Cover Story- The Smarter Agent 2.0

by Chicago Agent

To remain successful in today’s market, agents must concentrate on taking their business to the next level. We’ve compiled a plethora of information from various sources to show you the many ways that a simple agent can rise through the ranks to gain the status of “Smarter Agent 2.0.” From working with REOs to forming relationships with developers, the tips below will lead to success in any market the world throws your way.

Advice From a Veteran
By Cris Sallmen 

In my more than 20 years as a Realtor, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned to get from Wauconda for a showing to Chicago for a closing and back home in time for a Little League game. What I have witnessed over and over again is what I’ve known from the beginning: our business is built on relationships.

As Realtors, our ability to build strong relationships and provide excellent service is critical to our success. Therefore, at this time I’m concentrating on getting back to the basics – making contacts and meeting people. But, just like Madonna, I’m looking for ways to reinvent myself and incorporate my “old school” commitment to service with an understanding of new ways to be successful in today’s market.

Like everyone, I’m doing my best to embrace technology – with a vengeance. It is imperative to communicate with customers and prospects in the ways they find most effective. E-mail is an efficient, low-cost method for communicating with a large group of people on a consistent basis, but it is not the only way to communicate. It is easy to be swept up in the social networking movement, and it is certainly true that if a young buyer wants information on the $8,000 incentive through Facebook or Twitter, I have to be prepared to respond. 

Social networking has quickly become an established part of our culture and looks like it will be around for some time, but it cannot be limited to the computer. If I always stayed glued to my computer checking e-mail, I would never have ended up on the cover of Chicago Agent. I attended the Chicago Agent New Construction preview, won the cover contest and here I am. 

Chambers, civic organizations, networking groups and all of the real estate gurus out there have speakers on a variety of different topics. Some of the workshops are free and most are low-cost. It may be a short version of a larger workshop, but if you walk away with just one good idea or one valuable new contact, it was worth it. 

Relationships matter during the good years and the bad. I’ve worked with a lot of builders, large and small. As the market softened over the past couple of years, some grew increasingly demanding and high-maintenance. They were under pressure to win the few buyers in the marketplace and sometimes they passed that pressure along to me. Even so, they needed me more than ever and I worked hard to maintain strong relationships. Layoffs and closings resulting from the recession caused several salespeople I worked with to lose their jobs. There are signs, however, that we are headed for better economic times and those salespeople will resurface somewhere else, and when they do, they will remember our relationship and the excellent service I provided.

Don’t get discouraged and don’t get distracted. Whether you’re a veteran like me, or a new agent just starting out, the message is the same: Get out there and meet people, listen to what they say and provide the best service you can in every situation. Stay focused on your clients and why you went into the business in the first place. Avoid the negative agents who drag you down, surround yourself with the positive people who are just as excited about the future as you are; it’s a message for success.

Cris Sallmen is an agent with Century 21 1st Class Homes in Schaumburg. She can be reached at 847.310.8700.


No Time to Hesitate
By Paul Lueken 

Knowing every corner of the market and being able to guide your clients through it without stuttering is how most agents build their portfolio of business. However, beyond doing your homework and expanding your network of referral partners, agents that are truly successful don’t just create value — they create buyers.

The headline topic this year has been the first-time homebuyer tax credit, which has, without a doubt, brought buyers to the table. However, looming unemployment, deflated retirement accounts and tighter household budgets still have many buyers sidelined. You and I know this is no market to pass up, but how do you get buyers into the game?

In a recessed economy, the emotional security of having a padded savings account will often bring a potential buyer’s decision-making ability to a halt, and a stricter, more limited budget often blinds them from seeing any purchase opportunity. While housing values are not going to jump back up overnight, rates can and do, and as the housing market shows more and more signs of stabilizing in the weeks and months ahead, there will be an increasing drive to push rates back up. This is no time to hesitate. 

Let’s say your buyer acts today and is able to lock down a 5 percent interest rate on a $200,000 home. This means their budget has to accommodate a monthly principal and interest payment of $1,073. Now, if your buyer holds off and lets rates jump back up to 6.5 percent, which is where they were before the housing collapse in 2007, their budget will then have to accommodate a monthly P&I payment of $1,264. That’s an additional $191 chunk out of the budget each month ($2,292 per year) – not good news for a budget-conscious client.

