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Chord of Confidence: Making Real Estate Agents Look Like Rock Stars

Jan 7, 2018 by

Editor’s Note: What follows is the cover story in the January issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine.

Real estate moves fast, and how quickly you respond to prospective clients can make or break your chances of getting their business. Mortgage lenders, on the Quicken_Cover_Jan18_300x420_article_pageother hand, have a captive audience and don’t always feel the same urgency.

At Quicken Loans, though, that’s not the case.

Emails and phone calls are answered quickly, typically within minutes. And it’s not just borrowers who are viewed as clients; real estate agents also play an integral part in the online lender’s mortgage process.

On one hand, it’s no secret that the mortgage industry has been slow to adopt technology into its rigid systems and underwriting processes. On the other hand, Quicken Loans has continually broken new ground and riffed on its own successes by building consumer- and agent-friendly portals and services that remove guesswork from the equation.

Today, Quicken Loans is the largest online mortgage lender and the second-largest retail mortgage lender in the United States, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. And while the company has racked up an enviable collection of accolades for consumer satisfaction over the years, real estate agents also have rave reviews about the company—and for good reason.

Putting Agents at the Center of the Transaction
To make the mortgage process better for consumers, Quicken Loans executives turned their attention to working hand-in-hand with real estate agents, their most powerful ally, says Tom Dempsey, divisional vice president of Business Development with Quicken Loans.

Real estate agents aren’t usually included in the [mortgage] experience, but they’re our clients, too,” says Dempsey, adding that homebuyers (especially first-time buyers) turn to agents to be their trusted guide in a sometimes complex process. “We knew we needed to communicate with the agent at the same high level that we communicate with the client throughout the process.”

Quicken_Fast_Facts_735wThe centerpiece of this effort: MyQL Agent Insight, a custom back-end platform that increases loan visibility by letting agents see exactly where their client stands in the loan approval process.

From a smartphone or desktop, agents can see what documents might be missing, when an appraisal comes in, and when a loan is cleared to close or even denied.

It’s worth noting that Quicken Loans’ mortgage clients must give consent for their agents to see updates on their loan file and, if they do, personal or financial information is never revealed to agents, Dempsey adds.

The accessibility and transparency MyQL Agent Insight brings to the process reduces a lot of the uncertainty agents experience in most transactions, Dempsey points out.

“It always comes back to connectedness in our industry,” Dempsey says. “The ability for a lender and a real estate agent to deepen relationships and create a higher level of trust, in turn, helps all of us to better educate and serve consumers.

“This is sometimes a hand-to-hand combat sport that requires commitment to shared business goals, relationships and top-level client service. When those three things line up, we have a recipe for success.”

Service, Technology Part of a Broader Culture
What exactly makes Quicken Loans different from its competitors? It starts with the company’s culture of service and the many “ISMs,” or ideals, the company strives to work and live by, Dempsey says.

“The ISMs are less about what we do and more about who we are,” adds Dempsey.Quicken_Power_Trio_735w

Some of the standout ISMs include “Do the right thing,” “Every second counts,” and “Simplicity is genius.”

Then there’s the technology and support, which together are icing on the cake. Aside from MyQL Agent Insight, Quicken Loans also provides agents these services:

Q-text
A texting service that allows agents to receive text updates on the status of their clients’ loans, keeping agents up-to-date on each step in the process while they’re on-the-go. (Let’s be honest: Most agents live on their mobile devices and do most of their work on the road.)

Agent Relations Team
In addition to the mortgage banker and other professionals handling loans, there’s a dedicated team of Quicken Loans team members who focus solely on providing end-to-end communications support to agents. Real estate professionals can get answers to any and all questions they have about loan options, business partnerships, transaction processes, and more.

Market Managers
Quicken Loans’ market managers allow the online lender to be visible in agents’ communities. The in-person education, support and insights these team members provide help localize its efforts, Dempsey says.

Leveraging technology for a number of tasks helps Quicken Loans’ mortgage bankers and other team members focus on what they do best: setting (and exceeding) expectations, says Max Wegner, vice president of Communications and Client Experience with Quicken Loans.

