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The 10 Biggest Mistakes Note Brokers Make

During the last several years I have tried to determine “What makes the best note brokers successful?”

I have personally had the benefit of seeing the industry from a wide variety of views. From start-up home based broker to Assistant Vice President of Metropolitan Mortgage, and co-owner of Diversified Investment Services, I have seen the cash flow industry from all perspectives. I could spend hours discussing the positive traits that the best brokers in the country posses.  For the purpose of this article, I would like to mention what I feel are the biggest mistakes brokers make. Individually, these are not huge problems. However, if you find yourself having trouble with several of these, you could be missing out on a lot of money making opportunities.

1. Not Knowing Why the Note Holder is Selling

If you do not know the answer to this question, you have already begun an uphill battle to purchase the note. How can you possibly structure a purchase to take care of the sellers needs if you do not know what those needs are? All sellers WANT a full, 100 cents on the dollar purchase. What they will ACCEPT may be something entirely different . I once dealt with a seller that was shopping his 100K note. He told every broker he wanted a full purchase. Everyone offered him 80K – 85K. (A 15K – 20K discount.) It turned out that after I spoke with the seller I found out all he NEEDED was $11,500 to go on a cruise. A simple partial. I couldn’t believe that none of the other brokers (5 of them) had taken the time to find out “why” he was selling. There are almost an unlimited number of ways to purchase a note. Your job is to determine which method will work best for your seller. You can not do that without knowing their needs.

2. Quoting Without Seeing the Documents

The industry seems split on this subject. Some brokers believe that you must have the documents in hand to quote (“no note, no quote” policy). Other brokers simply give quotes all day on the phone without seeing any documents. I have done both and I can tell you the advantage to seeing the documents in advance is twofold. One, you have a more committed seller. If the seller took the time to send you the documents, you know they are at least somewhat serious about selling their note. Secondly, you know you are dealing with accurate information. Often the seller will not remember the correct payment amount or that there was a balloon or bump payment. Additionally, quoting the deal without seeing the Payors credit is a big problem as well. Some brokers feel it is necessary, others do not. More deals are cut due to the credit worthiness of the Payor than any other reason. The credit may also determine what yield you will get from an investor. If you quote “assuming” good credit, you will find yourself in a numerous amount of re-bidding situations that you could have avoided by obtaining the credit report up front.

3. Not Knowing All Of the Ways to Purchase a Note

With increased competition, a simple full or partial purchase may not get you the deal. You need to know ALL of the purchasing programs that are available to you. You may use each purchasing method only once or twice a year, but it will be the difference in your buying more deals and outbidding your competition by a significant percentage.

4. Poor Packaging

Packaging is your opportunity to sell the deal to the investor. Too many brokers neglect this step. Your packaging may determine; How much will be paid for the deal, if the deal will be purchased, how you are perceived as a broker, and how fast the deal will close. It does not do you any good if you find great deals all day long but cannot package them in a way that the investor can see that. A large number of deals are not purchased simply because the broker did not take the time to put together a complete package.

5. Letting the Seller Control Your Negotiations

Remember that you are dealing with the art of negotiation. You want to maintain control at all times and keep it conversational. Do not appear too desperate. You want to make the deal, but the more matter of fact you can make the conversation (as if you do this all the time) the better off you are. Additionally, be prepared to walk away. If the seller is pushing for an unrealistic price, let them know. If you can not come to an agreement, leave the door open for the seller to come back. Often they will.

6. Poor Marketing

This one seems obvious. The important thing to remember is “cost effective” marketing. You may be getting some response from an ad in a certain paper, but is it cost effective? Many brokers continue a specific marketing method that has long since panned out, but they stay with it for emotional reasons. Be prepared to keep moving. If you do not, you may go broke before you ever get enough deals.

7. Telephone Skills

Remember that you are running a business. No matter how many times I have heard this said, I can still call a broker, get a machine and hear dogs barking or children in the background. If I hear it, so does their note seller. Doesn’t instill a lot of confidence, does it? Always be professional!

8. Shopping the Note

This is something that just makes a broker look bad. Know your investors and what they will purchase. If you send out 10 requests for a quote and choose one of them, you still have nine other investors that wonder where the deal went. Not a big problem on one transaction, but if you get the reputation for sending them all over, it is difficult for the other 9 investors to take you seriously.

