The Economic Impact of Hurricane Harvey

By Mark Sprague and Cassandra Majors

Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and the Texas coast, and we’re only beginning to imagine the full economic impact for the region in the years of recovery ahead. 2017’s hurricane season is only the 17th deadliest since the death tolls were first tracked in the year 1900, but it’s already on track to become the worst in terms of damage (highest estimate is now $200 billion). How will Houston recover, and what are the likely short and long-term effects on the region’s economy?

The Damage

  • Out of 660,000 apartment units in Houston, 100,000 units were flooded. A lack of rental housing availability may push renters out of the area or drive up prices for those who stay.
  • ABC News reports: “According to the latest numbers by DPS, 273,276 homes were damaged during the storm. Another 15,528 were destroyed.” The full extent of the damage will likely be even higher, however.
  • CoStar reports that “as much as 600 million square feet of commercial real estate space in the Houston metropolitan area, or 38% of Houston’s total gross leasable area, may have been impacted by the recent floods.” It’s too soon to tell if this will affect companies’ decisions to open locations in Houston and the coastal region, but it very well may.
  • Nearly 25% of U.S. oil capacity was affected due to 20 coastal refineries closing. CNN reports on the impact to the energy industry: “Five oil refineries remain shuttered as of Monday, according to S&P Global Platts, an energy research firm. Ten more are partially shut down as they attempt to recover from historic flooding. All told, about 2.4 million barrels of daily refining capacity in Texas is offline because of Harvey, Platts estimates. That is about 13% of the country’s total ability to turn oil into gasoline, jet fuel and other products.” CNBC reported that there are 3 to 4 million fewer barrels of oil per day than before the hurricane.
  • Gas prices spiked at first after the flooding and some areas around Texas saw panic-induced gas shortages, but now prices seem to have leveled out nationwide and consumers are less nervous about supply.

Real Estate Investment and Economic Impact

Reuters reports that investors in the Houston area are champing at the bit to buy up damaged inventory, fix it up, and sell at a profit. The article also points out that none of the previous hurricanes or flooding in Houston has stopped its growth, so there’s every reason to believe Houston will recover from Harvey and continue to boom. However, the author predicts that home prices and rents will rise with the decrease in inventory from damaged homes.
Community Impact interviewed Lawrence Dean, director of Metrostudy Houston, to learn more about what could happen to Houston businesses. Highlights from the interview:

  • Small businesses are in worse trouble than large ones, due to limited resources and lack of flood insurance, and many may not be able to return.
  • Home values for non-flooded areas have remained steady for now, but newly-built homes are expected to increase in price because of limited building materials.
  • Though Houston has been overbuilt for apartments, occupancy rates of apartment complexes have now skyrocketed quickly as displaced residents pour into them.

That last point is an important one. Many were expecting a large influx from Houston to other Texas Metros already, but so far it’s been very limited. Because Houston was overbuilt by 62,000 housing units, those units helped resolve housing needs for many residents that might otherwise have moved. Moving to another city is also a big lifestyle change, so it may be a few years before we see the impact of any outward migration due to Harvey. However, if more catastrophic floods occur in close proximity, that could be a tipping point for some Houston residents.

What Happens Next

It’s important to remember that these are mostly predictions, and it’s too soon to confirm them. As time passes, we’ll be able to see the big picture of how Harvey will impact the Houston area. In the meantime, the Greater Houston Partnership shared some predictions for the next year:

  • Repair/remodeling construction will explode over the next 12 months.
  • Labor and material costs could surge 18% to 25% in this time.
  • Apartment/housing vacancies will plummet in many Texas metros, though much of Houston’s housing needs will be addressed in the Houston metro itself. We may see a small amount of migration to other Texas metros over the next 12 to 36 months.
  • Home prices may fall significantly in hard-hit areas and flood-prone areas. Non-flood prone values will likely improve.
  • New home values will surge.
  • Other Texas metros will see a slight increase of values.
  • Flood and property insurance rates will escalate, potentially causing homeowners to reconsider home location.
  • Expect one month of significant job losses, followed by 1 to 6 months’ recovery of job creation.

The Houston area has been one of the fastest-growing metros in the country for many years, and Harris County is still the second-fastest growing county in the nation. The storms and floods Houston has weathered in recent years hasn’t affected its ability to attract new residents and businesses, and there’s no reason to believe that resilient Houstonians won’t make it through this one and continue to thrive. Though Hurricane Harvey may have dealt a serious blow to Houston and Texas coastal cities, we all know you can’t keep a Texan down for long.

Mark Sprague serves as State Director of Information Capital at Independence Title. He has over 35 years of experience in executive level management, sales, negotiating, finance, land development, operations, production, administration, and marketing.

Cassandra Majors has been a market analyst and data guru in the Austin real estate industry for over a decade.

[San Antonio] New Fall Education Menus!

As summer ends, we start getting excited about kids going back to school, leaves falling, pumpkin spice lattes, and most importantly, the new Independence Title Education Menu. Below are the new, exciting classes we now offer. If you’d like to order a printed copy of the menu or to schedule a class, please contact your ITC Business Development Representative.

  • Feeding Your CRM (1 HR CE) Utilizing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system should be an integral part of every Realtor’s business. Unfortunately, most don’t understand what a CRM can and cannot do for them. In this class, we will discuss the basics of CRM, the types of information you should gather for your CRM, and how to “feed” your CRM by forming a successful CRM process. This understanding will show how much potential repeat and referral business you can gain through consistent use of a CRM.
  • Getting the Most Out of RPR (1 HR CE) Are you looking for data to meet the demands of your clients? Have you heard of RPR? Learn how to use Realtors Property Resource (RPR) in your everyday business to access compelling property analytics, create captivating reports for your clients, perform both local and national property searches, utilize RPR’s unparalleled CMA tool, and much, much more!
  • Keeping Clients for Life (1 HR CE) Past clients are a real estate agent’s lifeline to generating a steady stream of repeat business and referrals. Do you know how to keep in touch without becoming a nuisance? Personalization may be the key to staying off your client’s “do not disturb” list. In this class, we will share ideas on how to personalize your follow-up by giving creative closing gifts, providing pertinent data post-closing, and so much more! Consistent application of these interactions will help you keep clients for life.
  • Perfecting Your Online Presence (1 HR CE) Have you ever Googled your business? Are you utilizing your Realtor.com account? Do you feel overwhelmed by the complexities of online real estate profiles? Have no fear— we found the answers for you! In this class, you will learn how to complete important details across a variety of platforms, which can increase views and profile traffic. This class will also provide a detailed overview on profile syndication, a feature that allows for data sharing across platforms to get the most out of your profiles.
  • Smart Homes for Smart Agents (1 HR CE) We live in a world where you can do almost anything from your phone: lock your front door, adjust your thermostat, turn off the lights, etc. Smart home technology is reshaping the way homes operate and is influencing the real estate industry. These devices are changing the way Realtors stage homes, hold open houses, set sales prices, and so much more. In this class, you will learn about smart home products so you can communicate with your clients about unique features these products have to offer, whether your clients are buying or selling a home.
  • Speak Easy (2 HRS CE) Speak Easy reviews the basics of delivering an effective presentation before a group of people: audience and purpose, organizational structure, use of verbals/non-verbals, overcoming stage fright, and more. Through instruction and in-class practice, members of the real estate community will learn to “command their audience,” whether at a listing appointment, speaking at a seminar for the general public, or standing before their peers. The ability to speak effectively in public can provide instant credibility.
  • Zeroing in on zipForm Plus (1 HR CE) zipForm Plus has become one of the most utilized platforms in real estate because of its ease in streamlining the transaction process. In this course, we will cover the recent changes to the program and walk you through a transaction from start to finish. You will learn how to create a transaction, add and edit documents, link your preferred e-signature solution to send contracts for signing, and stay on top of every task with zipForm Plus’ new interactive dashboard. Whether you are a new or advanced user, you will walk away from this class with new information you can use in every transaction

