EP 376 – The Mind Of A Realtor with Catherine Brennan

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NCS 376 | Mind Of A Realtor

NCS 376 | Mind Of A Realtor


One of the familiar struggles we have in the note business is actually reaching out to realtors and getting them to go out and look at property and go through the rest of the process. This can be a frustrating dilemma that makes you want to peek into the mind of a realtor and know what is up. On this Note Closers Show, Scott talks with Chicago area realtor (and new Mastermind member) Catherine Brennan about the Chicago market and what investors should keep in mind when looking to work with a realtor in a new market. They discuss how to deal with realtors and reach out to them. Catherine also shares some of her experiences – from how she started in the note investing space to talking with assets managers – filling all of us with great insights and advice along the way.

Listen to the podcast here:

The Mind Of A Realtor with Catherine Brennan

I am excited to be joined in our WCN office by Catherine Brennan. What’s going on?

Thank you for having me here.

We’re glad to have you. Catherine is one of our Fast Track coaching students who is up in Dallas for the NoteExpo. Flying back to Chicago in the Windy City and flying back here, she came down and she’s been working on her business here in our offices. We have it open for any mastermind students to hang out here for a while, but also get some things prepped for this weekend’s Fast Track Training. Catherine, for those that don’t know who you are, we labeled this The Mind of a Realtor episode. We’re going to talk a little about more stuff on dealing with realtors and things like that as well. You’ve got a great history of being a phenomenal realtor in Chicago. Let’s dive into that a little bit.

I’ve been a realtor since 2004. I’m an active realtor in the city of Chicago, mostly the north side. I’ve sold about $125 million worth of real estate on almost 400 transactions.

For over how long?

For fourteen years.

It’s somewhere between $8 million and $10 million a year for the most part.

I probably do on average about 25 deals a year. On the north side, you think of the Loop, the Gold Coast, Streeterville and Wrigleyville.

One of the great things is you’ve been an active realtor for years. What attracted you to the note investing space?

We’ve been investors. We’ve invested in five single family home since 2013. There are some mistakes that we made. I wish that we hadn’t just focused on single family homes, but looked into multi-units. What has interested us in the note buying spaces is I want to insulate our equity. We’re not doing that so much with the single family homes. We have maintenance costs and then we have our taxes. The State of Illinois has a pension problem. We’re about $125 billion pension problem. We’re going to be subject to an increase in taxes and there’s nothing that we can do about it. That’s out of our control, like the maintenance issues. Those are out of control or tenants leave or things like that. The note space sounds like there’s a little more insulation if you can get the notes performing and that sounds interesting. We can sit back more and not be on call.

You want it where you’ve got stuff brought in versus you have to go off and find your next sale, your next transaction and go from there. Then find a deal that is cheaper for you versus buying it traditionally or retail-wise or little over value as an REO, but not what the discounts that we’re getting with notes.

I liked that and to your point too, I like for me a relationship with a bank or hedge fund and having that be more of a source of leads as opposed to the one-off mom and dad selling their house.

You had a couple of conversations with assets managers too. How’s that been different for you?

It’s a new conversation and I’m learning the lingo.

Was it easier than you expected though?

It’s been easier than I expected. It wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be. I know I have some experience because I’ve been in real estate, so I can talk that but still it was good. I felt like I’m learning

It was a conversation. Two people talking and primarily the asset managers are asking what you’re looking for, pricing expectations and markets. If you’re looking for performing, non-performing, what you’re looking for as in bulk purchases or the amount looking to fund and that stuff. It’s basically, “We’ve got stuff on our books every quarter, every month and we’re glad to send it over to you.”

It wasn’t as intimidating and that helped that I had been listening to your podcast. I’ve had you in my ear at the gym and my car. Your show is on a lot.

