Category Archives: Ethics & Etiquette

You Can Be Better

Hey all! Long time, of course, and this blog deserves a full update. But a bad interaction with a Zillow sales rep left me thinking. Despite the fact that we are ALL very hungry to close a deal, first thing comes first (and will make us more money): Be a decent human being always!

I know we’ve all felt like Alex from Zillow. He wanted to close the sale. He felt I wasn’t “getting it”. I didn’t like something he said and it offended him. He decided I was ridiculous and “trite” and told me so.

There’s a certain way of thinking that says sales is only a numbers game, and the point is to WIN.

I completely disagree.

Sales is first and foremost a SERVICE industry.  We are servants, who make money by serving the best interests of our current clients and our potential ones.  We should not set out to conquer anyone, or aggressively approach leads as if this is a sport. There is no winning – there are only people who need your service or product, and people who do not.

I’m assuming you are a professional.  Professionals are great at what they do, and they focus on doing that.  If you are a real estate investor, you KNOW real estate. You know the market. You can spot a good deal.  You are a creative problem-solver.  Be those things. Be truly excellent at them.  And then go serve.

By the way, if you are excellent at what you do, you have 80% of your job done.  You will speak confidently. You will provide your prospective clients with everything they need to make an informed decision and your current clients with the expertise to get the transaction closed. Alex had this. I could tell he was great at what he did: he knew the product and followed up with me consistently.

Service may represent only 20% of your activity, but as an attitude it’s the foundation of what you do because it shapes every interaction you have with your clients and sellers. Are you here for them or for you? Are you coming from contribution (as Keller Williams likes to put it) to add something of value to their lives, or are you there to close a sale and move on to the next one? Your prospects will know!

Being better at service is a practical matter.  Unfortunately, the sales rep’s lack of a service-minded attitude lost the sale for me. It made me question his commitment to ME. Service may only be 20% of your job, but without it you will lose clients and money. An aggressive, overly-eager, greedy or arrogant mindset is off-putting and people will go elsewhere.  (I’m planning to find another Zillow rep to help me.)

Approach each lead as an opportunity to serve.  This is called love, by the way: putting someone’s needs before your own. It takes trust in that principle to let go of the gnawing, anxious need for a “yes” and focus on the needs of the individual in front of us.  We need the affirmation…and we need the money! Without even realizing it, though, we become adversarial and treat sellers and prospects as if they are standing between us and what we want.  But they are not – we are there for them, not the other way around.

Be humble. Ask a lot of questions. Provide lots of answers. Get to the bottom of their needs. Don’t be offended. Don’t be superior. Be helpful. Be honest. Don’t sell them on “yes”. Accept “no” graciously.

So yes, you can be better! You can be better at your trade. Start by being a better person. Let go of the need to close the sale, and embrace being a servant who knows her stuff. This will result in a low-key approach that will actually end up attracting much more business your way, because it exudes kindness and confidence all in one.  And everyone loves that.

Is this how you already look at your job (my husband thought most people already do)? How do you handle bad service? Friend me on FB and you can join the conversation.


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Filed under Ethics & Etiquette, Fear, Marketing, Negotiation

About That Radio Silence

I closed on a property last fall and let you all down! I didn’t read you in, and it was a good one: an out of town wholesale transaction with a repeat seller.  It went smoothly for every single party involved and really hit home for me two things:

1) Networking works. Who hasn’t said that? But I have dug my heels in on this point.  I don’t like networking or schmoozing or talking to people when I don’t want to.  I can be very outgoing, but tend to be introverted in that I don’t want to chit chat with you – I want to get right down to things: either business or deep thoughts.

But networking is worth it.  And by networking I don’t think I mean what I’ve always had in mind.  In this case, networking involved my repeat seller. We bought a house from her through seller financing in 2012.  We’ve had a great relationship along the way, refinanced out of the note just like we promised, offered to help in any way we could now or in the future – and then she called.  So I would say that part of networking is maintaining healthy relationships with people you already know by being someone they can count on, who is pleasant and has integrity.

The buyer also came from networking.  I have dear friends in the property city who are also investors.  I called and reached out to them and they just happened to know someone looking for their first investment property.  It happened just like that – and of course I sent them a thank you gift for connecting us!

It was THE smoothest wholesale transaction I’ve ever had, and I believe that’s mostly because I have a history (a good one!) with the seller, and the buyer came from people I already know (which meant they were quality).