[DFW] New Fall Education Menus!

As summer ends, we start getting excited about kids going back to school, leaves falling, pumpkin spice lattes, and most importantly, the new Independence Title Education Menu. Below are the new, exciting classes we now offer. If you’d like to order a printed copy of the menu or to schedule a class, please contact your ITC Business Development Representative.

  • Feeding Your CRM (1 HR CE) Utilizing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system should be an integral part of every Realtor’s business. Unfortunately, most don’t understand what a CRM can and cannot do for them. In this class, we will discuss the basics of CRM, the types of information you should gather for your CRM, and how to “feed” your CRM by forming a successful CRM process. This understanding will show how much potential repeat and referral business you can gain through consistent use of a CRM.
  • Getting the Most Out of RPR (1 HR CE) Are you looking for data to meet the demands of your clients? Have you heard of RPR? Learn how to use Realtors Property Resource (RPR) in your everyday business to access compelling property analytics, create captivating reports for your clients, perform both local and national property searches, utilize RPR’s unparalleled CMA tool, and much, much more!
  • Keeping Clients for Life (1 HR CE) Past clients are a real estate agent’s lifeline to generating a steady stream of repeat business and referrals. Do you know how to keep in touch without becoming a nuisance? Personalization may be the key to staying off your client’s “do not disturb” list. In this class, we will share ideas on how to personalize your follow-up by giving creative closing gifts, providing pertinent data post-closing, and so much more! Consistent application of these interactions will help you keep clients for life.
  • Mobile Apps for Mobile Agents (1 hr CE) Grab your smartphone or tablet and join us for an hour of mobile real estate apps! In this class, we’ll go over five mobile apps that will take you from searching for listings all the way to depositing earnest money, all with your smartphone. You’ll walk away with tools to streamline your day-to-day operations while on the go!
  • Perfecting Your Online Presence (1 HR CE) Have you ever Googled your business? Are you utilizing your Realtor.com account? Do you feel overwhelmed by the complexities of online real estate profiles? Have no fear— we found the answers for you! In this class, you will learn how to complete important details across a variety of platforms, which can increase views and profile traffic. This class will also provide a detailed overview on profile syndication, a feature that allows for data sharing across platforms to get the most out of your profiles.
  • Smart Homes for Smart Agents (1 HR CE) We live in a world where you can do almost anything from your phone: lock your front door, adjust your thermostat, turn off the lights, etc. Smart home technology is reshaping the way homes operate and is influencing the real estate industry. These devices are changing the way Realtors stage homes, hold open houses, set sales prices, and so much more. In this class, you will learn about smart home products so you can communicate with your clients about unique features these products have to offer, whether your clients are buying or selling a home.
  • Tools for Target Marketing (1 HR CE) Have you ever wondered how to identify profitable neighborhoods to market to or how to calculate the turnover rate in an area? What if we told you the tools are at your fingertips? In this class, you will learn the answer to these questions as well as how to easily print mailing labels and utilize REiSource to find specific targets.
  • Zeroing in on zipForm Plus (1 HR CE) zipForm Plus has become one of the most utilized platforms in real estate because of its ease in streamlining the transaction process. In this course, we will cover the recent changes to the program and walk you through a transaction from start to finish. You will learn how to create a transaction, add and edit documents, link your preferred e-signature solution to send contracts for signing, and stay on top of every task with zipForm Plus’ new interactive dashboard. Whether you are a new or advanced user, you will walk away from this class with new information you can use in every transaction

[AUSTIN] New Fall Education Menus!

As summer ends, we start getting excited about kids going back to school, leaves falling, pumpkin spice lattes, and most importantly, the new Independence Title Education Menu. Below are the new, exciting classes we now offer. If you’d like to order a printed copy of the menu or to schedule a class, please contact your ITC Business Development Representative.

  • A Guide to zipForm Plus and DocuSign (1 HR CE) zipForm Plus and DocuSign are the most utilized platforms in real estate. In this course, we will cover the NEW zipForm Plus platform all the way through to launching and getting your documents signed in DocuSign. What you need to know from start to finish!
  • Feeding Your CRM (1 HR CE) Utilizing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system should be an integral part of every Realtor’s business. Unfortunately, most don’t understand what a CRM can and cannot do for them. In this class, we will discuss the basics of CRM, the types of information you should gather for your CRM, and how to “feed” your CRM by forming a successful CRM process. This understanding will show how much potential repeat and referral business you can gain through consistent use of a CRM.
  • Getting the Most Out of RPR (1 HR CE) Are you looking for data to meet the demands of your clients? Have you heard of RPR? Learn how to use Realtors Property Resource (RPR) in your everyday business to access compelling property analytics, create captivating reports for your clients, perform both local and national property searches, utilize RPR’s unparalleled CMA tool, and much, much more!
  • Keeping Clients for Life (1 HR CE)  Past clients are a real estate agent’s lifeline to generating a steady stream of repeat business and referrals. Do you know how to keep in touch without becoming a nuisance? Personalization may be the key to staying off your client’s “do not disturb” list. In this class, we will share ideas on how to personalize your follow-up by giving creative closing gifts, providing pertinent data post-closing, and so much more! Consistent application of these interactions will help you keep clients for life.
  • Perfecting Your Online Presence (1 HR CE) Have you ever Googled your business? Are you utilizing your Realtor.com account? Do you feel overwhelmed by the complexities of online real estate profiles? Have no fear— we found the answers for you! In this class, you will learn how to complete important details across a variety of platforms, which can increase views and profile traffic. This class will also provide a detailed overview on profile syndication, a feature that allows for data sharing across platforms to get the most out of your profiles.
  • Smart Homes for Smart Agents (1 HR CE) We live in a world where you can do almost anything from your phone: lock your front door, adjust your thermostat, turn off the lights, etc. Smart home technology is reshaping the way homes operate and is influencing the real estate industry. These devices are changing the way Realtors stage homes, hold open houses, set sales prices, and so much more. In this class, you will learn about smart home products so you can communicate with your clients about unique features these products have to offer, whether your clients are buying or selling a home.
  • Stats in a Flash |(2 HRS CE) Does the word “statistics” intimidate you? This class will take the fear out of statistics and will have you creating your own Stats in a Flash! We’ll define common terminology, show you where to locate statistics, teach you how to create your own, and demonstrate when to use statistics in your business. If you want to take your marketing to the next level, or if you just need data to support your negotiations, this class is for you!
  • Zeroing in on zipForm Plus (1 HR CE) zipForm Plus has become one of the most utilized platforms in real estate because of its ease in streamlining the transaction process. In this course, we will cover the recent changes to the program and walk you through a transaction from start to finish. You will learn how to create a transaction, add and edit documents, link your preferred e-signature solution to send contracts for signing, and stay on top of every task with zipForm Plus’ new interactive dashboard. Whether you are a new or advanced user, you will walk away from this class with new information you can use in every transaction

For an online copy of the new menu click!

