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What’s in a phone number?

What’s in a phone number?
By Kevin Baker

Choosing the right name for your small mortgage business can have a huge impact on its success. But what about your business phone number? Does it really matter what number you have, as long as it’s printed correctly on your business cards, product literature, Web site, emails and other materials? Actually, it does. The phone number you use can have a direct impact on your mortgage business, good or bad.

That’s something you need to keep in mind as you consider which phone service to use for your mortgage business, since it could impact the type of phone number you can obtain. Here’s a guide to help you select the best option.

Toll-free Number
This term is used synonymously with “800” number because when they were first introduced, 800 was the only area code you could get. Today, their popularity exceeds the combinations available with 800, so 866, 877 and 888 have been added.

The original function was to offer a way for clients, prospects and anyone else to call your mortgage business without paying long distance charges. While the economic benefit may no longer be the top reason to acquire this type of number, having a toll-free phone number does have another benefit: it can make your small real estate business appear to be larger than it actually is.

Depending on how you go about it, a toll-free number can be an expensive upgrade over a local phone number. If you purchase the toll-free number from the phone company there is likely an add-on charge for the option, and you have to pay the toll on every call that comes into it.

The smart buyer will find that there are ways to obtain a toll-free number without added cost. There are virtual phone services for small business that include the number at no additional charge. The nice thing about this type of service is that you also get features like a virtual receptionist, unlimited extensions, voice-mail to email, smart call forwarding, call screening and more. With a bit of research you can find all the features included in one low monthly fee, a far better choice for a small mortgage business on a budget.

Local Phone Number
There are some good reasons to keep a phone number local rather than toll-free. Should your business depend on the goodwill of the people in your area, having a local number says “we are part of the community.” Since you are a small service business, whether an independent mortgage agent or a small mortgage lender, a local number may help you win business when compared to a faceless national corporation. It can also help reinforce the community presence if you are a community agency that’s part of a larger chain.

Also, when using a virtual phone service, the local number you choose doesn’t have to be the one where your office is actually located. For example, if you are a company located in a small town looking for a presence in Manhattan or Los Angeles, having a phone number in one of those cities will make it appear as though your business is located there. The caller doesn’t need to know where you really are.

Vanity Phone Number
Another option, especially if much of your business relies on referrals, is to select a vanity number such as 1-866-LENDERS. A vanity number is easy to remember, especially if heard on a radio or TV commercial, and thus more likely to be called if clients go off the top of their heads.

The only downside is vanity numbers can be difficult to dial since you have to think about which number corresponds to that letter.

Porting Over an Existing Phone Number
If you have a strong customer base that already knows your number and has it programmed into their speed dial, you may not want to change your phone number at all. That doesn’t mean you can’t switch to a different phone technology like a virtual phone service because it offers features that are more cost-effective and efficient.

While it’s not available with all services, there are some that allow you to port over your existing number to the service as easily as you would your cell phone number from one carrier to another. That option makes a lot of sense if you’ve invested a lot of time and money branding your existing number.

The bottom line is your phone number is more than just a way for clients, prospects and business partners to reach you. It is a part of your small mortgage business’ identity. Take care in selecting your business number and you won’t have to suffer the slings and arrows of lost business or missed opportunities.

Kevin Baker is my1voice Product Marketing Manager for Protus, provider of the highest quality Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) communication tools for small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and enterprise organizations, including my1voice (www.my1voice.com), the cost-effective, feature-rich virtual phone service that travels with the user from phone to web, award-winning MyFax, the fastest growing Internet fax service and Campaigner, the email marketing service that is easy-to-use, affordable and provides step-by-step coaching tips and tools. Kevin can be reached at kbaker@protus.com.

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Twitter Me This…

For months now I have heard the “buzz” about Twitter.com and its ability to micro blog whatever you are doing at any given time.  I of course didn’t see the point.  But,  since it is free, I went ahead and signed up for an account about 9 months ago, and proceeded to do absolutely nothing with it.

Now, after getting asked repeatedly about twitter, and after getting my first confirmed real estate lead from there, I have had my light bulb moment.  If someone is following me on twitter, they know that I am a mortgage banker.  And, they will also get to see everytime I update something on my profile such as a new blog post, or today’s mortgage rates, or what the neighbor’s cat is doing in my yard.

The concept of Twitter is so simple, that I truly didn’t get why you would even bother, until recently.  I am by no means a “twitter-holic”, but I an trying to more frequently update what is going on with me for those interested in me or mortgages or real estate or all of the above.

You can follow me on Twitter by clicking the Twitter icon on the right side of this screen.

For your daily mortgage rates, go to SteveRussellOnline.com, or call me at 850-221-8334.

What Is A Reverse Mortgage?

If you are unfamiliar, here is a quick breakdown of a Reverse Mortgage.

The following information is also available on HUD’s website.

Reverse Mortgages have been around for years, but have become more popular recently as a way to fund retirement and supplement social security and increase overall quality of life.  The FHA HECM reverse mortgage was one of the original reverse mortgages available and is a federally insured private loan to provide a safe retirement planning alternative.  There are many uses for a reverse mortgage including income in the form of monthly payments, passive income by eliminating mortgage payments, cash out for home improvement or purchasing a boat or RV, etc.