2) I came into wholesaling to make money (check!) but have realized I need to do real estate in a way that leaves me more fulfilled.  Offering a cash, as-is offer to motivated sellers, or sellers with run-down houses, is a GREAT solution for that sellers’ problem.  The issue, for me, is that wholesaling and creative financing are only good solutions for a very small niche of sellers.

And because for me it’s all about giving them the perfect solution to their real estate situation, I find myself frustrated that I can’t offer sellers a full gamut of resources to do that.  Only 1 in 20 of qualified leads need to sell at a wholesale price or for great terms.  The rest might want a quick sale but only at a retail discount (wholetail), or are only looking for advice on how to list a house that is not retail-ready.

My Myers-Briggs test says that making a difference and job satisfaction are HIGHLY important to me, and it’s true, so I’ve opted to get my real estate license.  For the record, I actually think there’s more money to be made by focusing on certain investment strategies (wholesaling, rehabs, etc.), but I’m hoping this is a great fit for me.

And that’s what I’ve been doing in this time of blog silence.  I should be finished up soon and (if my background check will go through quick enough!) take my test by the end of the month.

Everyone needs to do what is most important to them; what is most consistent with their goals and values.  This is my version – I hope you are doing well at creating yours!


Filed under Ethics & Etiquette, Motivation, Planning

Liquidated Damages: Know How to Use Them!

I’m working on a rehab right now for our second rental property.  It’s nothing too extensive – mostly just cosmetic.  I’m using a smaller contractor to do the repairs and painting.

And it’s just not working out.

Has that happened to you before?  I don’t have a lot of experience doing rehabs, but I do have a fair amount of experience with contractors.  Most of my family on both sides are small business owners, and my grandparents owned an interior design store.  My mom says that she always heard my grandpa say that “you can find a contractor who does good work, has reasonable prices, and shows up on time – but not one who does all three”.  It’s the running joke, isn’t it?

So this contractor was the first two.  He’s reasonably priced and has done great work so far, but has not done what he said he would do.  I’ve had to practically stalk him to get him to show up or answer my questions.  He and his guys have gone completely MIA several times.

I. Just. Don’t. Understand.

Last week I sat down to talk about when his work would be complete.  The contract stated it would be done the 18th and it was already the 20th – and he had at least 2/3 of the work to go!  He promised it would move faster than I thought, but then I heard they were letting a helper go and it would be ONE GUY working on the house.

Eventually we faced off and I canceled the contract based on his (several counts) of breaching the contract.  He wanted to be compensated for his work.  I said that considering that I’ve already paid him 40% of the contract price and that he’d done about 30% of the work, I thought we were square.

Obviously not.  He had his attorney call me, he was going to place a mechanic’s lien and sue me, etc. etc. I’m fighting the panicky feeling I fight when anyone male or in authority (or, Lord have mercy, both) is upset with me.  But I just couldn’t see how he wanted more.

After an afternoon of ill-will, angry words and non-sequitur lines of argument – I relented.  I just wanted a happy Thanksgiving, you know?  I ran over to the house and left a check for him for $400 more than I think I should have paid him.

The reason I’m forced to do what I don’t want to do is because of this little bitty clause I left out of our contract.  Liquidated Damages.  My lawyer says that if isn’t spelled out in the contract what happens when he misses a deadline or otherwise breaches the contract, it’s difficult for me to win in court (in Oklahoma at least).

So learn from me.  Whether you’re getting work done on your personal home, a rental property or doing a flip:

1) Have a contract.  Don’t go on a handshake.  Write down every single expectation you can think of. Exactly which materials will they use?  Exactly which work do you expect them to do (be as specific as replacing outlet covers)?

2) Spell Out Payments.  Will he get a deposit?  Progress payments?  Will you hold back 15% for touch ups after they finish painting?  Will labor be paid separately from materials?  Can you use a check?

3) Include Liquidated Damages.  Spell out exactly what will happen if he doesn’t do what he says he will do and vice versa.  Will he be fined a certain dollar amount every day he’s late?  Do you reserve the right to hire another contractor to finish the work after a certain period of delay?  Can you backcharge him for the difference?  Can you cancel the contract without recourse if he fails to meet any part of it?

