Archive for category For agents

Health insurance and agents

Welcome back! Sorry about the January hiatus. It was a crazy month!

I read an interesting article about real estate agents and their lack of health insurance. Seeing as we are all independent contractors, we are not covered by our companies. When I owned my graphic design studio and worked as a freelance designer, I encountered the same thing. You had to belong to a professional organization (I joined the local Chamber of Commerce) to be able to obtain health insurance under their plan. Due to the fact that I have MS, I have to have insurance.”Nearly 30 percent of NAR members lack health insurance, and cost is the primary reason – 84 percent of REALTORS who do not have coverage say they can’t afford it.” (NAR)

I remember over 10 years ago, the membership to the Chamber was $300 a year + my health insurance. A pretty big nut for a single person who is supporting herself. If I had a family then . . . I can’t imagine.

This is a scary statistic in this day and age. I am fortunate to be able to fall under my husband’s plan, but for those agents who are unmarried or cannot use their spouse or partner’s plan, the cost of insurance is looming.

Around the beginning of the new year, I received a call from the pharmacy that sends my medication for my MS. It is a 1 time a month IV and it gets sent from a pharmacy in TN. They usually just call my Dr. but they called me and the woman, very nicely tells me, “Hi Keli. I was set to send up your meds and I see you terminated your insurance.” WHAT??? “No, there is a mistake. There was no termination. I don’t know what you are talking about,” I tell her.

“I’ll look into it and call you back,” she says. I figure, it is the new year, something is screwy. She calls back a few minutes later. “I looked into it and called your insurance company and your husband’s employer canceled the policy.” I sat there in stunned silence. The kicker? My husband is the employer! So I told her no way.

Anyway, long story short, the insurance company discontinued that policy and because there wasn’t an equivalent one to put us into, they canceled us. On top of everything, my brother in law’s wife had a c-section on Jan. 2 and they had canceled our insurance on January 1! She told me I could pay for my medication and get reimbursed. Uh, let me think about that. How about, NO? My meds are about $2500 a month.

Anyway, we got that straightened out finally, after almost 2 1/2 weeks. It turns out our new policy saves up quite a bit every year, but I blame the liason for the group my husband has his insurance thru. Why didn’t he tell us that the policy was discontinued or tell us of other alternatives? There is a serious breakdown in communication and I think that is common with insurance.

I would love to hear others’ stories.

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The housing market

“The housing market plunged deeper into despair last month, with sales of new homes plummeting to their lowest level in more than 12 years. The slump worsened even more than most analysts expected, heightening fears that the country might be thrust into a recession. New-home sales tumbled 9 percent in November from October to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 647,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. That was the worst sales pace since April 1995.”

This was from our paper, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle from the end of December, stating the national trend. Not the best of news at our year end.

The Rochester market seems to have fared a little better than the nation. In November, while closings were down 10.5% from October, the median sale price was up .4% from October to November and stayed unchanged from 2006 comparisons ($115,000). This price nationwide is slighly higher at $210,200 but this is down 3.3% from last year. Although monthly closings were down and number of homes listed for sale was down 31.6%, some of the metropolitan areas of the nation are much worse. (stats from the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors, Inc.)

There seems to be some glimmer of hope, so all we can do it hope for the best.

Interestingly enough, in our paper on January 1, 2008 there is some new information. They state that the NAR (National Association of Realtors) reported that sales of existing home rose 0.4% in November from October. The pace of sales was still the 2nd slowest since 1999.

A dip in the mortgage rates in November for a 30-year mortgage may help home sales slightly. This small boost may be a sign of market stabilization, but keep in mind that earlier signs of a stable market have all been dashed.

The housing market had 5 years of record breaking activity, so this slump is particularly hard. The credit problems and sub-prime mess has added fuel to the fire. More would-be buyers are having trouble securing financing.

Representing a builder and having clients who are interested in existing homes, I have been seeing both sides of the coin. While existing home sales have sagged, we have been busy with new builds, especially the patio/empty-nester homes that we have been focusing on. We have seen a steady market and have not experienced the lag that existing homes have seen.

2008 brings new hope, new resolutions and hopefully a new housing market!

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Build vs. Buy?

building.jpg

I had an interesting call the other day from a Realtor who had a client he wanted to register with the builder I rep. He told me how they have been looking at existing homes and finally came to the conclusion that they need to consider building to get exactly what they want. I told him I would fax over the registration. As we continued to talk, he told me how he had convinced them to consider building. He said, “I told them building is much more costly than buying existing, but they will get what they want.” WHOA! Wait just a minute! I quickly switched into my teaching mode to help this misinformed agent about why building it NOT necessarily more expensive than buying an existing home in the grand scheme of things.

