Archive for September, 2007

Worth a thousand words?

OK, more geek-speak. This is about the photos that agents (or FSBO) have on their sites. I know this has been discussed to death, but I have a few more pointers that may help. A photo can be worth a thousand words, but are those words the ones you want to be saying?

Having a background in graphic design and working on many a photo shoot (and taking a few pix myself) there are some basic rules to follow.

1. Have a good camera. The days of the throwaway camera are gone. Invest in a good digital camera.
2. Know some good image editing software. From my design days, I use Adobe Photoshop. I don’t expect anyone to go out and buy this very pricey program, and learn how to use it. But there are good (free) programs that you can use for basic photo editing. By editing, I mean lightening up a dark photo, sharpening up a slightly blurring photo, doing some minor color correction. As I am very comfortable with the software, sometimes I will do something like remove a trash bin that is showing, or taming a reflection on a window.
dualbath1.jpg Notice the plug hanging in the center. dualbath1re.jpg A little editing, no more plug and a better crop help.

stairut.jpg Original photo staircase.jpg Same photo with minor color correction.

3. For interior shots, use natural light, usually in the morning or early evening. Do not take photos during high noon. You will get glaring sun and harsh shadows.

kitchencu.jpg Beautiful soft light.

4. For exterior shots, especially 2-story homes, try to get yourself off the ground. Stand on the bed of a pickup truck (or I have stood on the roof). This help the house appear from eye-level, not like you are lying on the ground. The house does not appear to be looming.
Exterior, taken from the bed of a truck

5. Try to imagine yourself as a buyer. Nowadays with so many buyers doing their initial ‘shopping’ on the internet, the photos on the listing can make or break it. Haven’t you all had clients immediately say “NO!” to a showing because they didn’t like what they saw online?
6. No one wants to see corners or rooms, or part of a vanity or island. Get a wide angle lens for your camera and get as much of the room as possible.

partof-island.jpg Nice lighting, but it is only showing a part of the island. Show the whole thing.

7. If there is something worth seeing in detail (custom woodwork, detail on a cabinet, etc) get a close-up of it. (On most digital cameras there is a Macro setting)

corbeilut.jpg What are we looking at? corbeildetail.jpg The beautiful corbeil (with a slight color correction).

detail.jpg Detail of the island detailcrop1.jpg Detail with a crop on top and on side.

lightdetail.jpgShowing the light fixtures in the kitchen.

8. Make sure the pix are of the home, not of the things in the home. How many photos have you looked at and you don’t remember anything about the house, but you remember the photo of some guy wearing a leopard print thong? Make sure the house is the primary subject of the photo.(I don’t have any photos to show as an example)
9. In your copy, write something memorable and emotional. I can see it is a kitchen, tell me how as a buyer I can see myself baking cookies and preparing family dinners in that kitchen. You want to create an image in a buyer’s mind of them in that kitchen. “Can’t you see your entire family gathered around the spacious kitchen island, anticipating the wonderful meal prepared by you in your new kitchen?”

10. Make sure the exterior photo is taken with room on either side. If you cut off one side, the viewer will wonder what you are hiding. An unsightly shed? An overgrown bush? A dent in the wall? Don’t let them imagine, show them.

3cc.jpg I added the sky to an otherwise gloomy day picture.

11. Use a tripod. I don’t know of anyone who is steady enough all of the time to take perfect photos. Plus, you look cool if you are walking around with a tripod.
12. If you are uncomfortable taking the photos and know you don’t have the time or the want to edit them, hire someone. Call the local college and talk to the photography department. They will gladly give you names of students who would love to do this. You get quality work cheap, and they get great pieces for their portfolios.

So try to remember some of these tips when you are taking your next photos. I looked at one house online where the agent took pictures through a fish-eye lens. If you don’t know what that is, it is an image that looks like you are looking through a bubble. Not too flattering!

kitchensp.jpg I created this one so you could see it. Lovely, isn’t it???


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Real Estate and Technology

I’ll admit it. I am a computer geek. From my days as a graphic designer, I always had to have the latest and greatest, the fastest and the slickest machine. And yes, I am a Mac lover. As designers, we all used Macs. I cannot switch over to the Dark Side and use a PC. I do when I have to, kicking and screaming all the way, but now that I am not doing much design anymore, I am definitely in the minority.

I attended a couple of great classes over the last few days. They were taught by the same woman, Amy Chorew. She was fantastic. We talked alot about the role that technology plays in real estate, and how under utilized it is by agents. The ironic part is our audience, our clients, they are using it at an ever-increasing rate.

