Let's Kill All The Underwriters!


In the words of William Shakespeare, let's kill all the lawyers, er, I mean underwriters.  Yes, let's kill all the underwriters.  I know this sounds a little drastic.  I'm somewhat emotional, coming off a bad week, but I still think this could be a good idea.  They are messing with our closings!

This isn't just my idea.  It's part of Shakespeare's plan forged by Dick the Butcher in part 2 of Henry VI.  True, he was referring to lawyers, but that's only because there were no underwriters 400 years ago.

In case you're interested, here's what sent me over the edge...

My buyer client was on contract in an earlier transaction.  She opted out on the CC&R's contingency and her $1,000 earnest money was returned to her.  The $1,000 actually came from her parents, so the underwriter wanted a gift letter and a copy of the parents' cancelled check since the refund was deposited in the buyer's checking account.  That was fair, and it was delivered within the hour.  We were hoping for lender docs that afternoon so the buyer could sign the next day and close on time.  Then, the underwriter insisted upon a gift letter for the "other $1,000 check".  What "other $1,000 check?" we asked.  There was no other $1,000 check.  She was referring, of course, to the check from Escrow refunding the earnest money, which meant she was counting the $1,000 TWICE.  We waste all afternoon hoping she would see the absurdity of her request before asking the loan officer to get a supervisor involved.  And, yes, we had to extend closing over this.

I understand that underwriters today need to be cautious.  There are still some big, bad unqualified buyers out there trying to get loans -- and there are also some big, bad penalties for the banks who fall victim to them (as if the banks were ever victims, but let's not go there).  C'mon, now.  Some of these underwriter requests have no bearing on rational thought.  We work pretty darn hard most of the time to bring our transactions together.  It's painful to then watch slightly-paranoid decision makers drive our buyers crazy with silly demands.  I'm surely not the only real estate agent who has wanted to fight back.

Maybe I went a little overboard suggesting we form a posse and commit mass murder.  After all, we are Realtors®.  Such behavior is surely against the Code of Ethics.  But we all need to vent a little from time to time.

The story, thankfully, will have a happy ending.  The buyer was able to sign docs yesterday morning.  Closing will be on Monday.

Welcome, I'm afraid, to the New Normal.


For Realtors@: "Play Toys" is Probably not on Your List of "To Do's" for Today


"Play toys" is probably not on your list of "to do's" for today -- or even yesterday, for that matter.  In fact, I would venture a guess that you haven't had "play toys" on your list of things to do for as long as you've had a list.  We've never met, but I've seen your list many times.  It goes something like this:

1.    Make prospect calls
2.    Work on scripts
3.    Call on FSBO's
4.    Make more prospect calls

I have a two-year-old grandson named Sebastian.  He has only one item on his To Do list - "Play toys."  Granted, he has no financial obligations, no mortgage payment or credit card bill to take care of each month.  But I can tell you what he does have:  he has the look of pure joy and fascination on his face most of the time.  How often do you find yourself bounding out of your crib in the morning, eager to start a new day?

Oh, rescue me from those real estate trainers who insist we must spend hours every day staying in touch with anyone who even knows our name!  Other than precious metal miners, name me one wealthy person who grew his fortune by prospecting for two hours every day.  And who was it anyway who decided it takes 25 calls to produce one good client?  How will we ever dip into the magical pool of the Collective Unconscious (where all good ideas lie) if we're always making cold calls?

I've studied Sebastian a lot.  Totally absorbed while playing with the same toy truck, he moves it back and forth along the window sill, turning it upside down, grabbing a little man to put inside, and probably taking it to magical places in his mind.  This is what puts that big smile on his face.  What is it about engaging with his imagination that brings him such pleasure?  And if it works for him, why wouldn't it work for us?  Every day, we're aiming for what Sebastian was born knowing (we were, too)...how to feel that joy.

Steve Jobs didn't become a visionary by performing tedious, rote activities, and Thomas Edison certainly didn't invent the telephone so he could make cold calls.  These men followed their inner voices and did what made their hearts sing.  Are we signing up for the trainers who will teach us to do that?