9. Incorrect Balances

This occurs when the broker simply takes the word of the seller on what the current balance of the note is without checking. Often when a file is closing and the documents are being prepared, it becomes obvious that you are dealing with an incorrect balance amount. You must, at that time, search out the correct balance information; thereby causing delays in your closing & possible price adjustments.

10. Keeping Your Word

If you say you are going to call a seller on Tuesday with appraisal results, call them back on Tuesday. Even if you do not have the results, call them. Simply state that the results are not in. Waiting an extra couple days makes you look unprofessional. In this case, you could not control a late appraisal, but you can control your calling the seller as promised and let them know the status. Also, by keeping them involved and aware of what is going on, your seller will be more cooperative down the line.

The 10 Commandments of Note Negotiations

Negotiation is one of the hardest areas in any industry. It can reduce a top-level executive into a sputtering seven-year-old. Negotiation doesn’t need to be a mysterious intangible entity. The information on negotiation is out there, it is just not as easy to put on paper as sample letters or how to use a calculator. Negotiation is about people and the ability to fill their needs. These are my “Cash Flow Note Negotiation Commandments” if you will.

I have condensed these into smaller bite sized pieces that can be used now.  Your ability to negotiate will be determined by your capability to excel in the following areas that are explored in this two-part article series on negotiation.

1. Never Negotiate – What? I am going to give you a two-part article dealing with negotiation and the first thing I tell you is not to negotiate? Well, in a word, yes. The word “negotiation” needs to be re-invented. If you tell two people to “negotiate” over the price of a used auto, the seller may say “$4,500”. The buyer then says “$4,000”. The seller then counters with “$4,300”. Then the buyer says “$4,150”, etc, etc. This isn’t negotiation; it is a bidding circle. The price becomes some intangible object that the buyer and seller will stumble on at some point in time. That is not what you want. Your buy price is not necessarily up for negotiation. It may be up for discussion, but not negotiation. If you are buying a note, your price should be what the note is worth (I tend to like “market value of your note”). Make no mistake, the seller does not want to have a bidding war either. They just need to know that they are getting a fair price for their note and not getting ripped off. In other words, they do not want to sell their note for $40,000 and find out that they could have got $50,000 for it. One of the hottest marketing ideas to alleviate this problem came from the Saturn Car Company. Saturn came out with set (non-negotiable) prices on their cars. Whatever the price posted was how much you paid whether you lived in Milwaukee, WI or Wells, NV. You were not going to go back and forth on a price with some mysterious man behind the curtain and you will have paid the same as the next guy three towns over. They sold a ton of cars not because people necessarily loved Saturns but they knew they were getting the correct (fair market) price.

2. It Has Nothing To Do With The Note – The sooner you understand this point, the better. This is the essence of all negotiation. In the case of a note holder, the note is just a piece of paper. It is the proof or legal document that entitles them to receive a certain cash flow. Selling the note is not the issue. Giving up that piece of paper is no different than handing you a discarded piece of Kleenex. The issue is what does that paper represent or what does that piece of paper enable them to get? Of course the seller wants money, but money (in its paper form) is not the need. The need is what that money gets them. A new home? A college education for their child? A trip around the world? A way out of that sticky IRS lien? Pay medical bills? Whatever the need is…that is what the real issue is. The issue is, can you fill that need by accepting their note as a trade?

3. If The Deal Is Good…Tell Them – Remember that the seller may not know you from Adam. When they talk to you for the first time they are nervous and possibly afraid. They need to sell what may be their only asset. They have all seen 60 Minutes and know that there are a lot of scams out there and they need to know if they can trust you. Building a relationship will be key in your success and nothing will build or destroy it faster than your level of honesty. I am thrilled when I quickly learn that the seller has a good note (ie: good seasoning, down payment, credit, interest rate, whatever) and I TELL THEM! When you tell a seller it sounds as though they have a great note, they are more apt to believe that you are being fair and honest with them. I always point out the good things in the note (first) before mentioning the bad things. You don’t want your seller under the impression that you are just trying to belittle their note to get it at a huge discount. As a side note, this is one of the best times to get an understanding of “why” they are selling the note. “This seems like a great note Mr. Jones, why would you want to sell it?” You will be amazed how many times the seller just comes right out and tells you their need.

