Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Saying 'no' (a Seth Godin riff)

Seth Godin posted a brief update to his blog today called Saying 'no'. As with all his posts, I really enjoyed the brevity and succinctness of it. In short, says Godin, you will have longer term success when you say 'no' to requests that don't make sense for you to do.

Agree in part, dissent in part.

What if - instead of saying no - we propose a scenario or option that works?

- Instead of saying no to a listing, agree to take it but only with a more reasonable price and and agreement to repair or stage?

- Instead of saying no to a settlement because of title issues, spend some time creating good commitment requirements that put the ball in the seller's court to clear?

- Instead of saying no to closing after hours in another jurisdiction, agree to handle it for an increased fee. (Assuming licensing requirements are met, of course!)

There may come a time to outright say 'no', but is it worth giving the deal a chance first?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

From everyone here at Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services, have a happy and safe Memorial Day. We thank and salute those who have given service to our country.

For a detailed reminder on what Memorial Day is all about, click here. (I always find it helpful to read the history on holidays such as this -- a good reminder that it's more than merely a day off to enjoy the beach!)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Where in the World Wide Web are we?

In addition to this blog, we have popped little internet tents up in other locations as well. Please come see us, join us, follow us, link in with us, etc.

Our Web page --> www.MASettlement.com

Our Facebook page --> www.facebook.com/pages/Hunt-Valley-MD/Mid-Atlantic-Settlement-Services/54250543277

Our LinkedIn page --> www.linkedin.com/companies/206283

Our Twitter page --> www.Twitter.com/MASettlement

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Release Red Flags

We recently received a communication from First American Title adding a few new procedures to our title search and review checklist. These changes center around a new and disturbing trend of forged and suspicious satisfactions.

These procedure changes call us to:

1. More closely scrutinize satisfactions/releases recorded 24-months prior to the search;

2. Red flag any releases not recorded immediately with or shortly after documents evidencing a sale or new mortgage;

3. Verify MERS certificates of satisfaction at www.mers-servicerid.org/sis/;

4. More closely scrutinize assignments prior to a questionable certificate of satisfaction; and

5. Place questionable satisfactions on the Schedule B-2 on the commitment with a corresponding Schedule B-1 requirement for verification of the validity of the satisfaction.

Why am I telling you this, and how does this affect you as the real estate agent, broker or loan officer?

Your title company will likely be taking these extra precautions, and questioning satisfactions/releases more closely. Should there be a delay because of this issue, or should the title company be seeking additional confirmation from a lender, now you will have an explanation as to why.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Be the “Go To” Guy (or Gal)

I kicked the holiday weekend off a little early this year. That’s certainly not to say I started relaxing earlier – I was in the car, driving to Biddeford Pool, ME at 5:30 AM to help launch my dad’s boat. As a crowd of us gathered around watching the R.H. Bryan truck back up to the jacked-up, earth-bound vessel, a mild buzz was generating about the skills of the operator.

“You’ve gotta see this, it’s really a slick operation.”

“This is what he does – comes in, does a few boats, is done before noon.”

It’s clear all have respect for what he does, and if anyone needs a vessel moved, R.H. Bryan is who they call. He doesn’t do anything but move vessels. Doesn’t try to transport motor homes, or freight, or cars. Just vessels.

As an agent, are you trying to be all things to all people, or are you the one person people in your community turn to as the “go to” guy or gal for their particular real estate needs?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday Blog Scan

Real Estate Agents:

Some great discussion going on out there on the interwebs. Are you reading? Thinking? Commenting? Three highlights, by topic:

Agency: Jim Duncan’s Real Central VA blog and Ardell DellaLoggia’s Rain City Guide blog.

Technology: (IDX Scraping v. Indexing discussion): Agent Genius (where story broke) and Realtor.org’s Speaking of Real Estate blog.

