Volume 6, Issue 1 – Technological Impact

NAWRB International Magazine

Volume 6, Issue 1 – Technological Impact

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Marcia Davies, COO of MBA

A New Jersey farm girl at heart, Marcia Davies chronicles her amazing story, from walking away at the height of her career to her proudest accomplishment in rebranding MBA. She provides a look at the life of a C-suite woman, and demonstrates that life sometimes has plans you didn’t even have yourself.

Featuring expert contributors like Microsoft’s Cindy Bates, Vice President of U.S. Small & Midsized Business; Michael Saunders, Founder and CEO of Michael Saunders & Company; and Logan Mohtashami, Senior Loan Officer at AMC Lending Group, NAWRB Magazine Volume 6, Issue 1, Technological Impact, delves into the housing ecosystem, addressing the role and value of technology for entrepreneurs.

Don’t let a lack of awareness be a reason you’re forced to close your doors. NAWRB Magazine can help you stay ahead by leveraging your resources, protecting your business and growing your bottom line.

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What Are the Best and Worst States for Women?

 

In an effort to discover the best and worst states for women, WalletHub analyzed 50 states and the District of Columbia on 19 “key indicators” of living standards for women. Separated into two categories, Women’s Economic and Social Well-Being and Women’s Health and Safety, the indicators range from unemployment rates and cost of doctor’s visits to friendliness towards women’s equality and women’s preventive healthcare.

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How Technology is Fueling Women Business Owners

Women-owned businesses account for nearly 1.5 trillion dollars in revenue, and female entrepreneurs employ over 7.9 million people in the U.S. With such striking statistics, it’s easy to see how women are leading the way in job creation and having a major economic impact. Women are a true inspiration in my work every day, and I believe technology continues to be a catalyst in helping them achieve even more.

What technology has made possible for any entrepreneur or business owner is quite astounding. Of course, the advent of the Internet generated entirely new industries in which to establish new businesses and tore down geographic boundaries that separated businesses from customers and new markets. But, on a more individual basis, technology now delivers a level of flexibility and mobility that enables every entrepreneur to define her own workstyle and lifestyle. And, none more powerful than that of cloud technology, which has transformed the capabilities accessible to new and smaller businesses.

For the equivalent of four gourmet coffees a month, an entrepreneur can acquire all the technology they need to start a business. Most business processes are available through cloud services by subscription and are maintained by cloud services providers. This enables a new business to be up and running in a matter of hours, with professional email, a full suite of productivity applications and enterprise-grade communications tools like instant messaging, voice and video conferencing—all requiring neither an investment in expensive hardware nor a full-time IT staff.

As many women entrepreneurs will acknowledge, there’s really no separating work and life, and most business owners I come in contact with don’t want to be tethered to a desk. With cloud technology, you can communicate with your team from anywhere on virtually any device. This type of flexibility enables the type of work-life blend that many women seek as they juggle business and home lives. From productivity applications to the latest security advancements, technology helps level the playing field for female entrepreneurs.

The story of women entrepreneurs isn’t complete without discussing the challenges and key developments pertaining to issues like women’s access to credit and the cultural expectations that have, to a certain extent, limited many women’s ability to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. Even though women have faced an uphill battle in their entrepreneurial endeavors, the challenges have fostered new strength and determination that prove integral to their ultimate success.

For example, restricted access to credit led women to start businesses on shoestring budgets, deepening their financial savvy and leading them to find efficient and economical ways to fulfill business needs. Social norms that designated business as an arena exclusively for men motivated women to form networks and alliances that are now critical sources of support for women entrepreneurs. Today, organizations such as the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC) help provide women business owners and entrepreneurs with a variety of support and services, including help in securing rounds of venture capital.

Technology is opening up opportunities—not just for women, but for all entrepreneurs—to launch and grow their businesses. I encourage you to explore the ongoing wave of innovation, in areas such as cloud-based solutions, to discover potential new opportunities, transform your business, achieve and do more.

CINDY BATES
Vice President of U.S.Small &
Midsized Business at Microsoft

FHFA Minority & Women

1. FHFA Proposed Amendment: Ensure that the regulated entities fulfill the letter and spirit of their legal obligation to promote diversity and ensure the inclusion and utilization of minorities, women, and individuals with disabilities as well as minority-, women-, and disabled-owned businesses, in all their business and activities:

NAWRB Response: It is imperative that regulated entities make a strong and impassioned effort to ensure they are fulfilling the objectives of diversity and inclusion (D&I). This means that entities, and their employees, need to be well-versed in the letter of the FHFA Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI), which can be assisted by effective communication, observation and execution.

The inclusion of the phrase “letter and spirit” is vital because D&I should be something each company supports and adopts in their culture and ethos, throughout all levels. From board members to entry-level employees, the value of diversity should be seen and felt. There needs to be an emotional feeling or connection to drive the culture of D&I, similar to a childhood experience or fond memory. By developing a related emotion that is constantly evolving as the tide changes, a company’s culture becomes the leading edge and doesn’t become an outdated structure. The baseline and tangible action of entities utilizing minority-, women- and disabled-owned businesses must be driven with a genuine motivation to provide better and more business and career opportunities for all.