Quicken_Moe_Quote_735wIn fact, setting expectations at the beginning of each transaction is another key competitive advantage Quicken Loans is proud of.

“If everyone—lender, borrower and agent—is on the same page regarding who’s doing what and when, we all win together,” Wegner says.

Elevating the Consumer Experience
Quicken Loans has evolved in its 33-year history as a direct lender. Today, the company services virtually all of the loans it originates, Wegner says.

That’s a departure from other lenders that often sell servicing rights for closed loans to other companies. It’s a process that confuses consumers and agents alike, Wegner adds. “Many agents don’t realize we service our own loans, and knowing that, I think, should give them more confidence in working with us.”

But becoming a “lender for life” required Quicken Loans’ leadership to take a hard look at its loan application process. Homebuyers know that the process comes with a lengthy documentation pile and deep digging into their financial background. With recent regulations, application requirements are more rigorous than ever before.

To ease that pain for consumers, Quicken Loans launched Rocket Mortgage, the first fully online, on-demand loan application process. It allows borrowers to get fully approved, underwritten and closed—all without ever speaking to a mortgage banker, unless they want to, Wegner says.

In its first full year of operation, Rocket Mortgage funded more than $ 7 billion of the record $ 96 billion in total closed loan volume in 2016 for Quicken Loans.

Rocket Mortgage clients have gone from application to closing in as little as eight days on refinance loans, and 16 days on the purchase side, according to internal Quicken_Stevie_Quote_735wdata. In contrast, the industry’s average closing time on new purchase loans is about 45 days.

Rocket Mortgage, both the app and its web counterpart, is used to manage a client’s loan from application all the way through to making payments. This includes viewing the application status, making one-time or recurring payments, asking questions about the loan, checking out how payments are broken down into principal, interest and escrow, and more, giving clients full transparency into their loan.

Agents: ‘Quicken Loans Makes Us Look Good’
Jason Mitchell is a superstar agent with sales numbers that other real estate agents dream about.

President of the Jason Mitchell Group at My Home Group Real Estate in Scottsdale, Ariz., Mitchell has closed more than 900 transactions and over $ 215 million in sales volume since 2012. More than 65 percent of that business came from clients who used Quicken Loans, Mitchell says.

He credits the company’s fast closing times and constant communication with enabling him to make good on his promises to clients.

“When I call anyone at Quicken Loans, I get a call back within the hour; they don’t drop the ball on accountability,” Mitchell says. “Your typical independent loan officer or broker operates their own business their way.

“My clients want things done quickly and instantaneously, and no one wants to wait around for a lender to play telephone to get things done.”

For real estate agent Moe Bzeih, accountability is just one of the ways Quicken Loans makes him look like a rock star to his clients. In his diverse Dearborn, Mich., market, Bzeih works with clients who speak English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Portuguese. He was floored to learn that Quicken Loans had more than a few mortgage bankers who speak these languages—and others, too.

“It makes my market that much bigger for referrals,” says Bzeih. “You can work with banks who’ll hire translators, but to have this established relationship makes it easier to find workable solutions and give my clients advice straight from the source.”

Bzeih, an agent at CENTURY 21 Curran and Christie, has only been in real estate for three years and says his business really took off this past year thanks to Quicken Loans referrals. Roughly a quarter of the 75 total transactions he expected to close in 2017 were with buyers getting a mortgage through Quicken Loans, he says.

But his commissions are secondary to his main mission: making clients happy.

In one instance, Bzeih says he had a client who woke him up, eager to get a jump on a property that hit the market late at night. By the next morning, the client made an offer and her loan approval got underway with Quicken Loans.

However, the property appraisal came in much lower than expected, and the client didn’t have the extra $ 3,500 to cover the difference, Bzeih recalls. So, he offered to take it out of his commission, viewing the move as an investment in future business—and in his client’s satisfaction.

What happened next stunned Bzeih.