Ethics: VARBuzz.com discussion on blog comments and liability.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Refinance Battle Plan

Today's Personal Journal section of the Wall Street Journal had a great piece on refinancing your mortgage. The entire article can be found here (you may or may not need to be a subscriber). While some items on the refi checklist are the same as they've ever been (ensure you have equity, check your credit score, etc.), there are some newer concerns that every real estate agent, loan officer and borrower should be aware of.

- While not a completely novel issue, you should know that jumbo money (loans in excess of $417,000 in most places) is not as cheap, and will typically come with a larger interest rate than "conforming" loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

- Ideally, you have at least 20-25% equity in your home. If you don't, however, you may still be eligible to refinance at a lower rate through the Making Home Affordable program. Clink here for details.

- How a lender obtains an appraisal as changed effective May 1st as a result of the Home Evaluation Code of Conduct. Here is a nice breakdown from another blog on the real life impact of this change.

- Second mortgage and home equity loan holders may be less likely to stay in second position than in previous refinance booms. If you have a second, you may want to check with that lender before commencing the refinance.

- Condominiums are becoming more difficult to finance, as the lender underwriters are looking more closely at the condo project as a whole (not just your unit).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Over-Communicate (Part 2 of 5)

This is part 2 of 5 in the “Title Company Fail: Improving Our Industry” series. The original post can be found here.

2. Over-communicate

After almost 2 years in Maryland, I finally opened a local checking account. I was dreading it, fearing endless paperwork, signatures and bureaucracy. Plus, my old bank in New Hampshire was still getting the job done – they gave me no reason to switch. For various reasons, however, I had to make a switch.

It was painless.

I walked in to a local branch and within 15 minutes had a new account. I didn’t even need to give them money. Had an ATM card in a matter of days, and was ready to roll.

But here’s the best part.

I get a call maybe once every other week, just asking if everything is OK. With a new bank there is a transition period. Is the ATM card working? Is online banking and bill pay set up? Is direct deposit working? Is the mortgage payment getting pulled automatically every month? While I go through this “transition”, the bank isn’t waiting for me to call with a problem – they are asking in advance.

I don’t think we do enough of this in the title business.

If I ran a title company (*sheepishly looks around the room*), here’s what I’d do:

- Start every opened transaction with an easy to read one page letter showing who the players with contact info. Signed by me with my contact details.
- Make at least one phone call to the real estate or loan officer during the process for no reason but to make sure all is going well.
- Offer email updates for transaction touch points (title ordered, commitment sent to lender, prelim HUD prepared, etc.)
- Offer to communicate via text message, and provide quick status updates.
- Call – in advance – with any outlier: title is not back yet, HOA info has not been sent, lender figures haven’t arrived, etc.
- When a particular issue arises, choose a time interval (daily, twice a day, hourly) where you agree to communicate the status of the issue, and religiously adhere to it!

Between asking the occasional “Hey, how are we doing?” and systematically keeping parties in the loop on all important touch points, we could all raise the bar in the title industry.

Monday, May 18, 2009

How quick, honest and public is your customer service?

Do you fly Southwest Airlines? If so, you are familiar with their boarding procedures. There are no assigned seats, but rather 3 “groups” (A, B and C), and numbers within those groups. The earlier you check in, the better group and number you get.

This was a revolutionary change when Southwest introduced it years ago. They claim it allows them to get planes boarded and in the air quicker. Given their success in avoiding delays, I would say they are right.

But that is old news.

What I saw today on Twitter is what we mean we talk about New Marketing, Social Media, Web 2.0 (or whatever you want to call it) to handle customer service.

Follow this exchange just this morning.

At about 7:00 AM, Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) asked the following question via Twitter:

Dear @southwestair - I don't find the open seating all that useful. Is that going to change eventually?

Shortly after 8:00 AM, Southwest, via its Twitter account, answered with the following:

@chrisbrogan probably not, we tested assigned seats before, and found we can turn the plane quicker with open seating. Sorry!