2. FHFA Proposed Amendment: Clarify that the requirement to promote diversity and inclusion applies to all the regulated entities’ operational, commercial and economic endeavors, including management, employment, contracting, capital market transactions, and affordable housing and community investment programs;

NAWRB Response: This clarification is critical in ensuring that the objectives and goals of D&I reach beyond a single area of an entity’s practices, such as only implementing diversity in hiring practices or suppliers. Minority-, women- and disabled-owned businesses are available throughout all operational, commercial and economic endeavors which an entity can utilize.

Regulated entities’ D&I efforts should be fully integrated in their operations, rather than be isolated efforts. Overall, D&I can reach its greatest potential if entities adopt it in all aspects of their business practices. It is our goal that entities make intense efforts to utilize diversity and inclusion practices within their business, making it second nature as a daily routine. The cascading effort of D&I within a community provides more equality for job opportunities, business ownership, homeownership and wealth growth for future generations.

3. FHFA Proposed Amendment: Require the regulated entities to develop a stand-alone diversity and inclusion strategic plan or incorporate diversity and inclusion into its existing strategic planning process and adopt strategies for promoting diversity and ensuring the inclusion of minorities, women, and individuals with disabilities as well as minority-, women-, and disabled-owned businesses;

NAWRB Response: The regulated entities must be required to incorporate D&I into an existing plan as this would establish a new corporate baseline. As long as D&I is a separate strategic plan, it will be perceived as an afterthought, increasing the possibility of it not being as valued or executed within the entity’s overriding structure. The FHFA OMWI was formed in 2011, but it wasn’t until last year that the first strategic plan was crafted, and D&I wasn’t a hot topic or taken seriously in several aspects in the community at large. NAWRB is proud to see FHFA OMWI’s commitment to improve D&I within our industry. A clear, integrated plan helps entities grow an emotional and executable D&I culture and have a course of action through which to advance it.

Accountability is a crucial aspect of D&I and too often it falls by the wayside. Establishing goals and strategies would reveal whether or not an entity is succeeding in their strategic plan.

A collateral benefit of these plans is the resulting D&I information. By being able to clearly identify both what goals are being met and which approaches are working, the FHFA can better advise and guide the regulated entities.

4. FHFA ProposedAmendment: Require the regulated entities to amend their policies on equal opportunity in employment and contracting to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and status as a parent to the list of protected classifications;

NAWRB Response: By requiring entities to amend these policies, the FHFA is giving confidence, a presence, and a voice to workers who may have previously lacked one. This bolsters diversity, extending it further than being a minority, woman, or disabled.

The difficulties some individuals have endured, from school bullies to lack of family support, are arduous. Continually transitioning from one stage of life to another without receiving acceptance or consideration is exceptionally discouraging. With this amendment the FHFA can help put a stop to this cycle. You may have experienced a difficult time in school and been discriminated against in your personal life because of who you are, but this stops in the workplace. In the professional environment you need to be treated equally.

Employees should feel comfortable in their professional environment and be given the opportunity to grow and develop. By the same token, companies should expect quality work from their workers. If a person doesn’t feel comfortable being who they are at work, is a company truly leveraging their entire potential?

Everything from gender identity to being a single parent affects workers, and in turn impacts their work and professional environment. These new classifications reveal more about a person and company culture, thereby helping us understand each other better and be able to advance true diversity in more regards.

Diversity is about including everyone, and the FHFA is helping increase inclusion for more groups and protected classifications.

5. FHFA Proposed Amendment: Encourage the regulated entities to expand contracting opportunities for minorities, women, and individuals with disabilities by working with prime contractors (tier 1) to provide subcontracting (tier 2) opportunities to minority-, women-, and disabled-owned businesses;

NAWRB Response: Encouraging expanding contracting opportunities for minority-, women- and disabled-owned businesses deepens the culture of D&I. The word “encourage” should be replaced with “requires” to develop a better D&I community which strengthens the entire workplace, from entities to contractors and even subcontractors. This greatly contributes to creating an ecosystem that embraces D&I and prevents entities from becoming complacent after establishing and pursuing in-house strategic plans.

Goal 1: Design a Comprehensive OMWI Operational Structure in the FHFA’s OMWI Strategic Plan for FY 2016-FY 2018 states, “OMWI will ensure that agency employees, as well as external stakeholders, understand their respective roles and responsibilities in fulfilling the OMWI mission. This will enable OMWI to target required or desired skills development programs or initiatives and growth opportunities for OMWI staff.”

The FHFA’s effort to expand D&I responsibilities and efforts further than internal employees and stakeholders is vital. Diversity and inclusion cannot be a tenet you promote only within your entity; this would be like recycling soda cans in your own house but not trying to do so in public. This limits the positive effects of your internal practices and partly counteracts them with your actions outside of your entity.

Diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do. An inclusive workplace is a better workplace, both in performance—as a recent Grant Thornton study reveals the opportunity cost for American S&P 500 companies lacking gender diversity in their boardrooms is $567 billion—and in company culture.

As mentioned above, accountability is a problem and professionals are often left wondering who will enforce D&I. The answer is everyone, from whole agencies down to each individual, and this amendment would contribute to their accountability. Creating a culture that isn’t simply built on satisfying the requirements but reviewing the spirit of the amendments to implement D&I at every level of business practices is the goal.