This is where a lock and shop program, like the one we offer at 1st Advantage Mortgage, becomes invaluable. For an upfront deposit, your buyer can lock in that 5 percent rate today, even before they have a property selected, and then can take up to 90 days to shop for their new home. This means your buyer enters the market with a budget in place and no concerns that a jump in rates will send them back to the sidelines, and you, the agent, now have a committed, dedicated buyer ready to take full advantage of the market opportunities you have to offer.

This is just one of many options that our company, and others, offer to potential buyers to help get them to take the plunge and commit. As an agent, your job is to get out there and find out which companies are offering which incentives, to insure that your deal isn’t stalled by fearful, budget-conscious buyers. If you have this information in your arsenal, then you will be the smarter agent of the pack. 

Paul Lueken is the President of 1st Advantage Mortgage in Lombard. He can be reached at 630.376.0507.


To find out why Realtors find it important to participate in philanthropic activities, we asked Ryan D’Aprile of Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation and Suzy Thomas of Realtors to the Rescue to tell us about their experiences. 

Chicago Agent: What is Bear Necessities?

Ryan D’Aprile: Bear Necessities is a pediatric cancer foundation that was founded by Karen Casey, when she lost her son, Barrett “Bear” Krupa to what is thought to be a curable form of cancer. It is an organization whose mission is to eliminate pediatric cancer and to provide hope and support to those who are affected by it.

CA: Why did you decide to get involved in Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation?

RD: I feel very fortunate to have the life I have and feel that it’s necessary to help out others. I came across Bear Necessities and thought that it was a wonderful opportunity to help out families in need of support.

CA: Do you think Bear Necessities improves your real estate business?

RD: I feel Bear Necessities makes me a better person, and in turn that will have a positive effect on all parts of my life, including the real estate business, which is a big part of my life!

CA: How can other agents get involved with Bear Necessities? 

RD: The Bear Necessities Web site (bearnecessities.org) provides a lot of insight on the organization as does the Bear Necessities Facebook fan page. Both can keep Realtors updated on all the fun events that are going on throughout the year, and help them stay informed on just how many people are active. The Web site has all the information needed to find out how you can get involved. 

Ryan D’Aprile is the broker/owner of D’Aprile Realty and is on the Auxiliary Board of Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation. He can be reached at 312.492.7900 or by e-mail at ryan@daprilerealty.com. 

Rescuing Chicago’s Homeless Animals

By Suzy Thomas

Realtors to the Rescue grew out of my long-time involvement in the homeless animal world in Chicago. I started as a volunteer at Animal Care and Control 10 years ago, and that experience introduced me to the tremendous issue the city faces in dealing with the number of homeless animals and the plight of the animals who end up in shelters.

Since friends and associates knew I was involved in this arena, they would contact me when they found a stray animal or knew of someone needing to find a home for a pet, and I would work through my network of contacts to help. I saw other Realtors doing the same and thought it would be powerful to organize these efforts into a much larger network to help find homes for these animals and provide support to the shelters.

That was the beginning of Realtors to the Rescue. A small group of Realtors worked with me to organize and apply for our official not-for-profit status (501c3). Earlier this year, we approached the Chicago Association of Realtors’ (CAR) government affairs director, Brian Bernardoni, to ask for help in expanding our reach. Brian saw the value in CAR’s involvement in this endeavor and brought Realtors to the Rescue under the CAR umbrella. Through this alliance, we are able to have an impact on a much broader public policy level. 

Realtors to the Rescue is saving lives of homeless animals on a daily basis. In the midst of a challenging real estate market, I have found great satisfaction and encouragement in my work with this not-for-profit, and I have met many other Realtors with a similar passion for helping the animals. In addition, my work with this organization has resonated with my clients. I have recently added new clients who are animal lovers, and I’m sure my involvement made a difference in their choosing me as their Realtor. 

Our Web site (realtorstotherescue.com) will continue to become a valuable tool for Realtors, providing information they can use for themselves, as well as for their clients. The content continues to change and improve.

We welcome feedback from the real estate community on information we should include, and we also welcome anyone who would be willing to volunteer and become part of our mission. 