(Let’s forget for a second that Chris Brogan is a well-known blogger and is very influential, because that point doesn’t fit well in my argument. Agreed?)

In terms of corporate response, this is lightning fast. It is not pandering, patronizing, or condescending. It is not canned or filled with jargon. And most remarkably, it’s public. The entire world can watch this exchange.

If you had been wondering whether Southwest was going to change its seating policy anytime soon, now you know.

Is your communication free to move about the country?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Top 10 Reasons to attend a Real Estate Bar Camp

As I’ve mentioned a few times in past posts, we have become involved in the Real Estate Bar Camp movement. As defined by its website, RE Bar Camp is “an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from attendees.”

Having attended one and signed up for another (Philly, May 27th), here is my stab at the Top 10 Reasons to attend an RE Bar Camp in your area:

1. You will witness real estate experts sharing the secrets of their success. To everyone. For free.

2. You will definitely learn about one new social media site you didn’t know before.

3. You will probably get to meet Jeff Turner.

4. If you are brand new to this social media thing, you will be embraced (Caveat: just bring an open mind with you).

5. If you are a super tech geek black-belt ninja, you will still learn something new.

6. If you have been following people on Twitter who are also attending, you will find 99% of them to be just as great face to face.

7. The pre-event happy hour (sometimes called Beer for Bloggers) is where the real networking and discussion happens.

8. You will learn what whuffie and YEO are. And why both will help your business.

9. You will interact with people. Not brands, speakers, companies, sales pitches, awards or agendas. Real ideas, real people.

10. You will meet real estate agents who love what they do and are proud to be agents.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Note v. Mortgage: What's the Difference?

This may be old hat to some veterans out there, but it never hurts to cover the basics.

The terms loan, mortgage, deed of trust and note are sometimes used interchangeably by parties to a real estate transaction. Only when you get to settlement (when you see the huge stack of papers on the closing table) do you realize there is a difference. So let’s cover the note, the mortgage/deed of trust, and the differences between them.

The Note

A note (or promissory note) is – very simply – a contract whereby a party makes a promise to pay a sum of money to another party under specific terms. In real estate, it is typically a borrower agreeing to make monthly payments of principal and interest over 30 years to a lender. The note has virtually nothing to do with the property itself, and can technically exist without any collateral at all. If the borrower doesn’t pay, the lender can sue “under the note” and obtain remedies for breaching that contract.

The Mortgage or Deed of Trust

While there are differences between a mortgage and a deed of trust, let’s ignore them for a moment, and use the term mortgage (because it’s only 1 word). If it's killing you to know the difference, click here.

A mortgage is actually a transfer of an interest in property. While a mortgage is tied to the underlying debt created by the note, it is not a promise to pay the debt. It really isn’t a “promise” to do anything. Instead, it contains “granting” language – like a deed – which gives the lender the right to take the property if the borrower goes into default and doesn't pay under the terms of the note.

Key Differences

- A note is signed by the people who agree to pay the debt. A mortgage is signed by those who own the property being mortgaged. In a typical residential setting, signers of the note and the mortgage are the same, but they do not have to be. In a commercial context, you will often see the corporate entity which holds the property sign the mortgage, while the principals of the entity sign the note.

- A mortgage needs to be recorded in the county or town recording office, the note does not. Instead, the note goes directly to the lender.

- A mortgage kills more trees than a note (approximately 35 pages v. 6). But don't hold that against the mortgage, it doesn't know any better.

Friday, May 15, 2009

We're (still) Hiring! (VIDEO)

We now have 2 open positions to fill with truly remarkable title people! See video below for a description of the jobs, and see the links for instructions on how to apply.

Click here to see company president Derek Massey describe the open positions.

Click here for instructions on how to apply for Title Service Representative (Settlement Officer) position.

Click here for instructions on how to apply for Settlement Coordinator (Processor) position.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Setting Expectations (Part 1 of 5)

Last Saturday I published this post called “Title Company Fail.” In it, I outlined what I thought were 5 steps to help get title industry service levels where they should be. In this post, I will address the first.