Mommy, Where Do Buyers Come From?

By Cassandra Majors, Independence Title

Well, honey, you see…when two people love each other very, very much, sometimes the Home-Buying Stork brings them their very own bundle of joy…along with a huge chunk out of their savings, a Russian novel’s worth of legal disclosures, and 30 years of debt.

But how does the stork find them, Mommy?

Good question. Where are the buyers coming from these days? Or to ask the question more precisely: for home buyers in recent years, where were they BEFORE they bought their current homes? Renting an apartment? Leasing a house? Living with their parents? The Planet Krypton?

Luckily, the U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of this sort of thing for us, and not just every ten years. The American Housing Survey is conducted every two years and reports on a wide variety of housing and household characteristics, including “reasons for moving.” Dr. Paul Emrath, Vice President for Survey and Housing Policy Research for the National Association of Home Builders, has written an illuminating summary of the latest data from 2015 that has recently been made available to the public.

Highlights from the article:

• Over half of recent home buyers were former renters (52%), 20% were former owners, 19% are new households (moving from a home that someone else owned or rented), and 9% are unknown.
• For buyers of newer (built 2010+) homes however, 51% were former homeowners and tended to have the highest incomes out of the four groups (buyers of newer homes, buyers of older homes, renters of newer homes, renters of older homes).
• More than three out of every five recent movers stayed within a 50-mile radius of their former home.
• Buyers of newer homes are much more likely to say their new home is better than their previous home as compared to buyers of older homes (70% vs. 60%).

Click here to read the full article and fantastic graphs that show the different segments compared to one another. I also encourage you to take the time to learn to play with the Census Bureau’s many reports and datasets to find out almost anything you’d ever want to know about your area.

What does this all mean for our industry? If you’re a real estate agent, you’re still more likely to find buyers from the pool of current renters, but if you’re a builder, you may be equally as likely to find buyers from current homeowners as from current renters. Even for agents selling older homes, almost 40% of those buyers are likely to be current homeowners. Buyers trading up or making lateral housing moves are a larger share of the total market than they used to be. This might very well be a symptom of declining homeownership rates in the U.S., as 2016 saw the lowest national homeownership rate in 50 years (62.9%). If more renters must continue renting because they can’t afford a down payment or other costs of homeownership, a larger share of buyers will be current owners trading up. Thankfully, this trend seems to have bottomed out and now homeownership rates are inching back up over the last year (now at 63.7% as of July 2017).

• 46% of buyers will be increasing their housing costs by moving, and 24% will keep their costs about the same as before.
• Their primary reason for moving is likely to be that 1) they want a larger or better quality home (16% of those surveyed), 2) they want to form their own new household (15%), and 3) They want to live in a more desirable neighborhood (15%). Coming in fourth place, 10% of responders said they moved to be closer to family.
• Only one in five will likely be moving from more than 50 miles away from where they are now. The higher the income of the buyer, the more likely they are to move outside that 50-mile range.
• 5% will likely be immigrants or foreign investors
• Most will be moving from a house (53%), compared to 37% who will move from an apartment.
• Their ages are likely to fall in the 30-44 year range.

Of course, these are national statistics from one large survey, so we have to be careful about drawing too many sweeping conclusions. Still, both builders and agents can glean some general good tips on finding buyers:

• Target potential buyers living in houses, not just apartments—your future buyer is more likely to live in a house already.
• Don’t just focus on current renters or you risk neglecting a large pool of current homeowners looking to trade up in quality or location.
• Keep in mind that future buyers might not already be living on their own; many buyers are moving from a home owned or rented by another (usually family).
• Look for buyers in your own backyard—most buyers are staying relatively close to where they were before.

And now you know where buyers come from…or at least how the Home-Buying Stork finds them. Now go play outside, Mommy needs a nap.

Cassandra Majors has been a market analyst and data guru in the Austin real estate industry for over a decade.

 

Why the Question “When Will Austin’s Bubble Burst?” Just Won’t Seem to Die

by Cassandra Majors, Independence Title

Ever since the meteoric rise of Austin’s real estate market in the last two decades, I’ve heard the same question asked in many different ways, from many different people. It usually takes one of three forms:

1. Is Austin in a real estate bubble?
2. When will Austin’s real estate bubble finally burst?
3. The latest data shows [insert statistic here], which is not as good as before, so does this mean the bubble has finally burst?

If you don’t feel like reading much today, I’ll make the answers quick for you and leave the explanation for those of you with more time on your hands. Here are the answers:

1. No.
2. It’s not a bubble.
3. No.

For the rest of you still with me, let’s dive deeper. Why is Austin not in a bubble?

Wander with me down to Florida to understand what a real bubble looks like. Don’t be scared–we’re going to Florida in the 20s, not Florida today. In the early 1920’s, the Florida real estate market was the hottest in the country. From coast to coast, advertisements filled with sunny white-sand coasts beckoned eager investors to the Sunshine State. Land values skyrocketed with such force and velocity that buyers could often expect a bountiful return on their investments in a matter of weeks. One historian illustrates the fervor with this example: “In Miami Beach, lots near swank Lincoln Road that Realtors listed for less than $7,500 in June 1925 commanded a price of $35,000 42 days later.” Not that impressed? Putting this increase in a current perspective by adjusting for inflation, that example is the equivalent of buying a $100,000 lot in Austin in June this year and then selling it in August for $467,000. Wow! How could investors resist those kinds of returns?

For anything you own, be it a house, a car, a fidget spinner, or a horse, there are two ways to measure its value. The use value, which is what the object is worth for you to actually use, and the exchange value, which is what you can get for it if you sell it. I can use a horse or a fidget spinner for riding or spinning (respectively, let’s hope), so they both have a certain amount of use value for me. If I need that horse not just to ride for fun but also to help me for working my ranch, its use value for me goes up even more. If I sell the horse to my cowboy friend (I’ll throw in the fidget spinner for free), he pays me the exchange value price. If the horse market goes up or down but the horse stays healthy, the cowboy loses or gains exchange value, but doesn’t lose use value. He can still use the horse even if horse prices go down; he just won’t be able to sell it for as much.

