Contain…My Freak? Oh I don’t think So!


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Watch out! My freak has evolved! Evolved from just posting on my Facebook business page to right here on my blog. The freak I am talking about of course is my Shipping Container Home Freak! There are nearly 1 Million retired shipping container just lying about in our country and it’s time we did something with them and I really mean time! As a Real Estate Broker in California and a passionate Fundraiser there are some serious changes that could be made with these available containers if anyone of interest were to take a good look at the options both personally and in our communities. Successes in shipping container homes, apartments and commercial buildings have already spread like wildfire all of the world and have indeed started popping up around the country. Enjoy this short video installation of a cool new shipping container home in LA.  While you are at it, check out my Sustainable Living Pinterest board at: 

Now Go Out and Get YOU’RE Freak On!

My name is Ellen Carter. I am a Broker/Realtor & Owner of Directions Real Estate and Founder of Fundraising Leadership Foundation and this is Ellen’s House.


Mind Your Real Estate Ethics Ps & Qs


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You know the old joke about how you can tell when a politician is lying? Well, how do you know when a REALTOR® is not disclosing? Thanks to the ethics code, not just when their lips are moving or, at least, that is how things are supposed to be. A recent transaction really pushed the boundaries of this professional trust.

Keeping the playing field level for your client, either seller or buyer requires that the agents on each side of the transaction share all of the information that it would take to create a fair, honest and ethical situation. As most transactions go–I always thought that I was pretty clear-headed and could tell if something was askew from the get go.

Recently, however, I had a transaction that made me feel like a total bobble head—empty and surprised! Down to the last few days before the transaction should close, and just minutes before the month’s end, I find out that the buyers are getting a divorce and that the property is being purchased as a 2nd home, versus the owner occupied per the contract, with not a word from their agent. In America, we call this non-disclosure. As the sellers’ agent, I learn from the lender that not only are there two people fighting with each other on the buyers’ side, but that one of them decided to unlock their loan to get a better interest rate the day they were supposed to sign docs.

This party on the buyers’ side who contacted the lender is NOT actually on the loan or named on the purchase contract; yet she managed to get the lender to unlock the loan and revisit a better interest rate for her—WTH? Meanwhile, their agent hasn’t counseled, advised or said one word to us and the sellers and I are three days from month’s end close. Plus, this is no normal month’s end: the conforming loan limits are due to be reduced, so pulling your loan out of line would be certain transaction suicide. The buyers in this case have absolutely no concern for anyone but themselves, because of their impending divorce, which meant that this was never a level playing field for my seller. This is why there are ethics rules about disclosures.

Without disclosure, my seller and I had absolutely NO CONTROL. Nada, No Way, None! We can only suffer the internal freak out, hoping that the transaction won’t turn completely south after five months of intense negotiations. We even have the full and final release of all contingencies and still we can’t do a damn thing about it. It’s my job to keep it all together.

Just so you know: words like “easy” and “slam dunk” just don’t live here ladies and gentlepeople and never have. There are people out there with no respect for ethics. They believe that a contract means nothing, no matter how hard you work to protect your clients or how well you write it. People are out there for themselves only and if you’re a REALTOR that has their wits about them and performs with incredible due diligence, it’s the most you can do. Trying to get anyone’s attention about it to make it different is like fighting a war with the universe, all the planets, the stars, sun and the moon.

“Sure you can win a few little battles here and there,” my good friend tells me, as I charge ahead to make a difference, “but until people start giving a dang about each other you will never win the war.” In all of these cases, the other agent is on my list. This is a reminder to all REALTORS, including myself, to treat each other with a little more professional respect; we have to work with each other, over and over, if we are lucky. With the strength in my convictions, I am dying to be proud of what I do for a living.

My name is Ellen Carter. I am a Realtor and Senior Short Sale Negotiator and this is Ellen’s House.

How to Negotiate a Short Sale


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Advice from a Sr. Short Sale Negotiator

I started doing short sale negotiations almost 4 years ago, before the banks and the state and local real estate associations had really begun to codify terms and requirements. I started because I saw that there was a need to help people out of debt and I realized that as a Realtor with my background in mortgage banking, I was uniquely qualified to try to help.

Since I have been around the short sale block longer than most people in my field, I get asked a lot of questions by my colleagues and I thought I would write about some of my thoughts and advice that have sprung from that.