1. Set better expectations up front

Last night I had the pleasure of spending some time with some folks in the RE.net crowd. In particular, Jim Duncan (@JimDuncan) and Matt Case (@MattCase) were discussing pictures that accompany listings. Being a non-agent, I always assumed you put up the very best pictures you could find. You made that front lawn look huge. Made the living room spacious and spotless, and hid the ugly wood paneling in the guest bedroom.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

It seems so obvious to me now. If you do that – post only pictures in the most favorable light – what happens when buyers show up? “Huh, that lawn doesn’t look as big as I recall from the picture.” “Spacious living room? This is a little den!” “How many fake trees were killed to panel that wall?” The buyers instant reaction is negative.

Compare and contrast.

The pictures are a true representation of the property. Maybe even a little on the flat side. Because it’s priced right (you are, of course a GREAT listing agent), the buyers still want to see it. Now what happens? The first physical reaction to the property is a positive one. Same property, same price, better results.

How does this apply on the title side?

Here are but a few things title companies could do to set better expectations up front:

1. Provide a quote for all the services (title, closing, title insurance, recording, transfer tax, etc.) up front.
2. Explain the different between standard ALTA policies and Enhanced Coverage.
3. Tell all parties that the short sale will NOT close in 2 weeks.
4. Tell all parties that the REO will NOT close in 2 weeks.
5. Send out a title commitment to the agent/buyer in advance, showing the exceptions to title.
6. Explain to the seller from the beginning why their current mortgage information is so critically important.
7. Tell everyone up front what you require for funding (Wire? Certified check?)
8. Explain up front that a HUD is not final/complete until the title company gets instructions from the lender as well as their approval.

There are likely many more, but even if every title company adopted a handful of these, we’d probably see a little more positive feedback.

The next post on this subject, scheduled for later this week will be on over-communicating.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Attention to Detail

Something special is happening in our Hunt Valley headquarters today. It happens once a month, during the first or second Wednesday of the month. Our two Sales Managers/Regional VPs, armed with a month's worth of feedback from the sales side, bring up every issue dealt with over the prior month. More specifically, every issue that the production/processing side could have possibly handled better/more efficiently/with better customer service. The operational leaders sit in on the meeting, and listen to all the feedback presented. It is all documented on a spreadsheet. Teams are ranked on a 1-10 scale. We dive into the details -- either right there in the meeting or after -- and drill down to the tiny little details usually revolving around who called whom, and when did the call take place.

Sound tedious?

It can be. There were several months where only 2 files were brought up, yet we still spent an hour plus dissecting how we could have been better. I would imagine this month there will be a few more given the increase in volume and the complexity of the transactions.

Why do we do this?

1. Every individual who sells our service to others deserves input as to how to make our offering better;
2. Every individual who utilizes our services deserves the ear of leadership; and
3. That which gets measured against gets done or improved.

Tiger Woods reinvented his swing when he was the #1 ranked golfer in the world. Is there any question the drive for improvement never ends?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dan Coleman on Stress (VIDEO)

In this segment, Dan "Dan the Info Man" Coleman talks about how to deal with stress that typically comes with the end of the month in real estate. He also dances. In short, stress can be relieved (or at least mitigated) by (1) relaxing/exercising, (2) making a list and crossing off completed tasks, and (3) celebrating your successes.

Click here for a link to the video.

The audio is a little choppy, and for that we apologize. Our studio is being renovated.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Education for Week of May 11

Here is what we have on tap for classes this week. If you are interested in more details, please contact Harry Yazbek via email or Twitter.

Monday, May 11th

11:00 AM: Short Sales with Harry Yazbek (3 credit hours) at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Bethesda, MD.

Tuesday, May 12th

10:00 AM: Maryland Ethics with Harry Yazbek (3 credit hours) at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in McLean, VA.