Real estate is no different. I live in a home and it provides me with shelter, warmth, and Netflix. So long as it’s livable and I have a rock-solid Independence Title insurance policy, it will always have value for me, but its exchange value will go up and down depending on market forces. Real estate bubbles happen when the exchange value of properties in a certain area become completely unhinged from the use value. As they did in 1920s Florida, investors don’t buy properties to live in or to rent out for income, they buy them for the sole purpose of holding onto them for a relatively short period of time before selling them at a steep profit. This is the simplest explanation of what speculation means, and a speculative market is THE thing that inflates the dreaded bubble.
It’s not hard to see why speculation hurdles a market ever closer to disaster—without a concern for use value, prices inflate artificially as one investor sells to another who sells to another and so on. No one is thinking about what happens at the end, they just want to buy and sell as quickly as possible. Then one day, something bad happens—the economy tanks or a natural disaster hits the area, for example—and all of a sudden, prices take a spectacular nosedive overnight. If you’re the unlucky one who just bought, you’ve just lost the game of Real Estate Speculation Hot Potato. The music stopped and you’re the one holding the potato…and no one wants to eat the potato anymore.

In Florida, that’s exactly what happened. The state ran into supply issues from a dispute with the railroads, had a shipping disaster block off a major port, and experienced some bad weather that destroyed many properties. In a heartbeat, the entire market crashed, investors lost millions, and the state’s economy took years to recover. And this little microcosm is actually a great way to understand the stock market crash in 1929 that preceded the Great Depression—the stock market was going up so fast that investors just had to buy and hold stocks briefly before they could sell at a wildly inflated price. The value, profit, and long-term prospects of the companies didn’t matter much, so what investors were actually trading was the delusion that prices would keep going up forever. And you already know how that story ended. Whenever pure exchange value becomes the driving force of a market, a crash always looms ahead.

Now you might say I’m just reaching for the low-hanging fruit by finding the most obvious example of an out-of-control bubble. But I really want to reveal the conditions that lead to a bubble, no matter what the size or severity, and the Florida land boom is a great way to see those conditions and see if they apply to Austin today. What are the conditions that create a real estate bubble? They’re easy to identify, but often difficult to see in the moment:

• Rapidly appreciating home values
• Easy and generous credit for buyers
• “Irrational exuberance”
• Speculation

Let’s go down the list. Do we have…

Rapidly appreciating home values? Check! Uh oh! But let’s keep going.

Easy and generous credit for buyers? Not so much. As we learned in 2008, when it’s easy for unqualified buyers to borrow large amounts of money, it leads to a collapse of our market that many parts of the country and world are still reeling from even today. In the U.S., new regulations and lessons learned by financial institutions have made getting a loan much more difficult. Loans for large commercial and development projects are even more difficult to secure.

Irrational exuberance? This is a term originally used by Robert Shiller and referenced by Alan Greenspan during the dot-com bubble in the 90s, and it describes a market with so much activity and enthusiasm that it quickly becomes overvalued. In Austin, yes, we’ve had some exuberance, and now we’re seeing that glow slightly fade a bit as prices stabilize. On the whole, however, homes values are still appreciating nicely and our population is still booming, so our exuberance can’t really be described as irrational.

Speculation? Definitely not, and this is really the crux of the argument. Can you buy a house in Austin and sell it for a profit a few months later? A year later? In some cases, yes, but your returns are limited by significant closing and mortgage costs, higher property taxes, and all the costs associated with maintenance, improvement, and selling. Values have gone up a lot and quickly, but still very much within the reasonable bounds of supply and demand. Remember that speculation occurs when the use value and exchange value become unhinged from one another. People are moving here to live and work, and mostly buying homes for themselves and their families to use, not as an investment to sell quickly. Sure, you can buy a fixer-upper and flip it for a higher profit, but you’ve increased the use value of that home along with the exchange value. You didn’t just buy a dump and wait a few months to sell it for profit leaving it in the exact same condition. In the Florida land boom, many properties exchanged hands over and over with none of the investors ever having seen the property or even having been to Florida at all!

Will there be a day when we have a national economic downturn or a natural disaster and Austin real estate will suffer as prices drop? Yes, of course. But that is NOT a bubble bursting—it’s just an inevitable outcome of the economic cycles we’ll all have to live through in the course of our lives. Though there were (and still are) some pockets of speculation in our market, especially in the early days, it has always been a small percentage of the overall market. So long as people still want to live here and can find jobs, our housing market will always recover when the economy gets better. In an actual bubble, homes never truly regain their value, because their values were an illusion, completely disconnected from reality. In contrast, Austin’s reality has been a journey towards becoming an ever-more important, major American city with a great local and state economy, low unemployment, and booming industries. And people also just like to live here because central Texas is a wonderful place to be. So don’t fret about a bubble that doesn’t exist—Austin will continue to provide intrinsic use value for those of us lucky enough to call it home.

Cassandra Majors has been a market analyst and data guru in the Austin real estate industry for over a decade.

Let’s Zip Through the Changes to zipForm Plus

Have you noticed the “Try New Plus” button when you log into zipforms Plus?  They’ve made some changes and improvements to the platform.

What’s New in zipForm Plus?

Agent Dashboard: zipForm Plus has a new platform design! Not only does your homepage look different, but it feels different too. The dashboard is both interactive and responsive: it accesses real-time data on the progress of every transaction, and it makes zipForm Plus compatible with any device (computer, tablet, phone).  The dashboard also has some new widgets, like the “signature packets in progress” widget, and improved property and transaction type charts. Also, you can see what’s in the sales pipeline with the potential sales volume chart.

Data Integration: If you’re a Realtors Property Resource (RPR) user, we have good news! zipForm Plus’ integration with RPR simplifies property data entry. Start a transaction from inside of RPR to sync property information and save time.

 Transactions: Although the process for creating transactions remains the same, you’ll notice the biggest changes inside of each transaction.  Create a transaction from multiple places within zipForm Plus and enjoy the comprehensive transaction summary page. Here you’ll find easy to read property, listing, and purchase summaries.  You’ll also notice a brand new launch pad where you can easily add, share and sign documents. These functions also have a page of their own, accessible from your transaction summary page. Want some more good news? Completing information in the transaction parties launch pad auto-populates your buyer or seller’s information.

Share:  Remember the collaborate feature? It has a new name and new capabilities. Meet the “Share” tool, where you can privately or publicly share documents for viewing and filling.  Private share works like the old Collaborate feature—you can send clients viewer account setup emails so they can view and fill out forms, set viewer permissions, and create a stop sharing date. Public share allows an agent to easily send a link for viewing documents with no account setup required.

In our new class, Zeroing in on zipForm Plus,  we show you how to master these changes and maximize efficiency when using the platform.  If you are interested in scheduling a class with our Education Team, contact your ITC business development representative!