  • What is a Reverse Mortgage? A reverse mortgage is a special type of mortgage that allows a homeowner to “reverse” the flow of money on their home and receive cash or income (or both) based on the equity that has built up over time.  But, unlike a traditional home equity loan or second mortgage, no repayment of the mortgage is required until the home owner(s) no longer use the property as their primary residence.  HUD’s reverse mortgage provides these benefits, and is federally insured as well.
  • Can I qualify for a Reverse Mortgage? In order to qualify for a Reverse Mortgage, HUD requires the following:
  1. You must be a homeowner
  2. You must be at least 62 years of age (the minimum age for all residents in the home)
  3. You must own your home outright, or have a low mortgage balance that can be paid in full at closing
  4. You must reside in the home as your primary residence
  5. You are also required to undergo HUD approved consumer counseling to gain a full understanding of the process
  • Can I qualify if I did not buy my current home with an FHA loan? Yes, it is not required that your existing loan, or your original purchase loan be an FHA mortgage.  Your new Reverse Mortgage will be an FHA insured loan.
  • What types of homes are eligible? Your home must be a single family dwelling or a two to four unit dwelling and you own and occupy as your primary residence.  Townhouses, detached homes, units in condominium projects, and some manufactured homes are eligible.  It is also possible for individual condominium units to qualify under the Spot Loan Approval program.
  • What is the difference between a Reverse Mortgage and a bank home equity loan? With a traditional mortgage or home equity line of credit, the borrower must qualify based on their current income and expense ratio and ability to repay the monthly payments.  A Reverse Mortgage has no monthly payments, it pays you.  Therefore, there are no qualifying criteria for income.  The amount you can borrower is determined by your age, current interest rates, and the appraised value of your home or the local FHA lending limits, whichever is lower.  Generally, the older you are, and the more valuable your home is, the more you have available to borrow.  You have no monthly payments because there are none due as long as you live in the property as your primary residence.  Like all homeowners, you are still required to pay your property taxes, home owners insurance and normal owner obligations such as utilities and maintenance.  But, with an FHA insured Reverse Mortgage, you can not be foreclosed on or forced to vacate the property for “missing payments” because there are none.
  • Can the lender take away my home if I outlive the home? No!  You are not required to repay the loan as long as you reside in the home and you continue to pay your taxes and insurance.  You can never owe more than your home’s value.
  • Will I still have an estate that I can leave to my heirs? When you sell your home or no longer live in it as your primary residence, you or your estate will repay the cash received through the Reverse Mortgage plus interest and fees to the lender.  The remaining equity in your home, if any, belongs to you or your heirs.  None of your other assets will be affected by the Reverse Mortgage, and the actual debt will never be passed along to your heirs or the estate.
  • How much money can I get from my house? The amount of money available is based on your age, value of your home and current interest rates.  Generally, the more valuable the home, the older you are, and the lower current interest rates are, the more you have available.
  • Should I use an estate planning service to find a Reverse Mortgage? You should not pay a referral fee to someone to help you find a lender.  You can reach Primary Residential Mortgage directly at 888-257-8383 for more information on obtaining a Reverse Mortgage.
  • How do I receive my payments? You have 5 options:
  1. Tenure – Equal monthly payments as long as at least one borrower continues to live in the property as a primary residence.
  2. Term – Equal monthly payments for a specified length of time.
  3. Line of Credit – Unscheduled payments or installments at times and in the amounts of the borrower’s choosing until the line of credit is exhausted.
  4. Modified Tenure – Combination of equal monthly payments and installments for as long as borrower occupies the property.
  5. Modified Term – Combination of equal monthly payments and installments for a specified length of time.

Hopefully this has answered many of your questions, but we know that you have more.  Contact me at any time to discuss your reverse mortgage in greater detail.  Steve Russell 888-257-8383.

Pending Sales Reach Highest Levels Since July 2007

Pending sales report shows buyers may be finding the bottom in Real Estate

The Pending Home Sales Report, an index to reflect homes that are under contract but not yet closed, has risen to the highest level since last summer (up 7.4% over the previous month).  Does this mean we have hit bottom?  No one will know that until we have the advantage of hindsight and are able to see it on the charts.

But, one fact remains true.  Prices can only come down so far before those on the sidelines can no longer stand around and watch.  With nationwide housing prices at levels of 2003, it begs the question, how much farther down can we go?  Obviously there are other economic factors at play, and the economy is complicated and a little scary right now.  But, the foundation for the current down turn was the over-inflated real estate market, and clearing out the existing inventory is crutial to starting a broad recovery.  Another important reminder to sellers is that the majority of homes being sold are actually foreclosures.  If you have a home you would like to sell, but don’t need to sell, now is still not the time.

Stay tuned for more updates, and check out the latest mortgage rates at SteveRussellOnline.com.

$7,500 Tax Credit Available Through Dec. 31

Are you going to take advantage of the home buyer tax credit available through the end of the year?