If you think I'm someone who just wants to get out of doing the tedious parts of my job, you would be correct.

Oh, my...

is that what I think it is?

Could it be the sun, peering out from beneath the clouds?

I'm in Seattle...and...the sun is coming out...I've got to run...

Play Toys!


It's Not What You Know That Counts -- It's Who You Can Meet!


It's not what you know that counts.  It's not even who you know.  Now, and possibly for the rest of eternity, it's all about who you can meet.  I've been a Realtor® for over thirty years.  If I get more specific than that, you might figure out how old I am.  I used to think I knew a lot, and I have the testimonials to prove it.  I even received one today on Linked In from a 2009 satisfied customer.  He thanked me for what I knew, among other things.  Brian was a chance call on a listing I had.  And the seller of that home was a chance call on another listing of mine.  And the owner of that listing was a referral from the Dave Ramsey Show.  There was a time when that sort of pattern was how I generated business -- by putting one foot in front of the other and paying attention to details.  I can remember when the words "lead" and "generation" were rarely on the same page.  Now, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

This morning, I attended an awesome online Rain Camp, full of so many creative and amazing ideas that my head is still reeling.  They even gave away prizes, but since I'm one of the real estate agents who has not yet figured out Twitter, I couldn't even enter to win.  For a Realtor® who started selling homes before there was an MLS (and yes, there were no personal computers either, but we did have automobiles), I do pretty well.  I'm on Facebook and Linked In and now Google+.  I'm an e-Pro, which seems irrevalent now.  I text and check email from my iPhone4 and pretty much lead a paperless existence with the aid of my Fujitsu Scansnap 1500M.  I'm a Rainmaker with a half dozen blog posts under my belt, and I create my many online profiles with speed and agility.  At document signings, I flip out my flip video to get testimonials.  And yet, when it comes to lead generation, I'm a babe in the woods.  How ironic that after spending my entire adult life in one career, I have no expertise with what is now one of the basic components of that career!

I have a lot of real estate colleagues from the old days.  We are a persistent bunch, and most of us are looking around and wondering what happened to the business we used to know.  There was a time when buyers and sellers were easy to come by -- the trick was finding them the right house.  Nowadays, they usually find the house on their own -- and the trick is finding them!  We veterans still have the knack, though -- we just have to learn the tech.

So, I've become a webinar junkie.  I take IMSD and Active Rain University classes in the privacy of my home office more than once a week.  I read many of the other Rainmaker blogs to glean their tips and tricks.  And, I'm really, really close to signing up for Tweetdeck.  I never quit and I like to eat.  In a few years, I'll need a new Lexus.  There is no way but straight ahead.  Move over, Junior, 'cause Grandma's looking for leads.


Fellow Real Estate Professionals:  Hablas Espanol?


I have somehow landed on a Spanish-speakers mailing list.  I'm not sure how this happened.  At first, I thought it was the result of joining NAHREP (National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals), but the emails are arriving through an account I rarely use, rather than the Gmail account I use for my Seattle real estate business.  That takes NAHREP off the hook.  You might be asking yourself at this point why I joined the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals if I am not an Hispanic real estate professional.  Well, I am a Seattle real estate professional.  And, NAHREP puts on excellent programs.  And, members get preferential seating.

As if these daily emails aren't bad enough, yesterday i received a brochure in my snail mail for Spanish cinema in Seattle.  As a real estate professional, I live in a world of endless opportunities for losing focus.  Now, I'm being distracted in TWO languages! Oh, if I could only turn back the clock to High School (skipping, of course, all the pimples and heartbreak).  I could have taken Spanish, but I didn't.  Who knew?  And since there is little chance that the U. S. will have the fifth largest population of German-speaking people in the world, here is just another example of me taking a wrong turn in life.