I pointed out to him that while a new build may cost more up front, his clients don’t have to make repairs and fix things that usually have to be done in 5-7 years of buying an exisiting home. A new roof, new furnace, new carpets . . . these are all costly items that most home buyers want/need to replace in the first few years of owning an existing home.

Building a new home allows your clients to chose (and pay for) exatly what they want. They are not paying for the things that were someone else’s dreams and necessities. Your client may not need that wet bar in the basement. Why pay for it?

Building a new home is a better value in the long run. Your clients can choose exactly what they want. If she loves granite counter tops, she can have them. If the existing home she is looking at doesn’t have granite, she will either have to settle for what is there or she is looking at a costly replacement. In a new build, they don’t have to replace anything before or shortly after they move in. If there are any problems, they will have warranties for replacements, and they always have the builder who they call with any questions or concerns. Who do they call for problems in an existing home? Their Realtor?

Here are some of the benefits of building a new home:

Low maintenance costs

New homes come with everything new, which means fewer repairs on items and on the structure!

Warranty
New homes come with warranties to cover most structural problems, not to mention the warranties that come with any new appliances and features in a new home. Most existing homes don’t have any warranties, which can lead to costly repairs and replacements to a new home owner.

Plus, with a builder, they are just a phone call or e-mail away if you have any questions or emergencies. Check with your builder, but most offer a one-year walk-through.

Amenities

New home usually include appliances, central air and heating systems, more electrical outlets and conveniently placed cable and phone jacks.

Energy Efficiency
New homes consume half as much energy as home built before 1990. This benefits our environment, your health, and your wallet.

Safety
Better heating systems, built-in smoke detectors, and better wiring all decrease the chance of fire. Plus, some older homes may not have been built with egress windows and other features that are mandatory today.

Size
On average, a new home built has approximately 700 square feet of living space more than a house built 20 years ago. More windows, closet space, bigger garages, larger kitchens and bathrooms are some of the benefits we see with the extra space.

Spacious floor plans
New home owners can take advantage of the open floor plans that are available and choose carpets, paint, landscaping, fixtures, etc.

Home-Site selection
You can choose the land and community that is most appealing.

Value
New homes have a longer life, higher appraisal and better resale than older homes.

I think many agents are nervous about recommending a new home. Lack of knowledge about the building process intimidates many agents into not offering a new build as a viable option. I have seen many agents come through our homes and I can tell they are uncomfortable. There are some great classes offered through the Realtor associations. And as an agent ask questions! I am always glad to help another agent understand the process, that is what I there for. You could potentially be losing clients by not offering all that is available.

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Rochester Top 100

We just had the Rochester Top 100 awards here. A very prestigious award, it recognizes the companies who have had the most growth over a three year period. Over 2200 people attended the event and I am happy to say that DiRisio Builders came in at number 35 on the list! And with only 2 employees, that is an amazing feat! So congratulations to Lou and Bill! Keep up the good work!

DiRisio Builders was the only home builder on the list.

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Universal Design: how it can work for all of us.

It has taken many years, but housing designers have found a way to create barrier-free homes, and make then attractive. It’s called “Universal Design.” Homes that have universal design features look like other homes, but they can sometimes be better than other homes because they are much easier to use and to live in. Universal design is getting popular. They look appealing. People with disabilities don’t feel like they are settling for a house that was retro-fitted with things that are necessary for them. The homes were designed specifically to meet their needs, but still keeping in mind the aesthetics that people want. People who don’t have disabilities think that universal homes look just as a “regular” home does.

But Universal Design is not just for the disabled! The Baby Boomers are planning for their future: retirement, smaller homes, etc. Universal Design is for them too! While it may not be a concern now, that house that a 50-something couple just bought will be their retirement home, their home to grow older in, their home to be in for the rest of their lives. They are active and mobile now, but who knows fifteen years from now? A one-story, easy-to-use home with amenities like a first floor laundry and wider hallways are nice now, but could be a necessity down the road.