The job isn’t done after you hire women in your entity, it isn’t finished when you make sure you hire a minority contractor, the responsibility extends as far as keeping your suppliers accountable for their D&I practices and company culture. You don’t just pass the buck and forget about it.

Entities must make sure they’ve established an efficient, sustainable system that will keep D&I at the forefront of their business practices. Diversity and inclusion isn’t an initiative or trend, it’s a company value, one whose absence naturally behooves us to question a company’s spirit and ideals.

Providing an incentive program for all management levels with goals broken down into two components of evaluation—results and effort—could prove effective in driving D&I in the workplace. This program’s contribution would be two-fold; first, it would establish a financial development culture encouraging professionals to hire minorities and women, secondly, it would reward not only on results, such as meeting a quota, but on a person’s effort and proactive approach to developing D&I.

Diversity and inclusion is not a transaction in which you fill a certain number of roles, check a box and receive compensation, it’s a culture. By not creating a system strictly reliant on metrics, entities can help employees better understand and connect to their D&I work.

By helping your employees understand the reason and importance of the company value, employees’ passion and meaning in their work will grow.

It is imperative that the incentive program extend to all management levels, thereby including all tiers of a company and not simply employing a “trickle down” mentality by focusing on top executives. If D&I is perceived as primarily a top executive responsibility, the way it is regarded at lower levels in the company will decline incrementally. Establishing D&I as a tenet and responsibility at all company levels makes it a value that is respected and pursued equally throughout the entire entity.

6. FHFA Proposed Amendment: Affirm that the regulated entities are authorized to expand the scope of their outreach and inclusion programs beyond the requirements of the Rule, which focuses on minorities, women, and individuals with disabilities; and

NAWRB Response: This amendment is a great way to encourage entities to give opportunities to more minorities than the ones outlined in the Rule. As the FHFA Minority and Women Inclusion Amendment notes, Section 1116 of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) focuses its attention on improving diversity and inclusion for women, minorities and individuals with disabilities, and, although inclusionary efforts for these groups should remain a priority, entities should aspire to expand their D&I efforts to include all minority groups.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)-owned and veteran-owned businesses, for example, should also be given strong consideration for inclusion in an entity’s business endeavors. In addition, this amendment gives regulated entities the jurisdiction and protection to expand their D&I efforts to more minorities underrepresented in the field, especially when challenged by accusations of affirmative action. An entity can only benefit from being equipped with a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences that a diverse staff can provide.

There may be professionals who ponder if the D&I work is worth the results. The resounding answer is yes.

What’s the potential of D&I? Consider this: we have seen the incredible benefit of a small amount of inclusivity in our industry—such as higher revenues and happier work environments—imagine the progress and impact we could create by increasing D&I and achieving true equality for women and minorities. We don’t know what a truly inclusive workforce looks like because we have never had one.

The employees of the FHFA and the entities it regulates hold tremendous value in addition to their professional roles, from crafting award-winning films to passionately pursuing hobbies. Knowing a colleague shares a similar interest or that your superior is experienced in another field creates value and interest among workers, it provides another way in which to connect both in and out of the office. A person’s extracurricular activity may even provide a service to their company, like designing an advertisement or teaching a self-defense class.

There is so much more to people than their work life. By allowing employees to embody this, companies are equipping themselves with a workforce of well-rounded, rewarded individuals.

7. FHFA Proposed Amendment: Improve the usefulness and comparability of the annual reports to FHFA by requiring that the regulated entities provide information about their efforts to advance diversity and inclusion through capital market transactions, affordable housing and community investment programs, initiatives to improve access to mortgage credit, and strategies for promoting the diversity of supervisors and managers.

NAWRB Response: This is an incredibly useful and powerful amendment because it will plainly show whether regulated entities are being instrumental and successful in their D&I efforts. The amount of specificity being requested by the FHFA in these annual reports will help assess D&I success in all areas of an entity’s activity, and help ascertain which particular parts of an entity are thriving and/or declining. This data can be used to determine where D&I is being overlooked and the measures that can be taken to ensure it increases.

The importance of usefulness, and especially comparability, of annual reports cannot be overstated. A clear organized system for compiling annual reports helps the FHFA evaluate each entity efficiently and usefully. Entities are different and unique, but providing data that is easily comparable will prove incredibly valuable in helping truly implement D&I.

We also encourage semi-annual reports as a minimum and smaller tracking progress reports on a quarterly basis. These requirements would help the development of a dynamically changing culture by increasing organizational assessment.

Further Suggestions
Public Reports
The FHFA and regulated entities should make their annual reports available to the public in mainstream publications and media outlets, as they directly impact American citizens.

Grading System
When assessing entities on D&I, the FHFA could utilize a grading system on diversity, much like restaurants are judged on cleanliness. This will hold agencies accountable in their D&I processes. Furthermore, a plus or minus sign next to the letter assigned to each agency could indicate an improvement or regression from the previous quarter.

