This week Bruce is joined by Mike Novak-Smith. Mike has been a household name in the REO business since the 90s. He has gained national recognition for his work in the REO industry.
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Mike reads a lot and he pays attention to the market. He viewed REOs as a way to survive every month. He knew that if he got 2.5 percent of the deals on the market, then he could make the house and car payment. Once he started doing it, he liked it, because it was more like a business than chasing deals. The audition for the business was hard, but once you have experience, its much less stressful.
There are a few surprises for agents wanting to get into the REO business. First, you have to do a lot of work. Second, you have to put out a lot of money to get properties sold. Third, you get treated rather harshly, because the people you work with are busy and they don’t have time to sugar coat their messages to you. A lot of people can’t wait to be an REO agent, until they become one. You have to be a superior skill level to do REO work in comparison to retail work. It is a very competitive business. If you make a mistake, there are 100 people who want your place.
In the 90s, the peak years for Mike were from 96 to 98. Mike had been in the business for a few years prior to 91 doing retail jobs. All the way through January, 2004, he had a lot of REO deals. From 04 to 05, he did not have any REO deals.
In 2003, Mike closed 110 REO deals. When the REO deals started drying up, Mike was one of the last people his clients were using. When the REO deals came back in 2005, he had 3 REOs within the first month.
Most of the people that Mike knew from the 90s have moved onto bigger things. If they did well during that time period, then they probably moved up to corporate positions.
In the 90s, much of Mike’s inventory consisted of new 4 bedroom, 3 bath houses. Mike gets a lot of new homes as well. He even gets homes that haven’t finished construction.
Currently, Mike’s business is somewhat unpredictable. He might have a several week period where he gets a large number of REO deals, but then the following week he will get zero. This could be a function of the trustee sales changing their bid prices.
The people REO brokers work with do not entirely know the policies of their employees. You hear a lot of rumors, but the only people who really know, are the ones working at the top of the business. Mike occasionally receives calls from corporate leaders in which they ask for his opinion on certain policy changes. Mike does not believe that anyone has complete control over policy changes, because the government makes frequent policy changes as well.
At the peak of this cycle, Mike had over 900 files, and maybe 600 active files in the MLS. Currently, properties spend months in preparation before being listed. Once they are listed, they usually sell fairly quickly.
Properties now require a bit of time before they become vacant. Occupants understand now that they can get money to move out. The magic number for convincing an occupant to move out tends to be between $2,000 to $4,000. Some of these occupants have severe financial problems, but for many of them, its just a game.
The length of time it takes for a property to become an REO after delinquency is 15-18 months. When the property actually goes into foreclosure, the renting tenants are often surprised. Mike advises renters to get their rental property from a broker who manages rentals. Don’t try to just rent a house off of CraigsList. Quite frequently, people will begin renting a house and end up in foreclosure two months later. Bruce was once personally asked by his own potential tenants if he had a loan on the rental house and if it was current. These renters had obviously had this experience in the past.
Most asset managers now communicate through proprietary websites. Offers come in electronically through email. There is not a lot of verbal communication, and fax machines aren’t being used either.
Asset managers have the power to take offers when the asking price is normal, but when an offer is unusual, then the offer must be taken to the next level.
When Mike gets a listing, he often gets the property directly from the lender, but there are also many properties that are outsourced to other companies. Some lenders have received too many REOs for their own labor force, so they have to outsource their work. Outsourcers typically use the same system as the lender.
Mike gets paid back 99 percent of the time if he follows the lenders standards. You cannot do all the work yourself. You must have staff to take on the work load of an REO agent. As an REO broker, you wear many hats, and accountant is one of them.
In 2007, lenders were openly admitting that they would list their properties with the highest broker opinion. Bruce believed that was the perfect system to fail. Lenders have now become more willing to listen to reasonable BPOs, and they often ask for multiple price opinions. Many BPOs today are being performed by inexperienced brokers who will do the work for cheap. Mike thinks this is unwise. When BPOs are done by experienced brokers, the price opinions usually come out fairly similar.
Short sales are becoming more popular right now. Mike closed a couple short sales last year, and he is doing more right now. He does not prefer short sale deals, because those deals can often take more time than they are worth. Bruce is confounded by the length of time required to do a short sale. Short sales should not take six months to finish. The last short sale Mike finished took six weeks to close. Many short sales involve PMI companies, loan investors, servicers, and possibly an HOA law suit. You have to get all the people involved in the deal to take a loss, and that negotiation takes some time.
There is no compensation for an REO broker until he finishes the short sale. Someone getting into the short sale business could be six months away from a check for every deal they work with. If the broker cannot get someone to help with the paper work, then that short sale is not worth the time.
Mike sees REO levels increasing in 2011. These REOs will come from failed loan modifications and state programs. Short sales will probably increase as well. In the 90s, short sales were very popular, but loan servicers and investors eventually realized that it was easier just to foreclose, because then they could control the process.
Right now, if an inexperience broker attempts to perform a short sale, they often take up to six months to get the deal done. When this happens, the loan servicer will choose to have an REO.
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