Cover Story – Taking on 2010

by Chicago Agent

It’s a brand new year and optimism is high among Chicagoland agents and brokers. So what’s on the horizon for your 2010? A fresh start, a new niche, back to basics? Any and all of those tactics can make this another great year for your career.

By K.K. Snyder

Leading the Troops to Success
When you’re at the helm of a ship carrying 160 agents, success for one can stimulate success for the group. But how do you keep things sailing smoothly? Bill Stegeman, managing broker for Baird & Warner Lincoln Park, says he does it by focusing on the positive, recognizing individual successes and embracing opportunities.

“We do a lot of announcing and recognizing when people get listings, get contracts and get it sold,” he says. “It motivates others to see their success.”

Stegeman values the personal interaction he has with his agents and knows how important it is to maintain communications with everyone, which isn’t easy when you’re managing such a large group. “But the focus on success breeds success,” he says.

For his office, 2009 was a year of getting back to basics, Stegeman shares, noting that he saw the year split into two parts, with buyers, sellers and agents adjusting to a new market early in the year, followed by the need to help people adjust to a different market and completing transactions.

“Agents were getting back to basics, doing those things we should always do,” such as staying in contact with customers and other practice standards, according to Stegeman. “If anything, focusing on the basics is something we’ll probably turn up even more this year.”

The team is optimistic about 2010, having experienced a strong end of year and a busy January. “It’s going to be a great year with a lot of opportunity,” says the 18-year industry veteran. “The challenge is to see the opportunity and capitalize on it to drive success.”

Among their plans for the New Year is a soft re-launch of their new Web site unveiled last year. In addition, ongoing technology training will remain a weekly occurrence in the Baird & Warner office. “Technology is going to be something people do more and more of, especially social marketing,” he says, noting that some of his agents have developed impressive blogs. “Technology is going to a new level and agents are embracing it.”

At the same time, Stegeman recognizes that with a group of 160 agents, not all absorb the training at the same level, so focusing on the individual is important. “We want to make sure our agents can use it and are comfortable with it and can implement it in their business plans in a way that works for them,” he says.

As far as volume, Stegeman expects big things for 2010, noting there is a great amount of “pent up demand” on the part of buyers and sellers who might have hesitated to make a move in the past year or so. “People want to move to something bigger, something smaller; all those things that drive those decisions are still there,” he says, naming marriage, having children or becoming empty nesters as motivating factors.

Foreclosures and shorts sales will become a bigger part of their business as well, he continues, as will the training they began last year on working in these areas of the market. “It’s part of our business and it’s here to stay for a while.”

Finding a New Niche
Nikia Evans, an agent with Century 21 Pro Team Oak Lawn, agrees. Last year she focused exclusively on short sales and found great success. Though she had her first experience with short sales about two years ago, banks weren’t as prone to approving these types of sales as they are now.

“I found myself in a loop then, because clients couldn’t find the customer service help with lenders. I couldn’t help the client and we found out loans had been transferred to another bank rather than trying a short sale,” she recalls. “It was not a positive experience.”

But once the market displayed that short sales could be a win-win, the system was much easier to navigate. In addition, Evans’ company partnered with Pratt Law Firm/Security Titles, a law firm with a lot of short sale business, making for an even smoother process.

“Once we built the relationship with Pratt, I was able to work with the same short sale specialist. Creating a winning team is about what you need to get to the closing table,” says Evans.

Dealing with foreclosures and short sales requires some additional patience on the part of the agent, buyer and seller, because usually the lender is being asked to accept much less for a home than they want. But it does happen.

“When you get a contract, on average it will take the bank four to six weeks to respond and approve a short sale amount they’ll agree with,” says Evans, noting that keeping communication open during this process is crucial.

“We need to know during that time if the bank even got the offer, whether they need anything else and if they counter offer. You have to be able to keep the buyer in the loop or they will lose interest in waiting it out.”