Evaluate Effort
An entity desires to hire the best person for the job. For this reason we suggest evaluating entities on their efforts in hiring women and minorities not necessarily on their numbers. Simply because entities do not hire diversely does not mean they did not put in a concerted effort. Evaluate the quality of the effort to meet the number, not necessarily the number of outreaches or new hires; the value of the outreach is a better representation of D&I at an entity. Quality of effort must be weighted for D&I and not just based on pure numbers.

Mentorship and/or Training Programs
We believe that training and mentorship programs can be introduced without being a heavy burden on neither the entity nor its employees. Below you can find a list of ideas for potential programs:

Mentorships for women:
Women often start their careers in lower positions and may not be equipped for a higher role in comparison with other applicants. We suggest that entities create mentorship programs to prepare women for their next opportunity.

This will help ensure that women in lower positions have competitive qualifications when they get to the top. Additionally, these programs will help entities recognize women’s skills and abilities, possibly providing a return on investment if the company hires her or promotes her to an executive role.

Conduct training after work:
Have a program that takes place after work hours, so that the entity is not burdened by cost and employees have the opportunity to showcase their initiative on their own time. This can be composed of a structured one or two week training program, or can be spread out in incremental steps over the course of a few months.

Accessibility will be crucial for these mentorship programs. All employees have different lives and commitments, and the mindset needed to understand and consider the dissimilarities in employees’ lives is critical to understanding the D&I movement and its importance. If you can accept and respect the fact that a person may have responsibilities outside of work preventing them from being part of a regimented professional training program, then you can more easily comprehend the value of having a diverse and inclusive workplace and the importance of recognizing employees’ individuality.

From caring for their children and participating in intramural sport leagues to extensive commutes and health-based demands, you never know what a person is truly going through. Increasing accessibility enables more workers to take advantage of these valuable resources, allowing them to leverage professional opportunities without having to sacrifice personal responsibilities or commitments.

By recording the training sessions and posting them for employees to access, an entity is empowering its workers to be a part of the program on their own time and at their own pace. Additionally, the entity sends a clear message that it is equally inviting all employees to participate.
Regarding the burden these programs will have on the FHFA and its regulated entities, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several resources for training and advising professionals. These include Women’s Business Centers (WBC), Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) and the SCORE mentorship program, to name a few.

To the FHFA and the entities it regulates these resources represent a depository of potential speakers and trainers for their mentorship programs at no additional cost. What entity would pass on the opportunity to offer cost-free programs that can improve their employees and the industry as a whole? It’s a win-win opportunity with a powerfully beneficial outcome: implementing and promoting diversity and inclusion.

The perception of an entity that provides these services and takes care of their employees in this manner will be positive and spread throughout the industry. Not only will the entity connote an inclusive workplace and innovation, you will be regarded as a leader in diversity and inclusion.

These programs create a culture of advancement that has no color, gender or classification; they help level the playing field and help employees to feel empowered in their professional environments.

Collaboration:
Goal 3: Deliver Meaningful OMWI Communication in the FHFA’s OMWI Strategic Plan for FY 2016-FY 2018 articulates, “Communication is the foundation of organizational outreach. It increases commitment by building relationships; builds motivation by promoting an open and supportive environment; and drives behavior by expanding knowledge. Effective communication is critical if OMWI is to drive interest in, support for, and commitment to its mission and to ensure that internal and external stakeholders are both engaged in, and benefiting from, its work.”

It is invaluable to have speakers come in who are passionate about contributing to the expansion of diversity and inclusion in the housing ecosystem, which can be made possible by establishing clear, effective communication between the entity and those who assist in the development of D&I. Both entity and speaker can benefit from being a part of this training program: entities will gain employees with the learned skills to contribute to the company’s overall success, and speakers will gain more exposure and contacts for their business affiliation.

This effective collaboration must also be present within the agency. Internal employees must understand the commitment to D&I and embody it themselves. If D&I isn’t accepted, practiced and respected by all employees, it will never become a cornerstone of the company culture; diversity and inclusion will be viewed as a task and disregarded once it is addressed in even the most miniscule manner. In order to prevent this, the FHFA and the entities it regulates need to ensure that D&I is viewed and regarded as any other company tenet and ideal.

The time and energy contributed to the success of a mentorship and/or training program is miniscule compared to the overwhelming financial and emotional rewards that result. When employees feel as if their company cares about their future professional success and satisfaction, the increased morale in the environment lends itself to increased productivity. More importantly, it’s imperative that an entity is taking the initiative to make sure that women, minorities and disabled people are given the opportunity to realize their full potential.

In advancing diversity and inclusion, the FHFA is creating a domino effect that will impact several aspects of American life. From their internal employees to the entities they regulate and the people and businesses these entities work with and help, the FHFA is helping better the careers and lives of women and minorities across the country. With increased resources these groups can live more comfortable lives and even achieve the dream of homeownership.

Owning a home has the ability of creating stability for families and safeguarding a person’s professional accomplishments. On this foundation families can thrive and situate future generations for success. It’s a beautiful, attainable vision and it starts with diversity and inclusion.

