Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring's a-poppin' in Milwaukee real estate sales and relocation ...

(Do you hear me, news media?)

by Derse A. Smith, Relocation Specialist

The market is indeed picking up in Milwaukee. One can't help but notice the yard signs popping up throughout our North Shore communities. While it's an annual site here, what's important this year, is recent growth in the number of postings on our office "Accepted Offers" board.

I have spent the last week gearing up for 50 home showings with a transferee and his wife on Saturday and Sunday. Currently, I'm working with 6 (count 'em, S-I-X) different out-of-towners. They are coming from various parts of the country ... some with homes to sell, some already closed or soon-to-close.

Their "outbound" states/cities include Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Madison (2). Several have been offered relo packages as a "lump sum", others are still being offered home "buyouts". So, in my opinion, anyone who believes that relocation is suffering isn't talking to the right "relocation specialist" agents!

I'm also in midst of the counter-offer process with one client ... had a closing in February, have one scheduled for April 30 and just double-popped a home within one week of listing it. The February closing and the upcoming April closing are both first-time buyers ... one of whom is able to take advantage of the restructured $8,000 First-Time Buyer Tax Credit for 2009.

The business is definitely out there for agents. But unlike years in the not-so-distant past, it doesn't just drop in one's lap any more. It takes work. Hard work!

I continually have my friends and kids "working" for me. As a result, my son proudly tells me every time he hands out one of my business cards to a customer at his restaurant (Rustico Pizzeria & Enoteca) in the Third Ward.

The parents of my daughter's dear friend are now about to list a home and begin a condo search with me. She, too, keeps my cards at her popular East Town restaurant (Louise's Trattoria) and has recently introduced me to two prospect transferees who soon will begin house-hunting. The sellers of my April closing were also introduced to me by her. Parents, are you talking to your kids?

As is pretty evident here, in turn, I constantly promote my children's restaurants to my own friends, clients and business associates.

I also make sure that the kids are stocked with Festival & Packer schedules each spring and summer. These are a popular and requested handout. My favorite local businesses and hangouts are supplied as well.

I truly do "work" all my relationships ... family, business, personal, social networks ... to obtain ongoing referrals. And, I don't hesitate to ask for recommendations. Visitors to my websites & and to my LinkedIn profile page
will see comments from past and present clients and associates. Those testimonials speak volumes in the super-competitive world of real estate referrals.

Finally, I honestly believe that positive news (and attitudes) breeds positive results. I am beginning to feel the "spring" coming back to my walk. Hear me roar!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Expert Area Tour Impacts Relocation Decision

by Derse A. Smith, Relocation Specialist

As a relocation specialist, ongoing referrals are my bread and butter. So, when personal recommendations of my skills flow from one VIP to another, it's not only extremely flattering, it's a networking score!

Such an instance took place for me several weeks ago. It's a good example of how the process frequently unfolds. Here is a recap of what transpired ...

On a recent Wednesday, I received a voicemail message from the vice president of our local development corporation. He was in need of a short-notice area orientation tour... very short-notice... two days later!

I had been referred to him by a mutual friend, the president of another prominent Milwaukee organization. My friend had been told that a highly-sought-after managerial candidate was being recruited to Milwaukee by a major corporation. Both local groups had been instrumental in this corporation's decision to locate its manufacturing facility in Milwaukee and therefore, had a vested interest in making a great impression.

That afternoon, I received an e-mail from my friend which read," When I heard that they were looking for someone to really show Milwaukee, in addition to seeing homes, I knew that you were the one." It didn't take long for me to accept the referral and to receive the requisite information about the candidate.

During the initial contact phone conversation with him that evening, we made plans for his wife to spend Friday morning with me while he was in meetings. He would join us in the afternoon for the duration of my tour.

We spoke again on Thursday night to confirm our plans for the next day. During the call, he almost apologetically informed me that they had spent that day with an agent from a competing company. It caught me completely off-guard, but I tactfully kept the surprise out of my voice. I quickly learned from him that the arrangements had been made by the recruiter prior to the CEO referring me to her. No harm, no foul. It wasn't unusual and I was just happy to have this referral, no matter when or how I entered the equation.

When I finally met them at the hotel Friday morning, there was an instant connection. I just had a sense that they felt comfortable with me right from time we shook hands. Within minutes, Mrs. Candidate was recapping the events of the previous day and her thoughts about the few homes and areas they visited. She confided in me that she was already tired and very skeptical. With six children and a seventh on the way, she really wasn't thrilled at the prospect of uprooting their sizeable family to move here.

Her husband was standing just within earshot when she leaned into me and whispered, "You're going to have a very tough sell. I have to tell you, I was not impressed yesterday. I did not like what I saw." Ouch! I was shocked to find out that, while they were staying right in the heart of Downtown, they hadn't seen anything in the city other than the restaurant where they had a business dinner the previous evening. With that in mind and with complete confidence, I took her hand, looked her right in the eye and responded,"Well, I just love a challenge. And, you haven't spent any time with me yet. I guarantee you'll change your mind."

Note: Touring the city's downtown, its attractions and surrounding communities prior to actually looking at homes, is a critcial step in the process. Providing a relocation packet to my clients is also helpful, as it contains customizable materials including a relocation handbook, area maps, attractions, school, housing & tax information, etc.

So, off Mrs. Candidate and I went to tour our western communities and to view two homes they had selected off the Internet. (With thunderstorms looming in the distance, I quietly prayed for sunshine for our afternoon jaunt up Lake Michigan's shoreline) Along the way, we laughed as we shared details about our lives and the many things we had in common. I happily watched as she perked up and began making calls to her husband, children and mother expressing her excitement about what she was seeing.