These were some interesting stats that Amy shared with us from the 2006 National Association of REALTORS© Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:

51% of first time buyers are between the ages of 25 & 34 years old
85% of buyers used a real estate professional
84% of first time buyers used the Internet to search for homes (compared to 79% of repeat buyers)
81% rated their real estate agent as very useful in the process
Median age of sellers: 46 years
Typical home is on the market for 6 weeks

These are some interesting numbers. It is good to hear that alot of buyers are using agents and realizing the importance of a good agent! But the Internet is a powerful tool and as agents, we need to grasp its potential.

With the age range of first time buyers between 25 and 34, this generation is what is driving the housing market. Generation X (and the fringe of Generation Y) is computer savvy, busy with jobs and families. They want to sit down at night after the kids are asleep and surf around and see what grabs them. They know how to find sites with homes and they know how to cull the information down to suit their needs. Don’t get me wrong, agents are still needed. We are necessary to point out some of the features, desirable and not-so-desirable of homes they may see on the Internet. I had a client and he and his fiancée were looking to buy. They were constantly sending me links to homes they found. One home they were particularly hot on and wanted to see it that day. I looked at the link and the first thing I noticed was it was septic. I immediately called my client and told him. He said, “Oh. I didn’t know what that meant on the website. We definitely don’t want to look at that one.”

We as agents definitely need to embrace the technology, but we also need to impress on our clients what we bring to the party as people, too.


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Marketing: the good, the bad and the ugly

Marketing seems to be the buzz word nowadays. How to market this and that. Brand your product . . . Selling a home is no different–you are trying to put a product (a home) in the best light to appeal to a target audience (a buyer). The official definition of marketing is: “Means to make a communication about a product or service a purpose of which is to encourage recipients of the communication to purchase or use the product or service.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? From my days in advertising, I lived by the rules of marketing. As a Realtor, you need to know about marketing as you are selling a product. But you also need to remember: you are marketing yourself. How else do you get clients?

Here are some basic rules to follow:

It’s a simple concept: if you close sales faster, you’ll ramp up your revenues, and then you won’t be spending as much time doing marketing or making sales calls. Turning a lead into a sale is the critical purpose of marketing. Real estate is no different than any other industry; basic marketing rules apply to everyone. Here are some of the most important basic rules of marketing:

First, be sure you are staying in touch with prospective clients on a frequent, consistent basis. This means following up with potential buyers and their agents, “What did your client think of my seller’s house? What did they like? Didn’t like? Do you have any other feedback that may help?” It also means keeping my seller abreast of what is happening in their home. I also keep them updated on the showings and the feedback.

The market is saturated with homes for sale. How do we make your home stand out from the other? What can we do to help you home catch the eye of a potential buyer? I wish the answer were an easy one, but the truth is, there is no cookie-cutter solution. Each home and each buyer is different. I would take a different approach on a home in a rural area than I would in the city. Not that one approach is better than the other, but the audience is different. A comprehensive marketing plan presented at the beginning is always useful. I tell my client exactly what my marketing plans are for the time that the house is listed: what ads I’ll run, what direct mail I’ll send and how their home will be presented on the MLS and on the Realty 3 website.

And what about you? How do you win the listing? You stand out from the crowd and you show that potential client how you can plan to service them and why your method is superior to someone else’s. How can you guarantee that you will sell their home and get them a fair price? How do you present yourself? Are you dressed well? Is your car neat and clean? Do you come across as a professional? It is a nice way to advertise to have your name and phone number on your car. But once is enough. Not on every door. Is your photo on your marketing materials up to date, or is it the same photo you had taken ten years ago? Your audience is going to see you in person, so why are you trying to fool them on your business card? Get a new photo.

Again, the follow up is crucial. How do I know that a potential buyer really liked my seller’s house, but didn’t like the resilient flooring in the kitchen, unless I follow up with a phone call? After calling the buyer’s agent to get feedback and she told me that was a big negative, I immediately called my client. They agreed to replace the flooring and I was able to call the buyer’s agent back and tell them this. That changed the whole deal!

If you can afford it, hire someone to do your marketing and design for you. If you plan on doing any direct mail or an ad for the paper, please let a qualified graphic designer do it for you. You can find reasonable rates by calling around and asking what they would charge. Or if you want a personal website, don’t let your nephew do it. Hire it done. That is your image and how people will think of you. Nobody can sell you better than YOU. Just a reminder: you are a Realtor, NOT a designer. You DO NOT need a full page image of yourself. You DO NOT need some cheesy tag-line. Project the image your want others to see.