 

Proposed TREC Changes to Contract Require Earnest Money to Be Delivered in 3 Days

With a list of proposed TREC contract changes up for discussion, have you ever wondered how TREC decides when to change the promulgated forms? Typically, the forms are revised every other year following the Texas Legislative Session. TREC’s Broker Lawyer Committee meets first, and their proposed changes are discussed at the August TREC Commission meeting. If the commission approves the proposed changes, they are posted to the Texas Register and open for public comment – this is where we stand now.

If you are a Texas Realtor, now is your opportunity to have a voice in the process. The Broker-Lawyer Committee depends on your comments to assist them in their decisions regarding form additions and changes. This year there are several important changes to the contract forms and some new addendums for you to consider.

One of the most significant changes to the contract forms, including the One to Four Family Contract, is a requirement by TREC that the earnest money is deposited with the escrow agent within three days. Currently, the rule reads “The earnest money must be deposited by the close of business of the second working day after execution of the contract by the principals.” At the meeting on August 7th, one of TREC’s commissioners expressed concern that this change could be problematic since the new language refers to calendar days, not business days. Title companies are closed on weekends and national holidays. If you have a contract that is executed on a Thursday evening, the deadline for the earnest money deposit will be Sunday at midnight. That gives the Realtor one day on Friday to get the earnest money to the title company. This scenario is compounded when there’s a holiday adjacent to a weekend (e.g. Labor Day Monday) when title companies are likely to be closed for three calendar days in a row. This provision will likely require the most significant adjustments in day-to-day business practices of all the changes being considered.

Other notable changes under consideration include: creating separate receipt sections for the contract, earnest money and any additional earnest money; changes to the language regarding termination in paragraph 6D (One to Four Family); and changes to paragraph 20 (One to Four Family) regarding FIRPTA. The supporting documents for the August 7th TREC Commission meeting included marked-up versions of the contract forms, and they can be viewed HERE.

TREC is also considering adding two new addendums to its library of available forms. Realtors will probably be most excited about the Addendum Concerning the Right to Terminate due to Lender’s Appraisal. The other new addendum that may be added is the Addendum for Authorizing Hydrostatic Testing.

Independence Title offers a solution, should the 3-day rule earnest money deadline be approved. We are able to accept earnest money electronically through the Zoccam app using the camera on your or your buyer’s smart phone. If you need instructions on how to download and use Zoccam, you can find a step-by-step guide on our website. If you need further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact your Independence Title business development representative.

The Broker Lawyer Committee would like your feedback about these or other changes and additions under consideration. You may submit your comments and/or concerns via email to general.counsel@trec.texas.gov on or before Monday, September 25, 2017.

New Statistics Tools for Austin!

Does the word “statistics” intimidate you? Not only is it a hard word to say, but statistics themselves can often be confusing. As you know, in the world of real estate it’s important to differentiate yourself from the competition, and market statistics could very well be the factor that separates you from the rest. That’s why we at Independence Title are very excited to offer you two new statistics tools!

Our first tool is a new class called Stats in a Flash. In this class, we’ll take the dread out of statistics and have you creating your own custom stats in no time. We’ll define common terminology and show you where to locate statistics, how to create your own, and when to use them in your business. If you want to take your marketing to the next level, or if you just need data to support your negotiations, this class is for you!

The next tool is our new MLS Statistics module, now available for members of the Austin MLS. Our new stats feature a wealth of information on specific zip codes and MLS areas for Central Texas to both increase your expertise in your market and help you and your clients make better home-buying and home-selling decisions. You can find average and median prices, appreciation over time, months of inventory, days on market, sales and new listings by price range, and much, much more. This is a password-protected site (a requirement of our data license agreement with the board). Agents will get an updated password monthly from their business development rep.

You can use the menu to search by individual months or specific zip codes and MLS areas, or just click on “Full Reports” to view and/or download full monthly reports by zip code or MLS area. At the bottom of each PDF, there are buttons to quickly email, print, or download. (Because we may only offer these statistics to members of the Austin MLS, we are unable to provide a link to share on social media.) The full report by MLS area features heat maps showing the hottest areas by growing numbers of sales, median price appreciation, and inventory.

We’re so thrilled to be able to offer these resources to you! If you are interested in our class, Stats in a Flash, contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep or check out our Upcoming Events. And watch your email for a link and password to our new online stats module!

The State of the Austin Luxury Market

by Cassandra Majors, Independence Title

The Austin real estate market has exploded in recent years, and the luxury market has been no exception. In times of economic trouble, home sales plummet and our industry takes a major hit. However, the luxury home market is usually the last sector of housing to feel the effects of a downturn and the first to recover when things start improving. After years of booming population growth and rising home prices, how is the Austin luxury market doing now?

Defining Luxury

What do we mean when we say “luxury,” in terms of the real estate market? There’s no universal standard or checklist. If I could invent one, it would definitely require items like:
• 20-foot-high security wall with minor celebrities serving as armed guards
• Marble from the dismantled monuments of past monarchies
• Diamond-encrusted bidet (squirting Evian water only, of course)
• Enough square footage that you never have to see your own family

Unfortunately, I don’t get to invent the criteria for luxury real estate, so I’ll have to rely on the wisdom of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, founded in 2003 by one of my real estate heroes, Laurie Moore-Moore.  For the Institute’s members to be able to earn the prestigious Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist designation, they must show (among other things) that they sell in the top 10% pricing of their local market or above $500,000, whichever is greater. This makes a lot of sense—it “flattens” the country’s various markets by creating a standard threshold that allows us to compare them. A million-dollar home in Manhattan means something very different than a million-dollar home in Westlake, after all.

The Luxury Standard in Austin

Using the top 10% rule, here’s the minimum price a home in Austin would need to sell for over the last five years to be considered “luxury” by this standard.

Year Greater Austin* Austin Only**

*All areas covered by ABOR’s MLS

**Austin, Bee Cave, Lakeway, Rollingwood, The Hills, Volente, and West Lake Hills

How is the Luxury Market in Austin?

For this section, we’ll stick with Austin only in our figures since it’s hard to define a true luxury market using the entire greater Austin area.

The average days on market in 2012 for luxury homes was 83, which then fell to 71 in 2013 and 63 in 2014. Since then, however, they’ve taken significantly longer on average to sell. 2015 was 74 days on market (a 17% increase) and then up to 78 days in 2016 (a 5% increase). Here in 2017, things have gotten a little better and we’re down to 76 average days on market so far, but this statistic doesn’t carry a lot of weight. We haven’t had to go through the winter yet, which will probably drag the days on market back up. We won’t know for sure until next year, but for now, at least, it’s safe to say we’re no worse off than in 2016.

Why are luxury homes staying on the market longer in recent years? There are a variety of factors that may be playing into it. One obvious answer is the price increase—Austin has seen incredible increases in average and median sales prices year-over-year for the last five years. It’s often better to look at the median sales price increase in order to avoid the up-and-down swings that can come from averages, but even the median has increased at least 6% a year since 2012.