The questions that I get the most have to do with contracts and payments. After several trials and tribulations, I find that the best way to ensure payment is through a strong contract. Make sure that your contract states that you will be paid for your short sale service at the completion of the bank approval and not at the close of escrow. Or, consider a laddered payment structure in case you are called upon to re-negotiate for a new buyer (or several new buyers.) I also suggest, when possible, to hook any repayment (from junior lien payoffs) or payment into the escrow so that you get paid by title.

My fellow Realtors also want to know how far I think they can push the bank. Negotiating with a bank is a confidence game that reminds me of a great blog called The Art of Manliness that offers a lesson in negotiating for a used car. Many of his used car lessons apply here:

  1. Knowledge is Power
    I think this is the most important rule when negotiating a short sale—know your client’s file! Never let the bank have the upper hand. Educate yourself about the lien-holding banks, monies owed, deficiencies and your client’s story. Interview and research extensively.

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    Image via Wikipedia

  2. Know How the Dealers (Banks) Make Their Money
    Remember that the banks insure against losses in several different ways, through the FDIC, through mortgage insurance and also through other government programs, not the least of which are TARP funds. So while they are taking a loss, a short sale is never as uncomfortable for them as it is for your clients, so negotiate accordingly.
  3. CarFax. (Property Inspection) Get One.
    Surprises are great, but not at close of escrow. Don’t let surprise disclosures foul up the deal. When possible, get your inspections done up front before you begin short sale negotiations, because this is an ‘as is’ sale.

Short Sale Sellers NOT Behind on Their Payments and NO Short Sale Approval – Retirement/Savings Gone? REALLY?


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An icon from the Crystal icon theme.

Image via Wikipedia

Setup to a Question: When a homeowner cleans out his or her retirement, kids college fund and anything else they can get their hands on to pay their mortgage then still has to sell short and the Bank won’t agree to the short sale because the borrower is NOT behind on their payments, how is that right?

Their income decreased intensely during late 2007 & 2008 (Quick! Who’s income didn’t?) They used everything they could get their hands on to pay the mortgage to keep from going behind on their payments in order to preserve their credit. Now their retirement and/or savings are GONE! If the homeowner is in their early 50s, then when they are a young senior citizen some 12-15 years from now when Social Security & Medicare are things of the past—how will things look then?

Millions of people in their early 50’s (including me) are currently in this position and doing exactly this. Think about all of us, 15 years from now, with no retirement, no social security, no medicare and no credit. These are the ramifications that are being put into motion today by the banks. The banks, and you can find the list of the top 15 offenders on the FHFA‘s latest list for a start but there is plenty more, are forcing homeowners to go behind in their payments and ruin their credit and what is left of their dignity will result in a lot more problems down the road than these bank ever considered! (Big Surprise) And how about ALL of those kids in this next generation that are not going to college? Does our country have a chance of producing smarter leaders? Not bloody likely.

Let your voice be HEARD, people! I’m taking this as far as I can and hope you’ll chime in and tell me your story. Don’t be afraid—tell it—your actual future and that of your children depends on it!

I’ll be sending around a petition next week. My name is Ellen Carter, I am a Realtor & Senior Short Sale Negotiator and, yes folks, this is just the beginning from Ellen’s House.

Why Aren’t Realtors Blogging?


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Back in 2009, the NAR Member Guide reported that only 8% of U.S. Realtors blogged. Excitingly, this number is up the 2011 report to―wait for it―2%. So why do just 90% of dues paying members blog. Realtors are talkers by trade. We are salespeople. Certainly it can’t be that we don’t have anything to say?  We should be singing about our listings and every other service we can provide our community from every available mountain top!

Wack-a-mole. Gayla's highscore = 140

Image via Wikipedia

I think one of the main reasons for the lack of blogging is that we all feel more than inundated by the continuous changes happening in the social media market space. It feels a bit like whack-a-mole, doesn’t it? Sign up for Twitter. Set up a YouTube feed. Facebook, create a business page and feed it.  LinkedIn and so on!   And how exactly do I flow my blog into my website?  Daunting at best, eh?

NAR also reported that Realtors spend a median of $250 annually to maintain a simple static website. And, from what I see, static means the only movement seen is by the occasional tumbleweed.  Are we waiting for a possible occasional visit?  Why and how does it serve us?

Although use of smartphones, websites and social networking are on the rise, the lack of return for the time required to blog still feels low to many. What does this mean? I suppose there is a part of me that hopes it means that many Realtors will drop off the blogosphere, thus leaving room for those who are serious to make a name for ourselves.

