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How Can You Build Your Online Presence and Attract More Clients?

September 2, 2014

online-reputation-managementReal estate is one of the largest transactions most people will encounter in their lives; so naturally, selecting the right real estate agent requires extensive research and interviewing. As buyers and sellers continue to use the internet as a primary source of information when conducting research throughout the real estate transaction, it is imperative that real estate agents grow and build a solid online reputation in order to stand out from the competition, influence people’s perception, and brand their business to even land an interview.

With social media becoming increasingly prevalent in a number of marketing initiatives, it provides a principal foundation that real estate agents and other small business owners can capitalize on when developing and enhancing their online reputation! Plus, there are an assortment of new tools and apps that have been introduced that allow users to incorporate several different methods into one platform! From branding and blogging, to creating an effective website and obtaining client reviews, there are several opportunities that will showcase you and your business in the most favorable light and boost your online reputation.

 

  1. Branding:
  • Perception is everything, and it is imperative that your potential clients are receiving the message that you want to convey. However, before you can determine what that message is, you have to define your brand.
  • Reflect on the qualities that differentiate you from the competition. What are your strongest attributes and skills? What is your area of expertise or specialty?
  • When you determine what quality or specialty it is that represents you as a Realtor, as well as your business and brand, reinforce it in everything you do, especially online.
  • Continue to highlight the other qualities that make you the best candidate for the job, as well, including your experience, awards, accomplishments and specialties.

 

  1. Agent Website:
  • Every real estate agent should have their own website so that potential clients can discover them and see what their about outside of referrals or social media.
  • Many times, an agent website is the first thing a client sees, so it is crucial to create a good first impression with a well written real estate biography and a professional head shot of yourself! Your biography should adequately represent you and your brand.
  • Provide content that engages visitors and keeps them on your site, such as helpful information that buyers and sellers are likely to research, featured listings in the area, and client testimonials.
  • Use key words in the content that you include on your website, such as real estate, real estate agent, and the cities that you service so that search engines will pick it up in a search inquiry.
  • Embed links to your social media pages so that visitors can easily access your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. and learn more about you, your brand, and what you bring to the table.

 

  1. Social Media:
  • Surveys show that the majority of internet users spend an overwhelming amount of time on their social media sites daily, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc, so maximizing your presence on social media is a key component to building and maintaining an impressive online reputation.
  • Since social media allows you to connect with clients every time they log in, it provides an ideal platform to brand yourself and your business. Therefore, it is crucial that you utilize each social media platform available in order to expand your reach. Plus, potential clients need to be able to find you on every outlet imaginable.
  • Upload your real estate biography to each of these sites, and include key words that are relevant to your neighborhood, specialty, and city.
  • Join real estate discussions on your LinkedIn groups, and ask for endorsements to legitimize your business.
  • Connect with clients on Facebook, and ask them to write a review.
  • Engage your fans, followers, and connections by posting, pinning, and sharing useful content that reinforces your brand, such as helpful tips for buyers and sellers, market trends, housing statistics, ideas for the home, etc.
  • Become the voice of authority when contributing to real estate discussions through your social media, blogs, or message boards.
  • Incorporate video into your social media marketing. It might not do much to affect your online reputation, but it enhances your online presence and impresses potential clients.
  • Keep all social media posts professional, even on your personal profile. Avoid posting anything that could alienate potential clients or cause them to perceive you in a less favorable light.

 

  1. Blogs and Other Informative Resources:
  • Develop a hub of online resources about your community and its neighborhoods that provides helpful information to buyers and sellers and portrays you as a neighborhood specialist. Include neighborhood statistics, schools, tax rates, amenities, average homes sales, and update the information frequently to keep it current.
  • Create a separate website where you can assemble such material, or embed a forum on your own website that can be easily accessed by visitors and found in search results.
  • Start a blog. Writing thoughtful, useful, relevant content is an extremely efficient and constructive way to build your online identity, share your expertise, and brand your business.
  • When publishing a blog, think about your audience. Write about topics that your target audience is most likely to surf the web for.
  • Use key words, titles and tags appropriately so that you can control your online search results.
  • Personalize the content to show readers a glimpse of your personality. Offer personal examples or stories that support your thoughts, advice and opinions.
  • Once you publish an article to your blog, share it across every social media forum to increase traffic to your article and blog site, as well as optimize SEO.
  • Embed links to your social media pages, website, etc. on your blog to create a domino effect with consumers who read your article. This not only encourages your audience to interact with your brand and engage in a call to action, but it also facilitates their online research without ever leaving your site.
  • Publish blogs to your site several times a week, and structure every article with content that emphasizes your brand.