Year Median Price YOY Increase

Note: This summarizes for Austin Only as defined above, all price ranges.

As the upper 10% of the market moves higher and higher along with the rest of the market, fewer buyers are able to afford them and the homes sit on the market for longer. There has also been an increase in luxury inventory, which increases competition. 2016 saw on average about a 14% increase in luxury listings over 2015. Other factors can be theorized but not easily proven. Some possibilities include market saturation (the net migration of wealthy residents has slowed down somewhat), unrealistic expectations (sellers of luxury homes believe their homes will sell for more than they will or are willing to wait longer for a better offer), or buyers’ fear of an overvalued market (thinking that Austin may have topped out or is in a bubble and luxury buyers may not get a return on their investment). This list is by no means exhaustive.

We also have to account for the limitations of MLS data—many luxury homes are sold off-market (so-called “pocket listings”), often to protect the privacy of their sellers. My rough estimate is that somewhere around 5% of million-dollar homes sold since 2016 were sold outside of the MLS. That’s not an insignificant number, especially considering that pocket listings may be listed at above-average prices even by luxury standards.

The Million-Dollar Standard

Do you think the 10% standard is far too generous?  This section is for you.

Here I’ll compare nothing but million-dollar homes and we’ll widen the area to all of the greater Austin MLS. Though it makes apples-to-apples comparisons a bit more difficult (a million dollars today buys less home than it did in 2012), it does help show what’s happening at a certain level of luxury. By this standard, things are going very well for central Texas. Below is a chart showing how many $1,000,000+ homes have sold per year over the last five years. The redder column shows 2016’s total in the same range as 2017 so far (January – July) so you can see just how much these sales are up since last year.

That’s a 34% increase over 2016 so far this year, which is exceeded only by the incredible leap we had back in 2013 (a 51% increase in sales from 2012). For days on market, the story is the same as the top 10%–homes simply aren’t selling as quickly. 2014 was the fastest selling at an average of 87 days, then shot up to 100 days for 2015 and 2016, and is now at about 97 days for 2017 so far. However, this is still much better than the years 2008 – 2012 when the average days on market for million-dollar homes was almost always in the neighborhood of 135 days.

The average price of a million-dollar home has also increased since last year, meaning we’re seeing higher prices in general but also more $2,000,000 and above homes. We’ve already sold 108 2M+ homes just through July in 2017, compared to 116 of those sales in ALL of 2016, and we’re well on track to shatter the last record of 128 2M+ sales set in 2015. Move the threshold up to 3,000,000 and we’ve already had 37 sales, one ahead of the record of 36 3M+ sales set in 2015…and we’ve still got five months left to go.

Are luxury agents lowering their prices to get these homes to sell faster? The data says no, at least not very often. The close-to-list-price ratio for million-dollar homes has been hovering around 95% since 2013 and is currently up to 96% in 2017 so far, so most listings are getting close to what they asked for (always a sign of a robust market).

Conclusion

Austin’s luxury market is strong—prices keep going up, homes are selling for close to what they list for, and more mega-luxury homes are selling than ever before. The only caveat is homes are taking longer to sell, but for the patient luxury agent, the payday will still be just as good when their homes finally close.

Cassandra Majors has been a market analyst and data guru in the Austin real estate industry for over a decade.

The Importance of Online Reviews


What makes online reviews a powerful tool for lead generating?  They help consumers evaluate an agent’s honesty, reputation, and knowledge.  When choosing a real estate agent, consumers consider these four things:

  • The reputation of the agent

  • If the agent is honest and trustworthy

  • If the agent is a friend of family member

  • The agent’s knowledge of the neighborhood 

Now let’s look at your online presence, do you address these concerns?  Think about it, in this day and age, if a consumer is referred to you by someone else, even though they trust that referral source, more than likely, they will still “google” you.  If I searched for you online, what would I find?  Would I see your reputation from reviews of your past service?  Would I be able to see that you’re honest and trustworthy because a past client raved about you in a review?  What about your expertise?  Would I be able to tell that you are a well-informed agent from looking at you online?  Also, did you know you may already have reviews on Yelp and not know it??

If you answered any of those questions with a shrug or a question mark, you aren’t alone.  In fact, many agents are very hesitant to ask for reviews in fear of what people will say or how it will affect their online presence.  If this is how you feel, the Independence Title Education Team has a great class that will help get you comfortable, Boost Your Credibility with Online Reviews.  In this class, we not only go over the different platforms where you can receive reviews, we go over strategies on how to ask for reviews, responding to reviews and even how to handle any negative reviews.  Contact your local Business Development rep to attend an upcoming class.

Utilizing a CRM for Your Business

The top two sources of business for Realtors are referrals and past clients.  With that being said, our question to you:  How are you keeping up with your past clients??  Many real estate agents still use Excel spreadsheets or a simple contact manager (like the one in Outlook or Gmail) to manage their database of past clients, because they think of their database is just a list of names and numbers.  What they don’t realize is that they are missing out on the power of automating the processes and developing and maintaining relationships with the people in their database!  Having a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is a way to keep up with your past contacts.  It’s an organized way to document activity with each client so you can easily follow up with them and build relationships.

In our class, CRM 101, we discuss the basics of a CRM, the types of information you should gather as well as the value a CRM process can add to your business.  A common question the Independence Title Education team gets is: “Which CRM is the best?”  While we can’t give a solid recommendation on just one because it truly does depend on the type of business you have, we have put together our “Top 8” below from our research.

A CRM is something that takes time.  Unfortunately, time is something a lot of us don’t have.  The good news is that selecting a CRM platform which suits your individual needs is probably the most time-consuming part of the process!

Still need help deciding?  Thanks to EasyAgentPro, we found this nifty little tool to help you decide.  Take this short quiz and it’ll point you in the right direction.  Also, Three Questions to Ask Before Selecting your CRM.

There are so many ways a CRM system can help you manage your database.  The key to getting the most out of a CRM is to be disciplined about using it.  Every time you speak with a contact, enter notes about what you discussed and schedule your next contact.  Every time you generate a lead, assign them to a follow-up plan.  Over time, you’ll find that your relationships are stronger, your pipeline is fuller, and your business is growing and changing.

(A lot of this research was taken from the Facebook group Lab Coat Agents, if you don’t follow, you should!  It’s a great place to get tips, tricks and insight from agents across the globe.)

What Is CodeNEXT?

Have you heard of CodeNEXT yet?  If not, this is a topic that could have an impact on the real estate market and you will want to gain knowledge on the topic.  CodeNEXT is the new City of Austin plan to update the current Land Development Code.  The land code consists of how a piece of land can be used, including what can be built, where it can be built and how improvements can or cannot be built in the city.  Mayor Steve Adler says “The CodeNEXT process will help us manage our explosive growth while preserving what makes Austin special. We have to act and need to begin now – and this map is where we start.”