Sincerely,
Desirée Patno
NAWRB CEO and President

How to Get Your Economic Groove On, Part 1

The best and worst thing about social media is that anyone with an opinion has an opportunity to garner an audience. I should know because I’m one of those opinionated writers who has developed a social media “side hustle”—that has effectively doubled my core business—providing mortgage services to California residents. I didn’t do this through advertising, networking or any of the traditional marketing methods per se; I did it by building a reputation on social media as a source of reliable, unbiased information regarding the housing market. Regardless of the industry, customers will flock to someone that is both trustworthy and knowledgeable. A person who is an advocate for their customers, instead of a salesman, I believe, will always be more successful in the long run—and there is the pleasant side effect of just feeling a lot better about yourself.

Many people have asked me how I was able to both build my business and reputation as a housing guru though the untraditional channel of social media. It wasn’t magic, but it did take time and a lot of work. If one is willing to put in the effort, any dedicated, reasonably intelligent person who is truly interested in their industry can do the same thing. The purpose of this article is to share my experience in building a social media presence and to provide a quasi-tutorial on how a real estate professional (be it an agent, broker, loan officer or anything in between), can learn to use the vast amount of data available on the internet to become a sought-after expert in their field.

First a little background on me. I have a degree in history, not economics. I’ve always been interested in the financial markets but I work as a loan officer, not an academic economist or investment banker. I am proof that you don’t need to have that particular pedigree to become an expert in your field. I started writing about the housing market, first as a responder to news items on financial websites like CNBC and Business Insider, then as an invited contributor to Benzinga.com. In 2010, I decided to go it alone and I started my own financial information and opinion blog called LoganMohtashami.com. Then I made my personal Facebook page into a 24/7 economic data news center, posting economic charts, reporting and opining about the latest economic news. As someone who tracked economic data as a hobby, it was easy for me to write about macroeconomics and correlate that to housing economics. The blog, my postings on other news sites and my Facebook and LinkedIn pages gave me high visibility to potential clients. This has been a boom to my business, as many referrals have come through people who read my work or follow me on Facebook.

If someone is interested in becoming more versed in housing economics to improve their business in real estate, or just to become a more valuable asset to their clients, it only takes time and determination to do so. The easiest entrée into this world is to start following economic reporters or thinkers on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. My Facebook and LinkedIn pages, for example, are great source of information, but there are many other sources. A few of my favorites are Bill McBride from Calculated Risk, Joe Wiesenthal from Bloomberg TV and Diana Olick from CNBC. Once you start following a few experts, you will find that they retweet from other sources that you may want follow as well.

The next treasure trove of information on housing economics exists in the regularly released reports from professional organizations like the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the government.

NAR is an invaluable resource for housing data when considered in the appropriate context, with regular press releases to report on the following metrics:

1) Existing-home Sales: data is released monthly, generally in thelast week of the month. The December report is released on January 24th.

2) Pending Home Sales Index: data is released monthly, generally on the last day of the month. December numbers are released January 30th.

3) Metropolitan Median Area Prices and Affordability: data released quarterly generally in the middle of the month: Metro home prices for the first quarter are released May 15th.

For the real estate agent hoping to gain insight into the market, the existing home sales report is probably the most relevant. My recommendation for how to analyze the data provided is to first read the press release. This will give you the overall picture of the market in terms of sales for the preceding month compared to the month before that and the same month last year.

The release also reports on the median home price and the existing inventory. While I invite you to pay attention to the numbers, I would caution you as to how much of the interpretation of the numbers you believe. Remember the source. The job of NAR is to support real estate sales, and the analysis they provide must be viewed through that lens. A good rule of thumb is to question the interpretation of data from anyone with an agenda.

For example, in the NAR news release on September 2016 existing home sales, Lawrence Yun, the NAR chief economist is quoted as saying, “Inventory has been extremely tight all year and is unlikely to improve now that the seasonal decline in listings is about to kick in. Unfortunately, there won’t be much relief from new home construction, which continues to be grossly inadequate in relation to demand.”

That inventory is too low to support demand is not data—it’s interpretation of data. I, for one, have provided a different interpretation of this data. I believe and have provided substantial, evidence-based analysis that housing demand is not strong and low inventory is not holding it back. We had more annual monthly supply inventory from 2012-2016 than any period from 1999-2005 when interest rates and sales were higher. Interest rates have been under 5 percent since early 2011 and still the demand for both new and existing homes has been light. My recommendation: absorb the data, read the various interpretations, then think it through for yourself.

 

 

Logan Mohtashami
Senior Loan Officer, AMC Lending Group

5 Easy Ways to Help Your Community as a Real Estate Agent

I remember as a kid when I ordered my first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and when I bought my first body lotion from The Body Shop. Those were the moments when it became very clear to me that business and doing good could go hand in hand. From then on I was always incredibly interested in the idea of socially responsible businesses.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I had the idea for a socially responsible business I personally wanted to start. Today, my company, Goodshop, is focused on two things. First, we want to save people money. Second, we want to ensure good causes continue to have the funding they need to continue, whether those are personal causes like funding a health emergency or a national cause like the Humane Society of the United States.

As we’ve built Goodshop, I’ve seen the launch and growth of so many other socially responsible companies, from TOMS Shoes to Warby Parker, that have had such a big influence on both their consumers and the business world in general. Our model is to give away a percentage of our revenue, and I do realize that not every company is in the position to do that. But, everyone can do something. Since most entrepreneurs are already familiar with ideas such as volunteering for local causes, I want to discuss five small and easy ways you, as a housing ecosystem professional, can incorporate “doing good” into your business practices.