Case in point: FSBO are not an agent’s favorite thing. “Why would someone, untrained, think they could sell their own house? That is what I am trained to do! I have attended a lot of classes and have years of experience. Why don’t they understand that and let a trained professional sell their house?”

Graphic designers say the same thing about Realtors: “Why would someone, untrained, think they can design their own ad (logo, website, direct mail)? That is what I am trained to do! I have attended a lot of classes and have years of experience. Why don’t they understand that and let a trianed professional design their materials?

An ad that is taken up by more of your photo than your contact info: BAD
A photo of you on your business card/in an ad that is more than two years old. You don’t want a client to ask “Are you the same person who is on your card?” (see above): BAD
Having an ad with a typo. (See above about hiring a designer) An ad that says “Let me sell your hoem!” isn’t going to win clients. Typos: BAD
Do not design your own website. Home-done website: BAD and UGLY
Keep your car neat and clean. You don’t want to throw the McDonald’s bag into the back seat right before your client gets into your car: BAD
Do not put your name, number, and photo on every spare inch of your car. Be tasteful, not gaudy. Car as a billboard: BAD and UGLY
Study a good marketing plan (you can find them online or in books): GOOD
Following a marketing plan: GOOD
Create an image for yourself and carry that through all of your materials: GOOD

Marketing isn’t hard, but it is a matter of being consistent. If you find it scary, take some classes and learn about marketing. It is the way to push yourself to the front of the pack!

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Agency Agreement

Do you know what “Agency Agreement” is?

As a buyer or a seller of a home and you are working with a real estate agent, you should have discussed agency agreement. What is that, you ask? It is a fancy term for an agreement that tells you who your agent works for, and what they will do for you. Your potential agent is required to discuss agency with you at their first substantial meeting with you. If your agent hasn’t mentioned how they will be representing you, you should be hearing warning bells, seeing red flags, etc., etc! You should be presented with a disclosure and you sign your name to it. This protects your best interests and insures that the agent will be acting for your interests and following NYS law.

The two main ways to be represented are by a Single Agent or a Dual Agent.

Let’s start with some definitions.

An Agent:

  • Is a person who represents someone. This person is called their client.
  • Must follow the client’s instructions and act in the client’s best interests, unless they violate law.
  • Has Fiduciary Duties to their client.
    “As a fiduciary, a real estate broker is held by law to owe specific duties to his/her principal (the person who they are representing), in addition to duties or obligations set forth in a listing agreement, buyer representation agreement, or other contract of employment. Subagents of the broker also owe the same fiduciary duties to the broker’s principal. These specific fiduciary duties include:

Obedience-agents must obey their clients within the law.
Loyalty-client’s interests are placed first.
Disclosure of Information-an agent must disclose defects and other pertinent information to his or her client.
Confidentiality-remains in effect for an indefinite period of time.
Accountability-agents are responsible for all monies exchanged in a transaction (earnest money)
Reasonable Care, Skill and Diligence-an agent must be knowledgeable and perform to and withhold the high standards set by the real estate profession.

A single agent represents one party: either a Buyer or a Seller, but not both. The agent has fiduciary duties to their client, and must deal honestly with all other parties. Let’s say you hire Keli DiRisio of Realty 3, LLC as your agent to help you purchase a home in Pittsford. I represent you and your interests ONLY. It doesn’t matter who the seller is. YOU are my concern. Same situation if you hire me to list and sell your home. I am only representing YOU, not whoever the buyer is. I only represent ONE party.

A dual agent either represents both the Buyer and Seller, or both the Buyer and Seller are represented by different agents from the same Brokerage. There’s two different scenarios here to work through. Either way, you can only be represented by a Dual Agent with explicit written permission from YOU.

In one example, I have a house listed to sell with Sally Seller. She has my fiduciary duty as my client. I get a phone call from Barry Wantstobuy. He does not have an agent but he drove by Sally’s house and saw my sign. I show him the house and he decides he loves it and must have it. He asks me to represent him and write an offer. It is my job to ask if he will accept Dual Agency. If he says yes, he is now represented by a Dual Agent. What this means is that I can’t tell Sally Seller that Barry would accept a higher purchase price, just as I can’t tell Barry what Sally is thinking as an acceptable offer. There is the possibility of conflicts with fiduciary duties, but if both parties are OK with the situation, there should be no problems.

In another example, Stan Seller hired me from Realty 3, LLC to sell her house. My broker has a client and he has a buyer, Betty Buynow and she submits an offer on Stan’s house. In a way, we are both Dual Agents, but I don’t know the confidentail information about Betty, and my broker knows nothing about Stan. The transaction continues as if it were any transaction between a buyer and seller.

