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By Mike Cooper | Broker in Winchester, VA
  • Consider a local bank on your next home purchase. You'll be glad you did.

    Posted Under: General Area in Winchester, Home Buying in Winchester, Investment Properties in Winchester  |  May 30, 2014 4:38 PM  |  81 views  |  No comments

    Home-buyers, consider giving small local banks a try before going to the national brands when buying a home. Why? There are a lot of reasons, but better customer service, quick access to the same people you worked with when you took out your loan and competitive rates and fees are a few. One additional reason is that local banks rarely have the challenges you face with a large national banks. Let me give you a list of experiences I've had over the past year to explain.

    Bank short sales are the bane of the real estate business. I've done a lot of them, and I've dealt with a lot of different banks, but the two banks that have given my clients (who were their customers) the highest levels of stress have been J. P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America. Both banks have dragged my clients through more mud than a Spartan Race. They have abused them during a terribly difficult time at such high levels that some have required medication to deal with the stress. That's just not right.

    Over the past year, I have had two insane experiences with two other large banks. In one case, I had a morning closing, and I also had an afternoon closing scheduled with clients who had a Wells Fargo loan commitment. During the morning closing I received an email from Wells Fargo stating that they had rescinded my client's loan approval on the day of closing. Why?

    They rescinded his loan approval because the investor / owner ratio exceeded their criteria for his condo purchase. The odd thing about that situation was that they had that information for a month prior to closing, but on the day of closing while my client was traveling up the east coast to close on his property, they pulled the rug out from under him. Fortunately, I had a good friend, Mark Lynch with Prime Lending, who was able to get things back on course and saved the day.

    This week, I had a Friday closing scheduled for a property that has been under contract for 45 days. In this case, BB&T was the lender. On Wednesday, BB&T rescinded my client's loan approval, 2 days before closing, because they didn't like the way she is paid. Her commission income, which they knew about from day one, violated their guidelines. Two days before closing! Again, I turned to my friend,Mark Lynch, who once again saved the day. 

    What do all of these stories have in common? They are large banks that have thousands of customers and very little customer service or concern about damaging a few customers here and there. They don't need you, so they don't treat you with the same level of dignity and respect that a small local bank would. When you get ready to make your next mortgage application, call your local bank and see how they compare to the "to big to fail" behemoths who could not care less about you.

  • Winchester, VA Real Estate Market: First Quarter 2014

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Winchester, Home Selling in Winchester, Foreclosure in Winchester  |  May 3, 2014 3:56 PM  |  155 views  |  No comments

    Winchester, VA Real Estate Market: First Quarter 2014

    The Winchester, VA real estate market took a hit from the extended winter weather, but it's not nearly as bad as you might think. Nationwide, the real estate has been mixed this year. There are pockets that are on fire, and there are areas that haven't adequately recovered from the recession.

    Winchester, VA real estate has made a slow, but steady, climb out of the recession. The number for foreclosures and short sales sold in the first quarter have dropped from the 2013 numbers. In 2013, short sales made up 9% of the overall sales in the first quarter. That number dropped to 4.5% in the first quarter of 2014. That's a substantial movement year to year.

    Another positive change has been in foreclosures. Foreclosures in the first quarter of 2013 were 21% of overall sales. There has been a noticeable drop in the first quarter of 2014 to 15%. That's a great sign. A year to year change of a 31% drop in foreclosures with 48% drop in short sales is a sign of a market seeking equilibrium.

    The first quarter total sales were down 17% from 2013, but the weather is most likely the biggest reason for that. Snow as still falling in early April. Last year at that same time, the Winchester, VA real estate market was in full swing with one of the hottest Springs since the recession began.

    Distressed properties (short sales and foreclosures) made up 20% of all sales in the first quarter. In the first quarter of 2013, distressed properties totaled 30% of all sales. You can see the trend changing from distressed properties to standard fair market sales. Even if sales are down slightly, the sales that are taking place are moving toward fair market and away from distressed sales.