1. When you’re working with someone who is moving out of their house, encourage them to recycle or give away everything they don’t want to bring with them. The company Givebackbox.com is a service which will provide you free shipping of your used stuff to a partner charity that they work with. Simply take that box out of the recycling pile, fill it with your used clothes, print out a label on Givebackbox.com and your old clothes will be on their way to a new home. You gave that box a second life too!

2. Create a partnership with your local Goodwill or other organization to pick up old furniture or other items that the family may not want to move with them. This is an added benefit that you can bring to your clients as it’s one thing they can check off their to do list.

3. Start a campaign for a cause in your community that provides homes for people in need. This way, as your clients are buying things for their new homes, they could also be helping someone less fortunate than themselves.

4. Do you bring cookies or snacks to your open houses? Hire a local student to bake them for you. This will give them an opportunity to make a little money and teach them the experience of starting a business.

5. Volunteer to take a student from an economically underserved area around for the day with you. Many kids do not have the opportunity to see what it’s like to do a particular job day to day. Give them some insight into what a career in real estate looks like. You can have a positive impact on a child’s life and studies.

JJ Ramberg
Founder, Goodshop.com

Tech with Tradition: A Balancing Act

As a woman opening a real estate office in 1976, I recognized the importance of creating a brand that would be decidedly different from all others. Your brand needs to be based on a solid foundation of values; but it also has to look and feel unique. I achieved a distinctive look in my first office by displaying property listings on art easels and creating a welcoming, elegant space with an antique armoire and oriental rug borrowed from my mother to ensure the right first impression. Today, that ever-important first impression is created by the home page of our website, and by the swipe of a finger rather than a step through the front door. In 1995, when my marketing director announced that we needed a website, I knew we had to get it right.

The internet was so new, no one knew where it was going or it’s potential to reach a global audience. The importance was to have a presence. At the time, it was an easy $2,500 choice; we got our URL and published our first, primitive website in 1996. From that day forward, as the internet evolved, we developed marketing strategies that would keep us ahead of the pack. We went through many versions of the site as consumer preferences changed and of course, technology advanced. One thing has remained the same though: to deliver on our brand promise to use and deploy all tools that accomplish the goals of our sellers.

By necessity in today’s world, proactive digital strategies must include much more than a highly-sophisticated,

responsive website. Your site needs video, blogging, web advertising, and social media platforms to promote your region’s lifestyles and properties. Senior leadership can stay ahead of the curve nationally and internationally with active involvement on boards, committees and conferences, exposing your business to best practices in real estate and technology. You will have access to all the shiny new technology objects, but it is vital to be discerning when deciding what to adopt and make certain it is aligned with your business strategies as a leading real estate firm.

Of course, technology comes with its challenges. That is why it is paramount to have a skilled, in-house IT team to provide daily technical support to your agents. It is a significant advantage for every individual in the company to have their technological issues handled by someone they know and not by some unseen person on the other end of a phone line hundreds of miles away. In addition to help desk support, your technology team should provide training opportunities to ensure that agents stay informed on, learn and understand real estate technology tools and trends in the industry.

Recently a dear friend and business associate, whose real estate brokerage is based in Europe, reached out to show me his new company website. We first met 35 years ago and developed a lasting relationship at a time when the internet did not exist and computers were only just beginning to debut in American homes. Following our conversation, I thought about the way technology is driving and shaping many industries, and how our world is far more connected than it has ever been. While forward-thinking organizations understand this shift from traditional engagement to digital platforms, we know that personal relationships remain our greatest asset. It is how we balance the two that keeps us on the leading edge.

Certainly, given the sheer number of people on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, it is easy for real estate agents to fall into the trap of believing social media is a silver bullet for communication. After all, social media platforms do generate 25 billion brand impressions each year. But there’s another marketing medium with a far greater impact and a more impressive track record: real life conversations. Technology has given us a new way to communicate, but face to face interactions with customers continue to build relationships and your business.

My advice to real estate agents today is to embrace the traditional as well as the useful advancements in technology to enhance their businesses. Be social in the true sense of the word by going to lunch with your customers or calling to share local market updates, and the next time you sit down to compose a thank you message, step away from the keyboard and write it by hand on a note card. The impact you will have is far greater than anything you could accomplish with 140 characters.

Of course, it is all about balance. By all means spend an allotted amount of time working on digital strategies, but create opportunities to complement that by going to a networking event or meeting a fellow associate for coffee. Whether or not the Wi-Fi connection fails or devices are switched off, interacting in person is always the best option.

Michael Saunders
Founder & CEO
Michael Saunders & Company

Women In Sports

On Thursday, October 20, 2016, the LA Sparks ignited a roaring crowd inside Minnesota’s Target Center as they scored the winning bucket in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. The buzzer signaled a 77-76 victory for the LA Sparks over the Minnesota Lynx in a nail-biting ending. The triumphant LA Sparks players made Los Angeles proud by winning the first WNBA title since 2002.

