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FORCE Rally 2023: The Who’s Who of REO Agents

The Federation of REO Certified Experts, or FORCE, is the Five Star Institute’s REO member organization comprised of pre-screened, certified, and experienced REO agents.

Focused on the improvement of REO agent performance through lender and servicer-driven education, the FORCE acts as a conduit of communication between the REO agent/broker community and the servicing shops they serve.

Through significant investment in broker oversight, education, and communication delivery the REO servicing industry can obtain tangible, bottom-line benefits when using this established network to address their brokerage needs.

The 2023 FORCE Rally at the Five Star Conference and Expo, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas from Sept. 18-20, opened with a keynote presentation on the "State of the Market" from Brandon Lawler, Director of Real Estate Marketing and Sales at Fannie Mae, along with an afternoon of panels and networking.

Lawler discussed recent findings by Fannie Mae, including the effect interest rates are having on the market, distressed sales, the state of the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, and how affordability as a percentage of household income is faring in light of current market conditions.

“We at Fannie Mae see that many borrowers are locked in at lower interest rates on their existing loan, which has created a significant financial disincentive for them to list and sell their properties,” Lawler said in his State of the Market remarks. “So, looking at our 30-year fixed-rate mortgage book of business as of July of this year, our economists noted that approximately 90% have a mortgage rate that’s at least one percentage point below the current market rate.”

“Now, on the demand side last year, my colleagues shared a view as to the percentage of income spent on mortgage payments—or market affordability—was really only rivaled by peaks of unaffordability seen back in 2005,” Lawler continued. “At that point, about 28.7% of income was required to qualify and maintain a mortgage. Those calculations are based off median property values, market rates at the time, and average income. So, if we zoom forward to this year, we’re seeing that affordability picture has gotten even worse.”

“So today an estimated 32.5% of average income is required to meet the mortgage requirements. So, pivoting to REO inventory, distressed sales have remained a fraction of the market compared to the years following the financial crisis.”

Panels of the day included:

How to Excel: Training for Excellence: This panel led FORCE Members through how to manifest efficiency and reliability, two key attributes to succeeding in the real estate industry, along with a discussion about how agents can ensure excellence and proficiency in the industry. Panelists included:

  • Kimberly McClinton, Managing Broker, Signature Realty Services (moderator)
  • Tai Nong, COO, PEMCO Capital Management
  • Eddie Pirro, Client Account Manager, Island Advantage Realty
  • Jeffrey (Jeff) Shumaker, Broker-Owner, RE/MAX Agility
  • Phyllis Wright, SVP Strategic Human Resources, VRM Mortgage Services

The afternoon's second panel, entitled Commercial REO Flow, featured three guests and a moderator who discussed the $270 billion in commercial debt set to mature in 2023 and how the commercial REO space is poised for a sharp increase in business. The panelists delved into how agents can prepare for that rush and learn to determine valuations, select preferred listing platforms, and create marketing strategies specific to the commercial market. Panelists included:

  • Jim Hastings, Broker/Owner, Hastings Brokerage (moderator)
  • Gay-Lynn Barnes, COO, LCC Investment Group
  • Louis Chavez, CEO, LLC Investment Group
  • Rande Johnsen, Director, Trustee Corpsr

The Make the Market Work for You panel was the third of the day, discussing the current lack of REO volume and inventory, as well as lingering economic effects and approaches successful businesses can take to overcome these obstacles. The panel provided actionable advice for what agents can do—and are doing—to run successful business models in these challenging economic times. Panelists included:

  • Laura Dietz, Broker/Auctioneer, Summit Realty (moderator)
  • Holly Pagano, Owner, First Hawaiian Realty
  • Rick Sharga, President & CEO, CJ Patrick Company
  • Charles Weinraub, CEO, Mandalay Holdings

Moderator Laura Dietz first touched on the power of social media and solicited comments from Jesse Gonzalez.

"Well, I came into the business in 2005, and we were still a retail market at that point in Nashville. And then, of course, the Great Recession in 2007 changed everything," Gonzalez said to kick off the panel. "So everything I had learned in school, everything I had learned from my brokers, I kind of had to throw out the door because everything had changed. That's the key when you're a real estate agent, especially in REO: our business fluctuates more so than probably the average realtor who's just doing retail."

Rick Sharga commented: "If you want to stay ahead in the distressed/default industry, you need to keep moving upstream."

The day's final panel was Soft Skills for Difficult Moments, which explored the "soft skills" critical for navigating an agent's role within the default servicing space. When dealing with people experiencing tough times, tempers are to be expected, emotions are reactive, and situations are complicated. Additionally, there are legalities that constrict your clients and vendors and require a more nuanced touch. This is where soft skills come into play; the panel discussed how to polish your interactions with the full array of personalities and circumstances you need in this specific line of work. Panelists included:

  • Tamika Marks, Managing Broker, Trademarks & Associates, LLC (moderator)
  • Michael Friedman, Managing Partner, Lending Direct Mortgage Bank
  • Jennifer Kuhn, Owner, JLK Sales Group - eXp Realty
  • Garrett Mays, VP of Valuation and Vendor Management, USRES
  • Tamika Moses, CEO & Broker, Robin Bird Realty

Following the final panel of the day, FORCE Membership Director Gina Gallutia gave some final closing remarks and invited attendees to attend a private reception at Monduel's, the bar at the heart of the atrium of the Dallas Hyatt Regency Hotel, for two hours of one-on-one and group networking.

About Author: Kyle G. Horst

Kyle G. Horst is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of the University of Texas at Tyler, he has worked for a number of daily, weekly, and monthly publications in South Dakota and Texas. With more than 10 years of experience in community journalism, he has won a number of state, national, and international awards for his writing and photography including best newspaper design by the Associated Press Managing Editors Group and the international iPhone photographer of the year by the iPhone Photography Awards. He most recently worked as editor of Community Impact Newspaper covering a number of Dallas-Ft. Worth communities on a hyperlocal level. Contact Kyle G. at [email protected].

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