You’ve been here too to see some of the episodes. We’ve scheduled stuff. I’m trying to get stuff on the board, so I can take Thanksgiving week off and then also the holidays off but still crank out content during the holidays when you want to listen to me versus the in-laws. The thing is you’re in Chicago. Chicago is an interesting market. It’s like the tale of two cities for the most part. North side is pretty much normal market. What’s the south side? We talking like Cicero or was it 55 the highway that runs through there or no?

Cicero, the South Street. The south side, you can go down to Hyde Park but then we have the west side. The west side to your point. West of Cicero, Inglewood and those neighborhoods. They’re a little rougher.

A couple of years ago, we were driving through there looking for stuff down by the University of Chicago. Obama was planning on building his presidential library down there. That’s big. Have you seen the market regentrified down that neck of the woods?

NCS 376 | Mind Of A Realtor

Mind Of A Realtor: New conversations teach you a new lingo.


There are some opportunity zones down there too. You’re seeing more money going into that area. I don’t even know why it wasn’t already just this amazing space to invest because you have the lake right there.

We were seeing a lot of the three-story older townhomes get bought up, rehabbed and go from there. I honestly think Chicago makes better play as an REO investor than it does for a note investor because the fact that it takes forever to foreclose, to evict it takes another act of God to have that happening. The tenants off under the laws will drag it out and then the judges aren’t quick to enforce it either. Many people heard me talking about and hating Crook County. You’ve got Lake County and other areas that are great. Another part of Chicago is great as well, it just it’s a rough time down there.

It is and I don’t know what’s going to make that change. Our reputation around the country is about our crime and our crime stats. The city is so much more than that, but I don’t know what it’s going to take to make that area better.

Making America great one mortgage, one block at a time. One of things I wanted to add here is what’s funny is we get some realtors that come through here. They come through our classes and stuff like that. Years ago, my actual workshop was a for continuing education. Fifteen hours of CMA credit. It takes me a couple of phone calls, a couple of things then I set back out there. One of the things I wanted to bring on is one of the big difficulties that a lot of note investors have is reaching out to realtors to get them to go out and look at property, pull CMAs, pull comps and explain what’s going on. That’s why I thought it would be great as of the mind of the investor talking to a realtor who’s got a decade plus of experience, talking about what goes through a realtor’s mind when they get a phone call from an investor.

First and foremost, investors are welcomed. Realtors liked to work with investors because one, you’re low maintenance. What I mean by that is more than likely, if you’re working with an investor that has a listing, you know that listing is going to sell. If you’re going to put in your time, your money, your effort, at the end of the day, you’re going to get paid. That’s not something you always get with the home owner. That’s good. Also to have an investment listing in a seller’s market, which Chicago is still is. I know other parts of the country are too, again, that’s money in the bank. You know that’s going to sell. You welcome that phone call. Also, when you’re working with an investor, when I put forth the data, when I’m collecting the data and I’m giving them the market times and a month’s supply and all that, they understand that. It’s a much easier conversation in a much less emotional conversation.

That’s true, emotional because they’re not looking to live in this. They were not worried about the paint being the wrong color or the carpets because most of us are like, “We’re going to rip that out and redo that anyway for the most.”

They’re not invested and like, “I picked the most beautiful granite in the world and why doesn’t everybody in the world loved my beautiful granite that I chose.” They’re not as emotionally invested in it. You can have a very succinct conversation.

What are some tips that an investor should do when they’re calling up and trying to find an agent to either drive by a property? What are some tips that you would give them to talk to a realtor for the first time?

Be upfront about what you’re looking for. One thing that I’m having a hiccup with is that it’s hard for a realtor to think about not walking into that property. We’re all about comparing granites and hardwood floors and all things like that. To do what’s called a drive-by appraisal is a little bit different for most realtors. Tell them what you’re looking for. Tell them that you probably need a range of what the price would be and to take as many pictures as I possibly can but give them additional data. A month’s supply, days on market, those types of things. Original list price to final sale price so you can determine where your property could sell.