 

  1. Reviews:
  • Perhaps the most influential contribution to your reputation, research indicates that consumer reviews of services and products are more compelling than any other type of marketing. In addition, they are 12 times more trusted than information provided by a sales/service provider. In fact, 75% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Furthermore, studies show that consumers who interact with reviews are more likely to buy the product or service.
  • Reviews support word-of-mouth referrals, and when a past client, friend or family member refers your services, the person that they refer you to will more than likely search online to find reviews to validate what was said.
  • Positive reviews from satisfied customers reflect your hard work, time, and efforts and indicate successful results. Plus, surveys show that they are key components that encourage potential clients to contact a real estate agent.
  • Facebook, Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com, Google +, and Yelp are a few sites that allow consumers to write a review for real estate agents or other businesses that rank high on search results.
  • Ask clients to write a review on one or all of the applicable sites after their transaction has closed. Then, establish a strong collection of genuine, flattering reviews, and display them on your website and other social media pages.
  • Real reviews instill trust and confidence in potential clients, so resist any temptation to fabricate reviews and avoid anonymous reviews. Consumers and websites can often recognize fake reviews, and if you are caught, the website can place a consumer alert on your account, or the FTC can take you to court or administer a hefty fine.
  • Don’t delete negative reviews, as it authenticates the positive ones. Plus, surveys indicate that positive reviews outweigh the negative. Instead, respond to any negative reviews in a professional manner that illustrates your remorse, concern, and dedication to finding a resolution.
  • Avoid seeming defensive or placing blame. If necessary, contact the client privately to resolve the issue. Once it is resolved, ask them to write an updated review.
  • Complement negative feedback with positive blogs or news articles that might get more traction and rank higher in a search than reviews.
  • Set up a Google Alert to monitor positive and negative inquiries about you as they are submitted so that you can promptly handle each situation accordingly.

 

According to a recent survey, buyers and sellers agree that a real estate agent’s reputation is more important than their experience. While it may seem overwhelming, many real estate agents have embraced these tools and are implementing them into their marketing plan seamlessly, thus, generating more online presence, enhancing their online reputation, branding their business, and dominating internet searches in their area.

In addition to maximizing your online presence and contributing to your reputation, these marketing resources are incomparable in effectiveness and efficiency in comparison to traditional marketing initiatives, proven by increased leads, better client conversion rates, and a reduction in cost and time. As new social media sites, apps, and technology continue to advance, traditional marketing methods will continue to reduce in effectiveness and become more obsolete, as will the agents who use them. Therefore, it is paramount to take advantage and remain adept of the latest online tools and incorporate them into your marketing more and more every day to ensure that your business not only thrives, but survives.

How Can You Effectively Execute Online Video Marketing to Build Your Business?

July 29, 2014

online video marketing pictureA powerful marketing tool, online video,  is rapidly becoming a primary resource for consumers who surf the web for information and entertainment. In fact, more than 100 million internet users claim to watch online videos every day. When you consider the wealth of information found on the internet, it is no surprise that consumers are more attracted to video content that is easier to digest when seeking advice, a service or a product. Plus, video is more engaging to viewers and entices them to spend more time on your website or social media page. Furthermore, statistics show that online video viewers are also more likely to respond to the video’s call to action, visit the website of the company represented, and even purchase the specific product or service mentioned.

In real estate, online video is especially imperative, as it gives real estate agents a chance to introduce themselves, share market updates, showcase their listings, and inform viewers about the community. In addition, videos are ranked higher in a Google search, so agents who capitalize on this opportunity can increase their reach. Plus, statistics reveal that real estate listings with video generate four times more leads than those without video. If you want to grow your business or brand, consider incorporating the following types of online videos, as well as a few tips, tools, and strategies, into your marketing campaign.

 

What Type of Videos Can You Create as a Real Estate Agent?

