Brier Grieves April 7, 2016 No Comments

What Makes a Good Real Estate Agent? 5 Signs You’ve Found the One

When seriously considering an investment in commercial or residential real estate, one of the first steps one usually takes is to choose a real estate agent to work with.  In a crowded field, where everyone from veteran agents to newly minted professionals looking to start a new part-time career are competing for business, it truly is a buyers’ market when it comes to choosing who to work with.  While money is the name and commission is the game, however, not every agent who has been attracted to the field will be a good one, and some will be downright rotten.  Before committing to work with the first person a colleague or newspaper feature recommends, a buyer should meet with several agents to ensure that the property or properties he or she invests in will be the absolute right fit at the absolute right price.  Not sure what makes a good real estate agent?  Here are 5 signs he or she is the one!

1.  Excellent Communication Skills:

In the real estate market, time is money, and opportunities can be missed by a matter of hours in some cases.  For this reason it is imperative to work with an agent who clearly and promptly communicates with the buyer and seller.  Many a deal has been missed because an agent did not act quickly enough when communicating an offer, a rejection or a counteroffer.  If a property is not the right fit the buyer looking to invest needs to know right away so that he or she can quickly move on to other possibilities. While this is especially true in a seller’s market, there will always be competition for the best properties and the best prices.  When going through initial conversations with a potential new agent take not of how promptly phone calls or emails are returned, how quickly the agent finds and relays the answers to questions that he or she does not know offhand and other indicators of excellent or poor communication skills.

2.  Takes a Proactive Approach:

A buyer should give extra consideration to an agent who seeks him or her out.  While contacting prospective buyers is the real estate equivalent of chasing sales leads, and his or her intention is to make money for the seller, taking such action shows a proactive agent who is eager to make a deal for his or her client.  Such an agent is likely to be attentive, communicative and open to help foster negotiations between the seller and prospective buyers.  In other words, he or she will get the job done.  This is a win for all parties involved.

3.  Knows When to Hold the Tongue:

Talking is important when communicating information to a buyer that he or she needs to know, and to some degree friendly chit-chat is usually welcome as well.  When an agent does more talking than listening, however, this is a red flag that he or she is not paying enough attention to what the needs of the buyer are.  The exceptions?  An agent should speak as much as needed to ask the questions necessary to understand the buyer’s request.  Additionally he or she should always restate what the buyer has said in order to ensure that his or her understanding is correct.  This will save time and prevent miscommunication.

4.  Understands the Buyer’s Purpose:

A good agent should have more concern for what the buyer is looking for than for showing the properties that he or she is most interested in selling.  To do that, he or she needs to know not only what features, location and price the buyer has in mind, but also exactly what the buyer’s reason is for making the purchase.  A buyer looking for an investment property should communicate this to an agent right away, and the agent should tailor the search to the properties that are most in line with the buyer’s purpose for making the purchase.

5.  Does Not Hesitate to Give References:

A referral from a friend or colleague is a fine way to get started on the search for an agent.  This should not, however, be the end of the hunt.  Everyone has different preferences when it comes to personality, the way someone communicates and even the way someone presents himself or herself aesthetically.  Avoid pairing up with an agent who turns out to be the right fit for a friend but not for oneself by asking for the most recent 5-20 references from each agent being considered.  Any hesitation to share references or excuses for delays in doing so should send up a red flag immediately.  The reasons may or may not turn out to be legitimate, and an agent who is uncomfortable providing many references may in fact be an excellent agent, but the risk is not worth taking when it comes to purchasing real estate as an investment.  If former clients are unhappy, the time to find out is now.

To talk more about protecting a real estate investment, and what measures to require tenants to take to protect it as well, please contact us.  Thank you.

Brier Grieves March 15, 2016 No Comments

White House Announces Cybersecurity National Action Plan

The White House recently announced its Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP)—a sweeping, $19 billion initiative designed to strengthen the country’s cyber defenses. CNAP includes a number of provisions designed to both strengthen and regularize governmental safeguards against cyber threats, as well as provisions to educate and partner with the private sector to help better protect businesses and consumers.