I’d also like to recognize the other Realtors who have helped with this endeavor, and found that working with a not-for-profit group can help one grow as a person, which in turn will automatically take their business to the next level. They are in alphabetical order: Jody Bartley, Prudential Rubloff; Maura Clark, Prudential Rubloff; Vivienne Frow, Prudential Rubloff; Valerie Gangas, Prudential Rubloff; Brent Garcia, Prudential Rubloff; Blythe Hammett-Hefferan, Prudential Rubloff; Catherine Munden, KSGMAC; Gordon Munden, KSGMAC; Karen Patton, Prudential Rubloff; Scott Rife, Prudential Rubloff; and Tina Wallace, Wallace Properties.

Suzy Thomas is a Realtor with Prudential Rubloff. She was recently awarded the 2009 Realtor Community Service Award from CAR. She can be reached at 312.368.5957.


REOs Made Easy


Abe Rabah

There are too many misconceptions about REOs. No doubt about it, foreclosures are on the rise, so are the number of listings. It is more than likely if you do any volume you will come across one, so to really take your business to the next level this year you should brush up on the ins and outs. 

First and foremost, be an educated agent so that you can educate your clients. They will look to you for advice along the way, so it’s imperative that you are familiar with the process to help ease their concerns. 

Secondly, set expectations at the right level. If you set the expectation upfront with your clients, you will more than likely have a stronger relationship and minimize the number of surprises. Examples of surprises would include not getting two remotes for the garage, not getting repairs completed from an inspection report and no disclosures, to name a few.

Here are a few basic things that you and your clients should know to avoid any surprises along the way:

1. Banks are selling the properties as-is. Home inspections are really for your client’s edification, not for the bank to renegotiate the deal.

2. There are no sale contingencies.

3. No survey is provided.

4. Sometimes you will need to allow a little more time for response, although REOs do not take anywhere near as long as short sales. 

Before your client makes a finance offer, make sure the home is in “financeable” condition. For instance, before submitting an FHA offer on a condo, make sure the unit is FHA approved and meets FHA standards. If the seller is looking for cash-only deals, there is probably a good reason for that. 

While these tips might make the whole process seem daunting, remind your clients that bank-owned properties present an excellent opportunity for your clients to purchase a property that they probably could not afford under normal circumstances. Additionally, it may also allow your clients to fix up the homes to their liking. As long as you are confident and educated in the process, then there is no reason for you or your clients to be nervous about the transaction. So go out there and sell!

Abe Rabah is the founder and president of Great Street Properties. He can be reached at 312.464.0460 or by e-mail at abe@thereobroker.com.


Seven Things To Consider Before Attending An Auction 

By Timothy Gray

Register With the Auction Company: In almost every case, you must register for broker participation with the auction company. It takes a few moments and is a good time to have questions answered and introduce yourself.

Attend an Open House With Your Client: It is essential to show your client the prospective property. Remember to sign in at each open house you attend. If your client is bidding on multiple properties, make sure you stress the importance of viewing each property. Properties offered at auction are usually sold as-is, and oftentimes with no disclosures. 

Know About Financing: Unfortunately, some auction companies will approve your client for bidding, but not financing. This is vital as auction contracts often call for closing within 30 days. Your clients should never forfeit their earnest money due to lack of financing. Look for auctions that offer seller financing. Seller financed auctions will provide up to 95 percent financing, and also approve your client for financing before being approved for bidding. 

Buyer’s Premium: The percentage (usually 5 percent) that is added to the purchase price. Make sure your clients factor this into their bidding. Not all auction companies have a buyer’s premium, you should ask before you attend any auction.

Set the Price: Before arriving at a purchase price, take into consideration any financing being offered. For instance, in a seller financed auction, the difference between a $60,000 versus $55,000 purchase price is only $50 per month (or $675). Some Auctions have a price discount program as well, enabling your client to actually lower their purchase price by putting more money down on auction day. 

Bidding Guidelines: Determine who is going to do the bidding. When the item comes up for sale, place the first bid. Do not wait until the last moment, as you may be shut out. You are more likely to win the item if you bid aggressively. Remember, the pace moves quickly. 

Getting Paid: Make sure you follow the auction company’s guidelines for receiving the brokers co-op commission. The commission is paid at closing, which will be anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on the seller. The co-op commission ranges. It is often 2 percent, but can sometimes go as high as 3 percent.

Timothy Gray is a Realtor/auctioneer. His next auction of seller financed real estate is Oct. 17, 2009. For more information, visit Chicagolandauctions.com. 