In an exclusive interview with NAWRB, LA Sparks President & COO Christine Simmons was noticeably proud of the team and humbled to witness their achievement during her tenure. “It’s surreal,” Simmons stated. “It was really beautiful to watch our women get that, and they worked so hard. They did feel like underdogs in all different aspects.”

Simmons revealed that this was hard-won redemption for the LA Sparks, “We knew what we had, the players knew what they wanted, and were focused on achieving it. From ownership down to every player, we were all focused. Bringing that championship back, after 14 years, brought back that level of playing excellence to LA.”

This was also the first championship win for Finals MVP player Candace Parker. Parker is a renowned athlete whose accolades, including two-time Olympic gold medalist, Naismith College Player of the Year, and two-time NCAA National Championship winner, to name a few, are now accompanied by a WNBA title. This win was more than just a professional accomplishment for Parker; it was also a personal achievement that was well-deserved during a trying year marked by loss. Parker remained strong after the devastating loss of her mentor and friend, the renowned Pat Summit; a snub for a place in the United States roster for the Rio Olympics; and being left off both the first and second all-WNBA teams for the first time since 2011.

Parker’s teammates, a steadfast support system, were determined to achieve this win for her. The WNBA reports that MVP player Nneka Ogwumike, another key figure in the LA Sparks’ championship win, embraced Parker after the game and cried, “This is for you! This is for you!” This stunning display of camaraderie, combined with the team’s skill and training, was an important factor in the LA Sparks’ claim for victory.

Player Alana Beard, speaking to the WNBA, shared the significance of Parker’s trust in her team, and her vulnerability required to develop that trust. “I’ve been with Candace for five years now,” said Beard. “And this was the first year she trusted her teammates. She became vulnerable, and when you become vulnerable you grow. On the court, off the court, she trusted the process, she trusted Brian [LA Sparks coach], and in the end it paid off.”

Simmons states that the team’s chemistry and mutual support were key factors in their win, “All the players brought great energy and leadership to the table. It started from the spirit of the team. You could see all the positive energy and just the love and respect that each of them had for one another. It was a really great thing to see.” This example of players supporting players, and, on another level, women supporting women, is as important on the court as it is off the court in the battle for women’s equality in sports.

Gender Inequality Off the Court

Although some progress is being made, there is still work to be done in the movement for gender equality regarding resources, exposure, pay and representation in leadership. The disparity in pay for men and women basketball players is astounding. According to CNN, “The average salary for a WNBA player is $72,000, which doesn’t include bonuses and benefits, while the average salary for an NBA player is around $5 million, or about 70 times what the average female basketball player makes.” To put this in perspective, an NBA player could easily purchase a beautiful home overlooking the Newport Beach coast, while a WNBA player would have difficulty finding an affordable home in Los Angeles. These different paychecks are not just mere numbers; these are differences in livelihoods available to professional athletes based on gender.

The gender gap is present in other professional sports, as well. For golf, the 2014 PGA tour awards a total prize amount of $340 million, five times higher than the 2015 LPGA tour prize of $61.6 million. As the Women’s Sports Foundation reports, in professional soccer, the U.S. Women’s National Team’s prize money winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup was $2 million, while Germany’s men’s national team earned $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. men’s national team that finished in 11th place won $9 million. Moreover, the money awarded to the men’s teams that were eliminated in the first round of the event, $8 million, was four times the amount awarded the U.S. women’s team, that won. Progress is being made, however: the World Major Marathon, Wimbledon and the World Surf’s League Championship Tours offer equal prize money for men and women.

Serena Williams recently penned a heartfelt letter to The Guardian, which advocated for gender equality in sports and pushed women to be tenacious in pursuing their dreams in order to empower future generations of women to do the same. She also addressed her frustration with the gender pay gap in professional sports: “So when the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts. I would never want my daughter to be paid less than my son for the same work. Nor would you.”

Williams is well aware that “women have to break down many barriers on the road to success,” such as being reminded that “[they] are not men, as if it is a flaw.” But it is not a flaw, and this is just one stigma about women athletes that we must challenge. As Simmons states, we need to show young girls “that there are just as hardcore girl ballers out there, and they don’t necessarily need to play with the guys in order to up their game.” She goes on to say that “successful women in sports,” like the LA Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike, who “at one point in the season, was the most efficient basketball player, male or female,” are much needed role models to young aspiring athletes.

Simmons points out that the stigma surrounding women athletes is an “emotional and social perspective,” and we can counteract it by educating children to not adopt these implicit biases that posit limitations on gender. As a result, we will raise the leaders of tomorrow to not see a female basketball player as any less than a male basketball player. Simmons shared a beautiful anecdote that is a beacon of hope for the future: “Even though my son plays ball with boys every week, when we go home, he says, ‘Mom, let’s play! You be Kristi and I’ll be Alana.’ He sees them as ballplayers. He doesn’t see them as either women or men.”

Our Game Plan to Make a Change

In her letter, Williams is hopeful that her story, and the story of other women who have transcended these barriers, will be a source of inspiration for others to continue the movement in women’s equality. But this is not a task for women alone—both men and women should make gender equality in sports, and beyond, a priority and endeavor to make it a reality. Change can be effected by those affiliated in the sports industry, sports fans, and those who are dedicated to gender equality. As Simmons explains, the entire sports ecosystem needs to take part in this movement.