Major Provisions

According to a White House press release, CNAP will use its proposed $19 billion budget to pursue a number of objectives:

  • Form the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity. The commission will bring together top thinkers from the private sector to recommend actions that will strengthen cyber security in the public and private sectors, as well as ways to protect privacy. The commission will also be tasked with devising strategies for maintaining public safety and national security; fostering the development of new technical solutions; and bolstering the relationships between federal, state, and local governments and the private sector.
  • Modernize government information technology (IT). The plan to modernize government IT contains two major provisions. First, the White House has proposed a $3.1 billion Information Technology Modernization Fund, designed to replace and modernize the aging and unsecure IT infrastructure currently in use. In addition, the White House will be creating a new position, Federal Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), to oversee and implement these changes.
  • Expand and invest in programs and training. The Department of Homeland Security will be expanding its EINSTEIN and Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation programs, as well as increasing the number of federal civilian cyber defense teams to a total of 48. Additionally, CNAP’s proposed budget would invest $62 million in the following:
    • Establishing a CyberCorps Reserve program
    • Developing a Cybersecurity Core Curriculum
    • Strengthening the National Centers for Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity program
    • Enhancing student loan forgiveness programs for cyber security experts
    • Encouraging investment in cyber security education through the President’s Computer Science for All Initiative
  • Increase the use of multi-factor authentication. The government will be encouraging the increased use of multi-factor identification – safeguards that use things like fingerprints or codes sent via text message in addition to a password – to better protect data. To that end, the government will launch a National Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign that aims to educate the public and promote multi-factor authentication.
  • Develop partnerships to secure data and financial transactions. The government will partner with companies like Google, Facebook, DropBox and Microsoft to help keep data more secure, and it will work with companies like MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Venmo to make sure financial transactions are more protected as well.
  • Curb identity theft. The government is looking for ways to reduce its use of Social Security numbers as an identifier for citizens. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission recently launched IdentityTheft.Gov as a resource for victims of identity theft to more easily report the crime and get the resources they need to recover.
If you need some assistance with your cybersecurity action plan please contact us today.
Brier Grieves February 25, 2016 No Comments

3 Ways to Avoid Cyber Attacks: Estate Planning for Your Digital Assets

Technology has become more pervasive, and it’s become increasingly difficult to avoid having at least some kind of valuable data that has to be managed. Whether it’s important photographs, documents hosted in the Cloud, online banking accounts, or Web-based assets like social media accounts or websites, virtually everyone has some digital assets to track.

That can be a daunting task in its own right, but what happens to those assets if something should happen to you? If you haven’t taken the time to plan for your digital assets, your loved ones could find themselves unable to access your accounts. And, if one of those accounts is compromised by a data breach, hackers could use your online accounts as a backdoor into your bank accounts or other assets.

Estate planning for your digital assets is a crucial part of your overall estate planning strategy. While it’s always best to consult with a financial planner or legal counsel when considering estate planning, there are some general guidelines everyone should follow when making plans for their digital assets.

Create an Inventory

“Digital assets” can refer to a broad range of things, but in general, it refers to any part of your digital identity that would require your successors’ attention. The first step in planning is making sure that you have an exhaustive, centralized inventory of your assets so that your executor, attorney or trustee knows where to find everything.

1. Hardware

Begin by making an inventory of your hardware. It may seem obvious, but don’t take this step for granted. Many people use a number of different devices in their day-to-day lives, with important data stored in each of those devices. Remember to create an inventory and make a note of hardware that may be company-owned, and also remember that pieces of old hardware—computers, cellphones, cameras, etc.—may have important data on them.

Tailor your inventory to your needs, but consider some of the following:

  • Computers, laptops and tablets (including username and login information)
  • Cellphones
  • Digital cameras
  • CDs, DVDs, flash drives, SIM cards, external hard drives and other devices that store data

In addition to making a list of the names and locations of all of your hardware, it could be helpful to your successors to map out the file structures of your data. Write out step-by-step instructions so your successors know how to navigate the file system on your hardware in order to access your important information.