  • Branding Video: Grab the attention of potential clients immediately with a humorous, fun, clever, and memorable branding video that characterizes you and your brand while making potential clients laugh.
  • Introductory Videos: Create a conversational video to introduce you/your team, share client testimonials, and explain your work philosophy, values, and interests to give potential clients an idea of what it is like to work with you and who you are as a person. It should describe your personality and establish trust with clients, not promote your services like a sales pitch.
  • Informational Videos: These are similar to introductory videos, except with a sales pitch. They allow you to differentiate yourself from competitors by emphasizing your credentials, abilities, and processes. When creating an informational video, employ the same tone as your listing presentation; sell yourself, but include content that applies to both buyers and sellers.
  • Listing Videos: According to NAR, 73% of sellers say they are more likely to list their home with an agent who used video to market their property. In addition, real estate listings with videos generate four times the amount of leads. Therefore, incorporating online videos of listings is not only beneficial in reaching more buyers, but also in attracting sellers. These videos allow you to walk viewers through a home and discuss its key features. Plus, you can edit the video with text that summarizes the desirable qualities of each room. With greater interaction and information, listing videos are much more appealing to buyers.
  • Market Update Videos: Create monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly videos that provide information on housing trends in your city and community. You can disclose information regarding home prices, home sales, mortgage rates, and other facts and figures.
  • Community Videos: A valuable resource for out of town buyers, community videos allow you to introduce buyers to the city and neighborhoods that you work in. Showcase the area’s parks, shopping, and dining options, and address the local economy and the quality of schools.
  • Instructional Videos: The majority of online video viewers are seeking information or entertainment. Therefore, instructional videos are more likely to capture a specific audience and retain them until the end, which increases the engagement with the video’s call to action.  Create a “how to” video that targets your niche audience, such as “how to stage your home”,  or provide tutorials with steps regarding certain aspects of the buying and selling process. These videos will not only increase engagement in your call to action, but they will also brand you as an expert in the field, establish trust with potential clients, and prompts repeat visitors.

 

How Can You Make Your Videos More Effective?

  • Be Creative: To maximize a video’s marketing potential, it needs to grab the viewer’s attention within the first few seconds.
  • Keep it Short: After ten seconds, a video starts to lose viewers. To hold the audience to the end and engage a call to action, restrict the video length to three minutes or less.
  • Distribute Across Multiple Platforms: Share each video across every channel that makes sense.   Depending on its content, videos can be promoted across multiple blog forums and social media sites; distributed through email marketing campaigns and press releases; or embedded on your blog or website.
  • Build Emotional Connections: Structure your video content to focus on a bigger story that relates to the theme of your brand instead of promoting yourself and what you sell. For instance, supplement videos about your brand, such as listing, introductory, or informational videos, with an assortment of instructional or “how to” videos.
  • Narrow Your Audience: Creating content that targets a niche audience will generate quality leads by attracting viewers who possess a clear sign of interest, watch the video until the end, and engage your call to action. To hook your niche market and filter out the random viewers, begin each video with a specific sentence about the topic.
  • Set and Track Measurable Goals: Identify your objectives in your online video marketing, whether it is to capture a certain number of leads or hold a certain percentage of the audience until the end of the video. Evaluate the results, and if necessary, modify your online video content and/or strategy accordingly. Continue improving your video content to cater to your niche audience, gain more viewers, and convert them into clients.

 

What Tools are Available to Facilitate Your Online Video Marketing Strategy?

  • Mobile Apps: This is an increasingly important segment to reach, as more than 1/10 online video plays happen on cell phones or tablets. Incorporating mobile apps, including Vine and Instagram, in your online video marketing is instrumental in reaching this growing audience.
  • YouTube: As the most visited video portal in the world, a YouTube account is crucial to a successful online video marketing campaign. Simply create a free account, capture videos and upload them. In addition, the videos have the capability to include a link to your website, and statistically, a viewer that visits your website is more likely to become a client. Remember to incorporate a variety of the videos mentioned previously on your YouTube account, and share them across other social media platforms.
  • Tubemogul: com facilitates online video syndication by allowing you to upload a video and insert its details and descriptions. Then, it publishes the video on YouTube, Google Video, Yahoo Video, and metacafe.com, the four major avenues for sharing video. From tubemogul.com, you can promote your videos across each site, track each video’s traffic across all sites, and attain updated reports about its reach that you can send to your clients.
  • Paid Solutions: As you become more experienced with online video marketing, you can combine the use of free sites and mobile apps with paid solutions for your long-term videos, such as those you want to embed in your website and blog. This not only protects your investment and gives you more control than free services, but it also allows higher quality video.

 

Online video is an instrumental tool for marketing and advertising your business, and resources such as time and financial budget should be allocated accordingly. Effective use of online video marketing increases sales and leads, which is validated by the numerous businesses that have already tapped into this platform and reported an increase in engagement rates, click through rates, and conversion rates. As the popularity and use of online video continues its exponential growth, developing an online video presence is the most efficient and practical use of time, energy, and money spent on marketing. It is crucial that small businesses, including real estate agents, utilize this medium to maximize their exposure and branding potential, or they will risk losing business to those that do.