The current Land Development Code was created in the 1980s and is somewhat difficult to decipher.  In 2009 Austinites began to rethink the current code and what works for our growing and ever changing city.   Since then the City of Austin has been working on proposing the new Land Development Code.  The CodeNEXT initial draft release happened on February 1, 2017.  The City is now in the process of several open house events and hopes to finalize CodeNEXT early 2018.

If you are interested in more information on CodeNEXT click here.

 

*Information for this post gathered from The City of Austin and The Austin Chronicle

[DFW] Spring into Education! New Classes Available.

The Independence Title Education Team has been working hard on developing new and improved classes for you!  See a list below of all the brand new classes we are offering this Spring.  Please also check out our menus for all classes offered by the Education Team.  To schedule one of these great classes in your office, contact your local business development representative.  You may also join us at any of our public classes.

  • Power of Personality – Every buyer, seller, and Realtor have a different and distinct personality. In this class, we will walk you through how to determine a person’s personality style. You will discover how to assess different personality types and ultimately learn to communicate with and market to all types of people effectively.
  • Facebook for Real Estate – New to Facebook or struggling with managing it? Join us to learn the difference between a personal profile and business page; learn tips and tricks on managing the two separately or just utilizing your personal profile. We will talk about controlling privacy settings, sharing engaging content, empowering your brand, and truly connecting with current and prospective clients.
  • Facebook: Beyond the Basics – What is your main goal for Facebook? Get leads? Market your listings? Engage with clients? If you answered yes to those questions and already know the basics of Facebook, then this class is for you! In this hour, you will learn how to set up Facebook Ads, understand the importance of a landing page, use Facebook live to increase exposure on certain topics, and learn tips and tricks that will help you engage with your Facebook community.
  • Instagram: Beyond the Basics – Due to Instagram’s visual nature, more and more Realtors are using it to build and promote their real estate brand. In this advanced class, we will discuss recent updates and new tools such as Instagram Live. We will identify a target audience and unveil clever ways to engage with them. We will also go over hashtags and real estate branding tips. Lastly, we will look at ways to connect with your followers and promote your listings via Instagram Ads.
  • Principles of a Smart Transaction – This class highlights the major benchmarks in a real estate transaction. Starting with helpful things to collect at a listing appointment, to reviewing commonly overlooked sections of the contract, breaking down the basics of understanding a title commitment, and concluding with other contract to close tips. This course is just what any agent needs to execute a smart transaction.
  • Real Estate in a Snap – Most Realtors have heard of Snapchat; however, many aren’t aware that it has higher engagement than any social network on the planet! Snapchat’s instant, visual nature allows Realtors to send content to potential clients and customers in a fast, fun, and creative way. In this class, we’ll start with the basics of Snapchat, then teach you how to engage and interact with your followers in an authentic way
  • Translating Transaction Desk – Do you ever feel like implementing new technology into your business is like learning a foreign language? Well, leave it to us to translate Transaction Desk for you. This class will cover all the dierent aspects of Instanet Transaction Desk. You will learn how to use the platform as a one-stop-shop for managing documents and transactions.

[SAN ANTONIO] Spring into Education! New Classes Available.

The Independence Title Education Team has been working hard on developing new and improved classes for you!  See a list below of all the brand new classes we are offering this Spring.  Please also check out our menus for all classes offered by the Education Team.  To schedule one of these great classes in your office, contact your local business development representative.  You may also join us at any of our public classes.

  • Power of Personality – Every buyer, seller, and Realtor have a different and distinct personality. In this class, we will walk you through how to determine a person’s personality style. You will discover how to assess different personality types and ultimately learn to communicate with and market to all types of people effectively.
  • Facebook for Real Estate – New to Facebook or struggling with managing it? Join us to learn the difference between a personal profile and business page; learn tips and tricks on managing the two separately or just utilizing your personal profile. We will talk about controlling privacy settings, sharing engaging content, empowering your brand, and truly connecting with current and prospective clients.
  • Facebook: Beyond the Basics – What is your main goal for Facebook? Get leads? Market your listings? Engage with clients? If you answered yes to those questions and already know the basics of Facebook, then this class is for you! In this hour, you will learn how to set up Facebook Ads, understand the importance of a landing page, use Facebook live to increase exposure on certain topics, and learn tips and tricks that will help you engage with your Facebook community.
  • Instagram: Beyond the Basics – Due to Instagram’s visual nature, more and more Realtors are using it to build and promote their real estate brand. In this advanced class, we will discuss recent updates and new tools such as Instagram Live. We will identify a target audience and unveil clever ways to engage with them. We will also go over hashtags and real estate branding tips. Lastly, we will look at ways to connect with your followers and promote your listings via Instagram Ads.
  • Principles of a Smart Transaction – This class highlights the major benchmarks in a real estate transaction. Starting with helpful things to collect at a listing appointment, to reviewing commonly overlooked sections of the contract, breaking down the basics of understanding a title commitment, and concluding with other contract to close tips. This course is just what any agent needs to execute a smart transaction.
  • Real Estate in a Snap – Most Realtors have heard of Snapchat; however, many aren’t aware that it has higher engagement than any social network on the planet! Snapchat’s instant, visual nature allows Realtors to send content to potential clients and customers in a fast, fun, and creative way. In this class, we’ll start with the basics of Snapchat, then teach you how to engage and interact with your followers in an authentic way.

[AUSTIN] Spring into Education! New Classes Available.

The Independence Title Education Team has been working hard on developing new and improved classes for you!  See a list below of all the brand new classes we are offering this Spring.  Please also check out our menus for all classes offered by the Education Team.  To schedule one of these great classes in your office, contact your local business development representative.  You may also join us at any of our public classes.