At noon, we picked up Mr. Candidate to continue our community tour. Thankfully, the weather indeed cooperated for a my favorite part of the tour – showing off Downtown Milwaukee and our Lake Michigan shoreline. As expected (and is so often the case), they were stunned at what they saw... the fantastic building and residential architecture, our world-renowned landmarks, the amazing beach and the incredible hues of the lake!

Over lunch at a favorite East Side cafe, they shared their new-found appreciation of the beauty and cleanliness of our city and our glorious lakefront. In just a few hours, her attitude had completely changed about the possibility of moving. I was so grateful that they had the opportunity to really see Milwaukee and as many areas as I could fit in, given the short notice and time constraints.

"While we felt very good about the professional opportunity we could offer (candidate) in our Milwaukee operation, addressing his family needs was paramount in attracting him to our company. I am indebted to you for your hard work and wonderful attitude."

- CEO, Client Corporation

Ultimately, we covered 170 miles that day and were together right up to their departure. After the second visit a few days later (with the three oldest kids and mother-in-law in tow), Mr. Candidate accepted the position. On their third visit the following week (and after another 500 miles), they found the perfect home which is set to close in mid-September.

Personally, I find great satisfaction about this mutually successful transaction. The added bonus to me of course, is the lasting friendship I now have with this wonderful family. I am so very fond of them and I have been told that I have become their "family" in Milwaukee.

On the business side, I have received extremely complimentary feedback from all the "VIPs" involved. While Metro Milwaukee sells itself on appearance and reputation, that alone won't always sway the emotions involved in a move. Having an experienced specialist conduct an orientation tour -- one who knows the housing market, who is capable of highlighting the features of each community and who emotes trust and friendship -- is a key element of the recruitment process.

I feel confident that my representation of the many Metro Milwaukee communities we visited -- along with respecting the needs of both the client company and the candidate -- will be remembered when the next request for a "relocation expert" comes into my personal referral network.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Relocations Remain Strong in a Soft Market

With the nation reeling over the fallout of the sub-prime lending debacle, one area of the real estate industry remains relatively stable. Relocation.

When someone decides to pick up stakes for a move to a new location - be it a career change, retirement, or perhaps just for a change of scenery - that relocating individual needs to find a home. And, in many cases, needs to sell a home on the outbound side.

The latter is the one area of relocation sometimes negatively affected by a depressed real estate market. During the two years I spent assigning corporate transferees to my relocation-specialist agents, stories varied greatly as to the effect the transferee's hometown market had their transfer and his/her ability to purchase a home here immediately.

In one case, the transferee's home had been on the market for over a year, with many price reductions and no bites. Unable to make an offer here with a home-sale contingency, the buyer had to enter into temporary housing, ultimately commuting once a week to visit his wife and children in Illinois.

The market here in Metro Milwaukee was rife with both buyers and listings. It was a good place for us agents. Ultimately, sellers were indeed in the driver's seat and often scoffed at home-sale contingencies.

Now, because of the deviation in the market and an increase in inventory, sellers are more amenable to contingencies and even will offer to sweeten the pot. Think, "seller incentives."

But, in spite of the losses many have experienced, some things never change. If a home is priced right, is in good condition and happens to be in the right location, competitive offers still occur.

I speak from experience. For over a year and a half, my business partner and I spent time house-hunting with my cousin, his wife and two children. Four out of eight offers we submitted were lost in competition to higher bids.

Keep in mind that this took place in the summer of 2007, when the media began relentlessly reminding us about declining market conditions and the unbelievable bargains that could be found in the new "buyer's market."

Those "deals" escaped my cousin, however. He ended up buying in a completely different community than planned. And, he paid full price for their lovely new home.

Recently, following a six-month stint as the project sales director for a major condominium conversion, I have returned to the sales side of the relocation business. As a relocation specialist, working directly with transferees again, I have witnessed why this remains a lucrative and positive side of the real estate industry.

During my six months at the condo project, I closed 18 units in the building, many of which were sold as second homes and to transferring executives.

In January of this year, a transferee client found her perfect home here on day two of our home search. She listed her downtown Chicago condo that same day and had an accepted offer on it within one week. Hardly a bad experience.

A second relocating executive client, has been working with me on finding a home since early December. He had the pleasure of being able to be choosy in a market loaded with listings in his price range. In mid-April, on his third weekend visit here, he settled on a home in a popular suburb north of Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, his home in Atlanta sits without an offer after several weeks on the market. He does have one advantage, though, and it's yet another benefit of being relocated.

As part of his relocation package, he was given the ability to attempt a 30-day self-marketing listing of his home. If the home doesn't sell within that period, his company purchases the home from him, based on appraised value.

Essentially, he was free to purchase a home on this end without a home-sale contingency. Definitely a plus in what's starting out to be a resurgent spring market here.

Finally, in February I took on a high-end listing on Milwaukee's fashionable East Side. Right out of the chute, we had very positive showing feedback regarding the condition, the updates and the pricing. Several buyers came back for second, third and even fourth showings. The fourth time was the charm! Within six weeks of our listing start date, we had an accepted offer.

Incidentally, my sellers happen to be relocating to Nevada. Coincidentally, the buyer is relocating to Milwaukee from another community.

Ultimately, each of these successful transactions can be attributed in one way or another to a relocation. It's an area of this business that's been good to me, as well as to my clients. It might just be the one segment of the industry that could be called "recession-proof."

All is not doom and gloom in real estate!