Features for Today

What makes a home “universal“? It’s simple. Here are some of the more common universal design features:

* No-step entry. No one needs to use stairs to get into a universal home or into the home’s main rooms.
* One-story living (ranch homes or two-story with first floor master suite). Places to eat, use the bathroom and sleep are all located on one level, which is barrier-free.
* Wide doorways. Doorways that are 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house.
* Wide hallways. Hallways should be 36-42 inches wide. That way, everyone and everything moves more easily from room to room.
* Extra floor space, open spaces. Everyone feel less cramped. And people in wheelchairs have more space to turn. Repositioning load-bearing walls to create open areas.

Features for Comfort

Some universal design features just make good sense. Once you bring them into your home, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. For example:

* Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces help everyone stay on their feet. They’re not just for people who are frail. The same goes for handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms.
* Thresholds that are flush with the floor make it easy for a wheelchair to get through a doorway. They also keep others from tripping.
* Good lighting helps people with poor vision. And it helps everyone else see better, too.
* Lever door handles and rocker light switches are great for people with poor hand strength. But others like them too. Try using these devices when your arms are full of packages. You’ll never go back to knobs or standard switches.

Features for Later

Universal design gives you great home feature you can enjoy now. It also helps you plan for the future. Take closets for example: when you build a closet, add some adjustable brackets. Later on, you can use those brackets to move clothing rods and shelves to a better height. This tiny investment helps a closet grow along with a child and it also means you can use the closet even if you start using a wheelchair. This kind of planning can help you make sure every part of your home will adapt to your changing needs.

(Excerpts taken from: http://www.aarp.org/families/home_design/universaldesign/a2004-03-23-whatis_univdesign.html)

Being married to a home builder, we are always looking at the “next” home. Our next home, ideally, will be built using many UD features. This is a must for us as I have MS. But that is not the only reason. We want to utilize UD to make living that much easier: A sprawling ranch. Wider doorways and stairs. No barrier shower. An area for a small elevator if it is to be a 2-story home. Wider areas between the sink and island in the kitchen. All of these things, plus many more make the home more “livable”, and not just for someone with a disability.

Fixing Hard-to-Use Homes

You may have your own ideas about universal design features that could help you. Take a good look around your home. Make a list of the things that bug you. Tired of bending to plug in the iron? Sick of stretching to reach your favorite platter? Can’t stand carrying laundry to the basement? Talk to some contractors to see if there are some UD options to help you.

For someone like me, I can definitely see the need for Universal Design. I have MS. I am still mobile, I still get around without the use of a wheelchair or even a cane. But I can see down the road how some of the features of UD may be beneficial for me. Wider doorways and staircases are necessary for a wheelchair, but they are also nice to have when carrying a laundry basket. So some of the features that are necessities for some are also a luxury for others.

From the MS Society Website:

“Universal Design enables everybody-not just people with disabilities-to navigate, manipulate, and appreciate our world. Non-slip flooring: It’s safer for all sorts of feet. Curb cuts make things easier whether you’re pushing a stroller or a wheelchair. Think of a grab bar in the shower. It’s seen by many as a “disabled” thing, but who wouldn’t want one when their eyes are full of shampoo?

Universal Design makes products, communications, and the built environment not only aesthetically pleasing but also more usable by more people-at little or no extra cost. There’s just one little problem: Universal Design is not exactly universal. Not yet. If it were, many special accommodations for people with disabilities would disappear. They wouldn’t be needed.

Thankfully, product and space designers, heeding the needs of people with disabilities as well as a population with an increasing number of older people, are slowly beginning to solve problems using the principles of Universal Design. New technologies augment their efforts. Examples slowly entering the marketplace include adjustable kitchen sinks and vehicles with more power assistance.” http://www.nationalmssociety.org/site/PageServer?pagename=HOM_LIB_imsoct04_universaldesign

Other Resources

Meet a Universal Design Architect
Because of a genetic disorder, Architect Karen L. Braitmayer uses a wheelchair. Her disability has shaped her career.

BabyBoomers and Universal Design
This article, published by Realty Times, suggests that demand from Baby Boomers is making Universal Design more popular.

Books

Find this book online at www.barnesandnoble.com:

The Accessible Home: Updating Your Home for Changing PhysicalNeeds, Bryan Trandem (Editor), Creative PublishingInternational, Inc., January 2003.

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The Grammar police

I had a previous post regarding photography, the do’s and don’ts. Now I am here to really focus on some personal pet peeves: grammar and spelling. I just read a listing by an agent and it made my skin crawl. I will put a few of the whoppers here:

From the exterior and color coordinated siding enhanced by the lighting selected to make this home special for you!” << What?