10: 00AM: Web 2.0 for Real Estate with Dan Coleman (non-credit) at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Crofton, MD.

Wednesday, May 13th

10:00 AM: Title Insurance with Stacy McKone (3 credit hours) at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Reston, VA.

1:00 PM: Short Sales with Harry Yazbek (3 credit hours) at the Greater Baltimore Board of REALTORS ®

Thursday, May 14th

10:00 AM: Contracts with Harry Yazbek (3 credit hours) at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in McLean, VA

10:00 AM: Contract to Closing with Stacy McKone (2 credit hours) at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Leesburg, VA.

Friday, May 15th

None Scheduled.

Remember that you can always check for future classes on the Events tab of our Facebook Fan Page.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Derek Massey Featured in Maryland Daily Record

Through its On The Record blog, The Daily Record (Maryland's only daily newspaper besides The Sun) occasionally interviews local businesspeople who blog or use social media to promote themselves or their industry. Their goal is to show the business and legal community how to harness the power of the Web professionally.

This week, On The Record caught up with me (Derek Massey) to discuss how I use social media for business. Clink this link for the interview.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Title Company Fail

"long day. Hate fighting with title companies for a HUD"

"What's worse - Title Companies or Home Owner Associations??? Two of the same, I'm beginning to think so these days . . . . IRRITATED!!!"

"keep plugging away, keep farming. Just keep costs down. You can't even depend on title companies to help that much as before."

"i hate having to extend contracts because title companies wait till the last mnute to clear title. whats worse, having to extend mult times"

"okay, definitely hating title companies. wont close til tuesday f'sure.. and guess i have to pay closing costs now!??! hello 3k. goodbye 3k."

"Title companies suck. No urgency. Mostly in thiseconomy. Aren't they trying to keep business and a job?"

"tired of title companies that can't prepare a HUD correctly. Is it really surprising a REO has delinquent water bill buried in prop taxes?"

"Hate title companies. Hate this. Ughhhh"

So I set up a search in www.Search.Twitter.Com to tell me when the phrase “Title Companies” is mentioned in Twitter. These results feed into my Google Reader. The notes above are actual tweets I copied and pasted from that search. The timeline is between April 22nd and May 7th. While I did not copy all of them over, rest assured the others were “neutral” at best. Example: “Looking at local title companies to contact for some lead lists.” None were glowing recommendations.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: It is (unfortunately) not human nature to express those things we are happy about, especially on the internet. It’s the “Evening News” mentality. People are loudest when they are complaining. I didn’t expect this query to turn up “Title companies are the cog that holds society together!”

But even given that fact, it strikes me how negatively folks think of us in title. I have a little bit of insider’s knowledge having been brought up in the family title business, so I’m more than biased. I know how hard it is to own and run a title company, and also know how hard each employee in a title company works to get to closing. So why the disconnect between effort and perceived value?

The easy answer – the cop-out post – would be to ask you as a real estate agent what you think. But it’s not a real estate agent’s job to figure that out, it’s mine. So, with that, I’ll take a stab at where I believe we (as an industry) need to do a better job:

1. Set better expectations up front

2. Over-communicate

3. Pick up the phone when it rings

4. Pretend the only file we have is the one you are calling about

5. Reinforce – every day – that our internal employees have clients

I will hit each one of these in separate posts in the future to give more detail, but I believe this little 5-point “program” could help restore some faith in title companies. Like good real estate agents and lending professionals, there are some seriously great people who perform miracles every day to get deals to closing – we just need to get those stories to the forefront and make them commonplace.

So........What are your thoughts?

Friday, May 8, 2009

We're Hiring!

We need a truly dynamic team player to execute truly remarkable settlements in the Carroll County and Frederick County areas of Maryland. Title experience would be nice, but really we need someone who can and will network, is not afraid to ask for business, and who is committed to providing the ultimate settlement experience for buyers, sellers, real estate agents and loan officers.

