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Mark Jenks, a Re/Max Specialists broker associate and owner of REO Jacksonville, spends much of his time in the field, often in low-income neighborhoods.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Oct. 28, 201612:00 PM EST

Re/Max agent finds niche in REO market; ranks among best in country

by: Kevin Hogencamp  Contributing Writer

Jacksonville Realtor Mark Jenks is an agreeable sort, with one fundamental exception.

A high-producing real estate owned (REO) specialist who’s closed more than $2 billion in sales the last 20 years, Jenks doesn’t share certain trade secrets with competitors.

In an interview at a Riverside coffee shop at the beginning of a busy workday, Jenks cited a recent example of another REO specialist asking him to recommend contractors for repair work.

Jenks flat-out refused.

“It’s business, nothing personal. Why would I give him that information?” the 53-year-old Australia native said. “That’s sort of where I draw the line on being overly friendly.”

Holding certain information close to the vest is among the many tools Jenks has put into his knowledge chest over 30 years in the real estate business.

So, is putting together a top-notch staff. And, this gem: Ensuring that a police officer leads the way into houses during evictions.

“I’ve learned some things the hard way over the years,” he said, describing a scary encounter with a homeless squatter.

“There’s rarely a dull moment in REO, that’s for sure,” he said.

Starting new career by taking chance

Jenks says cutting his teeth in the industry with Watson Realty Corp. established the foundation for a solid career in his often-misunderstood specialty.

Now a Re/Max Specialists broker associate and owner of REO Jacksonville, Jenks says his big break in real estate — and REO — occurred when he was a fledgling Watson agent.

The company needed a new team member in its REO division and Jenks wanted bigger paydays.

But he didn’t know anything about the REO world.

“I said, ‘Whoa? What is that, exactly?’” Jenks said.

The answer: When lenders provide mortgage loans, they deem them as investments because they profit from the loans’ interest.

To salvage their investment, lenders foreclose on homes with unpaid mortgages and sell the properties at foreclosure auctions. If a home doesn’t sell at auction, it becomes an REO property.

Realtors like Jenks work with lenders to vacate, prepare, market and sell the homes.

“When my questions were answered, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it,’” Jenks said.

That was about a quarter-century ago.

In 2015, only Watson’s Debbie Shagnea finished higher than Jenks in closed residential sales volume among Northeast Florida real estate professionals.

In its most recent annual “One Thousand” survey, the Colorado real estate consulting and publishing firm REAL Trends, placed Jenks No. 163 nationally in number of residential real estate transactions recorded in 2015.

He was 115th nationally in residential sales production the previous year.

The REAL Trends survey, which identifies the United States’ top 1,000 real estate sales professionals and teams, is conducted annually in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal.

With more than $2 billion in closed REO transactions since joining Re/Max nearly 20 years ago, Jenks is among the firm’s top-producing agents nationally each year.

Some years, he’s Re/Max’s No. 1 ranked Florida agent.

Jenks says when his annual real estate numbers are published, he often is caught by surprise.

One thing’s for sure: Jenks has been pedal-to-the-metal busy since early in the Great Recession.

“I never sit down and tally it up because there’s always work ahead of me,” he said. “I have been very fortunate; I can tell you that.”

It’s not a regular real estate job

REO is much different from traditional real estate.

Working directly with lenders’ asset managers, many of whom Jenks has had relationships with for more than a decade, he and his team prepare houses for sale by removing occupants, clearing liens and setting a price.

Sometimes, the properties require repair work; other times, they are sold as-is.

Then, there’s marketing the homes.

Jenks says a recent Monday, during which he logged nearly 150 miles in his sport utility vehicle, was a typical workday.

He first trekked from his Ortega home to the Northside, where he inspected repairs on a small home.

Then it was down to Bartram Trail, where he assisted a vendor who had locked himself outside of a home.

Then, he drove up to Mandarin and over to Orange Park for inspections before returning to the Northside to meet with a client.

All before lunchtime.

“By the time the day was over, I basically had made a big circle around Jacksonville in my car –– twice,” he said.

Jenks says REO work isn’t for everyone –– notwithstanding dealing with the challenges of neglected homes and occasional encounters with unsavory squatters.

Logistics skills are paramount, as is the ability to manage time, people and information, he says.

Jenks credits his office administrator, Tammi Tyre, for keeping him on task.

Tyre says that’s precisely her job.

“I manage everything for him and he is great at having the people in the key places they need to be,” she said.

Balancing asset managers’ needs and requirements is the trickiest part of REO work, she says.

From determining whether to rehabilitate property to pricing strategies, requirements of Realtors vary from lender to lender.

“In the end, we don’t do things my way or Mark’s way, we do it the seller’s way or the bank’s way,” Tyre said.

She says Jenks has evolved as a boss through the seven years they’ve worked together.

Always compassionate and understanding about personal issues that arise, Jenks isn’t the “little bit of a control freak” he once was, she said.

“It was just a matter of him realizing that I can handle things,” she said.

Making tough days less stressful

Jenks says the toughest part of his job may be notifying people they must leave their homes.

Some evictees are owners; others are renters. Some live in dilapidated houses; others live in some of Jacksonville’s prime subdivisions.

All of them know that moving day is inevitable.

“I try to make it as less stressful for them as possible,” Jenks said.

Depending on the circumstances, owners and tenants may receive relocation funds. Doing so can save lenders time and attorneys’ fees.

“I say, ‘Look, here’s the process. Here’s what’s going to happen … Take a deep breath and we’ll make this as easy for you as possible,’” Jenks said.

When the occupant leaves, Jenks often has to orchestrate a massive cleanup to satisfy homeowners’ association guidelines and otherwise prepare the property for market.

How much repair work and landscaping is done depends on the client.

Then it’s a matter of pricing, listing and selling the property.

Traditional homebuyers are often attracted to REO homes’ prices, but most buyers are investors.

Jenks has a massive investor email marketing list –– but it’s not as large as it once was. The recession put a lot of investors out of business and prompted many others to change their business models.

Meanwhile, REO inventory has steadily declined.

“When we get a property and it’s out there (on the market) for 30 days, it’s … an oddball,” Jenks said.

JWB Real Estate Capital president Alex Sifakis says Jenks’ forte is he always does what he says he’s going to do.

As one of Jacksonville’s largest homebuyers, JWB is heavily reliant on Jenks’ consistency and dependability, Sifakis said.

“Mark’s phenomenal to work with because he really understands his clients’ needs,” he said. “He’s the cream of crop in the real estate (business), as far as I’m concerned.”

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