“Quicken Loans took on that positivity and energy, and they waived a huge portion of her closing costs,” he recalls. “You see, it’s not always about business or the commission check; it’s about relationships. That client is going to refer everyone she knows to us.”

Above all, Bzeih says that Quicken Loans’ mortgage bankers bring an unexpected—and welcome—human element to an otherwise automated process, setting them apart from other lenders in the space.

“They make me look good in front of my clients because they always set expectations up front and meet every single one.”

More Than an Online Lender
Ownership of the communications with agents is just one of the many things Stevie Spargo loves about the lender.

But Spargo, a broker with Crye-Leike Real Estate Services in Hot Springs, Ark., wasn’t immediately sold on doing business with an online-only lender. Frankly, she was downright skeptical of the idea.

But when a Quicken Loans representative came to her brokerage to talk about the company’s loan options and technology, she decided to give it a shot. She’s glad she did.

In 2017, she closed 10 transactions with clients who used Quicken Loans. The positive experience has changed her perception of online lenders for the better, she says.

“The communication has been the best, and the speed of the closings is second to none,” Spargo says.

“What I love most is that what they tell me matches up exactly to what they’re telling my clients.”

Spargo says her clients rave about the transparency of their Rocket Mortgage accounts and being able to check on the status of their loan, day or night, and track its progress. Also, many of her clients received a $ 500 cash-back offer after closing, plus a $ 750 closing credit from Quicken Loans as part of a special “Mortgage Insiders” program.

Innovating an Industry
With 2018 underway, Quicken Loans isn’t resting on its laurels.

In fact, the lender is looking to enhance its relationships with real estate professionals even more by integrating other aspects of a transaction into its cutting-edge technology, Wegner says.

For example, the company is looking at several ways to incorporate services, such as online document signing and transaction-management systems into its mortgage experience.

Another area of focus for Quicken Loans this year? Allowing agents to upload addendums to purchase contracts into the MyQL Agent Insight self-service portal. This functionality will streamline paperwork when changes need to be made to a contract after an inspection or appraisal, Dempsey says.

Quicken Loans will continue to fine-tune its mortgage process this year in an effort to “help consumers mortgage confidently.” But what the lender really wants is for more agents to see and experience what both the Rocket Mortgage process and account can do, Wegner says.

Helping borrowers navigate one of life’s largest financial transactions is a great responsibility, and it’s a service the mortgage bankers take seriously, Dempsey says. It all comes back to building relationships.

“A seasoned homebuyer may require a different level of connectedness versus a first-time buyer,” Dempsey says. “We believe that setting expectations with clients at the beginning is key, and we invite clients to be as much a part of the lending process as they want to be.

“You won’t find another lender that has poured its heart and soul into creating the kind of mortgage experience we have. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but there’s a genuine level of commitment within our company to being the best we can be.”

Seal of Approval
J.D. Power has ranked Quicken Loans “Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Primary Mortgage Origination, Eight Years in a Row, and Mortgage Servicing, Four Years in a Row.”*

Bad Credit? There’s QL Credit for That
Have clients who don’t have pristine credit? Quicken Loans offers QL Credit, a free counseling service for clients who are denied a mortgage pre-approval because of credit issues. A dedicated credit repair expert will work with clients for 12 – 24 months to help fix credit issues—and help them increase their chances of acing their next mortgage application.

For more information, please visit www.RocketMortgage.com.

*For J.D. Power award information, visit www.jdpower.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Net Neutrality Rollback Threat to Real Estate Industry

Dec 17, 2017 by

The net neutrality controversy came to a head last week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the Obama-era open internet regulations following a meeting on Dec. 14. These protections required broadband internet providers to offer equal web access without added fees for preferential treatment or higher speeds. The net neutrality rollback won in a 3-2 vote under party lines led by FCC Republican Commissioner Chairman Ajit Pai.

The repeal has been contested by the real estate industry, consumers and Democrat lawmakers, who sought to keep streaming and internet service provider (ISP) choice in consumers’ court.