     Winchester, VA Real Estate Market: First Quarter 2014

    Originally posted at: http://activerain.trulia.com/blogsview/4385809/winchester--va-real-estate-market--first-quarter-2014#17801681

  • Seller's, if there is a remote chance your home will need to go into a short sale, do these things.

    Posted Under: Home Selling in Winchester  |  March 23, 2014 12:12 PM  |  205 views  |  No comments

    Seller's, if there is a remote chance your home will need to go into a short sale, investigate early, keep your file for submission ready continuously and act quickly when you know. That's the advice a client of mine ignored for the first 4 months I had his house listed.

    He desperately needed to sell his home. It was a wonderful home. Under the right conditions, it should sell easily and quickly. When I activated his listing, he called me within the hour to say he wanted to raise the price. I had done extensive research showing where it was most likely to sell. He knew his new price was out of range of the comps and I explained that with the inventory in his neighborhood it would likely sit, and it did.

    For months, I pleaded with him to go with a short sale because his house was never going to sell at the price listed. It wasn't radically overpriced (right at 6% above the market), but the sale range was very tight and specific. His neighborhood had a dozen properties sell during those first four months, and everyone was within the range of the comps shown to him in the very beginning.

    When he finally decided to seek a short sale, he was granted permission, but the bank would only allow a short window to get it sold. He received a contract right away, but he was slow getting some of his necessary paperwork in and the bank rejected the offer and canceled his short sale.

    We immediately went back to work to get it back into a short sale. This time, my client was on top of things and got all of his paperwork in on time. An offer was made, and the process was moving along smoothly. A few days before closing, the buyer walked. It had only been 40 days from contract to proposed closing, but she had a family emergency that caused her to give up on the house.

    We went back on the market, and we received another contract immediately. This time, the clock ran out. The bank was tired of messing with the short sale, rejected the great offer and encouraged the client to do a deed in lieu of foreclosure. If he had sought a short sale early, he would have made it across the finish line months ago. But, because he hesitated, because he didn't take it seriously and because he assumed he knew more about the market than the professionals he will either do a deed in lieu or get foreclosed.

    Seller's, if there's chance you will need to do a short sale, approach it early. Otherwise, you're likely to lose more money on a home that will end in foreclosure.

    Seller's, if there is a remote chance your home will need to go into a short sale, do these things.


  • Buyers, skip the pre-qualification letter and go straight to the pre-approval letter.

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Winchester, Investment Properties in Winchester  |  February 24, 2014 12:04 PM  |  250 views  |  1 comment

    Buyers, skip the pre-qualification letter and go straight to the pre-approval letter. A pre- qualification letter is the minimum you will need to put a contract on a house, but you would be wise to skip that process altogether and sit with a lender and get pre-approved for a loan.

    In the post-2008 real estate meltdown, home-sellers and banks selling foreclosures and short sales want to know that you're truly qualified to buy a property before they agree to accept your offer. There is no reason to take a property off the active market if the buyer isn't actually qualified to buy it. 

    A pre-qualification is likely your lender's first contact with you. During that conversation, the lender will make an assessment of your buying power through a series of questions. Based upon what you tell him/her, he or she will make a preliminary assessment of your financial viability. Granted, it is only a preliminary assessment. 

    The pre-approval will require documentation, confirmation of income, savings and the capacity to buy. It's the next step in the home-buying process, but you can make it the first step with your lender. When a real estate offer to purchase is delivered to a home-seller or a bank, the difference between the two letters will be big. A buyer who can prove he is qualified will be granted more consideration than one who might be able to buy. 

    So, do yourself a favor and skip the pre-qualification letter and go straight to the pre-approval letter. If the market heats up and bidding wars become the norm, you'll be ahead of those bidders who are only offering similar contracts with a pre-qualification letter only.  

