Accelerator Program Launch

For the past year I’ve had the pleasure of serving as President of the non-profit Entrepreneurs’ Organization Dallas Chapter, and it has been a pleasure meet and learn from so many amazing and successful entrepreneurs in the Dallas / Fort worth area!

This year, we are launching an exciting new program called Accelerator!

If you are an entrepreneur, do you remember when you first started your company?

I do.

And I remember having to learn everything as I went, from from accounting, sales, and managing people, to strategy and defining my mission/vision & values. I made a lot of mistakes, and at each step, I tried to find mentors to guide me through the process so I could learn from their mistakes and grow my company faster.

My membership in Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) largely serves that function now, and has provided more real-world business education than any MBA could.

This is why we are starting Accelerator. To give early stage entrepreneurs the foundation to quickly grow their companies to over $1 million in annual revenue so they contribute more to the local & global economy, have a greater chance of long-term success, and qualify to join Entrepreneurs’ Organization for continued growth and learning.

Accelerator is part of our EO Mission – To Engage Leading Entrepreneurs to Learn and Grow – and is only for those individuals who are committed to company growth and are willing to dedicate the time, effort and learning required to do so.

This program is by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, and affords participants the unique experience of learning from, and connecting with, the world’s most influential entrepreneurs.

ACCELERATOR FAST FACTS

  • Accelerator is a program of Entrepreneurs’ Organization
  • Applicants must have gross revenue of $250k to $999k in the previous 12 months, and be a founder or majority owner of their company
  • This program is non-profit, and entirely funded by sponsors and Accelerator participants
  • Only 30 applicants are accepted each year, with a focus on those dedicated to company growth
  • This is an annual program with 3 years of curriculum. The expectation is that within 24-36 months a participant will graduate to over $1 million in revenue and exit the program
  • The program consists of:
    — Monthly accountability group meetings made up of 4 participants and an EO mentor
    — Quarterly learning days focused on Strategy, Sales, People and Finance
  • This curriculum is best of breed, and was selected by the U.S. State Department for their “Entrepreneurs for a New Beginning” program

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

There are many ways to get involved and support the Accelerator program!

  1. Mentor – if you’re an EO member, share your entrepreneurial expertise and experience with early stage companies
  2. Nominate – do you know an early stage entrepreneur who wants to grow?  nominate them for membership
  3. Support – give back to the entrepreneurial community by sponsoring Accelerator
  4. Apply – apply to be a participant in the Accelerator Program
  5. Attend – if you are an EO member, attend the Accelerator learning days!
  6. Follow – we’ll be blogging about the process and participants, listen in as we tell the stories of success!

Join me on this exciting journey, and I promise you will be inspired, learn a lot, and grow along with the rest of us!

Jeremy Brandt
CEO, 1-800-CashOffer, FastHomeOffer.com
2010/11 – EO Dallas Chapter President
2011/12 – Accelerator Program Champion

Wasted Marketing & the $20k Phone Call

Do you spend thousands of dollars on marketing and then waste the interaction it creates?

I run a company that spends a lot of time and money connecting home sellers with real estate professionals.  One of our biggest struggles is convincing real estate agents and investors to treat every phone call, every lead, as if it had $50,000 attached to it.

Especially in small businesses, we tend to get back to people “when it’s convenient” – well, that doesn’t work in the Internet world, where 50 of your competitors are 1 click away and ready to respond faster and better than you are.

And you may not even know it’s happening – most customers won’t say “someone else called me back before you did, so I’m working with them” – they just won’t call you back at all, leaving you to wonder what happened.

In the Internet economy – the research shows that if you take more than 15 minutes to get back to any new prospect who contacts you via a your web site, or a lead who fills out a form, or someone who leaves you a phone message – your chances plummet of ever working with them at all.

That’s something to think about when spending thousands of dollars or more each month trying to reach qualified customers.

