Every week, we ask an Atlanta real estate professional for their thoughts on the top trends in Atlanta real estate.
This week, we talked with Maura Neill, a Realtor with RE/MAX Around Atlanta and a noted speaker/instructor. Maura leads her team and represents buyers and sellers on a day-to-day basis. In addition, she is a social media and technology devotee, and she is an active real estate speaker and instructor on subjects such as real estate technology, building your business via social media, customer service and client retention. She has spoken for various conferences, such as RETSO, Inman Agent Reboot, Inman Connect, Council of Residential Specialists’ Sell-A-Bration, Women’s Council of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors.
Atlanta Agent (AA): What’s your take on today’s mortgage markets? Are lending standards still too tight, or do you think lending is right where it needs to be?
Maura Neill (MN): It’s definitely loosened up from where we were in the last 12 to 18 months, but The New York Times did recently report that not even Ben Bernanke could refinance his mortgage, and when you take that down to the every man, we’re still finding instances where the restrictions are so tight that it’s almost laughable.
I have a client, for instance, who is in a situation similar to Bernanke’s, where he has changed jobs three times in the past 18 months due to new opportunities. Although those new opportunities offered more money and a better financial situation, his changing jobs showed an “unstable work history” to mortgage underwriters, and we’re having a hard time getting him pre-approved to buy a house.
So we’re still at a place where the system has gotten so automated and so black and white that the human element is missing. Real estate is an intensely personal business, and looking at one’s job history as the most important source of information on whether or not they are a good credit risk…that’s not always the right way to go.
AA: Prices have risen aggressively in some spots in Atlanta’s market; have you found that more buyers have gained equity and sold their home, as a result? Or are we not quite there yet?
MN: It depends on when the consumer purchased their home. If they did so at the height of the market, which for us was the summer/fall of 2007, there’s still a chance they cannot cash in just yet. The nice thing about Atlanta is we were one of the last major markets to see any sort of decline; we didn’t experience the kind of bubble that other markets did, and even though we did have issues of negative equity (because there was predatory lending), we did not see a big, across-the-board bubble burst.
That said, with prices rising, some of the sellers we work with are able to break even with their sales, and they’re willing forgo any profits in order to take advantage of today’s buying market. So even if they’re not making money on their sale, they take the risk to move-up to a better house, because with rates so low, today really is a great time to buy.
AA: Finally, how do you deal with clients, both on the buying and selling side, who are more difficult than most?
MN: Much of it starts with the initial consultation with the client, and the expectations that you set with them. It’s so commonsense, but when we’re busy, it’s easy to get into the time-saving mode of skipping the consultation, jumping in the car and immediately looking at houses. So something my team does as a rule, with every single buyer and every single seller, is we have an initial consultation either at our office at their home, and we walk them through the process.
Many of the issues that we encounter can be alleviated by setting expectations. For instance, we hear agents talk about a common objection on the buyer side, which is when they get partway through the process, the buyer will say to them, “You didn’t find this house; I found it online, you only took me to see it, so I’m not sure what you did for me.”
So with that in mind, I explain to a buyer client in our consultation that I probably will not see the house they buy before they do; they may be awake at 2 a.m. looking on Zillow or Trulia while I’m asleep. My value, therefore, is in sharing my knowledge of the market, running the comps, explaining the negotiation process and getting them from Point A to Point B. So when it comes to a buyer not thinking we earned the commission, we address that right from the start.