Anyone considering entering the short sales market should first familiarize themselves with the area they are looking to farm, see what the average sales are in that area and realize that these transactions are unique. In addition, short sales are sold “as is,” though reductions for repairs can be requested, as can rehab money from the lender as part of the overall financing.

“Just because the homeowner owes $200,000 doesn’t mean that’s what you list at. If the average in an area is $150,000, you may have to start there and then reduce,” she says.

Last, but not least, working with a winning team well-versed in short sales is essential, including a closing attorney and senior management with lenders. With that formula, Evans experienced a 100 percent success rate with short sales in 2009.

People are sometimes hesitant to consider buying a foreclosure for fear the previous owner left it in major disrepair. Not always the case, says Roy Wubker, who, along with his wife, Ana, has been in the industry since 1972 and owns Royana Realty.

In fact, in many instances, a short sale has already taken place and the bank has gotten the home whipped into shape to resell before the Wubkers take over.

“We started handling foreclosures when handling them wasn’t on the plate for most Realtors,” he says, noting that was 15 years ago. “It’s grown to quite a business now.”

Royana handles a lot of HUD properties through a sub-contract and represents Freddie Mac on a lot of foreclosures. With all those years of experience behind them, the Wubkers have set up a smooth system for picking up properties, initially determining their value and working with contracts to get them prepared for marketing.

Looking Ahead
Wubker, who has nine agents in his office, says last year was “a very comfortable year and the forecast for 2010 look to be even better.” Agents not working that sector of the market should consider it, he adds. “It’s a totally different concept of real estate in that you’re not exactly a property manager, but you do manage them for banks and lending institutions, and there’s an awful lot of work.”

In addition, Royana will continue to work hard to keep their Web site updated and the agents look forward to seeing how the new RESPA rules (see page 15) might make closings easier for them. “It will be very intrusive for lenders and more difficult for them, but will enhance our job.”

While she reports 2009 was “pretty good,” Becky Meiselman, an agent with Prudential Rubloff, hopes the recent merger of her company will bring even more credibility and name recognition to her business as she makes her way through 2010.

“Today, I think people are just looking for the agent that works best for them,” says Meiselman, who concentrates on the residential market in Lincoln Park, Lakeview and North Center, but doesn’t limit herself to just that area.

“This year I’m sticking to what I know and do best; I’m not doing anything new, just perfecting what I already do. I’m working hard to stay on top of news and different things happening in my market. It’s important for clients to know their agent has that wide knowledge.”

Meiselman traditionally takes the slower months of December and January to focus on preparation for the approaching spring market that she believes really starts in February. She pinpoints parts of her business plan that might have fallen short the year before, and then finds the weaknesses that can be improved.

“My No. 1 marketing priority for 2010 is my Web site,” she says, adding that referrals remain her top source of business, leading her to constantly look for ways to keep in touch with past clients. Also, she hopes the FHA changes put off last fall until this year will increase the number of buyers in the market. “I don’t think anybody really knows how that will affect availability, but we’ll be anxious to see with today’s market,” she says

In addition to FHA and RESPA changes and ongoing short sale and foreclosure options, the tax credit extension to April is giving a lot of buyers the confidence they need to “jump out there,” says Evans, who saw a greater increase in the last six months of 2009 with people rushing to get the tax credit when it was planned to end in November. She says that trend will continue in the first quarter of 2010, thanks to the extension.

Moving Forward
The biggest mistake a Realtor can make in 2009 is getting discouraged. Everyone was in the same boat last year, and the best approach is to start anew and work to make this year better than the year before. Whether that means finding a new niche or focusing on a new business plan, the real estate market is looking to slowly recover this year, making it possible for more and more agents to find success. C.A.


Nikia Evans
Century 21 ProTeam Oak Lawn
[email protected]

Becky Meiselman
Prudential Rubloff
[email protected]

Bill Stegeman
Managing Broker
Baird & Warner
[email protected]

Roy Wubker
Royana Realty
[email protected]

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