Seth Godin (marketing genius and author) has a great post on his blog about this – and how letting an employee who isn’t amazing at customer service answer the phone can waste all your marketing dollars…

The $20,000 phone call

When a homeowner decides to put his house on sale and calls a broker…

When he calls the moving company…

When a family arrives in town and calls someone recommended as the family doctor…

When a wealthy couple calls their favorite fancy restaurant looking for a reservation…

Go down the list. Stockbrokers, even hairdressers. And not just people who recently moved. When a new referral shows up, all that work and expense, and then the phone rings and it gets answered by your annoyed, overworked, burned out, never very good at it anyway receptionist, it all falls apart.

What is the doctor thinking when she allows her neither pleasant nor interested in new patients receptionist to answer the phone?

— Seth Godin

Home Sales Up in March Says NAR – 1/3 are ALL CASH

The National Association of Realtors came out with their regular report on the housing market, and they are saying that existing home sales are up 3.7% for March.

That number isn’t all the interesting – but here’s what is:

All-cash sales were at a record market share of 35 percent in March, up from 33 percent in February; they were 27 percent in March 2010. Investors accounted for 22 percent of sales activity in March, up from 19 percent in February; they were 19 percent in March 2010. The balance of sales were to repeat buyers.

This means that all-cash transactions are one third of the current residential real estate market.  Real estate investors are coming back in a big way, with big money behind them.

With thousands of home sellers contacting us each month at 1-800-CashOffer and FastHomeOffer.com, I can confirm that much of the real estate market is made up of cash buyers and sellers looking for a cash offer.

What your e-mail address says about you

CNN has a story today about “What your email address says about you“, largely in response to Facebook releasing their pseudo-email platform.

The story was tongue in cheek, but many business people (especially older ones) don’t realize the message they are sending with their email address.  If you have any type of business or professional service (real estate agent, CPA, lawyer, restaurant, etc) there is no excuse to not have an email address @yourcompanyname.comIt costs nothing.

Here’s my favorite from CNN’s article:

@aol.com = You are over 70 and still have the same email address you did in 1997

Fair or not, if you send an e-mail from an Aol account, the recipient is likely to expect it to be spam, a forward of some thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory or pictures of kittens.

Walking Away from a Foreclosure & Strategic Defaults – 60 Minutes

The other day 60 Minutes ran another report on “Strategic Defaults” as they are called – home owners who are underwater in their mortgage and walk away from their home (causing a foreclosure) even though they have the ability to continue with mortgage payments.

The most interesting thing about the story was a University of Arizona paper entitled “Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis”  (Typical University title for a paper!)

It’s a fascinating read if you have some time.  We can debate all day long the ethics of home owners walking away from their obligations, but the fact that it’s happening isn’t in dispute – and real estate agents, investors and other professionals should be thinking through the ramifications of it for their business.

Most home owners don’t realize (or maybe don’t care) that there are many alternatives that are much better than a foreclosure – a loan modification or short sale are all much better alternatives to giving up and walking away.

Here is the 60 minutes segment

Distressed Home Sellers are 29% of Home Sale Market

According to the “Distressed Sales Activity” report from First American CoreLogic, First American Core Logicdistressed home sales are on the rise again, accounting for an amazing 29% of all home sales in the month of January.

Nearly 1 Million distressed sales occurred last year, which includes short sales and real estate owned (REO) property.

Distressed property sales are at their highest levels since April of 2009.

Expect to see this trend to continue – there is still a lot of pent-up housing inventory in the system, banks are finally starting to liquidate their REO portfolios faster, and there is a strong focus on completing short sales quicker.

Real estate agents and investors should keep their eyes on the distressed property numbers, this will be a very large part of the market for the next few years!

Please – STOP using AOL, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail

First impressions are everything.

If you are running a business (real estate investing, real estate agency, brokerage, etc) and you are using AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Comcast, RoadRunner, SBC Global or any other “consumer” or “free” email account to communicate, you are broadcasting to the world that you are a novice, and you’re running your business out of your garage.

Using a free email account for business communication is like wearing shorts, stinking, and showing up late to a business meeting – it says I don’t care enough about my image to spend 30 minutes and a few dollars fixing myself up to be presentable.

Here is how to upgrade your image and never again lose business because of your email account:

Step 1: Register a Domain Name.  You may already have a web site, if so use that domain.  If not, domains are $7 per year.