 

Preparing Your Home for a Natural Disaster

June 5, 2014

natural disaster pictureAs summer approaches, a number of natural disasters become more prevalent and threaten thousands of Americans throughout the country. From hurricanes that impact the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast, to wild fires on the West Coast and heat waves throughout the country, the summer season is closely associated with devastating events caused by nature.   Not to mention, hurricanes can often be accompanied by heavy rain and dangerous thunderstorms that produce floods, hail, landslides, mud slides and tornadoes which can affect areas located hundreds of miles inland and farther.

Natural disasters can be catastrophic and can happen at any moment without notice, so it is crucial to understand what precautions you can take to protect your home. Regardless of where you choose to weather the storm, executing the following preparation tips will help secure your home and hopefully, reduce the damage incurred to your property.

  1. Hurricanes and Tornadoes: Although many associate hurricanes with coastal cities and tornadoes with “tornado alley”, hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage beyond the coastline and tornadoes do not discriminate against their area of impact.
  • Both hurricanes and tornadoes are characterized by damaging wind speeds, so it is important to secure your home. Fortify garage doors; add hurricane clips or straps to the roof and attach it to wall studs to help maintain structure; bolt walls securely to the foundation; protect windows with storm shutters, install double pane windows and replace old roofs with impact resistant ones to protect against hail; etc.
  • Schedule a home inspection to check your home and roof. Make any recommended repairs.
  • Install a safe room in your home or basement that can withstand extreme winds and debris.
  • Secure large appliances with flexible cable, braided wire or metal strapping, as well as top heavy furniture with L brackets, corner brackets or aluminum molding.
  • If time permits, gather and store items that pose more risk of destruction, such as tools, lawn furniture, trash cans, recreational equipment, etc.
  • Trim trees and shrubs around your home to ensure they are more wind resistant.
  • Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Shut off electricity, water, and utility switches if time permits before tornado.
  • Store hazardous materials within a sturdy, locked cabinet and in a well-ventilated area.
  • Move heavy or large items to lower shelves to reduce their chances of being projected.
  1. Flooding: Flooding is the most common natural disaster throughout the country. You should always have a plan mapped out with a route to transport your family and pets to higher ground in the case of a flood, and equip your home with the following accommodations to protect your home and family in case time does not permit evacuation:
  • Seal basement walls with water proof compounds.
  • Construct flood walls around your home to restrict water flow to your home.
  • Purchase a battery operated sump pump to remove standing water, and keep a back up handy just in case.
  • Elevate electrical components, water heater, washer, dryer, and furnace at least 12 inches above assumed flood levels.
  • If building a new home in a flood zone, make sure it is elevated and reinforced.
  • Install backflow valves or plugs on drains, toilets, and other sewer connections to prevent contaminated water from entering your home.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, and large containers with clean water, and make sure that there is enough for the entire family to drink, flush toilets, and clean.
  • Identify and secure any items that pose a potential threat, including fuel tanks, outdoor equipment or possessions, etc.
  • In the case of fallen power lines or evacuation, make sure to turn off all utilities and electrical power at the main power switch, close the main gas valve, and disconnect appliances and the furnace to prevent electric shock in the presence of standing water.
  1. Wild Fires: Wild fires often start in forests, remote hills, mountain areas, or other woodland settings, but they can happen in any vulnerable wildfire picturedrought area and spread rapidly.  If you live in an area that is more conducive to wild fires, you can help spare your home with the following tips:
  • Avoid using combustible material on the roof or other part of the home.
  • Build your home with fire-resistant material, such as stucco or fiber cement. Any wood should be fire-resistant treated.
  • Around your home’s perimeter, plant fire-resistant shrubs and other plants that help contain rather than fuel the fire.
  • Create a 30 feet to 100 feet safety zone around your home, and move lawn furnishings and other items that can burn easily (dead limbs, leaves, twigs, flammable vegetation, vines, etc) outside of this “defensive space”.
  • Invest in a hose that is long enough to reach around the entire house, and keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
  • Maintain an adequate outside water source, like a pond, pool, or water well.
  • Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, test them monthly and replace batteries once a year.
  • Place a 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath the home, porches, decks, floors, screen openings to floors, roof, and attic.
  • Regularly clean roof and gutters, and mow the lawn.
  • Inspect chimneys twice a year, and keep dampers in good condition. Equip chimneys and stove pipes with a spark arrester.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property.
  • Clear space around propane and barbecue pits, and place a screen over the grill.
  • Store gas, oil and flammable items in approved safety cans, and place them in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from the home.
  • In a warning, keep all windows and doors shut, turn off the gas, wet the roof, and evacuate as instructed.
  1. Heat Waves: Induced by stagnant atmosphere conditions and poor air quality, heat waves are extended periods of extreme heat. This can be dangerous and even life threatening, as the body must work extra hard to maintain normal body temperatures. As the hot summer months approach, it is imperative that your home possesses the necessary accommodations for your family.
  • Make sure that any window AC units are installed snugly and insulated.
  • Check AC ducts for proper insulation.
  • Install temporary window reflectors that reflect heat back outside. Try cardboard with aluminum foil wrapped around it.
  • Weather strip doors and sills to hold air inside.
  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings or louvers.
  • Keep storm windows up all year.
  • Limit the use of the stove or oven, especially in the warmer periods of the day.
  • Stock your refrigerator with plenty of drinking water and less sugar-filled drinks that dehydrate you.
  • Cool off your body with cold showers if there is an AC shortage. landslide picture
  1. Landslides: Most landslides are caused by natural forces or events, like heavy rain and snowmelt, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and areas burned by forest and brush fires. These disasters can threaten almost every state, so it is important to maintain your home accordingly.
  • Contact a private consulting company that specializes in earth movement for opinions and advice on landslide problems and on corrective measures you can take. Taking steps without consulting a professional could make your situation worse.
  • Plant ground cover on slopes and building retaining walls.
  • Build channels or deflection walls to direct the flow around your home.
  • Avoid building near steep slopes, close to mountain edges, near drainage ways or along natural erosion valleys.
  • Get a ground assessment of your property.
  • Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.