Every day, I am more amazed at how the Internet has changed our lives.  I can remember when the big fear was contracting STD's.  Nowadays, the big fear is a disease we can catch all alone in the privacy of our home office.  So, how did I end up in this predicament?  Somehow, sometime, somewhere, I put my name on a list.  I must have.  And it had to be a list in English because my German is really rough.  That list, somehow, got into the hands of some Hispanic spammers who weren't paying attention and confused their English-speakers list with their Spanish-speakers list.

Hmmm...if only it were that simple.

So, where do I go from here?  Well, certainly not to Berlitz.  The closest one is in Bellevue and I'm in Seattle -- not a good use of my time --- lots of traffic across the 520 bridge.  I tried forwarding my emails to the leader of the Seattle NAHREP chapter, hoping he would unsubscribe for me, but he just sent them back.  I've been afraid to guess where the "unsubscribe" link is for fear of signing up for more emails.  What do I do?

I have an idea.

Let me do the math...Google says 12% of the U. S. population is Spanish speaking.  If there are 300 customers every day coming to the Starbucks in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle, where I live, over an eight-hour period (SWAG), then I can grab my laptop and head over there in the hope of making friends with those 4.5 Spanish speakers who will be there today.  They can show me where to unsubscribe.

Or, I can copy and paste the bottom portion of the emails into a Spanish translation web site and hope to see where the "unsubscribe" link is myself.

Or...I can just hit "delete."


Are Buyers Really Liars -- Or is it Just a Rhyme?


When I was a young real estate agent in St. Louis in the 1970's, my manager John coached us on how to handle buyers.  Buyers are liars, he warned.  How much of this he believed and how much was contrived to form a rhyme, I will never know.  But even back during those salad days of seller markets, John knew the value of a buyer and the importance of holding onto that buyer.  And when the buyer was from out of town?  Well, that was gold worth guarding.  "When you get an out-of-town buyer," John would shout, "you sleep with them until they buy!"  Now, what I think he meant was that we should keep very close tabs on them, although I happened to have known some agents who I think took him literally.

So, if they're lying, what are they lying about?  And why?  Are we to be like the old shoe salesmen who brought out three pair of shoes that matched the customers' request and one pair that did not, just in case they really didn't know what they wanted?  I took a training class years ago from Steve Brown, who taught that we need to determine a buyer's dominant buying motive, or DBM.  When I first heard that, I instantly understood why, in my first year of selling real estate, I was not able to find the right home for George and his wife:

George was a very successful insurance salesman.  The message from the partially-smoked cigar cupped in his right hand at all times could have told me a lot, had I been listening.  He was going to spend $150,000, and that was big bucks in 1973 -- especially to a new agent.  A friend of his lived in one of the old-money neighborhoods of St. Louis near Washington University, and George wanted a house like his.  Until one came available, I showed his wife what felt like hundreds of homes that were close, but not quite, the look of the Clayton neighborhoods of Brentmoor and Carrswold.  Finally, the day arrived that a new listing came on the market in Brentmoor for $150,000.  The first two floors were updated and air conditioned, and I could almost taste my commission.  I even took my husband along for the showing, to give him the rare opportunity to be inside one of these hallowed homes.

George was quiet as I walked him and his wife through the stately rooms with the very high, ornate ceilings.  He seemed uncomfortable with the push-button wall switches and wanted to know where the wet bar was.  What's going on? I asked myself in disbelief.  I finally found him what he's looking for and there's no gratitude?  No wanting to run to the office and write up an offer?  The answer was very clear to me:  George was a fraud.  He probably didn't have the money.  Or, did he?  I didn't wait to find out.  Feeling like a fool who had wasted months of her time, I promptly dropped George and his wife and moved on.  It wasn't too many months later that I heard they had purchased a 12-year-old home in an upscale but newer neighborhood for $125,000 -- a home with traditional wall switches and a wet bar.

I finally understood John's warning and the great lesson George had taught me.  It gets reinforced daily in my real estate practice.  Just the other day, while on a listing appointment for a 2-story home in Marysville, I was explaining the price I was recommending.  I pointed out that the home abuts a busy road and that affects its market value.  "I know," said the homeowner.  "When I was looking for this home, I was determined to avoid busy roads and stairs, but when I walked in, I just fell in love."