Step 2: Register for Google Apps.  Google will provide you with up to 50 email accounts at your domain name ([email protected]) along with document management and a host of other services – all for free.  You can check your email via the web, iPhone, Outlook, Blackberry or just about any other device.

Step 3: Configure your domain to send email through Google Apps.  Once you have a Google account setup, you can view instructions for how to do this for various domain registrars (Godaddy, Network Solutions, etc)

Step 4: Set your AOL/Gmail/Hotmail/Yahoo/etc account to forward ALL incoming mail to your new [email protected] email account hosted by Google.

Step 5: Never, ever again tell the world you don’t know what you are doing by handing out an email address that isn’t professional.  You won’t miss out on any email from people that have your old account because of the forwarding – but from this day forth only give out your professional email address when in a professional setting.

The entire cost of fixing this glaring hole in your image is the yearly cost of a domain name – about $7.  Sound too technical?  Your local neighborhood 13 year old would be happy to to help for a 6 pack of Coke!

Short Sale Supervisor Talks to a Real Estate Agent – Recorded Conversation

The Short Sales and Bank Fraud story continues to gain traction. After CNBC aired the story we brought them, dozens of other media outlets, bloggers and authorities have contacted me to discuss this topic.

Here is the story of how this fraud initially came to our attention, along with the evidence to back it up.

Last year, I was contacted by an experienced real estate agent in our network who negotiates many short sales. She had recorded a conversation between her and a supervisor in the loss-mitigation department at a major national lender, who she felt was trying to get her to do something illegal.

Here is the audio of that recording, along with the transcript. The names have been removed at the request of the agent to prevent backlash from the bank.

Listen: Recorded Conversation with Bank Supervisor

AGENT: OK, so the only way to settle with *LENDER* then is to get money from somebody else and pay it prior to – that’s what *LENDER-EMPLOYEE* suggested – pay it prior to close of escrow, outside of…. <unintelligible> Pardon me?

LENDER: That is something you can do.

AGENT: Pay it outside of escrow, off the HUD, prior to close.

LENDER: Right, that’s something you could do.

AGENT: And is that something you guys do regularly or you see people doing?

LENDER: Yes, that happens – we have people that send us money outside if they need approval letters <unintelligible> from the first, and once we receive the additional funds, the approval letter can be sent for what the first actually offered – so it happens.

AGENT: OK and what about the fact that the first says that, no more than you know, a certain percent is to go to the second?

LENDER: OK, if the first… Here’s the thing, if you’re asking what this is about – the first is saying “well here’s what I’m going to allow” and the first is saying “this is what we’re willing to pay out.”  If there’s a contribution, if you don’t want to be able to come up with the additional that we’re asking for – the first has already gave their approval on what they’re doing – what someone just comes up with has nothing to do with the first.

AGENT: Even if on this letter it says that “the second is not to receive any more than a certain amount”?

LENDER: The first can not dictate what we receive. The first is saying what they are only going to allow. That’s the amount that they’re allowing to us. If someone out there – the buyer – or a family member puts more money and says here’s what I want to give for you because here’s the additionally requested funds – that has nothing to do with the first.
You’re not asking the first to come out of their pocket any extra than what they are willing to give. So that that’s not any information that might have to be required on the HUD.
Hold on one second please.  <long pause>

LENDER: So I need to have the information – you’ve had the opportunity to go over this with *LENDER-EMPLOYEE* – did he explain all this to you on how this takes place?

AGENT: Well he does but I’m having a tough time, ******, I’m licensed and everybody else…

LENDER: It’s not illegal; it’s not a hard thing, this thing that has happened. The information that you’ve actually received from us – we’re actually trying to help you get this deal closed. If you choose to go back and tell the first what’s going on – you’re going to kill the deal.
So what actually happens prior to closing has nothing to do with the first. What happens at closing – that is information you can provide to them. If you are able to come up with additional funds not to get this deal closed prior to closing, then that’s fine – that’s irrelevant for the first. If you go ahead and you want to let the first know “well, here’s all the information that I have – here’s what’s going on” you will be the one to actually kill this deal. I’m trying to actually give you a way to go about getting this resolved. If you take our suggestion – you take the information that *LENDER-EMPLOYEE* has given you – you can have this done.
If not, then you know, those guys are going to foreclose on it and it’s a done deal. But it’s not like we’re holding up this process.