  • My Ten Promises to My Real Estate Clients

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Winchester, Home Selling in Winchester  |  February 23, 2014 5:52 AM  |  264 views  |  2 comments

    When I work with a client, whether it's a buyer or seller, there are certain promises that I can make that I never deviate from. Real estate, like any profession, has its high points and its low points. There are companies and agents who operate like true pros throughout the entire process, and there are those who are looking for a fast check for a limited amount of work.

    I believe that second group is the minority, but they get a lot of attention when they abuse their clients, and that makes all of us look bad. When I work with a client, I can promise:

    • I will always be honest. That means, if I think a lowball offer doesn't stand a chance of succeeding, I will tell you. I will still write the contract if you insist, but I will caution you before it's submitted. I will also tell you what I think you need to do to sell your house for the maximum amount. 
    • I will steer you to the best professional services I'm aware of to get your repairs and upgrades done. I will only steer you to people I have found to be honest, professional and a good value for the service. My license prohibits me from sending you to service providers who will kickback money to me. So, that means I have nothing to gain from recommending a service provider to you except to see you get the best service possible for the money. I rate my recommendations on three criteria. First, they must be honest. Second, they must be skilled, and third, they must provide a good service for the money. 
    • I will always work hard to get you the best deal. That means I will do everything possible to get you the most money for your sale. I will also do what I can to make sure you spend the least amount of money for your purchase. If a property is overpriced, I will tell you before you make an offer. I will do the same thing if you try to overprice your property.
    • I will make every effort to educate you through the entire process. I know that Realtor-ese can be confusing at times. My goal is to make sure you know what's going on at all times. I only ask that if you don't understand something that you ask for clarification. I'm happy to give it.
    • I will keep you up to date as much as possible as things unfold. You'll need to let me know what level of communication you want when we begin. If nothing is happening, I may not call you and tell you that nothing is happening, but if that makes you feel better, I will.
    • I will point out things that I think you need to consider when looking at a house. Since I am also a Virginia Contractor, I have no concerns about telling you if I see construction issues that need to be considered. A cracked foundation may be settling cracks, or they may be something more serious. If I see something, I will likely say something. I want your home-buying experience to end with a great deal, not a great deal of headaches.
    • I will protect you from unscrupulous sellers, buyers, agents, lenders and closing companies. If I think someone is trying to take advantage of you, I will tell you. I've learned a lot of tricks over 20 years as a real estate investor. I can pick them up with little effort when I see someone else trying to use them to manipulate you throughout a deal.
    • I will recommend the best lenders and best closing agents if you need that guidance. Here again, I use the best. The professionals I recommend, I also use for my own personal business needs. If I trust them, you can trust them.
    • I will answer or return your calls, return your emails and respond to your texts as quickly as possible. I am not an abscentee agent once we sign a few documents. You can contact me anytime if you need something.
    • I will always look out for your best interests. Your success is my success. I take it very personal when you trust me with your real estate needs, and I will do everything in my power to see that your experience is the very best I can provide.

    The real estate business is a pretty diversified business, but it is still a people and service business. It is always my goal to see that my clients get the very best service they can because they are always the very best people.

    When you're ready to buy or sell, make sure to call Cornerstone Business Group, Inc., (888-722-6029) for exceptional service every time.

     My Ten Promises to My Real Estate Clients

  • Sellers, take this test before listing your home.

    Posted Under: Home Selling in Winchester  |  February 22, 2014 3:12 PM  |  242 views  |  No comments

    Before you list your house, let me challenge you to a test. One of the biggest difficulties to selling a house is emotion. Over the course of living in a home, memories are formed, events take place, upgrades are completed and the house becomes a part of who you are. You tend to associate your home with who you are.

    That's good and bad. If you have great tastes and you have the ability and resources to renovate and improve a house with class and style you may actually turn a plain vanilla house into a decadent delight. But, that doesn't mean you will get a return on all of your handy work. Actually, you may only spend money that you will never get back. Then again, you may reap a sizable reward depending on where and how that time and money was spent.