Should they always do a square footage above or below to get a better range for stuff like that?

For single family homes, a price per square foot. It’s hard in Chicago to do a price per square foot because we have different inventories, but you could get an idea.

If we get a note on a spreadsheet, it’s 1,000-square foot. I don’t care if a property is1,500 or a couple hundred below just to get a better range. This is one’s 900 versus one that’s 1,000. Give them a little bit of range, but share with them what they’re doing. The biggest question I always get is do we offer to pay? Is that good to do? Everyone wants to get paid.

I struggle with that. Listening to some meetings that I’ve been to, I’ve struggled a little bit with the thought that somebody would just call them and ask them to do something without paying or at least ensuring that there’s going to be something at the end of the day. As a realtor, I would ask you to pay them.

There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a great thing. It’s just that some people are like, “I want $200 to pull a CMA.” That I can find pretty much online but $50 to $100 for an hour of work, is that fair?

Yes, I would say so. Know that there are different kinds of realtors. Somebody who is a top performer, top producer in their area is the realtor you want, but it’s not going to be the one who’s going to accept $50. I would try to hone in on somebody who’s very hungry, who’s maybe has a year under their belt who has done at least ten deals and would be really excited to get to know an investor and to get involved in say like a community like this. Where we say, “I’m looking for a realtor in Columbus,” they know they’re going to get other referrals. For that reason, maybe you want to touch in with that person. A top producer could work too because they tend to have minions.

Maybe calling the local team office and then getting the admin on the phone saying, “Here’s what I’m looking for, somebody new. I’m an investor in the area. I’m looking at multiple assets. I know that your top brokers are not going to take the time to do it, they don’t have the time but somebody in there that’s got some time to help out.”

They have a listing usually of some agents and some buyer’s agents and you can get in touch with them that way.

Then paying them via either PayPal or dropping a check. I would think that in this world when you’re running comps and things like that, it would be worthwhile to send the realtor a square account. You say, “That way I can give you a credit card over the phone. It doesn’t cost anything for us to do that. You at least get paid immediately versus waiting.

I’m pretty excited on Amazon gift card. Everybody shops on Amazon. That’s an easy thing to send.

One of the big things we get is when we give a property address and say, “I need somebody drive-by and take a look at it.” Then the realtors come back and say, “This house is not listed for sale.” I’m like, “I understand that. I’m the bank on this. I’m looking to buy this as part of a bulk portfolio.”

You have to make them understand and be forthright with that information. A lot of realtors are already familiar with an REO situation, so I don’t think you have to explain that but if you have to, then you do. Just give them your criteria of what you’re looking for. At the end of the day they just want to know that for their effort, they’re going to get paid something.

I pay realtors from $50 to $400. The $400 was one that drove by nine properties on a Saturday. She took pictures, pulled the tax listings and sent comps. It was one of the best that I paid. I didn’t even buy any of those because she’s like, “I don’t think these are good deals for you.” I reach out to her for anything I’m buying in Jacksonville, Florida. She’s my go-to agent. I make sure she gets paid. She’s handled working with rehabbers and running crews and stuff like that. A good agent, a good team should have some contacts of maybe not huge repair and stuff, but some good general maintenance cleanup crews.

What do you do when somebody is managing for you?

NCS 376 | Mind Of A Realtor

Mind Of A Realtor: Somebody who is a top performer in their area is the realtor you want, but note that they are not going to be the ones who are going to accept $50.


It varies. They will usually collect bids for me. They get three bids and I’ll ask them, “Who have you worked with in the past?” They will usually tell me. I’m usually, “Great.” Then what I do is I literally send the money to the realtor a lot of times and they’ll manage that. I have one realtor in Florida who manage a lot of rehabs. I pay him 10% extra to help manage the project. He gets his realtor listing commission and he gets 10% of the profits of what I do. He loves it, but I love it too because he’s managing all the headaches.

He’s almost like your GC.