It's A Seattle State of Mind


When I moved from St. Louis to Seattle, I left behind more than high humidity and the baseball Cardinals.  I said good-by to the conservative Heartland and hello to the progressive Northwest.  No more cursing at pesky cyclists trying to squeeze out a piece of pavement for themselves.  In Seattle, they get their own lanes and a position of respect.  And they seem to typify the basic heartiness of the Pacific Northwesterners.  No one is too old to be caught riding a bike in Seattle.  And if you want to take the bus or ride the train, there's always a designated space for you to store your bike.

What I didn't expect when I moved to Seattle was the Carpool Lane.  Talk about traveling first class!  While there are no meals or drinks served, life in the carpool lane is definitely a superior place to be, as you zip by the miles of clogged traffic lanes that are famous in Seattle.

We may be called the Rainy City, but it's only the wimps from Somewhere Else who grab an umbrella.  We all have raincoats with hoods, and that's good enough for us.  Washington is a state of 502 health clubs,  at last count.  Missouri, on the other hand, isn't publishing their number.  Suffice it to say, Seattleites are outside.  They're walking and running and cycling, and they'll do it in the rain if they have to.  If you're walking or running in Missouri, you need to look both ways before crossing the street.  Washington pedestrians, on the other hand, are treated like an endangered species and don't even have to look.  They can just cross.

You've probably heard that Seattle is the Land of Green.  For navigating icy, snow-packed streets in Seattle, we're told to use tire chains.  Never mind that they tear up the streets.  But don't try using them in Missouri or you'll be getting a hefty fine for breaking the law. Missouri uses lots of salt on its winter roadways, preferring to harm the environment rather than the streets.

But never more loudly do I hear the clash of cultures than while grocery shopping.  I can still recall my purchases being scanned at the cash register in St. Louis and that familiar question "...paper or plastic?"  Well, there's no such talk at Whole Foods.  "Plastic" there is not an option.  They even credit you 5¢ off your bill if you bring in your own bag.  And so, I try very hard to be part of this socially-conscious landscape, to overcome my many years of brutish Midwestern training.  I travel with extra cloth bags in my trunk.  And when I forget to bring one into the store, I do my best to juggle my purchases without a bag.

Like today, when I realized I had forgotten to bring a bag with me. I first perused my purchases, which consisted of a bunch of bananas, carton of orange juice, celery, carrots, carton of blueberries and rotisserie chicken.  Then, I looked back at the checker, who seemed to be staring into my very soul.

"Do you need a bag?" he asked.  I knew he was hoping I would say no. I gathered up my purchases in my arms to make sure I could handle them all, plus my purse, cell phone and keys without dropping anything.

"No, thank you.  I'll be fine without one," I answered.  He smiled a reassuring smile and gently nodded two or three times, as if reassuring me I had done the right thing.  He and I were on the same page.  It was right for the environment.  I've got that Seattle state of mind.


Living in Green Lake Could Be Hazardous to Your Health


Living in Green Lake Could be Fattening I say this because I live across the street from the best little gelato place in all of Seattle - Bottega Italiana.  They also have excellent coffee, even by Seattle standards, and their sandwiches and salads are pretty good too, but it's the gelato, late in the evening, after realizing I didn't eat enough dinner, that calls out "Kaaaaren, oh Kaaaaren.  We still have some tiramisu just for you."  And I cave.  I forget all about the ills of eating ice cream before bed - all about the ills of just eating ice cream - until about 2:00 a.m. Then, I remember.

Living in Green Lake Could be Bad for your Career

I say this because I live a block away from one of the most popular parks in all of Seattle - Green Lake Park.  On a clear day, there are hundreds of Seattleites walking the 3-mile path that surrounds Green Lake.  On a sunny day, the area is filled with people playing volley ball, shooting baskets, jogging, biking, sunning, or kayaking on the lake.  On a rainy day, you will still see a few dedicated Green Lake fans walking the lake.  I actually have no trouble resisting Green Lake in the rain, but when the sun comes out and hundreds of people appear out of nowhere, I say to myself "You LIVE here.  You should be out there, too, enjoying yourself like the rest of them."