Yet another example is the client that comes to a builder to build a new home. I respresent a builder, DiRisio Builders. Ned and Nicole Newbuild came to me to build a new home and they are not represented by an agent. I immediately present them with a Dual Agency Disclosure form, explaining to them that while I represent the builder as the Seller, I now represent them as the Buyer. The building process is slightly different than the buying/selling of an exisiting home, so there is not as much negotiating. But the clients must be made aware of the relationships.

It’s good to have questions and concerns and ask your agent to clarify anything you are confused about. Just remember: your agent is representing your best interests.

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Subprime Lending, a Definition

Subprime loans seem to be the new buzz-word in real estate. We are hearing more and more about this new trend, and it is causing fear in financial institutions across the nation. Borrowers with bad credit are able to obtain a mortgage, and when the rates change, they are unable to make their payments, they go into default, and their property goes into forclosure.

Wikipedia definition of Subprime lending: , also called B-paper, near-prime, or second chance lending, is the practice of making loans to borrowers who do not qualify for the best market interest rates because of their deficient credit history. The term also refers to paper taken on property that cannot be sold on the primary market, including loans on certain types of investment properties and certain types of self-employed individuals. Subprime lending is risky for both lenders and borrowers due to the combination of high interest rates, poor credit history, and murky financial situations often associated with subprime applicants. A subprime loan is offered at a rate higher than A-paper loans due to the increased risk.

Subprime lending encompasses a variety of credit instruments, including subprime mortgages, subprime car loans, and subprime credit cards, among others. The term “subprime” refers to the credit status of the borrower (being less than ideal), not the interest rate on the loan itself.

Subprime lending is highly controversial. Opponents have alleged that the subprime lending companies engage in predatory lending practices such as deliberately lending to borrowers who could never meet the terms of their loans, thus leading to default, seizure of collateral, and foreclosure. Proponents of the subprime lending maintain that the practice extends credit to people who would otherwise not have access to the credit market.

The controversy surrounding subprime lending has expanded as the result of an ongoing lending and credit crisis both in the subprime industry and in the greater financial markets which began in the United States. This phenomenon has been described as a financial contagion which has led to a restriction on the availability of credit in world financial markets. Hundreds of thousands of borrowers have been forced to default and several major subprime lenders have filed for bankruptcy.

From the website: “The survey of 1,700 mortgage brokers sponsored by trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance comes as numerous lenders that catered to subprime borrowers with weak credit close down and lenders back away from riskier lending practices common in recent years. That has led to many borrowers being stuck without a loan as they prepare to settle.” Read the complete article on sub-prime loans:

From the National Association of Realtors (9/7/08): Bush Announces FHA-Secure Plan to Assist Subprime Borrowers
On August 31, 2007, President Bush announced a new initiative called FHASecure, which will give the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) flexibility to help more families keep their homes in light of the decline of the subprime market and impending interest rate adjustments affecting numerous borrowers in both the subprime and Alt-A markets. The FHASecure program will help people who have not made all of their payments on time because of rising mortgage payments but who otherwise have good credit. NAR applauded President Bush’s statement of support for giving homeowners greater flexibility to refinance their loans through the FHA. At a white house conference call on the initiative, the administration specifically signaled out NAR for our timely support of the initiative. NAR has been advocating regulatory changes to the FHA program. On April 9, 2007, NAR sent a letter to Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, asking that FHA waive the requirement that a homeowner’s mortgage be current to refinance into an FHA loan product. NAR also supports legislation that would give FHA greater flexibility by increasing loan limits, eliminating the statutory 3 percent minimum cash down payment, allowing FHA flexibility to provide risk-based pricing, and revising the condominium program.

Subprime loans are increasing in volume and value, particularly in densely-populated states like California and New York. Nationwide, subprimes account for about 10% of all mortages. Share of mortgage loans in 2003 that are subprime:
Rhode Island














New York


















New Hampshire






South Carolina




North Carolina
























New Mexico








New Jersey














West Virginia




South Dakota


North Dakota






District of Columbia




Puerto Rico


Source: Mortgage Bankers Association

Another good article regarding subprime lending is on


For the first time home buyer

Buying a first house is a daunting, scary idea. But when you do it, and when you have a good agent, it can be the most exciting, thrilling time of your life!

What are the benefits of buying a home?

Has everyone been telling you that you should buy a home? It’s time? So you have thought about it, looked at some homes on the internet, dreamed of what your perfect house will be like? You are already half way there.

What to look for?