He is and he knows the market. He drives by all the assets for me. I don’t have to pay him on a per asset fee anymore because he knows he’s going to make money on it or I’m going to feed him a deal or two here and there. You’ve worked with investors before as well too, right?

I have.

That doesn’t mean bombard her with all the contract for deeds or first liens, “Can you run by the hoods for me, Catherine, and take some photos.”

If you are going to the south side, then why don’t you find a realtor in the south side? Real estate is so local. I know the north side inside and out. You can name a corner and I’m going to know what that corner looks like. I’m not going to know the south side at all. You want to choose very locally.

Especially if you’re getting to bigger cities. Here in Austin, people know downtown but they don’t know Round Rock. They don’t know up here where we live. It’s good to get people know the Lake Travis, $1 million, but they don’t know what a condo is going to go for down off of South First Street.

I always laugh when I’m like someplace else and somebody says, “What do you think this is worth?” If I’m in Columbus, Ohio, I’m like, “I have no idea.” It’s so local.

That’s one of the great things about finding a team, finding someone that’s hungry and working out with them. I’m a big believer that if you don’t end up closing on that deal, you still need to send someone an Amazon box or a bottle of champagne or wine or communicate with what’s going on.

Communication is key. If you’ve hired somebody, if you’ve hired a realtor and you’ve gotten the information you need, just follow up with them. We’re all human. We want to know what had happened. If the deal fell through, just tell us and say, “The next time around, as long as you liked them,” and if you didn’t like them, give them that feedback too. That’s valuable.

What would you say if you don’t like a realtor? Be honest and say, “I didn’t like the fact that it took forever or you took crappy pictures at night or during the day?”

Because you hopefully have laid out your criteria and I know sometimes we would just have to learn. We make mistakes and we learn but give them a checklist of what you are looking for and be as specific as you can. If they agreed to it and they didn’t fulfill it, be honest with them. You’re doing them a favor.

Especially when the realtor say that they’ll run comps and get it in 24 hours and they never do it.

There’s a lot of that too. That’s why you want the good realtors. That’s why I say go with a top producer or even maybe get on Zillow to look for your realtor and look at reviews.

We have a question here. It says, “Doesn’t Realtor.com rank agents by zip as far as volume?

You can find that on Zillow. You could also possibly go to the associations of the boards. Ours is the Chicago Association of Realtors and you can look to see how many transactions a realtor has done. Where they’ve ranked.

What I would do is I would look at almost their awards. They have awards at the end of the year. They have that posted. Look at the awards. Somebody who is hungry is somebody who’s doing like ten to twenty transactions a year. Those were the ones you want to go for or the top producers.

One of the things that you’ve had the a-ha I asked you, “What’s been the biggest nugget from being here at the Fast Track? What’s been the biggest nugget you’ve gotten?” We’re not on the Fast Track yet but just hanging out here, being a fly on the wall. What’s been the biggest thing for you?

Your social media drive. It’s insane. The fact that you can reach so many people by doing this. Twenty minutes of this, once a day, couple times a day, your reach is huge.

You’ve also done some good stuff. You setup your MailChimp account and you exported your LinkedIn connections which is how many?

LinkedIn now is up to 1,675.

The question I have, you sent out your first email blast to your audience though. That was the first time you’ve done that. What kind of open rate did you get on the first email?

The first email is 46%.

NCS 376 | Mind Of A Realtor

Mind Of A Realtor: Communication is key; after all, we’re all human. We just want to know what had happened.


Did you have a great warm following of these 1,500 plus people or it was a mixture?

It was a mixture. I’ve had a couple different lives for a couple of different places, so it was a mixture of that. I also I had asset managers in there because I’ve been doing what you recommended. If I’m sitting there watching TV at night, I’m cutting, pasting, cutting, pasting and cutting pasting.