What Is Net Neutrality?
Also known as “open internet” or “internet freedom,” net neutrality is a set of regulations enacted by the Obama Administration in 2015 that protects against the misuse of internet data by ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. These regulations maintained that providers could not use consumers’ streaming data against them to block competitor’s pages, force them to use specific services and visit specific websites, and/or increase prices by imposing additional costs for “package deals.”

Removing these protections opens the door to tiered service from ISPs. Tier one, or the “fast lane,” would allow businesses to buy into preferential treatment and faster speeds to their websites. Meanwhile, tier two companies (most likely small businesses who can’t afford to pay higher fees) would suffer slower internet speeds or even blocked pages. Without these protections, all of these business practices would be considered legal, as long as ISPs post their policies online or report them to the FCC.

With the rollback, the FCC is restoring the framework implemented before 2015, which featured a “light-touch” philosophy when it comes to FTC involvement.

“In particular, the FCC’s action…has restored the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to act when broadband providers engage in anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” according to an FCC statement that followed the rollback announcement. “The framework adopted by the Commission…will protect consumers at far less cost to investment than the prior rigid and wide-ranging utility rules. And restoring a favorable climate for network investment is key to closing the digital divide, spurring competition and innovation that benefits consumers.”  

How Will This Impact Real Estate?
While the FCC maintains that this rollback will not affect how the internet is used, consumers are concerned that ISPs will take advantage by imposing added charges, obstructing their open internet rights and forcing them to sign up with ISP-specific streaming services, versus allowing them to subscribe to a competitor.

When it comes to real estate, brokers and agents are currently on a level playing field on the internet. With this repeal, high-earning brokerages may be able to pay for preferential treatment, creating an unfair advantage against small real estate businesses. This can also affect the visibility of certain MLSs, trickling down to consumers who may not want to list with a brokerage that doesn’t offer internet advantages.

Larger companies may also be able to create exclusive deals with certain companies to showcase their websites and block competitors’. Not only would this affect the consumer experience, but it could also impact marketing efforts. Independent brokerages could suffer if their marketing is hindered by slow internet speeds to their pages. Brokerages may also end up paying more for their internet if ISPs decide to go the cable route, charging higher fees for services and eventually changing to an à la carte platform that charges according to service packages (i.e., social media, streaming services, etc.)

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has been challenging the proposed repeal since July, citing internet as critical to the success of the real estate industry, especially with new technology—such as mobile apps, drone photography and virtual reality—that requires open internet access. After the FCC’s announcement of the rollback, NAR released the following statement:

“The internet as we know it today is a fair and open platform that puts everyone on a level playing field,” said NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall. “FCC’s rollback of the Open Internet Order will mean higher costs and slower service for millions of American consumers and businesses. REALTORS® have strong concerns about what that might mean for the way consumers search for homes online and real estate is transacted.

“The last thing small businesses need today is additional costs and competitive disadvantages that put them on the defensive. This isn’t just an issue for Silicon Valley or large telecommunications shops; this is a main street concern that affects businesses and consumers across the country. We intend to make our voice heard on this important issue.”

Stay tuned to RISMedia for more developments.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Making Real Estate Personal Again: LaVerne Pike, Windermere Real Estate

Dec 16, 2017 by

In a business where technology can easily take center stage, LaVerne Pike, an award-winning veteran agent with Seattle’s Windermere Real Estate, stands apart by focusing on the person-to-person connection and a level of service that puts him—not the internet—at the center of the relationship. In this interview, Pike explains how his detailed knowledge of the market, along with his genuine desire to help people, combine to guide clients through the highly competitive Seattle real estate scene.

Maria Patterson: Please briefly describe your career path in real estate and how you got to where you are today.
LaVerne Pike:
I was a chef in the restaurant business in Seattle for quite some time. A real estate managing broker, who I had gone to school with, kept coming into the restaurant and would say, “Gosh, for as hard as you work, you should be in real estate. You’re great with people and service-oriented—in real estate, you’d realize more impact and a better lifestyle for others, as well as yourself.” I really liked the service end of the restaurant business and the energy. After four years, he finally convinced me into it, and now I’ve been in real estate with Windermere for more than 20 years.