2. Online Assets

Next, consider your online presence in its various forms. Though it may be daunting, consider every site for which you’ve created a user profile and determine whether or not your successors will need to gain access. In doing so, be sure to log website names, URLs, usernames and passwords:

The list will vary, but be especially mindful of websites that store your personal information or banking information. Consider the following:

  • Online backing accounts
  • Shopping sites (e.g., Amazon, the Apple Store, eBay)
  • Social media accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Cloud-hosted email accounts (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook)
  • Cloud Storage (e.g., Dropbox, Google Drive)
  • Organizational sites and apps (e.g., OmniFocus, Evernote, Pinterest)
  • Subscriptions (e.g., Netflix, Audible, Hulu Plus, HBO Go)
3. Work

Depending on your job, it might make sense to create a separate inventory for any work-related information that might be among your digital assets. This will vary widely from profession to profession, but as telecommuting becomes more commonplace, it’s an increasingly important consideration. In some cases, it’s a matter of keeping sensitive information secure. In other cases, it’s simply a matter of making sure your successors have access to the work you’ve been doing on projects that they might need to take over. Consider the following:

  • Client or patient files
  • Spreadsheets
  • Online databases or software
  • Projects tasks, notes or drafts

Everyone’s digital assets are bound to be different, which is why making an exhaustive inventory is so important.

Provide Access to Your Assets

Once you have an inventory of your digital assets, it’s important to make sure to provide your successors with access. You’ll want to choose someone you can trust to handle sensitive personal and financial information, as well as the task of carrying out your wishes. It could be a trusted advisor, an attorney or a family member or friend.

Whomever you choose, make sure you keep records naming that person and his or her responsibilities along with the rest of your estate planning information. Just because someone has your hardware or knows your passwords doesn’t mean that he or she is authorized to use them. State and federal laws may prohibit others from accessing or using your digital assets, so having proper documentation is essential.

Write Out Instructions

Once you’ve created an inventory of your assets and assigned the appropriate executor or trustee, you’ll want to document your wishes. It may seem tedious, but it’s important to take the time and to be detailed. After all, you wouldn’t want someone mistakenly selling or deleting important documents or photographs.

Planning for the Future

Estate planning may conjure unpleasant thoughts about death, but it’s important to plan now so that your wishes can be carried out and your loved ones and colleagues can continue on without undue stress.

It’s also important to make sure you have the people and the resources that you need in order to make sure your wishes are carried out as you’d like. For further assistance, contract your trusted advisor at Brier Grieves Agency today.
Brier Grieves February 18, 2016 No Comments

The Insurance Pricing Cycle

Most industries are cyclical to some extent, and insurance is no exception. As an insurance buyer, it’s important to know what factors determine the cost of coverage. But understanding the market cycle is only half of the pricing equation; since you can’t control the market, it’s equally important to know what you can do to ensure you are always securing the best price– whatever market conditions prevail.

Property and Casualty Insurance Cycle

The insurance industry pricing cycle alternates between periods of soft and hard market conditions. In a hard market, coverage is harder to place and premiums grow. A soft market indicates premiums are stable or falling, and insurance may be more readily available.

A variety of factors influence the price of insurance, including economic downturns, catastrophic events, insurers’ claim reserve dollars, and supply and demand. Supply is tied to the amount of policyholder surplus in the industry, and demand is the appetite of the insurance-buying community to transfer risk.

Pricing cycles can also vary between lines of coverage and geographic location, creating both hard and soft market conditions depending on what type of commercial insurance is involved and how exposures to loss have changed. For example, the pricing and underwriting approach for property coverage for businesses based in hurricane-prone areas is much different than for businesses located elsewhere.

Risk Management Considerations

Buyers can take steps to ensure they are always getting the best price. Although premiums vary due to market pressure, your true cost of price is determined by your claims history. The key to controlling price is to control losses through instituting safety prevention programs, managing claims efficiently when you have a loss and employing cost containment strategies.

Brier Grieves Agency has the resources to help you employ cost reduction strategies to limit exposures and reduce premiums through both risk transfer and non-risk transfer solutions. Our consultative approach includes the following steps:

  • Identifying your exposures to loss
  • Recommending loss control solutions
  • Improving your disaster response potential by helping you to create or update a business contingency program
  • Assisting in building a culture of safety
  • Providing claims management to keep costs down
  • Seeking continuous improvement
  • Reviewing and recommending coverages to ensure your protection

Those who approach risk financing through sustained long-term cost control and claims management measures, instead of just riding the insurance pricing cycle’s wave, are always in a better position to secure coverage at the best price.

The market may fluctuate, but our goal–to be your broker of choice–never wavers. To review your risk management strategies, contact us today at (813) 876-4166.