These things will go a long way with a difficult contractor.  Remember that the law favors the “little guy”, which I assumed was me but, unfortunately, is him.  My attorney reminds me that the judge sees him as a struggling individual living day-to-day with mouths to feed, while I’m an LLC, sitting pretty with cash to burn on contractors.  That might be true in some cases, but not many that I’ve heard of and certainly not mine.

So go to the trouble to make a detailed contract, and be willing to deal with the awkwardness of discussing expectations at the beginning of the relationship.  In the middle of a disagreement, reminding him of what you both agreed to in writing is so much better than dealing with an angry contractor, his attorney and work left undone.

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Filed under Contractors, Contracts, Education, Ethics & Etiquette

3 Closings in 5 Months!

It’s not unusual to find a serious gap in posts from me, but I’ve always been faithful to report back.  I’m thrilled that this time the update comes after 3 different closings in the last 5 months!

Closing #1:  3/2/2 in OKC, acquired using creative financing

This lead I got from my absentee owners marketing.  The ARV was somewhere between $95 – 100K and the seller agreed to a price of $61k (what she owed on her mortgage).  The place needed work, though, and had a squatting tenant, so rather than put it under contract when I wasn’t totally sure, she agreed to let me lease/option the place at a monthly rate that was just above what her monthly mortgage payment was.  My exit strategy was to sell the house before I needed to make that first payment (although I was prepared to do so if needed).

I immediately negotiated with the tenant (sooo much easier said than done) and gave him cash for keys.  I then marketed the property and sold it to another local investor, getting a check for about $7k. The whole process (from first phone call to closing) was about 5 weeks.

Biggest lessons learned:
-Negotiations (well, successful ones anyway) are really about relationships, respect and kindness, enforcing boundaries, being willing to walk away (without anger), and lots of listening.
-I discovered a secret strategy for finding buyers (ha! gimmicky sounding but so true)
-Motivated sellers are willing to be more flexible with you, if your ideas make sense and you have established credibility.
-You push into a whole different level of client satisfaction if your offer includes solutions to every single problem they have related to this property – not just selling it.
-Creative financing (rather than outright buying or straight wholesaling) made a deal for me when there might not have been otherwise.

Closing #2: 3/2/2 in Broken Arrow, OK, a turn-key rental property we’re keeping

Again, this lead came from absentee owners marketing I am doing in the OKC area.  She wasn’t interested in selling that property but did want to sell this one.  In our first exchange I couldn’t offer her high enough, but she contacted me a month later to discuss it more.  Eventually, she accepted my owner finance offer and we closed this past Monday. This is our very first rental!

The highlights of this deal:
-The property already comes with long-term tenants locked into a lease.
-The neighborhood is great and we’re getting about 1% of property value for rent.
-The owner financing allows us to cash flow right away and build enough equity to refinance later and not pay more each month for the mortgage.

Closing #3: 3/1.5/2 in Del City – A straight wholesale deal

This deal also came from my absentee owners marketing.  This is the Big One I’ve been waiting for.  I got the property under contract for $20k and immediately flipped it for $33,500.  I had my first double-closing (called a “slip” by the closing agent) and walked away with a check for $12,607!  Definitely warranted another happy dance.  🙂  I can’t wait to pay off some debt and surprise my family with some special gifts!

A few more lessons learned:
-Confirmed the awesomeness of my buyer-finding strategy: it’s the second time in a row I’ve found a buyer in 7 days or less and added more than a few people to my buyer’s list.
-Realized that my buyer-finding strategy comes from something I took to heart from Steph Davis over at Flip This Wholesaler: when looking for a buyer, make sure you stand out! (I actually used that ad to sell a house in 2010 in 2 days.)
-Fell in love all over again with Dropbox for being able to quickly share over 100 photos to potential buyers.

I am so grateful and excited to be able to celebrate these closings.  It’s an assurance that if your path is a good one, all you have to do is keep running, walking or crawling and you will get there.  🙂


Filed under Deals, Ethics & Etiquette, Fear, Motivation

First Course and First Slap in the Face

This week it seems that a lot has happened, but when I think about it, it doesn’t feel productive.  I suppose most days fall into that category of a “day of small things”, where our many many days of doing seemingly insignifcant, or unimportant things on our to do list add up to a lifetime of accomplishment.  I hope that’s what this week was.