4. If possible…Agree – This one is simple. If you have an opportunity, agree with the seller. If the seller says it is lousy that they need to sell the note at a discount, agree. If the seller wishes that the transaction could close faster, agree. The more you can agree with your seller and what they are going through, the more they will believe that you are on their side. This “positioning” will be invaluable when it comes time to mention something they may not agree with. Not to mention they may be more willing to agree with you if they feel as though all along you are on the same page and you haven’t placed yourself in an adversarial role.

5. When To Be The Decision Maker – It is easy to want to be the top dog when you are buying a deal. You may want your seller to think he/she is dealing with someone who can make all decisions on their file including the price. Certainly, that is the only way to handle some sellers. However, I have found for the most part, it is better to have someone else making the final decision. You need to position yourself to be on the seller’s side. That you are trying to get them every penny you can for their note. The perception should be that you are taking their deal to some “investment committee” that will make the final decision and that you will get them (the seller) as much as possible. I used to tell sellers that it wasn’t my money (which back then, it wasn’t). That my job was to spend (invest) the investors’ money. So, short of going to Nordstrom, I needed to get that investor’s money out and I will get them every penny I can. This “positioning” will also work well when you need to rebid due to a poor appraisal or credit. You can go back and sympathize with the seller that the value came in low and that the “investment committee” needs to cut the deal. You can even say that the committee didn’t want the deal at all but you did get them to invest XXXX dollars. Sometimes you need to be the great “decision maker” but for the most part, it is just more important that the seller feels you are fighting for them.

6. Know your seller – Sounds pretty basic doesn’t it? Understand that for the most part, a seller will not deal with someone they dislike or don’t trust. Short of the seller needing money for a heart transplant on Monday, you won’t get the deal unless you have some relationship or trust with the seller. When I say, “know your seller,” I mean that the more personal your deal becomes the better chance you have of it succeeding. Some of the best brokers spend a considerable amount of time on the phone never talking about the deal (or note). They talk about the weather. They talk about the kids. They talk about what selling the note will buy them. All this small talk helps you form some connection with the seller that is imperative especially if you need to go back and restructure the deal for one reason or another. I always kept all my seller’s names in a database. When I purchased deals direct, I would speak with 30-50 sellers per week. The odds of me remembering a person right away when they called three weeks later was pretty tough. Perhaps Mrs. Jones was going on a camping trip for couple weeks. I simply wrote in my notes “went camping / she will call in 2 weeks”. Now, two weeks and 100 calls later Mrs. Jones calls in. If my assistant tells me Mrs. Jones is on the phone I punch in Mrs. Jones on the computer and pick up the phone. “Hi Mrs. Jones, how was the camping trip?”. For that one moment, Mrs. Jones is the only person in my world (not to mention she is somewhat impressed). I would put the smallest notes down if I thought they were important to the seller. Hates Cats. Likes Fishing. Loves the Green Bay Packers (did they win last week?). Loves to Golf. Whatever. One last note. This is not some fancy form of manipulation. You need to honestly care about these people, you are just using technology to help you remember and “know” your seller.

7. Price – I mentioned in last month’s article about how NOT to negotiate. So, let me say that round numbers (such as $45,000) scream that this deal is up for negotiation and no seller will believe that you “rounded” the number in their favor. I always, always, break the offer down to the penny. Some brokers break it down to an odd dollar amount and that is OK too. For example, $45,127.00 sounds like a real thought out number. $45,127.39 sounds like you got them every penny possible. I have had numerous sellers joke about the pennies. I simply say that “Hey, it’s your .39, I would be glad to round the number for you…say $45,000?” They usually laugh and we all understand that I have put as much money on the table as possible. Which, and I believe I mentioned this last month, leads them to believe they are getting a fair, well-calculated, offer.

