Becoming a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac HomeSteps listing agent can be a rewarding experience for an agent or broker specializing in REO. The bar has been set high, however, and in order to list properties for the GSEs successfully, you’ll need to learn their practices and procedures inside and out. To give you a leg up, this month we spoke with Fannie Mae’s Mercedes Henriksson and HomeStep’s Sharon Bartlett. In our frank discussion, they covered everything from common agent mistakes, to how their agencies score and monitor listing agents, and everything in between.
Director of Loss Mitigation,
FORCE: What attributes does Fannie Mae value in a listing agent?
HENRIKSSON: Our agents are extremely important to us; we see this relationship as a partnership. We spend a lot of time focusing on improving it and enhancing our communication back and forth.
Overall, we expect them to manage their performance and by that we mean specifically adhere to goals that they may set or may be set out for them. We expect them to embrace performance feedback and participate in regular interaction with what we refer to as the sales rep and some of the other organizations refer to as asset managers.
Secondly, we expect our agents to act professionally. Although that may sound like a no brainer, it’s extremely important to us. We expect them to deliver superior customer service to our buyers. Meaning, not only to the person that’s going to buy the house but also to the buyer’s agent that may not be a Fannie Mae listing agent.
It’s important for us that our listing agents respond to agent and customer inquiries in a timely manner, and they support the exchange of data to all relevant parties across the organization. One of our main initiatives is the First Look program. It’s extremely important to us that the agents/brokers clearly understand our initiative in stabilizing neighborhoods and getting owner occupants into properties when at all possible.
FORCE: How does Fannie Mae measure the performance of their agent partners?
HENRIKSSON: We have a formal scorecard process in which agents get documented feedback and their scores in several categories. During Q 4 2014 our scorecard was enhanced, and in response, we held quite a few training sessions on the new metrics. We also have Webinars that are available to our agents for further clarification. The scorecard is not something we want our agent to take lightly. We want them to really take the numbers and continue to enhance wherever they can as it relates to the things we are focusing on.
Informally, as issues come up our sales reps and sales managers will schedule conference calls with the agents they are working with. Sometimes the conference calls are just informational to clarify a new policy or procedure. Other times it’s as a result of when we’ve been out in the market to do property inspections and we see some issues that touch the majority of the properties that we see.
It shouldn’t be a surprise for an agent when there’s an issue. They get ongoing feedback from us. When performance gets to the point that we are reconsidering providing additional assignments, there will be a performance conference call with the agent, and in some cases with the agent and the broker. The agent may be put on probationary status for a while to give them an opportunity to improve. An exception to this is if we find that somebody is clearly breaking the law. Obviously, we’re going to move much quicker and much swifter on this than if it’s just a performance issue that may be occurring due to lack of staff, new staff, or other things like that.
FORCE: What are the categories that are included in the agent scorecard?
HENRIKSSON: Our scorecard includes five different categories. All of the agents are measured the same way on all of these. So if there is a specific market issue in a given county, we are able to compare agents across MSA or city.
The Compliance category specifically speaks to how an agent is handling his or her tasks (things like contracts).
The Quality category refers to the marketing that agents do for us. Obviously there’s MLS, Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, and all those but our Fannie Mae property vehicle is Homepath.com. We closely monitor that to make sure our properties are being shown in the very best light. That Quality category also has information in regards to the sales representative’s feedback for how the agent is doing. At the end of each transaction (when the property closes) the sales rep gives their feedback on how that agent did. We also have a very robust secret shopper program. They go out and pretend that they’re buyers and they not only go to the listing agency but they’ll make phone calls and send emails to see how they’re getting responded to. All of that is in the quality metric.
The third category is Valuation. One of the first property activities that our agents do in that first category is preparing a BPO. It is very important to us to be able to properly assess the market value of our properties, so this scorecard category looks at how an agent’s BPO compares to how we filled the property on a price comparison.
Then we have an area called Execution that really looks at the average sales price compared to the original list price. And also how we’ve done in regards to bottom line price compared to repairs that we may have done to the properties, etc.
Last, but not least, there’s an Efficiency metric that refers to how long we were on listing status, how long it took the property to go under contract, and how long it took to actually close out and sell.
Director Vendor Services
and Operations Support at
Freddie Mac HomeSteps
FORCE: What standards do you have for agents who list your properties? What guidelines are they provided?
BARTLETT: HomeSteps has very specific requirements for its active listing brokers. These include proof of an active real estate broker license, a minimum of $500,000 Errors & Omissions insurance coverage, and active membership in good standing with MLS board(s) within the primary market area. Brokers must also have the financial capability to support ongoing expenses incurred while marketing properties and pass a background check.
In addition, the following criteria are beneficial:
- Three to five years REO experience (preferably with corporate sellers)
- Advanced BPO methodology
- Relevant and current knowledge of local market conditions, regulatory requirements, and industry trends
- Active and continuing REO education and/or certifications
Upon joining the HomeSteps listing broker network, all listing brokers are required to complete a series of online training courses. These courses lay the foundation for working with HomeSteps, and help prepare listing brokers for assignments. Additionally, the HomeSteps Broker/Vendor Guidebook provides ongoing guidance on each step of the process.
We encourage brokers interested in listing HomeSteps properties to learn more, and complete a Supplier Profile Questionnaire by visiting www.homesteps.com/ homesteps/real/working
FORCE: What should an agent’s top three properties be when managing REO properties?
BARTLETT: Our top priorities for listing agents include compliance with our Good Neighbor Practices, negotiating the best possible price in order to minimize Freddie Mac’s credit losses, and conducting all business in compliance with the highest ethical standards in addition to applicable state, local, and federal law. I can’t really break them out into first, second and third; they are intermixed, mutually supportive, and promote Freddie Mac’s broader goal to stabilize local home prices and foster homeownership opportunities. Our homes, over average, sell for 95 percent of current market value; owner-occupants purchase 2/3 of the homes we sell.
Once a home completes the foreclosure process and enters our inventory, our Good Neighbor Practices require listing brokers to: secure the home, remove trash from the interior/exterior, properly maintain the lawn, and initiate exterior/interior cleaning.
At the same time our Good Neighbor Practices require us to maintain a staff of Regional Area Managers to conduct random property inspections and score brokers on their listings’ appearance and maintenance. Their duties include:
- Conducting monthly independent inspections to promote vendor compliance with our policies.
- Authorizing listing brokers to immediately address safety concerns.
- Hosting a toll-free hotline to answer questions about our homes. If you see a problem with a HomeSteps home, call 1.800.972.7555.
HomeSteps’ Good Neighbor Practices have been singled out as best standards by both industry groups and the National Fair Housing Alliance (see NFHA report: “The Banks Are Back–Our Neighborhoods Are Not,” 2012, p.12).
FORCE: How can agents provide better communication with you throughout the listing process?
BARTLETT: The one thing that stands out is for brokers to quickly communicate changes in the market and feedback from selling agents/prospective buyers. We strongly encourage monthly updates from the listing broker; this is a key to ensuring that our homes are listed competitively.
FORCE: What common mistakes do you see agents making when working with REO?
BARTLETT: HomeSteps has high expectations of our business partners, but we understand that mistakes are made. The best way to avoid mistakes is to simply adhere to the MLSA and Code of Conduct. MLSA or Code of Conduct violations were the most common reasons in 2014 for removing listing brokers from our network.