“Each partner, each ticket purchaser, each sponsor, has to be invested in this because this is a long term investment in the future of where we all live, work and play,” Simmons explains. “And in order for that to happen, the ecosystem has to be able to sustain itself.”

The sports industry needs to appoint more women in leadership roles and executive positions, so that women are able to participate in the decisions that affect them. Deborah Slaner Larkin, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, states, “Sports are a microcosm of life. As we begin to see a more diverse group of men and women in leadership and decision-making roles throughout the industry, we should also see significant changes in media, sponsorship and other fundamental areas of support.” It is vital that this diverse leadership cares about women’s equality in sports, makes it a priority in their agenda, and uses their different perspectives to strategize a plan to achieve it. We need women championing women, and men championing women, in the rooms where these decisions are made.

Simmons suggests companies seek broadcast contracts, sponsors and partners that are committed to the cause, “Because the more sponsors you have, the more you can invest, the more impressions, the more ticket sales—it’s a whole cycle. It’s not a matter of not wanting to pay women the same amount as men. We just have to make sure all teams are blessed to have the partners and ownership groups like we have that are willing to invest.”

Attendance is another key factor. Merely attending women’s sports games will offer great support for women athletes. As Michael Graber, a sports cinematographer, says, “Getting women into the stands is key to winning television coverage and the big salaries that come with that exposure.” Another important aspect to exposure is participation in women’s sports. As more young women are encouraged to play sports, the popularity of professional women’s sports will surge. That encouragement will be stronger if girls are exposed to more women playing sports on their televisions at home. Not only will this spark participation, but this exposure will help enlighten young minds against the stereotypes regarding gender and sports. Simmons sums it up perfectly:

“We have to come back to the enlightened women and men and give them visibility, give them the TV time, and the ecosystem can then fix itself. But there has to be a really hardcore commitment, and our fans have to support companies that do and not support companies that don’t. We have to rally together. So how do we as women, and the men that support us, go out and support this team? Because if we don’t, nobody will.”

What can we all do to influence participation and exposure for women’s sports? The Women’s Sports Foundation lists ways everyone can act:

  • Attend women’s sporting events;
  • Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics;
  • Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports;
  • Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level;
  • Encourage young women to participate in sports; and
  • Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete that is being discriminated against—

A concerted effort at just one of these options will leave your footprint on the path towards women’s equality in the sports industry. So encourage your daughters, sisters and nieces to play sports; stand in the bleachers at games that demonstrate the excellence of women’s sportsmanship; and be a resilient voice for present and future women athletes.

The LA Sparks are playing their part with outreach programs that support organizations contributing to the Los Angeles community. With programs such as Driven 2 Hoop, they encourage children, especially young girls, to dream big by bringing youth groups to the Staples Center for the ultimate LA Sparks experience. The LA Sparks organization strives to make a difference in the lives of youth and families in their community, and they know it requires addressing a variety of factors that affect one’s quality of life. These are included in their five pillars: Military, Youth Sports, Health and Wellness, Education and Women and Girls platforms. NAWRB is proud to be an honoree ambassador for the LA Sparks by addressing issues in the housing ecosystem, which have a direct impact on the community’s health and wellness.

Without a doubt, the LA Sparks inspire their community, whether it’s winning a national championship or playing in front of a beaming crowd of Los Angeles’s youth.

A Helping Hand in the SEC Small Business Advocate Act of 2016

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. With the jobs and services they provide, the 30 million small business owners in the U.S. keep the country moving forward one community at a time. However, with limited employees, depleted resources and unforgiving competition from larger companies, small businesses are often at risk of being forced to close their doors.

The resources for small business owners, like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and campaigns like Small Business Saturday, are important and incredibly useful. With the funding opportunities and awareness they provide, these outlets can mean the difference between increased revenues and a permanently closed sign. Soon small businesses will have one more valuable resource at their disposal.

On December 16, 2016, President Barack Obama signed HR 3784 or the SEC Small Business Advocate Act of 2016 into law. The act will create a new Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation within the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) tasked with pursuing the interests of and addressing the obstacles to small businesses.
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Advances: New Immunotherapy Treatments for Breast Cancer in 2017

Peter P. Lee, M.D., the Billy and Audrey L. Wilder Professor in Cancer Immunotherapeutics at City of Hope, has for two decades been interested in treating cancer by stimulating or enhancing a person’s own immune system. This approach, called immunotherapy, has gained much attention in recent years and Lee is a leader in the field. His outlook for 2017 is full of promise for a more personalized approach to breast cancer treatment.

“It’s very exciting that we’ve seen a dramatic response for immunology in patients with cancers like melanoma, lymphoma, bladder cancer and others,” said Lee, who is chair of the Department of Immuno-Oncology, co-leader of the Cancer Immunotherapeutics Program and a professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. “But breast cancer has lagged behind a bit and so we’re trying to understand why it’s different and how to make immunotherapy more effective for breast cancer  patients.”

Fortunately, he said, there have been advances in understanding the relationship between the immune system and breast cancer and the difference between subtypes and their response to immunotherapy.
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