Almost 80% of all home searches today begin on the Internet. By looking at a few websites, you can look at a myriad of house styles. You may have even decided on the neighborhood that best suits you. By the time you reach your real estate agent’s office, you may have done your homework and know what it is you are looking for. But be open to suggestions from your agent. That is his or her job and he or she will have some good ideas on the market, or on an area that you may have not investigated.

(Even if you haven’t looked on your own, your agent will find out exactly what you want and come up with some good options for you to look at.)

How Long Should It Take to Find “The One”?

In seller’s markets, you shouldn’t have to look at too many homes. A good agent will also have done his or her homework and make searching that much easier for you. Some buyers will look for months, but buyers who do aren’t that motivated. A motivated buyer should be able to find a home within two to three weeks.

Good real estate agents will listen to what you want and need and arrange to show only those homes that fit your particular parameters. A thorough agent should preview potential homes before showing them to avoid wasting anyone’s time.

How Many Homes Can You Expect to See?

The average number of homes to show to a buyer in one day is six. Any more than that, and the brain is on overload. Seeing anymore than that does not do you any good as you won’t remember much and all of the details will blend together. As excited as you are, there is always tomorrow.

Shopping Around

Be judicious in your search. Do not shop, shop, shop and then go back and revisit most of the homes you already saw. When you find the perfect home, get ready to buy it. Go back for a second look, but act!

How to Look at Homes

* Bring a digital camera and begin each series of photos with a close-up of the house number to identify the house you looked at.
* Take thorough notes of unusual features, colors and design elements. Especially things that interest you.
* Pay attention to the home’s surroundings. What are the surrounding homes like?
* Do you like the location? What is it near? A park, playground, or an office park?
* Immediately after leaving, rate each home on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.

(I like to do a spread sheet, one copy for my client and one for me, with all of the homes we will be looking at where my clients can fill out info on the homes and their general impressions, and I can too, so I can remember details.)

View Top Choices a Second Time
Choose a few of your top choices and go back again. You will see thing differently the second time, both good and bad.

Your agent should call the listing agent to find out these homes are still available to purchase.

Making the Selection
An agent should never pressure you to buy a specific home.

Real estate agents are required to point out defects and should help buyers feel confident that the home selected meets the buyer’s search parameters.

So have fun and enjoy the process!


Clients and agents – whose taste is it?

I think one of the most interesting parts of being an agent is working with people. Yeah, I know, that sounds so cliché. But what I like about it is kind of similar to my past life as a designer. When I designed a logo or a website, as much as I wanted to do what I wanted (and knew was the best solution), I always had to take into account what my client wanted. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just blindly do what the client asked. I pointed out to him why what he wanted was NOT the best solution, or we don’t use the color blue just because that is his favorite color. I broke down the design, explaining how the elements represented the company or product, and how the identity being established would appeal to the audience. But I did listen, and if he insisted on having a dog in his logo, I would find someway to make it work.

Real estate is not quite that easy. When a buyer tells me what they are looking for in a home, it is up to me to interpret what they want and need and find the best homes for them to view. The choices are endless, and yes, price plays into it, but there are many other features in a home that I know would appeal (or would definitely NOT appeal) to a client. But I need to listen to what they want. I may have a client that absolutely has to have a lap pool in their basement. Nothing I would want, nor would I find it very practical, but they want it and it is my job to find it for them. Just like if I have a client who has five kids and three dogs, looking at a house with no backyard is pointless, in my opinion.  I still show them their options, and they may love the house, but it is my job to keep it all in perspective. (See comment and my reply regarding this-HG) While it is true it may not be the best fit for them, I do show these houses to the buyer, as they may still love  the house and are willing to make sacrifices to make it work for them (i.e. taking the kids and dogs to the park to play.) While it is my job to point out the shortcomings, it is also my job to listen to my client and let them make the decision for themselves.

Same to be said for sellers. It is my job to make sure that their house shows to its full potential, and that I can point out the key features to any prospective buyers. That seller may love their doll collection, but I need to point out (in a very diplomatic way) to them that people coming to look at the house don’t really want to see dolls. They want to see the HOUSE. Or that lap pool in the basement may not be for everyone, but I can point out the benefits to having it right at your disposal. Maintenance is easy and you can exercise all winter!

But the most important thing I need to do with buyers or sellers is LISTEN. Because my tastes may not be their tastes, and my ideas of practical may not be their ideas. It is my job to find out exactly what they want and need and be able to deliver.

So real estate is alot like design. It is delivering an end product that is useful and appeals to the market. Kind of like dating: there is something (or someone) for everyone.