However, the truth of the matter is that it is more fun to blog in a world with other ideas. So I want to encourage rather than discourage more blogging conversation. By my driver’s and Real Estate license documents, I may be perceived as an ‘old dog’ and look! I’m still learning new tricks. As Realtors, we all can.

My name is Ellen Carter.  I am a Realtor and Senior Short Sale Negotiator, Forensic Auditor and Expert Witness Consultant and this is Ellen’s House!

Late Summer Color


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I don’t know about you, but I long for color in the last dying days of summer. Driving down Hwy 9 from 35 to my listed property at 260 Sylvan in Boulder Creek and on down into Santa Cruz this past weekend, I was struck by just how few pops of color exist in people’s yards

Mother Nature has me covered with the rich golden yellows of the hills and the dusky greens of California Sagebrush and Coastal Sage Scrub that give way to the dark green and rust colors of the redwoods. I even, truth-be-told, enjoy the non-native crazy pops of pink afforded us by sweet peas and the naked ladies that line Northern Californian roadways everywhere. But once I return to the suburbs and the towns, color just seems to vanish.

I hope it is because we are all too busy out playing at the beach or hiking to worry about our yards, but I thought I would remind you all about some easy steps you can take to replace the overgrown grass and leggy weeds with color.

Tritoma (Kniphofia uvaria)

Image via Wikipedia

I have three words for you: Late Summer Perennials. If you plant them now, you will enjoy them now and next year.

The New Perennial Club is a great resource for finding the best perennials to plant, based on color, time of year, attributes and zone. I’ll help you out: Santa Cruz, and most of the Central Coast, is Zone 8.

Here is a partial list of some mixed color, late summer plants for your yard:

  • Achillea – commonly known as Yarrow, these little flowering clusters come in white, yellow, orange, pink or red
  • Delphinium –monster blooms in shades of blue
  • Papaver – Poppies! Oh boy, oh boy!
  • Rudbeckia – Bright yellow flowers otherwise known as Black-Eyed Susans
  • Agapanthus – Pretty ubiquitous around these parts; HOAs love ‘em because they require so little maintenance
    Anemone – a type of buttercup that come in ALL the colors. All of them!
  • Cyclamen – you know you are a true Californian when these plants remind you of the Christmas holidays. Apparently, they grow nicely outside in late summer.
  • Erigeron – These are sometimes referred to by non-Botanists as Fleabane or daisies, depending upon how far from a Botanist you are.
  • Helenium – yellow or orange daisy-like flower
  • Kniphofia – These are those crazy red-orange lilies that just seem to suddenly spring up out of nowhere. They tend to attract more hummingbirds.
  • Lobelia – Poor little maligned flower. I love this purple-blue scrappy thing. According to Wiki, folks haven’t really shared my love through the years. It was the flower of malevolence and ill will according to the Victorians and the common names are dreadful: Asthma Weed, Pukeweed and Vomitwort.
  • Stokesia – Could a more aptly named purple flower exist to plant in Santa Cruz? Be stoked, people, be stoked!

Lower Conforming Loan Limit, But What About FHA?


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Most people already know that come September 30, 2011, the conforming loan limit will be dropping from $729,750 to $625,500. There has been plenty of warning from our lenders and in the media, so hopefully everyone is already working around that time-frame.

The one thing that we have not heard a lot of mention about is the fact that the FHA Loan limit will be dropping at the same—time—from $660,000 and the new limit will be at $520,700. Furthermore, loans in process that do not close by that date will not be grandfathered.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Federal Housing Administration was created in the 30s by the National Housing Act for the purpose of expanding home ownership by making private mortgage financing possible on a long-term, low down payment basis. Now part of HUD, the FHA insures mortgages to help alleviate lender’s risk.

Why is this important?

A couple of things: with housing prices lower, more people have been qualifying and using FHA loans in the last few years, so this could impact your buyers. If you are working on a short sale approval, remember that a ‘no grandfather clause’ could have serious impact on your buyers’ ability to qualify depending upon the timing of the approval.

The Short Sale Conversation Continued


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In response to John Flaniken’s blog – The Short Sale Conversation that hit the ground running last Thursday night – Yeah John!

To find balance in a Real Estate career, and take the time to try to plan that balance in what you’d like your business to look like, while still have some semblance of a life at age 30 in this Real Estate market brings up quite an opportunity.  How much of your business do you want to be based in Short Sales, how much in REOs and how much as conventional sales?

