Getting Deals Done: Could a Transaction Coordinator Help?

Transaction coordinators can help salespeople meet deadlines and free up time for business development.

August 1, 2010

Angela Renken carefully reviews her online checklist for the upcoming closing. The financing has been approved, the inspection is complete, and all other contingencies that were requested by the buyer have been resolved. Even though Renken is juggling 13 transactions, she’s on top of every detail—thanks in part to the computer alert system she set up to remind her of daily deadlines.

With her intricate knowledge of the buying and selling process and her keen organizational skills, Renken could be mistaken for a seasoned real estate pro. But she’s never actually sold a house in her life. She’s a full-time transaction coordinator whose job is to assist sales practitioners by closely monitoring each stage of the deal, from the signed contract to the closing table.

The long list of tasks she performs includes everything from verifying that every document is signed and initialed in the right places to establishing escrow accounts for buyers and reminding agents of deadlines throughout the transaction.

"I do get emotionally involved in the process. I care a lot," she says, sitting in front of a Toshiba laptop in her home office in Urbandale, Iowa. An independent contractor, Renken is hired to handle the administrative tasks that would otherwise steal time away from prospecting and working with customers.

While her main contact is with individual agents, Renken says brokers would benefit enormously from encouraging their salespeople to use a TC, as transaction coordinators are often called. "We help the profitability of both agents and brokers. Anything that frees up people to do more sales is in the interest of any brokerage," she says.

Having a third party manage all communications related to a deal has other benefits, too. The TCs record-keeping can be crucial should a disagreement emerge or a lawsuit ever be filed.

While in-house TCs have been a fixture at many larger brokerage offices for the past two decades, the market slowdown has opened up more opportunities for independent TCs like Renken. "Paying full-time coordinators whose work may not cover their own costs [because of slow volume] doesn’t make sense for brokers," she says.

Renken knows a lot about the ebb and flow of being an in-house TC. She spent four years on staff with John L. Scott Real Estate in Issaquah, Wash., starting in 2005. She was paid an hourly wage that rose from $14 to $18, and received full benefits.

The office didn’t require associates to use Renken’s services but the managing broker worked hard to encourage them to do so. Agents were charged $200 per transaction for the services.

At sales meetings, the broker would often make time for Renken to deliver her pitch about the value she offered. To entice the salespeople further, the brokerage would run promotions such as one free transaction or a $50 discount. At first, only one or two agents worked with her regularly. But by the time she left in 2008, about 20 relied on her to keep their deals running smoothly.

Service Over Profits

The fees paid by sales practitioners for in-house TC services are not typically a major profit center for brokerages, especially as sales activity has slowed.

Realty Executives Phoenix hired in-house transaction coordinators for a brief period a few years ago, but management found the experience had more minuses than pluses. "Agents resented the costs. They felt the services should have been covered by the other fees they paid," says president emeritus John Foltz. "We also found that the [work] loads were variable. It became hard to justify financially."

Edie Workman, John L. Scott’s operations manager and Renken’s former supervisor, says the company strives to break even on the service. "It’s something we provide for the convenience of the agent."

But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy sell to practitioners. Renken said she’s heard a slew of reasons that agents bypass a TC’s services. "Some people say it’s too controlling and they just want to handle the details themselves, or that they aren’t busy enough to justify handing off the work," she explains.

When Renken moved to Iowa two years ago because of her husband’s new job with a wireless phone company, she became a virtual assistant and started a company called My Right Hand LLC. She continues to work regularly with a half dozen agents from her old John L. Scott office and several others.

Despite the 1,500 miles between her and the majority of her clients, there is little that Renken can’t do for them with her computer or BlackBerry. But there are some drawbacks. Because she’s not a licensed assistant in Washington, Renken can’t access the MLS to update the status of a listing. (When she worked in house, she was allowed access as a brokerage employee.) She also can’t log the escrow checks that come into the office from buyers. But during a recent afternoon, she was on the phone from Iowa with a Washington escrow company setting up courier service to have a new check picked up.

Benefits of Independence

As John L. Scott has halved the number of in-house TCs it employs in recent years to about 10, Renken has been able to benefit from the consolidation. The remaining full-time TCs are stretched thin, as they’re each responsible for as many as five offices. "I have fewer clients now than when I was in-house, but the level of service I can give is better," she says.

Renken charges $250 per transaction and puts in about 8 hours for a typical deal. If a transaction falls apart, she doesn’t charge a cancellation fee like many in the industry do. However, she has a big incentive for keeping everything on track: She doesn’t get paid until the transaction closes.

Keith Zeiler, who’s also with John L. Scott in Washington and is one of Renken’s regular clients, says having a transaction coordinator has become a business necessity for him. "[Without her] I’d have three times the gray hairs that I do now. It helps to have someone on top of every aspect of a contract. On my team we never have to worry about following up with lenders and other timelines. It relieves a lot of the stress for us," he says.

While Renken prides herself on her client retention, she says it has been difficult to drum up significant business in her Iowa market. She’s distributed hundreds of promotional flyers about her services to local brokerages, and some agents have hired her to handle marketing and listing work. "I don’t think people here are as familiar with the role of transaction coordinator," she says. "But I’m not giving up."

What Does a Transaction Coordinator Do?

From initiating a title search to sending "Just Sold" cards after the closing, transaction coordinators do a lot more than you might think. Although the list of duties can vary, these are the core activities that Renken performs for sales practitioners.

  • Verify that all required signatures and initials are on the contract and addenda.
  • Verify that all required addenda are included with the contract.
  • Fill out commission disbursement forms.
  • Open file with the escrow or title company.
  • Open and update the title search.
  • Send copies of the contract to the other agent, buyer, seller, and lender (as directed by agent).
  • Create a summary sheet containing all parties’ contact information, the property address, and property photo.
  • Create a Web-based transaction management file with secure access for agents and their clients to monitor the transaction.
  • Upload documents for shared viewing.
  • Send deadline reminders as needed throughout the transaction.
  • Follow up with the escrow company, lender, and other agents as needed. Keep agent informed of those communications.
  • Send a weekly e-mail summarizing the status of the transaction and advising the agent of upcoming deadlines.
  • Ensure that all paperwork is provided to all parties.
  • Request an estimated HUD-1 statement for agent to review.
  • Follow up with the escrow or title company on the closing day.
  • If the agent represents a seller, send reminders to remove the lock box, obtain seller’s forwarding address, and change status in MLS to "sold" at closing.
  • Upon closing, send 50 "Just Sold" postcards on the agent’s behalf.
  • Thirty days after closing, remind the agent to touch base with his or her former client.

Where to Find ‘Virtual’ Help

Technology makes it feasible for transaction coordinators to work from almost anywhere, regardless of where their clients are based. Virtual assistants can handle a variety of tasks, from transaction management to blog maintenance. To learn more about hiring a virtual assistant, visit these sites.

  • SettlementRoom: For a directory of transaction coordinators and virtual assistants, click on "Virtual Assistants" at the top of the site. SettlementRoom also has its own certification program for transaction coordinators and provides a transaction closing platform that brokers and agents can use. Subscriptions range from $35 to $165 per month, depending on closing volume.
  • REVA Network: After you submit an application to become a member, you have access to a directory of real estate virtual assistants and resources. The network was co-founded by real estate technology expert Michael Russer (a.k.a. Mr. Internet).
  • International Virtual Assistants Association: This trade association educates the public on the role and function of the virtual assistant and offers professional certifications, including CRESS (Certified Real Estate Support Specialist). You can use the online directory to search for professionals.
Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.