8. Are you the only game in town? – Is your seller shopping? Are you up against several other brokers on this deal? This is something you must know. If there is competition involved you may wish to focus on your ability to close faster or your experience in the industry or your being “local”. You are not always able to ascertain whether you are “in competition” for a deal but there are ways to try and find out. Certainly, if a seller calls you and rattles off all the parameters of their note, tells you they are not interested in a “partial” and wants to be sure that you pay title and appraisal fees you can bet that most likely they have already talked to another broker. How would they know about “partials”? Most sellers are not ready to rattle off all the note parameters unless they just had to on the last phone call. Just because you are in competition with someone for the deal does not mean that you have to run and hide (provided your bid is competitive) …just be aware. Spend more time trying to build a relationship of trust with the seller. I have made plenty of deals where I was not the highest dollar bid, but did sound like the most capable of getting the job done quickly and professionally.

9. Be willing to walk away – Although this leans more towards an article regarding tactics, I thought I had better mention it here. You have to be willing to let a deal go. When I first started I wanted very much to make every deal. I needed to make the deal and pay bills. I will tell you right now that sellers can sense this. Sometimes, oddly enough, the best defense is a good offense. Occasionally I have held firm on an offer to a seller. If I know my offer to be fair and competitive, I may not budge even faced with the fact that I may lose the deal. More often than not, the very nature of my holding firm has lead potential sellers to believe that I must really be offering what the note is worth and that the transaction is truly not up for “negotiation”. In the same vein, if you can’t do the deal, or it just doesn’t make financial sense to the seller, tell them. “If you don’t need the money right now, I wouldn’t sell and take this kind of a discount”. Many sellers have replied “But I do need the money right now”. You now have a motivated seller.

10. A confused mind says “no” – Regardless of whatever field you are in, there is extreme danger in presenting too many options. We have all been there, wanting to show someone just how much we know. I have seen many brokers run out and want to dazzle their client with their amazing calculator skills. They present the seller with anywhere from 5-9 options of how they can buy their note. It is much like walking into the Food Court in one of these Super Malls nowadays. Too many choices. I can’t decide what to eat with all those choices so I just go home and make a sandwich. Your seller is not much different. By showing them too many ways to sell their note, they just get confused (or think you are trying to confuse them) and they go home to make a sandwich. You want to keep things simple. If you are talking about notes, I give the seller a full sale option and two partials if possible. That’s it. I am available to tweak those options if they don’t exactly meet the sellers needs, but I did not confuse them out of the gate. Too much information will just confuse people. The same is true with your initial “agreements”. If your agreement to do the deal with the seller is 45 pages long with legal information that only a staff of professionals understands, then you need to revise it. The agreement should be one, unintimidating, page if possible and if you can not explain it to someone in plain English; try another version.

Widely recognized for his negotiation and deal structuring skills, Fred Rewey has worked with the most successful brokers in the industry today. From start-up home based broker to Assistant Vice President of Metropolitan Mortgage, Fred has seen the industry from all perspectives. Currently Fred provides valuable training to cash flow brokers through FindingCashFlowNotesTraining.com.

Note Broker Fees – Too Much or Not Enough?

(Reprinted from the October 1998 issue of The Cash Flow Connection Newsletter)

Negotiating the purchase of a cash flow note is about providing a service to sellers desiring cash rather than payments over time. While providing an essential service, the cash flow industry is also a for profit business. Cash flow brokers earn their profit through fees or spreads resulting from the difference between the price the seller agrees to accept and the amount an investor will pay. But how are these fees determined? Is there such a thing as making too much or too little? While these questions might be considered a “hot potato” they are certainly worth exploring to determine how we will individually conduct our business.

Determining the Fee Amount

Two of the most common questions posed by new brokers are “What is an average fee?” and “How much should I make?” The answer from experienced pros invariably contains the words “It depends.” And it does depend. The type of transaction, the amount of competition, the ease or difficulty of placing the paper with an investor, along with hard costs, overhead costs, and time involved in closing the transaction, are all influencing factors.

After viewing thousands of transactions I would venture to say that the current average fee on a typical $50,000 residential note runs between $2500 to $3200 (or 5-6%) before costs. If you factor costs in the approximate amount of $1100, comprising of $600 for title and appraisal plus $500 for overhead costs, this leaves a net spread or fee of $1400 to $2100 (3-4%). This is a very modest cost estimate and doesn’t take into account higher expenses for commercial appraisals, high premium title report states, a large staff, or expensive marketing campaigns.