That’s what led to a couple phone calls and people responding back to you. That was the first round of emails, 46%. You sent a follow-up email to the other 40% that had not opened yet. You hit a 9% open rate on the second round of email. You are up at 55% to 56%. That’s good up there. Did you get more responses from the second round?

I have one person connect with me but it’s a friend.

We created a couple of lists, opt-in images in your email. The Note Nexus, it’s a great name for an entity. We took some time. We created a couple of nice little infographics. We took one of the pictures of the houses that you had sold before and then we created some nice little images like all your hot deals and then we also have your cool investments and we posted that in the email that went out to the audit. Did you have a few people click on that?

I’ve had a total of five.

Did they jump into the investments or the hot deals?

I don’t think they know the difference.

You did have somebody reach out to you in Chicago, another realtor and investor based on his LinkedIn profile that said he’s definitely interested.

I have somebody there. I had a second person. He said he wants Chicago notes anywhere.

You happen to have a list that you’re working for it too. Let’s get some stuff. You have some stuff from another mastermind student as well.

I did from Chicago.

I try to maximize my time. If I can do one thing, I want to get it out to many and that was one of the great things that you realized and we did that with the two emails. One to the many and be able to get those conversations back into you. You setup your MailChimp, you setup your template. You don’t have to reinvent the email wheel every time. You got all the basic nuts and bolts in there. You did something that I think it helped you to stand out though. I told you, “If you can pull a list of all the properties that you sold or been involved with in Chicago, several hundred of them. We narrowed it down to 200 and we just dropped from the BatchGeo and we made this amazing map of the city, of stuff you’ve been involved with. It’s really powerful thing. One thing I didn’t tell you to do on that yet, which I would highly recommend you do, is I would go post that photo into your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn allows you to post projects. I would just post that in there and say, “Here’s just a sampling of the deals I did.” You’ve done over 200. How many total homes or properties?

I’m almost at 400.

What I would do is if you can sort it by zip code and then do one BatchGeo for the northern side, one BatchGeo for the southern side and you could even take that map and cut it together and show a full listing. You post that on your projects on your LinkedIn profile or on Facebook or even on your website. That gives you value. You do have a lot of experience. It may not be a lot of note experience, but you got a lot of experience in one of the rougher markets. There are good parts of Chicago. “Here’s my portfolio right here. I know what I’m talking about. I know the markets I’m looking for. Not only am I interested in this area, but I can be an asset to the asset managers as well.” That’s a thing to think about when you’re reaching out as well. Like you said beforehand, you are looking to transition more from the realtor side to more the investor side. What states are you looking at for yourself? What kind of markets are you looking for?

Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana. What did you think of Wisconsin?

I wouldn’t buy in Wisconsin because the taxes are too high. They have high property taxes. You don’t want to have a cheese head in those skating rinks in the basement for stuff like that if the copper goblins come in and go. Illinois, you know that area well. Michigan, you got a family in Columbus, Ohio. Bill Griesmer reached out to me and said one of the benefits of the mastermind, Wayne Snell had a court appearance in Columbus now. He couldn’t make it, so he had Bill go in his place and Bill was placed as a witness for a foreclosure. It’s really great little relationship out there as well. You found an asset, why don’t we talk a little about what you found about that asset? We don’t want to disclose the address. You found a contract for deed you are looking at. A three-bedroom, two bath, what kind of home work did you find out about it?

It’s a three-bedroom, one bath and it’s in Illinois, but it’s outside of Cook County and it’s something that’s interesting to me.

Do you remember what the value is that you were looking at?

That one was $32,000 and then the BPO was higher. It’s around $60,000.

The value was $60,000 but the UPB was in the $30,000. Do you remember what the payment streams? Did they make any payments in the last twelve months?

That one had made at least three in the past year.

You have somebody who’s driving by to see if it’s occupied or vacant right now?

NCS 376 | Mind Of A Realtor

Mind Of A Realtor: If you can do one thing, they get it out to many.