I bought my first ever REI course at our REIA meeting Thursday.  It’s Vena Jones-Cox’s Real Estate 101.  It might have been the coincidence of her speaking about REO’s, probates and evictions – the very strategies I want to use, or the fact that she focuses on wholesaling (also what I’d like to focus on).  Several investors told me about their experience with Vena, and recommended her course.

I wasn’t tempted when I sat in front of all the gurus who gave their sales pitch at the REIA meetings, but I really liked her and what she had to say.  The kicker was the email coaching and the free t-shirt!  🙂

I’ve learned a LOT asking questions from investors and using my dear friend Google to introduce me to the world of wholesaling.  Bigger Pockets is a wealth of information.  But I needed something to fill in the gaps.  I hope this is it.  We’ll see!

Also, I’ve had my first bad experience in the business.  Considering that I’m not actually “in the business” yet (i.e. haven’t even done a deal), I’m surprised. 

Tell me if what I did sounds unethical.  I am extremely committed to honoring God in every one of my thoughts, activities and relationships, so this felt like a blow to my own integrity and possibly my reputation.

This man was interested in having me do research on probate leads for him on our courthouse website.  We met a couple of times, but I couldn’t get anything conrete out of him.  How did you want to compensate me?  How do you expect me to handle this information?  How long do you want our arrangement to last, seeing as how I am also an aspiring real estate investor and do not plan on researching for you indefinitely? 

I told him I needed to know the answers to these questions so that I could know exactly what his expectations were and how to honor them (if possible).  He was completely vague, and honestly spent more time telling me how much he knew about real estate than WHAT he knew.  You know?  The only thing he asked of me was “not to mention the word ‘probate’ to any other investor”.  I took that to mean, while you’re selling me leads, please don’t tell my competitors what you’re doing for me.  It really restricted me, but I could understand.  Although his secrecy was strange considering probates are a common way of finding motivated sellers in the REI world (even I know that).

We discovered a glitch in the system that prevented us from doing our probate research, and he said he would get back to me.  The weeks passed, the glitch remained, but he didn’t get back to me.  I discovered a way around the glitch and tried to approach him about it.  That’s when he started avoiding me.  Hmm….

Enter Nick Johnson’s great post about how to get into probates while not paying for marketing.  It came at a perfect time, since I’d been spending all these weeks compiling probate leads and wanted something to do with them.

I decided to ask this guy first, since he did approach me first about it two months ago.  I thought he would definitely be interested.  When I called, he dodged me and said he would call back, but (surprise!) didn’t!  I emailed him and laid out what I wanted to do.

POW! BAM! BAP!  He blew up.  He was angry.  He was appalled.  How could I turn on him.  He made it sound like freakin’ Absalom and David.  Please!

I apologized for any misunderstanding, but explained myself as I did above.  Surely even a man like himself could recognize an honest person when they see one?

Nope, he emailed me back tonight saying that he didn’t get back to me because I was “extremely ambitious” (why, thank you) and he was suspicious of me “not wanting to have a boss” (um..why do you think I’m interested in REI?!) and that me turning around and selling leads was his “worst case scenario” (so he assumes that despite us NOT having any agreement, I would never mention probates to any other investor??  That seems crazy!).

“Bottom line I didn’t trust you and that’s why I pulled out.  You seemed so innocent and honest”.  Ouch.  Really?  Because I AM.  I’m so trustworthy I’m naiive, fellow!  And you think I took advantage of you because you helped me “connect the dots”?? Excuse me??  I knew about the courthouse, I knew about getting records, I knew it all.  You did manage to put the spotlight on probate for me, but what’s wrong with me running with it? 

He did say that I could make more money marketing to realtors, and I could make $75/lead.  I don’t know why he told me that.

My husband (who is less suspectible to bouts of panic and depression over what people think of him and tends to scream less than I do), says he’s an ass and there you have it. 

But I can’t help but wonder if I broke some sort of REI law that I didn’t know about. 

In other news, I decided to go into a 30-day buyer’s agreement with the realtor who’s been sending us mls properties in our farm area that have been on the market 180 days or longer.  I tend to think buyer’s agreements wouldn’t be good for an investor, but she’s the only realtor who would work with us at all at this point, and is requiring it.  We’ll see if it goes anywhere.

Phew.  Rambling and getting it out feels so much better.  My apologies to whatever person ends up reading this far.  Verbose is what is I am.


Filed under Education, Ethics & Etiquette, Probate