  1. Earthquakes: Earthquakes are largely unpredictable and do not limit their activity to the summer months, as they occur when tectonic plates in the earth shift, break and slide together. While they are often associated with the West Coast, 45 states are actually at risk.
  • Secure heavy items to the wall or floor, including water heaters and large appliances.
  • Inspect your home for cracks in the foundation and defective wiring, and make repairs as quickly as possible.
  • Bolt your home to the foundation.
  • Fasten shelves securely to walls, and store breakable items, china, glass, and bottled foods in low, closed cabinets with latches or locks.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.
  • Install an automatic gas shut-off valve that is triggered by strong vibrations.
  • Store weed killers, pesticides and flammable products in closed cabinets with latches.
  • In an earthquake warning, turn off gas and electricity to prevent explosion, invest in a supply of food, water and supplies for a minimum of three days, make sure your important documents are stored in a fire proof safe, and lock doors and windows.

While your home can be impacted by other catastrophic events caused by nature, the combination of those listed affect millions of Americans every year. Each emergency is unique, and it is important to recognize and acknowledge the appropriate actions to take for each threat in order to prepare your home accordingly. If you need more preparations tips, visit http://www.ready.gov/.

Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Home

April 2, 2014

Homebuying Mistakes PicA representation of achievement and a symbol of the American Dream, purchasing a home is considered one of the largest financial decisions and obligations one will encounter in their lives.  However, eager to move into their dream home and begin the next chapter of life, even seasoned buyers can let the excitement and chaos cloud their judgment.  If crucial components are not executed properly or neglected altogether, you invite a number of complications to the transaction that are not only detrimental to the outcome, but can also negatively impact you for years to come.

Avoid these common mistakes to facilitate the process, protect your investment, eliminate unnecessary stress, and secure a favorable outcome.

 

Neglecting to Hire a Professional

Buying a home is a complex and tedious process, and a major financial investment, so it is crucial to work with the appropriate professionals.  Opting to forgo a Realtor, Mortgage Professional, Licensed Home Inspectors, and Licensed Title Agencies, etc, can result in higher costs and unnecessary worry.  A Realtor connects you to the right professionals and guides you through the process so that you can execute the proper steps and enjoy the most favorable outcome.

 

Starting Without a Plan: 

When buying a home, it is imperative that the entire process is a thought out plan so that you can remain organized and in control.  Know the type of home you are looking for, the area(s) you are interested in living, who is going to help you, and what steps you will need to execute.  Without a realistic idea of these essential components, you may encounter a number of difficulties.