MP: What regions do you currently serve?
LP:
I serve all of King County. Being a Seattle native, I understand the nooks and crannies of the Puget Sound area, and I’ve been able to create relationships, connections and family all the way from Graham to Island County. If someone needs service, I will take care of them to ensure they’re making a solid and successful decision.

MP: How would you describe current market conditions?
LP:
Inventory is the lowest it’s ever been—and there are 15 percent more buyers than the previous year. Part of the issue is that we’ve had a lot of buyers coming into the area for jobs with the tech industry—Google, Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft, to name a few. In addition, cash buyers are changing the way we do business. I’ve seen 89 offers on a particular home and I’ve seen prices go from $ 10,000 above asking price to $ 350,000 above asking price. Cash offers that need no appraisal and waive many contingencies are common, and properties are closing in two weeks. This has been going on for 14 months now, and I don’t see any end in sight. The median price for a single-family residence in Seattle/Bellevue is above $ 800,000.

MP: What’s the current status of new construction?
LP:
It’s not keeping up with demand. The municipalities are granting permits at a slower or downsized pace, cautiously to prevent overbuilding. Currently there are a few zoning authorities in the process of creating a moratorium on permits for new construction community start-ups for 90 days or more, with well permits also being held back. That keeps our market inventory low, with pricing pushed to the top of the scale, leaving the market unbalanced.

MP: What are you doing to work with first-time homebuyers then? Are there any options for that group?
LP:
I’ve connected with a couple of lenders offering a few programs where buyers can put 0-1 percent down on a first-time home purchase. There are some requirements and certifications needed. You have to go a little bit out of the area to find this price range, but I can find them. I’m in three transactions right now (at press time) under $ 300,000. It’s considerably more work than working on a high-end home sale, but it motivates me when someone is renting a 600-square-foot, $ 1,500-per-month apartment in downtown Seattle…and that’s considered a bargain. Ask yourself, “Why not buy a house and get the tax benefits and invest in yourself?” When you’re renting, there’s no benefit—plus, the landlord can raise the rent. When you buy a home, you regain control. It’s important to me to educate folks to take control of their lives and invest in themselves.

MP: Tell us about some of the highlights of your more than two decades in the business.
LP:
In 1997, I was voted one of Windermere’s best agents, which was voted on by my peers who represent the top drawer of the area’s REALTORS®. Their work ethic, standards and practices are very high. In multiple-offer situations, people typically go with the offer that is strong, comprehensive and credible over most others. Windermere will get it done. When people list houses with us, they know having the Windermere sign in their yard represents the quality of the real estate professional they’re working with. The proven stability, reputation and marketshare performance of Windermere has been, and still is, the highlight of my real estate business. That’s why I’ve been here for more than 20 years.

I’ve also been recognized as a Five-Star professional by Seattle magazine for the past 10 years.

MP: How do you differentiate yourself in today’s competitive market?
LP:
It can be tough because the internet takes all the personality out of everything. You lose 55 percent of a person when you’re reading the written word because you’re losing eye contact and body language. That’s why I always suggest to people who come in as internet leads, if you’re serious, contact me; text, call or email…I’ll respond with a call.

I believe in having a quality experience over having a quantity of experiences. As a Seattle native, I know the area, and that keeps me abreast of what’s going on in different communities. I know that you can drive three blocks in one direction and be in a completely different type of atmosphere. And people need to know the distinctions among neighborhoods. If you’re putting your money in a house and the values have gone down, or you don’t feel safe going out at night, then you’ve made a bad investment. I want to safeguard my clients, so my approach is to adopt all my clients. I have a really good time with them and I don’t pressure them. I don’t mind being silent in the car when we’re driving around because they have a lot to think through. I’m open if there are questions, concerns or input. There’s truly no need for constant chatter. I’m here for my clients, and, as a team, we will realize their goals.

MP: What have been the keys to growing your business and becoming a successful real estate professional?
LP:
Being personal and authentic. I don’t like to be insincere. It’s all about the client. This is their biggest investment. They don’t need to hear about me. If I can help fulfill any part of their dream, I’m more than happy to do that—in fact, I get joy out of that. My daughter used to tell me I was too giving of myself, but I told her that’s okay—it will all come back around.