    My test for you is this, walk through your house as if you were going to buy it. As an unbiased buyer, you have nothing invested in the property. It is a blank canvas to you. There is no emotion as you cross the threshold of the door. It's someone elses home, and you're looking at it as a home-buyer. 

    Would the colors make you want to paint, or would you be satisfied with them? Would that scratch on the hardwood floors turn you on or off? Would you want to immediately update the kitchen, bath or master bedroom? Would the unfinished basement make you want to start hammering studs into place? Would you love the views? Or, would you want to cut down those overgrown bushes out front? 

    A buyer doesn't know the blood sweat and tears you've put into your home, and the truth is, they don't care. It's not personal for them. The improvements you made are something you did for your own pleasure, and a buyer may come in and undo them for their pleasure. Selling a house is a matter of separating emotions from realities. Sold comparibles in an area are a better predictor of a sales price than the love you put into a house. Look at your house as an unemotional buyer. Now, what do you see?

    Sellers, take this test before listing your home.

  • The debate over online leads continues

    Posted Under: Agent2Agent in Winchester  |  February 19, 2014 12:55 PM  |  264 views  |  2 comments

    There is a lot of talk about the quality of leads on the Internet. Some camps believe that the Internet provides poor quality leads, is expensive and should be avoided, and others believe that Internet is a great source for high quality leads. The truth is, they're both right. 

    The Internet is like any social club, church group or sports league. There are people in all of those areas that are qualified buyers / sellers, and there are those who are not. I'm not a big pay-per-click person, but I do love advertising on the Internet. 

    Currently, 80+% of my new customers come through the web. My referrals and sphere of influence are picking up steam and are starting to challenge my web statics, but the Internet has been a boon for our company. 

    What I would encourage every agent to do is:

    • Do a Google search on every company who offers you products over the web that are supposed to bring you leads. Agents are not shy about flaming a company that is all talk and no closings. I don't blame them. I do the same.
    • Ask friends, who use the web, what they use. A successful agent who has had great results is more valuable than a slick online salesman.
    • Get the details. I don't do any 6 month commitments any longer. If a company can't produce a closed sale in less than 6 months, they aren't worth the price of admission.
    • Avoid compaines that offer to put you in front of asset managers for a fee. Companies like Lamco, REOpro Corp, REOrainmaker, USHud (new ones are popping up all the time) and others are hawking their prowess, but their online reviews show that most agents spend a lot of money and get no sales. Don't pay for listings. I've sold a lot of foreclosures. Every company that I've sold for, found me. I didn't even know who some of them were until we talked the first time. 
    • Cut your loses quick. If you don't get a good lead in 30 days, cut your loses and move on. I had one company when I was younger that kept telling me it normally takes 90 days to get your first solid lead. Really? So, after I've spent a gazillion dollars for your pathetic service, I can re-coup a few dollars? No thanks. I have other more profitable methods of marketing. 
    • When you advertise online, be sure to answer your phone. I typically answer within 5 minutes of every online lead. Good leads almost always stick with me to a closing. They are also shocked that I answered the phone. 
    • Pick and chose what leads you want to work with. I don't run out into the mountains for the guy who wants the $29000 home. It doesn't pay. So, be wise in which ones you chose. Someone who is looking for that super cheap house is probably super cheap. If you can't fuel your car to do a showing, it's not worth your time responding to the lead. I always pull the listing to see what the commission split is before I head out to show a property. If it's 2.5% on a low priced house, I don't go. If I can't make the numbers work, I don't invest my time and money. Don't worry about that client, I can guarantee you that individual has probably sent notes to 20 other agents. One will respond.

    Don't be afraid to use the web to build your business. It has changed the way I do business, and I'm glad I didn't hide from it. A high percentage of my 2013 sales were web-specific sales. I met some amazing people and it helped us have our second best year since 2008.

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