  • Power of Personality – Every buyer, seller, and Realtor have a different and distinct personality. In this class, we will walk you through how to determine a person’s personality style. You will discover how to assess different personality types and ultimately learn to communicate with and market to all types of people effectively.
  • Facebook for Real Estate – New to Facebook or struggling with managing it? Join us to learn the difference between a personal profile and business page; learn tips and tricks on managing the two separately or just utilizing your personal profile. We will talk about controlling privacy settings, sharing engaging content, empowering your brand, and truly connecting with current and prospective clients.
  • Facebook: Beyond the Basics – What is your main goal for Facebook? Get leads? Market your listings? Engage with clients? If you answered yes to those questions and already know the basics of Facebook, then this class is for you! In this hour, you will learn how to set up Facebook Ads, understand the importance of a landing page, use Facebook live to increase exposure on certain topics, and learn tips and tricks that will help you engage with your Facebook community.
  • Instagram: Beyond the Basics – Due to Instagram’s visual nature, more and more Realtors are using it to build and promote their real estate brand. In this advanced class, we will discuss recent updates and new tools such as Instagram Live. We will identify a target audience and unveil clever ways to engage with them. We will also go over hashtags and real estate branding tips. Lastly, we will look at ways to connect with your followers and promote your listings via Instagram Ads.
  • ITC University – ITC University is designed to provide essential knowledge to a brand new assistant, closing coordinator, or newly licensed agent. The group will meet on Wednesdays from 10-3 for 4 weeks. We will define basic real estate terminology and lingo, learn those perplexing acronyms everyone uses, and study commonly used TAR forms. We will touch on all the major software platforms including, Zipform Plus, DocuSign, Matrix, Realist, and Supra. We will also explain and examine the Title Commitment, Closing forms, and a Contract to Close Checklist. Our University will have you or your team proficient by the end of the 4-week course.
  • Principles of a Smart Transaction – This class highlights the major benchmarks in a real estate transaction. Starting with helpful things to collect at a listing appointment, to reviewing commonly overlooked sections of the contract, breaking down the basics of understanding a title commitment, and concluding with other contract to close tips. This course is just what any agent needs to execute a smart transaction.
  • Real Estate in a Snap – Most Realtors have heard of Snapchat; however, many aren’t aware that it has higher engagement than any social network on the planet! Snapchat’s instant, visual nature allows Realtors to send content to potential clients and customers in a fast, fun, and creative way. In this class, we’ll start with the basics of Snapchat, then teach you how to engage and interact with your followers in an authentic way
  • Time-Saving Tips for Realtors Do you wish your days could be more productive? Do you feel overwhelmed when trying to complete daily tasks? In this class, we will look at a day in the life of a Realtor and give you some “life hacks for real estate”. You will also learn ways to make your business more productive, more effi’cient, and hopefully more fun!
  • Translating Transaction Desk – Do you ever feel like implementing new technology into your business is like learning a foreign language? Well, leave it to us to translate Transaction Desk for you. This class will cover all the dierent aspects of Instanet Transaction Desk. You will learn how to use the platform as a one-stop-shop for managing documents and transactions.
  • Matrix on the Go with goMLS – The goMLS Austin mobile application not only lets you search the MLS and access showing instructions on the go, it allows ABOR members and their customers to work together and remotely share information throughout the home buying and selling process. In this class, you will learn different features of the app such as automatic agent branding, accessing MLS data, and sharing information on listings with clients via your cell phone!

Protect Your Money, and Your Dreams!

Are you dreaming of buying your first home? Or maybe you are dreaming of selling your current house so you can move to your dream home, or realize some other life goal? Look out, because there are well-organized criminals intent on making that dream impossible for you. They insinuate themselves into your real estate transaction and turn it upside down, often by means of a simple email. These people are cybercriminals committing wire fraud, a virtual mugging when you move your money in a real estate transaction by wire transfer.

Cybercriminals hack into email accounts and send false wiring instructions, and before you know it, your money is headed to the wrong bank, many times out of state and even in another country.

In an article from the Chicago Tribune, several scenarios of wire fraud are mentioned involving hundreds of thousands of consumer dollars. This article was written in March of 2016, and since then the attempts of wire fraud have increased exponentially. The perpetrators are becoming craftier and more sophisticated each day, able to mimic the tone and content of a legitimate communication between you and your Realtor, bank, or title company.

You may be asking yourself, “How do I protect my dream?” At Independence Title, we have initiated several procedures to protect against wire fraud. Our closing teams have been thoroughly trained on what to look for and how to guard against these egregious attempts to hijack real estate transactions. Here are some things that you can do to protect yourself:

Buyers Should Verify Wiring Instructions Via Phone: To ensure you have the correct wiring instructions when you are sending money to Independence Title, please call our branch office using the phone numbers found on our website: www.independencetitle.com. Do this every time you wire funds, even if emailed instructions seem to come from a well-known and trusted source.
Sellers Should Bring Wiring Instructions to The Closing: When we are sending money to you, please bring your wiring instructions to our office in person. If you decide to change your instructions from what you have first provided, expect us to request that you appear in person at our office to sign off on the change.
Buyers & Sellers Should Change Your Email Passwords Frequently: Increasing your email security is a great way to help prevent wire fraud. Please change your email passwords frequently and if your platform offers two-step authentication, be sure and take advantage of this security feature.

Again, when working with Independence Title on a real estate transaction, you’re protected by encrypted email systems and well-trained employees, but your best protection is to verify information about money transfers strictly by telephone, using a confirmed phone number, or in person. We look forward to working together with you to protect your money, your investment goals, and your dreams!

Utilizing the Stats Tab in Matrix

Do you love the monthly statistics Independence Title sends out but are constantly wishing you could have more narrow, specific statistics to use in your personal marketing?  Maybe you want to show a Seller the average list price compared to the average sales price specifically in his subdivision?  Or maybe you want to go even further and narrow down that statistic to his subdivision AND homes with a pool?!

A popular question the Independence Title Education Team gets is about generating customized statistics.  The most common thought is that agents don’t have access and they must get it from us.  Did you know you can run a very specific, targeted statistic right in your very own Matrix account?

Below, we’ve put together a quick video walking you through how to pull targeted stats in Matrix.  We’ve also listed out step by step instructions as well.  This is a great tool to utilize for listing appointments, newsletters, farming, etc.  Go ahead, get creative!  Want some help brainstorming?  Call your local business development rep, we love that kind of stuff!

Here are the step by step instructions on how to pull customized stats in Matrix:

  • Click the STATS tab at the top of your Matrix homepage
  • Select the CUSTOMIZE tab on the left
  • Select the time frame you want to view
  • Select the first statistic you would like
  • Optional:  Click on Advanced Options at the bottom
  • Select the optional secondary statistic you would like
  • Select how you want the statistics grouped (See screen shot below for example.)
  • In the middle of the page enter the criteria you are searching.  (You can add additional fields at the bottom to find anything (similar to a search on Matrix — OR you can do a map search and draw a polygon.  You would click on the bolded MAP SEARCH at the top of the search page. )
  • Hit GENERATE on the left once you’ve put in all your criteria
  • You can view by chart or data (tabs at the top right of the chart)
  • VOILA!

Introducing A New Member to the Education Team!

Spring is in full bloom here in Texas, as is the real estate market!  Our Education Team is busy educating Realtors on the most important information and topics in the industry.  The demand for our classes has prompted the expansion of our team.  We are excited to announce our new trainer, Kaitlyn Mandry, who be training in the DFW market.

Kaitlyn Mandry has a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Development. Her expertise in adult learning and curriculum development will help our education team continually improve their creation of engaging content for our clients. Kaitlyn is passionate about people and training facilitation, so her transition into the world of real estate was a natural fit.

New Document Upload in Matrix

lifetime (1)Do you have questions about the new Document Upload in Matrix??  You’re not alone! The good news is, the Education Team at Independence Title is here to help you with the New Transaction Desk System. The document upload portion of the program is the only piece that you are required to use so we want to make sure you are an expert on uploading your documents. We put together this short demonstration video below that should help answer your questions.  Keep in mind, we also have a 1hr. CE course titled Translating Transaction Desk if you want to go beyond the simple document upload.