MP: What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing, and how are you tackling them?
LP:
Currently, I would have to say the lack of inventory. When we went into the downturn, people didn’t want to buy or sell because their house wasn’t as valuable. People were having to short sell, and I felt terrible. One short sale cost me $ 2,500 and took me two-and-a-half years to sell. But the upswing can be almost as severe, with multiple and cash offers, which makes us work two to three times as hard trying to put accurate numbers together. Forty-three percent of the houses here sold over full price and 20 percent were under full price and had to do multiple price changes. If the house is priced correctly, it will sell quickly. If not, it can languish for some time.

MP: How do you stay educated and equipped to best serve clients and prospects?
LP:
I do my research every day. I stay on top of what’s new and exciting. In the past 20 years, real estate professionals have gone from being the only access to knowledge to now having the internet. Now everyone knows everything about everything. The Information Age has created as many challenges as benefits, so I focus on continued education, classes and constant upgrading of my knowledge and understanding. I ask myself daily, “How can I best be a benefit?”

MP: How do you generate new business and cultivate relationships with today’s consumers?
LP:
I dive deep on the personal and emotional level and focus on being of service. I build business by being authentic and sincere and being there for people.

Most people perceive a real estate agent as sitting there with his feet up on the desk, waiting for the phone to ring. Everything I do is an education, and it’s not all rote or standard. Whether it’s a good handshake or a good hug, a good conversation or silence in the car, it’s all about whatever deepens that connection with people. You’re garnering leads off the internet, so you have to create credibility with people and build trust. They’ve eaten pancakes and ramen for a year to save up enough money to buy a home—so that’s a lot of responsibility on my part. Listing a home is extremely emotional given the emotional ties and changes.

MP: How do you stay involved in your community?
LP:
Through Windermere, we’re involved with several activities. For example, every Christmas, Windermere teams up with Target for what we call, “Windermere for Kids.” On a Saturday morning prior to Christmas, we have an underprivileged boy or girl shop for their family members. We wrap all the gifts and they get to take them home in a big bag. Little do they know we’ve already bought gifts for the little shopper, as well.

We also work with a variety of non-profit programs. Being a Windermere agent, with every transaction, there’s a contribution made to our non-profit (Windermere Foundation) to give back to our community. Since 1989, we have contributed more than $ 34 million, all of which goes right back into the community. There’s a particular day where we go out into the community and do whatever is needed for a particular organization—landscaping, maintenance, painting. Every Windermere office has a charity or place they go that day—an army of agents out there doing community service, donating the time, doing the labor, giving back to the community. Our title, escrow companies and lenders participate, too, as assorted vendors contribute and/or donate materials.

MP: What are the biggest concerns for today’s real estate consumers, and how do you help guide them through these concerns?
LP:
I understand why some people appear to be a little gun-shy thinking that there will be another bubble. With the influx of 1.2 million people coming into King County alone in the next six years, it doesn’t appear that there will be a downturn. If anything, it will flatten out.

You have to pay to live somewhere no matter what, so why not invest in yourself and safeguard yourself with today’s market? Even if the market levels off, you’ll still have equity and a level of stability. What do you have with an apartment, with your depreciating car or your clothes that are wearing out? The longer you wait, the less your money will be worth. The appreciation in Seattle/Bellevue is 1.3 percent a month. Will you get that kind of raise at your job?

MP: What do you see as the biggest opportunities in the year ahead?
LP:
Making more people’s dreams come true. That’s where my heart is. Finding success for more people, gaining trust from more people. Getting out there and making things happen. As for myself, taking all those challenges and getting smarter and wiser. Part of my vision statement says, “I wake up to the future every day.” Be the change you want to see in the world. That’s where the rewards come in. Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet. Let’s get serious and get results…it’s your move!

For more information, please visit www.seattlehomerealtor.com or bellevuearearealestate.com.

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at maria@rismedia.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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