These types of fees represent the bread and butter for many cash flow brokers. There are certainly instances where a much higher fee can be earned. A fee in excess of 10% is typically the result of a hard to place note resulting from defects in the title, property, or credit history of the payor. Higher fees are more frequently seen on commercial transactions due to the size, skill, and additional overhead required to close this sort of investment.

How much is too much?

Some might be quick to respond “There is no such thing” or “Take what you can get.”

Others may feel it is a mute issue since today’s competitive market has made it more and more difficult to score a “home run” on fees. While less frequent than in the past, opportunities to earn higher fees still present themselves. The prudent and ethical business person will ponder the question “How much is too much?”

Why care? First, there is the issue of ethics that any professional must adhere to. Second, if we don’t regulate our actions they could be regulated for us. Third, if you fail to determine an appropriate fee structure, it might be determined by your investor. Let’s explore these issues further.

The subject of ethics is often felt to be a personal one. The “Can I sleep at night?” test might work for some. However, to make the test more tangible, it becomes a matter of what a court will deem appropriate or unconscionable. Generally, only a person who feels they were treated unfairly or taken advantage of will seek justice in the court of law. Unconscionable action is defined as unreasonable or unscrupulous actions that are not guided by a conscience.

Unconscionable action can be subject to prosecution and sentencing for the charged party but the more global effect can result in an industry with a tarnished image that sets the stage for ensuing regulation. In reviewing such a case the court will look first to existing statute. Finding a highly unregulated industry, the court may look to what is customary in our industry or an industry deemed similar. They may consider the average fee of a mortgage broker (1-2%) or the standard commission charged by a realtor (6-8%) as a basis of comparison. The knowledge or sophistication of the seller would be another consideration. Someone could take it a step further and make it their personal mission to protect the public from unscrupulous actions by proposing specific regulation. Nothing will bring on regulation quicker than a grandmother in tennis shoes shouting foul play. Regulate your actions or have them regulated by others.

Some investors, realizing the potential for risk, have begun internal reviews on the amount of fees being earned by brokers. At least one investor has an internal policy that if a gross fee exceeds 20% of the amount being paid by the investor it must be reviewed by management for acceptability. A fee in excess of 20% could be justifiable once costs are calculated into the mix. For instance, there are often the same hard costs incurred on a small note as a large note which equates to a much higher percentage on a smaller note. However, if an investor feels there is potential liability in purchasing a note with a high broker fee they might suggest either a) the broker obtain the seller’s written acknowledgement of the fee; or 2) the broker purchase the note himself and age it for a period of 30-90 days prior to selling to an investor. These actions can provide protection to both the broker and the investor.

How much is not enough?

This might be an even harder question to answer than the first. Each person in business must decide on the price of goods or services they provide in order to meet overhead and make a living. This price can be dictated by the cash flow needs as well as competition. When dealing with this issue there are two important items to contemplate.

First, it is misleading to quote an unrealistically high price to the seller (translating into an unrealistically low fee for the broker) just to “bag the deal.” Unfortunately this is becoming a frequent strategy used in competitive markets to take a deal away from another broker quoting a realistic price. Sadly, the broker quoting the unrealistically high price knows they will cut the seller at the last minute yet have a high probability of keeping the deal due to a seller’s resistance to start over. Interestingly, the brokers using this tactic are often the same ones charging what could be considered unconscionable fees.

Second, don’t charge so little that you run yourself (and potentially other brokers) out of business. You are a professional charging for a specialized service. Take a moment to pencil out your hard costs and overhead costs. Once you have deducted these costs estimate the number of hours you will expend on the deal and divide it into your net fee. Basically, this is the price per hour you are working for. If it’s single digits you might as well work at the local fast food joint, at least they provide benefits plus discounts on greasy food, and you don’t have to pay for the food before you sell it. Value your time for yourself as well as the industry as a whole.

For now, fee determination is a personal decision for each independent operator. However, it serves us all to combine a healthy interest in profits with a genuine regard for the welfare of our industry and any role our actions may play.