For those of you interested in buying a home, but you are still on the fence about the current market, don’t forget that the window is closing for the housing stimulus tax credit good through the end of the year.  This tax credit is good for first time buyers (buyers who have not owned a home in the last 3 years), and it is available up to 10% of the purchase price to a maximum of $7500.

While your decision to buy a home should not be based solely on incentives, it is equally important not to ignore those incentives if you are serious about buying.  The difference between buying a home on December 1st and January 10th could mean significant tax savings for your 2008 return.  Be sure to contact your tax advisor for specifics and qualifying criteria.

For more information on qualifying for a mortgage, visit SteveRussellOnline.com or call 850-221-8334.

Where Do You Keep Your Money Safe?

In these historical times in the financial markets, how do you know that your money is protected?

Everyday there is a new headline about some other “sky is falling” scenario.  It was only a week ago that history was made when the government stepped in and took over operations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but that is old news now.  This week it was the nations largest insurer AIG being given an $85 Billion loan from your tax dollars to help keep them out of bankruptcy.  But hidden in all of the negativity are shining pockets of positive news.

If you ever watch CNBC, you may know that Jim Cramer likes to say “there is always a bull market somewhere”, and he is right.  In the constant yin and yang of the financial markets, where there is a loser, there is also a winner somewhere, you just have to know what to look for and where to find it.  For instance, if you bought into gold earlier this week, you are no doubt celebrating as the gold market had the largest dollar gain in history this week.  Equally, as confidence fades in the stock market, investors must forge ahead and put their money somewhere, and guess what just started looking really good…..real estate.  Thats right, real estate.  The dirty word that people have been scouling at for months just became one of the best places to put your money.

Think about it, if you have $1 million in the stock market and you don’t know if you will wake up one day to find that your top holdings are out of business, your money may be better served in a tangible asset that you can see, touch, get a tax break, and live in (or rent out).  At a time when real estate is at historically low prices, you could be getting in at the very beginning of a new bull market.

I find it interesting what an affect the media has on the markets.  They seem to give you just enough information to instill a panic without regard to how people will react.  I know that the AIG issue is big news, but did you know that there are 1000’s of people without homes or jobs in Galveston, TX after Hurricane Ike virtually wiped the town off the map.  Chances are pretty good that you didn’t because no one in the news is saying a word about it.

So back to the topic at hand, is your money safe in the bank?  Yes, if it is less than $100,000 per depositor per institution.  Is it safe in stocks?  I guess it depends on the stock and your level of exposure.

Even if you take away my obvious bias towards real estate (because I am an active mortgage banker), do your own home work in your local market to see if I am right.  If you haven’t looked lately, you might be shocked at the deals available now.  I my area of the Florida Panhandle, there are gulf front condos that can be stolen for prices that compare to 4+ years ago.

Good luck to you, and tell me how things are in your local real estate market.

Gustav Threatens The Gulf Coast

Here we go again!

Well, we don’t get wildfires or mudslides or earthquakes, but we do stand in the way of nature’s fury in the way of tropical hurricanes.  Just as most of Florida is still wringing out their shorts from the deluge of rain in Fay, we are again squarely in the cross hairs of Hurricane Gustav.  Many didn’t take Fay seriously because it never reached hurricane status, and yet it set records for rain fall and is the only named storm in history to make landfall 4 times in the U.S.

Gustav, however, commands out respect from the start.  Already reaching hurricane status before it even gets into the gulf, Gustav threatens to be a category 3 before making landfall somewhere along the gulf coast early next week.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, we will focus on the potential implications of this storm as it relates to real estate and the economy.

If you are purchasing a home, make sure that you have your insurance in place immediately.  A Citizens policy (in Florida) will not write new coverage, increase coverage, or make any policy changes “when a Tropical Storm or Hurricane Watch or  Warning has been issued by the National Weather Service for any part of the State of Florida.”  Other insurance companies have a map of the Gulf of Mexico and draw a dotted line border around a certain geographic area called “The Box”.  If a named storm (tropical or hurricane) enters that box, they will not write new policies or make changes to existing policies until the storm hits land.  In some situations, this could delay closing for a week or more until the storm runs its course.

If you already own your home, now is the time to prepare.  Even with the number of hurricanes that we are exposed to on an annual basis, there are a shocking number of people that do not prepare.  Preparing your house means:

  • Check the trees around your house for dead limbs, these are the first to come down
  • Make sure that you have adequate protection for doors and windows.  Taping the windows is a waste of time.  Either board them up, or spend your time on other things.  Tape will not stop debris and it will not keep the glass from shattering.
  • Take photos of your property for insurance purposes.  If you happen to be the minority that keeps receipts for everything you own, this may be less important.  Be as specific as possible, and a video recording of everything is the preferred method.
  • Pack up anything that can not be easily replaced.  This would include family heirlooms, photos, jewelry, etc.  Also take insurance forms and important paperwork such as deeds and wills.
  • Assume that when you get back to your home, there will be no power and no water.  Fill a bath tub full of water to use for flushing toilets and possibly boil for drinking water.

There are many more resources on how to prepare your family and pets at NOAA.gov .