To your left & right is the parlor & dinning room,” <<I guess I was absent in class the day they discussed the dinning room. I only learned about dining rooms.

Covered in solid surface counter tops with stainless steel appliance. ” <<I’m not quite sure what is covered in solid surface. Too bad only one appliance is included.

For breakfast, lunch or diner there plenty of room for everyone to dine in sun room. ” << Once again, What? And there is a diner in there?

“. . . and a over sized walk in master closets.” << No comment.

. . .leads directly to the first floor laundry & onto the kitchen.” <<I guess there must be some kind of landing on top of the kitchen?

Each bedroom has their own bathroom sink & an inter connecting private bathroom” << I’m glad each bedroom has their own bathroom sink. Bedrooms appreciate a sink. I’m not even sure what an inter connecting private bathroom is. I guess it is better than a public bathroom.

Truly this home was designed for you & the years to come.” <<Truly. I hope the years appreciate it.

Oh, I love this one, “Up your oak stair case . . .” << Up yours too, buddy.

Ouch! Between the grammatical errors, the spelling mistakes and the poor wording, this makes my head spin. All of these phrases were taken from ONE listing and the kicker: it is for a $550,000 house.

If you aren’t a writer, please, please, please, have someone write for you, or at least have someone proof it.

So if you see spelling errors or poor grammar in any of my posts, feel free to point them out to me!

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Agent attitude, or lack thereof?

OK. I post this out of curiousity. I am interested to hear what others have to say on this topic.

This past weekend I was doing an open house on a new build (I represent the builder). A couple came in loved the house, and want to meet again to discuss building. I asked if they had an agent they were working with. They looked at each other and said, “Well, we have someone we have been working with, but he really hasn’t done much with us. He showed us a few pre-existing homes, but we couldn’t find anything we liked, so he gave us a list of ranches to go look at on our own. We have been driving around on our own for a few weeks. We decided to stop here and we love it! He is a friend, but to be honest, he has not done anything for us except give us a sheet of paper with a few addresses on it.”

I told them that they were still working with him, regardless if he was with them that day or not. One thing with being a builder’s rep, I am always very careful to immediately ask if potential buyers are working with anyone.  We get numerous people through open houses who are just driving through or live in the neighborhood, and I always clear the air with that question first. (When agents come through, I always have them register).

But let me give another example:

There is another realtor who came through one of our open houses a few months ago, to preview it for potential clients. He then proceeded to bring some clients to us who ended up building. We don’t require an agent to be present at all of the meetings pertaining to the building process, but they are welcome to attend. Most do not, knowing that we will be handling the details on our end, and we are fine with this. We keep them posted of pertinent dates, etc.  This agent was very interested and asked that if he couldn’t be there, could we fax him notes from the meetings. Just so he could stay informed on the progress and be there if his clients had any questions or concerns. They built a lovely home and their agent was fantastic to work with. Last week I got a call from this same agent and he had another couple he is bringing our way. They came through open house (with the agent) and they are also very interested in building.

The difference I am seeing: the complacent agent who just hands off a handful of pages printed off the MLS to his clients and they are on their own versus the hands-on agent who is there every step of the way. This is not the first time I have seen this. Is it because we are new builds and agents don’t feel the need to be there? Assuming that I can and will help their clients? Or is this a trend on existing homes as well?

I look forward to some insights on this.

HG

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Raining cats and dogs (but mostly dogs)

This weekend the local animal shelter here in Rochester, NY had its annual Barktober Fest. Yes, you guessed it. It is a dog extravaganza. I don’t have a dog, but promised my son I would take him there. They had bouncy houses, doggie dress-up,you name it. I get my son all organized, we drive down the road toward the shelter as I watch the sky getting blacker and blacker. Now, the shelter, Lollypop Farm is about 3 miles from where i live. As I am approaching the turn-off into the parking lot (which is filled with about 200 cars), the skies open. And I mean waaaay open. It is the worst rain I have ever seen. And then the lightning. The thunder. I told my son, “We aren’t stopping. This is unbelievable.” So I drive past as I watch about 400 people running, with dogs of every size and shape, and too many kids to count toward their cars. I turned the corner to go about and head toward home. I realize there are cars parked for about a mile down that way too! It was utter chaos!The rain subsided about an hour later and we went back. Most of the dogs were gone, so I guess you could say the day went to the dogs!

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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?”
kitchen.jpg

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.

HG

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