For more information and to apply, please clink this link.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Notes from Terry Watson's Speaking Engagement in Falls Church, VA Today

[Note: Today's blog entry has been submitted remotely from Derek's Blackberry. I apologize for any typos and grammar issues!]

I have now seen Terry Watson speak on 3 different occasions, While nothing can replace seeing him live, I always come away with some notes and takeaways. I thought this would make for a great blog entry. If you want information on Terry, go to www.TerryWatson.com.

- Many agents leave themselves vulnerable. Example: Don't have 90% of your biz with one relo company. Ask yourself, "Where am I vulnerable?"

- Don't be the Polaroid, be the Kodak digital. Reinvent yourself.

- Cost-Benefit analyze EVERYTHING!

- Airlines have trimmed costs. Run your business like them. Cut costs wherever you can!

- Top Things to do NOW: Get a YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn account. Reduce your debt. Market green. Tell, don't show. Use humor. CASE: Copy And Steal Everything!

- Use REALTOR.org Right Tools Right Now and ProQuest.

- Use media (articles, blog posts) to reinforce your points to buyers/sellers.

- Kill the urge to quit.

- Trademark your slogan.

- Every day, improve something just a little. Think Hyundai.

- Use video and photo extensively. No head shots, but full body shots doing stuff.

- Media's job is to shock and scare. Understand that.

- Read the book "Nuts" about Southwest airlines. It's OK to have a sense of humor.

- Show your customers where the money is going! Be transparent.

This is just a snapshot of what Terry brought to the table today. My notes could never fully capture his energy, passion and humor, but hopefully there is a nugget or two in this post that is helpful!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

21 Day Blogging Challenge (VIDEO)

Check out the video below on our participation in the Real Estate Bar Camp Philadelphia "21 Days to Improve Your Blogging Habits" challenge:

For more information on Real Estate Bar Camp Philadelpia, as well as the 21 Day Challenge, check out this link --> http://rebarcamp.com/philadelphia

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Short Sale "Arm's Length Transaction" Requirements

It should be obvious to many that a buyer of a short sale property cannot be related to the seller. A prerequisite of a short sale transaction is that the market dictates the price, and the lender is escaping further loss by reducing the principal balance rather than foreclose (and bear foreclosure and carrying costs). If, however the buyer is a relative of the seller, we cannot assume the sales price is "market." The fear is that the seller is really just escaping indebtedness while continuing to enjoy possession (if not defacto ownership) of the property.

But what about a real estate agent's relationship with the seller? We are finding that many (if not all) lenders also prohibit the payment of a commission to the listing agent who is related to the seller. Why? The principles are the same as described above. In short, the fear is that a related listing agent will just take his commission and give it to the seller. Remember that in a short sale a seller should walk away with nothing (or perhaps even bring in money). If the potential exists for a seller to earn some money from the sale, the short sale would not likely be approved.

As a real estate agent or broker, what do you do with this information?

If you (or one of your agents) are going to represent a relative seller in a short sale transaction, do not expect a commission. Be up front with the lender, and provide all agreements, disclosures and addendums with the short sale package, including the disclosure of any relationships between the parties. Ask - up front - what the lender's requirements are for a short sale. Spending a little time in the beginning of the process can save headache and miscommunication further down the line.

Email Restored (Final Update)

Email has been restored, and no messages have been lost. Thank you for your patience.

Email Update

We have learned that while some people do have access to email, many more are still down. I will continue to update every hour.

If you need to send a package, documents, or a communication to us, feel free to use MASettlement@gmail.com while our IT team gets our servers back online. Our leadership team will be monitoring this email address while we continue to get the email servers restored.

Thank you for your patience.

Email is currently down

Our Exchange (email) server is currently down. I will keep everyone posted on our progress getting email restored, but during the interim please call your TSR or settlement coordinator for any immediate needs. I will update every hour until service is restored.

Thank you for your patience.