AGENT: Well, what about the form that the buyer’s lender puts out that there are – that everybody has to sign that says there are no side deals?  <long pause>
I mean that… How do I get around that?

LENDER: What you need to take care of actually is not going to be a problem. What they submit to us – there is $****** they are giving us – the only thing you have to worry about – I mean it sounds like you’re scared that you’re going to be fined for something because you are doing something you are not supposed to. This is what we do all day.

AGENT: Well yes, I don’t want to lose my license, go to jail, I mean, I have to sign…

LENDER: You’re not going to lose your license – we have plenty of realtors who do this, who actually understand how this whole process goes – and they realize that OK, if I want to get this done, this will take place. Nobody’s losing their license and nobody’s going to jail, nobody’s receiving a fine…
So and here’s the thing too, I’ll be really honest with you, if you are uncomfortable about working it, you can probably assign it over to someone else, where they would be able to do this – if it makes you feel that uncomfortable – you should probably just assign it over to someone else. Someone who’s actually been able you know – who’s done this before, who’s more familiar with it.
Not to be disrespectful or rude to you or anything like that, but we deal with this every day all the time, this is not something out of the norm. But if you feel like you are doing something that’s against your morals, please assign it to someone else who’s been able to do deals like this so they can get it done, and you can have a happy buyer and a happy seller.

AGENT: Well, how do I get, I mean what’s the logic or if I could understand – when I’m signing a paper put out by FHA that says there are no side deals – this is a side deal.

LENDER: This is a contribution. <long pause> You guys are able to come up with money in order to get this deal closed.

AGENT: OK

LENDER: OK. So the offer that we have it still stands – you can call *LENDER-EMPLOYEE* back and let him know if, what you’re going to do, and if you guys foreclose, we understand. If you’re not comfortable with this – go ahead and assign it over to someone else.

AGENT: <sigh> OK, well thank you for your time.

LENDER: No Problem

Short Sale Story Continues

The response to the story we brought CNBC on fraud in short sales has been amazing!

The whole goal of getting this story out there was to change the practice and prevent it from happening in the future.  It’s obvious from the response that this is a major issue, hopefully the authorities will take notice and investigate this practice.

Here is Diana Olick’s follow-up:

CNBC – Short Sale Fraud Follow Up

Our investigation into allegations of short sale fraud by some of the nation’s major lenders certainly struck a nerve in the lending community, but it also served to show me just how uneducated many in that same community still are, even today.

It’s clear from the dozens and dozens of comments on the blog page that many mortgage professionals still aren’t sure how exactly short sales work, and what is and is not legal.

Due to some technical difficulties on air Friday, I was unable to show a couple of MLS listings that were sent to me that clearly, on the public listing, demanded cash to the second lien holder outside of settlement as part of the transaction. Just so you know, that’s illegal. Yes, a second lien holder can demand payment on the loan, but it has to be documented as part of the sale.

And then just a few minutes after the story aired Friday, I received another email from my whistle-blower, Kayte Gentry:

Diana – we thought it funny that this came in about 10 minutes after the 2nd airing of the story…the email is to my Lead Negotiator.

“Linda,

The agent contribution of $500.00 can’t show on the HUD. Have that removed and resend just the HUD.

If it shows on the HUD the investor thinks they are getting it and not the 2nd lien holder.”

The author of the email reportedly works at Citi, as her email address shows. I have to believe/hope that she doesn’t even know what she’s demanding is illegal, otherwise I can’t imagine she would put it in an email. This is clearly fraud.

I also went on another real estate Web site that specializes in Realtor blogs, and there was a huge string/conversation of real estate agents explaining to each other how to keep second lien payments in short sales off the HUD settlement statements. Right there, in black and white, on the web.

I hope someone in regulation land is listening!