It says that it’s owner-occupied on the tape.

We have to always verify that. What are some things that you would recommend if people are talking to agents about verifying occupancy? What are some of the things that you would say they should do or should not do?

I suppose it depends on where they are, in what city.

That’s part of it, but what are some basic things people can do for the most part?

You could talk to neighbors. I honestly have never done that. I’ll be honest with you. I would probably talk to neighbors. I know you’ve talked about looking and calling the utility companies, but even going so far as to look at the meter just to see if it’s spinning.

It was funny I went by one property and the power is still on. It’s spinning but nobody was home. They’ve moved out of the property and did not turn the power off.

I supposed we could go and knock on the door.

We did something interesting that were a big help with us getting out our lost mitigation. Keep you in your home postcards as well too. We were trying to make lemonade out of some lemons. That’s some lower-hanging fruit that we see out there. You can take into play being an ex-realtor or working with ex-realtors on direct mail campaigns to find assets. We should probably do a follow-up when your brain’s exploded from spending three more days with me on a white board. Catherine, we’re excited to have you here. I had a great time. I know that a lot of the mastermind members are also excited. You came out to our Fast Track in Dallas. We met online.

I went to Cincinnati.

The Midwest Note Summit.

I did the sneak peek with your mastermind group in Dallas.

What did you think of that?

I got so much out of those two days in Dallas then followed by the Quest Expo. I’m sold.

We’ve got a great group. We’re very blessed with great people.

Everyone is saying, “How can we help you?” While I’m here, they’re checking in to see how I’m doing and what I’m thinking and how’s it going and how can I help you.

We’re very blessed. We’ve got great people surrounding us and we’d like to keep it that way. If you’re interested, we do have our next Mastermind coming up in December 7th, 8th and 9th. If you’re a note investor, it’s something you probably should look around and it’s not going to be here in Austin. It’s down in Sunny Cape Coral, Florida at the Westin Cape Coral Resort. I’m so excited about it. If you’d like to, if you’re on the fence about, “Do I want to sign up?” come on out for a sneak peek ticket. It’s $1,000. It’s good for you plus a spouse or partner. Come out and spend three days with our Mastermind group and get a good chance to expand your network and really see what our Note Mastermind and Fast Track Training is all about. Catherine, thank you so much. You’ve been a big help. We look forward to your continued and exponential success.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.

I appreciate it.

We’re glad to have you. What’s the best way for people to get a hold of you?

Catherine@TheNoteNexus.com or you can call me on my cell (312) 613-8022.

Everyone, reach out if you have any questions and go make some offers and we’ll see you off the top.

Important Links:

About Catherine Brennan

NCS 376 | Mind Of A RealtorCatherine Brennan began her career in real estate in 2004 and since that time, she has closed over 350 transactions to become one of Chicago’s Top Producers.

Having been in the industry for over ten years, Catherine has experienced a variety of real estate economies. With a boom, bust and now, stable market, Catherine’s wealth of knowledge and experience helps her successfully navigate through the scenarios that apply to her client’s unique needs. She is determined by nature, and her goal of making every transaction a successful one allows her to adapt to any situation. For her clients, this translates to a positive real estate experience.

Overall, Catherine’s aim is to make each transaction as smooth as possible through consistent communication as well as honest and informed representation. Her clients can rely on her warm demeanor and sense of humor to make their experience an enjoyable one.

Because she understands that each real estate transaction is unique, she has developed an extensive network of resources such as attorneys, contractors, lenders and inspectors that are available to impart confidence and ease throughout the entire transaction.

Prior to becoming a Realtor, Catherine worked for the Chicago White Sox in several capacities: sales, event planning and community relations. The skills and experiences she had there provided a great foundation that she draws upon today. She continues to enjoy attending games at the ballpark as well as playing golf and volunteering for Northwestern’s Brain Tumor Institute. She is a Graduate of DePaul University and a long-time resident of Chicago.


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