You Need to Belong

By Georgia Pierini

There are many reasons to join a real estate-related organization. You’re a new licensee and are ready to take on the world but don’t know exactly where to begin. Or, perhaps you’ve had your license for a while but you seem to be the last to know what’s happening in the industry. Perhaps you’re feeling alone and out of the loop and wish you knew someone to talk to about the market and other real estate related issues.

Having spent a week at the Illinois Association of Realtors (IAR) business meetings and annual conference, I’m in information overload. I can’t imagine not being a member of an association or organization that offers its members the tools and resources to manage their businesses and be successful.

Not only have I participated in my local association since shortly after being licensed, but I also involve myself in other organizations that afford me additional networking, educational and informational resources. Social networking is great, but instead of concentrating solely on my BlackBerry or laptop, I enjoy meeting real live people and having genuine, in-person conversations.

In the fall of 2003, I was completing my year as Chairman of the Board of the North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors. I was contacted by the nominating committee of the North Shore Chapter of the Women’s Council of Realtors (WCR) and asked to participate as the chapter’s program chair for the following year. Since that’s something I enjoy, I readily accepted, only to discover later that I had accepted the position of president-elect and program chair – not sure how I missed that vital piece of information. 

As a result, I became involved in the leadership of the WCR and have enjoyed and cherished the organization and all of the wonderful professionals I have met.

My role in leadership continued when I was elected secretary of the Illinois State Chapter of the WCR for 2007, treasurer for 2008 and president-elect for 2009. 

Being a member of the 12th-largest women’s professional organization in the U.S. makes one realize that you’re not alone in your quest for success. We’re all a part of a larger group of Realtors and industry affiliates who have similar goals, but with a variety of ideas on how to achieve those goals. Membership truly does have its privileges – we communicate with one another, we’re available to consult with each other and answer questions or give input to a suggestion or problem. We work together to make the organization the best that it can be and we sometimes shoulder the burden for others who are in need of assistance.

This year has been a challenge for us all, making my membership in WCR especially valuable. I look forward to seeing other Realtors and affiliate members to discuss the market, exchange ideas, learn something new, meet someone new or simply relax. And remember that WCR is an organization that, contrary to its name, is not for women only. 

We invite you to visit a local chapter of WCR. Please visit our Web site IllinoisWCR.org for a list of chapters and programs. You are most welcome to contact me at any time for more information. We look forward to meeting you!

Georgia Pierini is the 2010 President of the Illinois Women’s Council of Realtors. She can be reached at 847.420.0479 or by e-mail at Georgia@GeorgiaPierini.com.


Tips For Working with Developers

By Jamie Wilcox

Real estate sales has always been a relationship business. This rule applies to working with developers, just like it does when working with clients. At Epcon Communities, we have forged great relationships with a number of Realtors who informally become a part of our sales team. It is helpful to have Realtors that we know we can trust, and the Realtors benefit from the relationship as well, thus improving the business of everyone that is involved. 

Here are a few tips to forge great relationships with developers in your area:

1. Work to specifically build a relationship with the developer’s sales agents. Set them up to come in and present at your office meetings, offer to distribute flyers in your office, bring other agents from your office in to see the community and share market data. Establish yourself as an expert, and somebody the sales person wants to do business with. Do this even if you don’t have an interested client at the time. 

2. Don’t be afraid of doing business with developers. Most developers that are still in business today are those that have always valued their Realtor business partners. Don’t let a prior bad experience with a developer ruin future opportunities. 

3. Understand the developer’s commission policy up front. Every developer is different; understanding the policy on the front end will prevent any misunderstandings later. 

4. Register your client with the developer. Phone, fax, e-mail, text message – any way you can. If a client wanders into the sales office without telling you first, simply pick up the phone and discuss this with the sales agent. Most developers will protect your commission in this case, especially if you have built a relationship with the developer’s sales agent.

5. Provide feedback. Developer sales agents, like you, get paid when homes sell. They are very interested in your feedback and your client’s feedback. 

Creative ways you can work with developers:

1. Get onto the “preferred-Realtor” list, which is a list of agents developers refer to their customers who have a home to sell. 

2. List developers’ homes. At Epcon Communities, we use a listing agent in every community. You would provide MLS listings and marketing to help the developer increase his Realtor business. This typically works at a lower commission, but with higher volume. 

Jamie Wilcox is the president of Wilcox Development Group, LLC, an Epcon Communities Builder. He can be reached at 815.782.7235, or by e-mail at jwilcox@wilcoxdevelopment.com.

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