as I went to address the second nut.  It needed a bit of coaxing, too, but quickly began unthreading without a problem.  I was almost giddy when I went to remove the second nut and IT FELL INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE ENGINE.  I was cursed!  I looked everywhere for that infernal nut, and it was nowhere to be found.  The engine had somehow absorbed it. Ugh!

After replacing the old part with the new one, securing the one nut as tightly as I dared, and reconnecting the electrical connector, I carefully drove back to the auto parts store.  I found Auto Parts Guy and explained what had happened and asked if they had any extra nuts.  He went into the back and rummaged around and came back with a nut.  We popped the hood on my car, and he threaded the second nut onto the bolt, tightened it, and looked up at me and said, “It’s easy. Anyone can do it.”  Oh, the irony!

Many of today’s first-time homebuyers are filled with anxiety over whether now’s the right time to buy.  Just like how Auto Parts Guy had to SHOW me to convince me, we have to do the same with these first-timers.   “It’s easy, anyone can do it” won’t suffice.  And if we take the time to SHOW them so they are comfortable with the process, they’ll be customers for life . . . sort of like a lifetime warranty, right?

Planting Seeds . . . in December

Regardless of your political leanings or feelings toward how we got to this point in our economy, it’s estimated that the average American taxpayer will see a 26% increase in their tax return (or 26% decrease in what they owe) for 2018.  This little nugget of statistical wisdom comes courtesy of the party animals over at Morgan Stanley.  (Word to the wise: hide the lampshades when you invite them over to the house for your annual holiday fete.)

According to a quick Google search, the average tax return last year was just shy of $2,800.  This means that a 26% increase will put the average tax return for 2018 at just over $3,500.  For those of us who don’t light cigars with $100 dollar bills, I wouldn’t mind an extra seven Benjaminscoming back to me!

Yes, there are many financial professionals and pundits who write endless articles and wring their hands on cable news programs over how stupid it is to give your money to the government as an interest-free loan for a year so you can get a return when you file your taxes.  In theory and principle, they couldn’t be more right.  However, the reality is that most of us hate OWING money at the end of the year, so we overestimate what we have deducted from our paychecks to make sure we don’t have a bill staring us in the face on April 15th.  The tax code is thicker than all the books we were required to read in junior high and high school combined.  Don’t get all worked up, financial folks, over the fact we’d rather spend our weekends binge-watching something on Neftlixthan poring over spreadsheets and algorithms to figure out the exact amount of money we should deduct so we’re “even” with Uncle Sam at the end of the year!

If you haven’t already, you may be asking yourself at this point in this week’s newsletter, “Why are we talking about taxes in December?”  Two words: preemptive strike.  (No, I’m not talking about toilet papering the neighbor’s house before he can get yours.) Employers will be sending out W2s next month, so now is the ideal time to plant the seed with potential homebuyers that their tax return could be the perfect source for all or a part of a down payment on a house.  While other real estate agents are busy posting photos on Instagram and Facebook of their Schnauzer dressed as Santa Paws or their Calico, Mrs. Finickypants, wishing you a Meowy Christmas, reach out to your prospective clients with posts about getting into a home after the first of the year with their tax returns.

We’re two weeks away from Christmas and three weeks from New Year’s.  Most folks aren’t kicking and screaming to go look at houses at this very moment. Spend some time getting creative to plant seeds for the beginning of the year.  If you want to get cute, have Santa Paws and Mrs. Finickypants holding a W2 and a 1040 form in the accompanying photo.  It couldn’t hurt (unless Mrs. Finickypants is fond of scratching).