Working on planning your thought process around how to create such balance in your work, based solely upon what is supported by studies and figures, that explain the pain so to speak, doesn’t give you too much of a choice. Short Sales are here to stay, at least the next 2-3 years and to not reel them into at least 50%-70% of your business is to cut yourself out of the market and to cut yourself off from making the difference for your clients and yourself, thereby leaving yourself out in the cold.

Not all Realtors are still in their 30s. Many of us have been establishing our business and personal lives for many years. Many of us have been through lay-offs for as much as several years, draining all finances. Additional opportunities to plan our business (in the minds of many at least) might not be as wide spread an opportunity.

In an effort to be fair to the Realtors and Brokers that do not have a mortgage banking background, which is the greater portion of the folks in the industry that we work in, I want to say–good on ya!–because taking on a short sale without knowing the intricacies of how to prep the package and approach the bank or get inside the head of an investor and how they can change the life of a homeowner with one swing of their axe on a note that’s gone bad…I wholeheartedly applaud you!

I don’t spend too much time around the water cooler, but I do work with a great many Realtors and Brokers who did not surf the tsunami of the mortgage meltdown and are just plain not prepared to handle today’s tough Short Sale transaction. The few Realtors, who have grown the stones it takes to take it to the wall, struggle and learn, in the guise of a trial by fire, if they can hang on through the next few years, they may create a size-able business for themselves. But they may also find themselves emotionally bankrupt.

I worked for ten years as a Senior Mortgage Banker and the last three years as a full time Realtor/Short Sale Negotiator, so speaking from some rather intense experience, you have to have either had x-ray vision to know what was coming at the beginning of 2007 (which none of us truly did) or have grown nerves of steel to survive the pain of the last two and a half years, working full time closing Short Sales, in order to have gained the type of experience it now takes to keep going, day after day. Closing Short Sales, one right after the other, is excruciating work, with some transactions taking months to close.

Without having the kind of financial background and experience it takes to be creative in making the number puzzle pieces fit together for a short sale transaction, left out in the cold might not really seem like such a bad thing. Although those agents who choose not to take on Short Sales may be feeling a different type of pain and that pain may show up in the form of lack of income.

Trying not to sound too flip, happily, there has been some education at the local Realtors boards. There are credentials to be obtained, like SFR Certification, for instance. The process of which is described on the CAR website as follows:

To receive the SFR Certification, you must complete the one day core course and successfully pass the exam, as well as view three 1-hour Webinars (available free of charge), and submit completed application ($175 application fee).

OK, so did you read that?

ONE day and 3 Webinars is all it takes to be credentialed as a Specialist! Oh yeah, I almost forgot, you get a SFR logo for your marketing is included!

The SFR certification sounds more like being thrown to the wolves while wearing a logo!  It’s a good attempt at giving the licensed Realtors and Brokers the tools they need, but it’s like going to therapy to discover why you are having such a tough time in life. You end up having to go for a couple of years, and now you know, but therapy never tells you what to do with the knowledge after you do know!

To the credit of Realtors and Brokers that have not worked in the financial lending arena, the financial aspects of Real Estate is something that they have always felt “should be handled by the client’s lender” and I hear that being said in the hallways and around that water cooler in my office to this day!

There is a choice to be made here with regards to taking on new clients or serving past clients. I still have my lender head and I generally attempt to put my clients first and my pipeline second–sometimes to my detriment.  These people, my Short Sale clients, are going through one of the hardest things they will ever go through (as are a good many of our brethren) and it’s important to also keep that in mind while also finding a way to balance your business and personal life.

Short Sales are not the type of transaction that can be taken lightly or that you can grow into overnight. It takes planning, experience and finesse. I’ll even cop to not always being the best at the finesse portion of the program, however I have negotiated my way through the greater portion of my 56 years and recognize it as one of my strongest skills. After completing over 200 Short Sale negotiations in the past three years, either my own listings or that of plenty of other Realtors and Brokers as their third party negotiator, I am fully aware that Short Sales are the greater portion of my business. It is a part of who I am and most of what I do. And I do it well.

I would be lying if I said that I have not felt like I had been flung up against the wall of frustration in the last few years, but have learned a few things. To get things done successfully from the onset, plan your end goal. In Short Sales, as in life, doing most of the work on the front end is the trick. And, especially in Short Sales, make sure to never let the bank be the driving force towards the end result.

My name is Ellen Carter. I am a Realtor and Senior Short Sale Negotiator and this is Ellen’s House.