Living in Green Lake Could be Bad for your Pocketbook

I say this because it's not cheap to be living in Green Lake.  It's a very cool place to be, and cool is expensive.  If it weren't expensive, can you imagine how many more people would be living here?  The traffic jams would be bad.  Fortunately, the walkability score where I live is 89 out of 100, so even if there's a lot of traffic, I can get around on foot.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of great shops and restaurants contributing to that excellent walkability score.  That means there are a lot of places to spend money, which is why I said living in Green Lake could be bad for your pocketbook.

Living in Green Lake Could be Dangerous

I say this because there is one of the most ridiculous intersections in the entire world at the corner (if you want to call it a "corner") of Greenlake, Woodlawn, & Ravenna.  Intersections usually involve 2 streets, but this intersection involves 3 streets.  Therefore, more than one car, and sometimes as many as three, are in the intersection together at the same time. I haven't been killed there yet, but the thought does cross my mind from time to time.

So, in closing, if you're not worried about your weight, and you don't care about your career, if someone just left you a lot of money and you like living on the edge, you should consider living in Green Lake!

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Relocating Late in Life.
Seattle, WA  -- "Here I Come!"



After 36 years of assisting Buyers who were relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, I found myself finally understanding the depth of disruption a major relocation can cause--by relocating myself.  With 26 years in the same house, 36 years in the same career, and 64 years in the same city, it's safe to say "change" doesn't come easy.  Not only was I leaving behind family and life-long friends, I would be saying "good-by" to my past clients, real estate sphere, chiropractor of 30 years, manicurist, esthetician, neighborhood full-service car wash, massage therapist who came to my home, and my dentist/brother who does my dental work for free -- to name a few. Relocating late in life for me was a major challenge.

How often do we real estate agents think about what our relocating buyers are leaving behind other than their houses?  Relocation to a new locale is more than huge.  It's a shock to the system. It's pulling away the rug from beneath your feet. And when dealing with children who don't want to leave their friends, losing their favorite babysitters, and giving up their support system at a time when they really need it, these clients want more than a new house.  They want our guidance and our empathy. For someone relocating late in life, those roots are even deeper and the challenges more profound.

My suggestion, speaking as a real estate agent who now knows what it's like relocating late in life, is to ask them to make a list of what they will miss most.  Then, take that list and network your sphere to see how much of the void you can help fill.  It's a great opportunity to connect with your referral pool, and it will show those that send you business how much you care about the welfare of your clients.

If any of you are curious as to how well I fared with me as my real estate agent in a strange city, I can tell you my story of relocating late in life has a happy ending.  Due to the recent changes in our financing rules, I must rent until I have a 2-year track record of commissions.  Not wanting to be overwhelmed by the size of the Greater Seattle Area, I focused on the same zipcode where my daughter and son-in-law live.  I made two trips to Seattle and called the property managers of rental condos to show me their listings.  Once I had a solid contract on my home in St. Louis, I flew to Seattle and checked Craigslist hourly.  Three days later, I had my Seattle condo, and in the incredibly cool Greenlake neighborhorhood of Seattle.  My massage therapist is two doors away and my aesthetian is a block away.  The gym I pay for but don't yet visit is also a block away, and the coffee shop with Seattle's best gelato is across the street. I'm a block from Green Lake and can walk around the lake whenever I have time and it's not raining.  I love my new chiropractor.  I see a Naturopath, a profession which isn't available in Missouri.  I've come to love the fact that I have a silver car because it's frequently needing a wash, and I fly back to St. Louis for my dental work.

I love the temperate climate - have come to tolerate the rain - and I can truly say after 1 year, 19 months, 22 days, and approximately 4 hours, "Ich bin ein Seattleite!"