 

Not Getting Pre-Approved: 

Obtaining pre approval should be a top priority when starting the home buying process.  Buyers need to know where their credit stands and how much they can afford.  Also, being pre approved will strengthen your offer when you submit one, and it will secure your interest rate to protect yourself from increasing rates.

 

Expecting to Find a Home with Everything on Your Wish List: 

There will most likely be some non-negotiable features that you consider essential elements in your new home.  However, it is difficult to find a home that encompasses every single component desired.  Make a list that ranks the most important qualities to the least important, and keep your options open.

 

Unfamiliarity with the Neighborhood or Area

Location is everything in real estate!  Buyers need to search for homes in an area that possesses the best location and amenities that accommodate their family’s lifestyle.  Then, understand the neighborhood you are considering moving into.  Consider Home Owners Associations, dues, and restrictions.  Inquire about the neighborhood’s amenities and property taxes, and evaluate its proximity to schools and activities.  Visit neighborhoods during various times during the day and week to get an accurate portrayal of it prior to narrowing down your choices.

 

Limiting Your Search Options: 

While you can find a lot of information about a home online through various websites, the information can be limited or expired.  Take advantage of every platform available to you so you don’t miss out.  If you use a Realtor, you will have access to the MLS, and can possibly benefit from their industry connections.

 

Exceeding Your Budget: 

You need to have a realistic concept of your budget and what you can afford.  Don’t convince or allow yourself to exceed that budget.  Again, working with the right professionals will help you avoid this mistake.

 

Failing to Evaluate Hidden Costs and the Importance of a Home Warranty:

Homes require a certain amount of maintenance and repair work, which can often be costly and stressful.  Factor in these unexpected occurrences, and prepare by saving extra money to accommodate.  Make sure to buy a home with a warranty to avoid some costly repairs, as well.  If it doesn’t include a warranty, your Realtor can request that the seller provides one during negotiation.  In addition, factor in other costs, including property taxes, HOA dues, and other applicable fees that accompany the neighborhood. 

 

Not Obtaining a Comparative Market Analysis or Considering the Resale Value of the Home: 

Buyers need to have an idea the property’s market value prior to submitting an offer to avoid over paying.  Obtaining a Comparative Market Analysis will show comparable properties in the area, their sale price, and recent price trends.  If you pay too much, you are likely to lose on the investment when it is time to sell.  Purchasing a home for the right price and employing the right professionals will help protect you and your investment.

 

Disregarding the Importance of a Home Inspection: 

Avoid major costs down the road by obtaining a home inspection by a licensed, reputable provider.  Any recommended repairs should be completed by a licensed contractor.  Then, the home should be re-inspected before closing.

 

Purchasing an Expensive Item Prior to Closing: 

Credit requirements for loans have become strict.  If you need to buy furniture or appliances for your home, a new car, or other costly items, wait until after the house closes, as financing these expensive items can affect the closing.  Work with a credible mortgage broker to avoid jeopardizing the closing.

 

Home buyers who avoid making these mistakes will undoubtedly reduce the risk of complications or financial strain down the road; however, buying a home is still an overwhelming time.  It is imperative that buyers find a professional real estate agent who will guide them through the process, facilitate every facet of the transaction, and provide assurance that each step is executed properly, efficiently, and in the client’s best interest!

What Tax Benefits are Available to Homeowners?

March 10, 2014

tax picAs April approaches, Americans across the country are consulting with their accountants and claiming their deductions to ensure they take advantage of the various tax benefits that may be availalbe.  Whether writing off a business expense, calculating charity contributions, or deducting your mortgage interest rates, filing taxes can be an overwhelming, stressful, tedious process to those who are looking to maximize their return and reduce what they owe.

Homeowners receive plenty of advantages during tax season when claiming deductions.  In fact, the U. S. Tax Code is designed to offer incentives to homeowners.  Whether your home is paid in full or financed with a mortgage, there are several tax-saving opportunities that may accompany home ownership.  If any of the following tax perks are applicable to your situation, we recommend that you address your inquiries to an accountant or tax professional who can determine your tax liability based on certain qualifications and regulations.

1.  Mortgage Interest Rates:  Deducting your mortgage interest is often the biggest tax break offered to homeowners, especially early in the home’s loan.

  • The standard mortgage amortization schedule is front-loaded with mortgage interests, which means annual interest payments on a 30-year loan term exceed annual principal payments until the loan’s tenth year.  In other words, your mortgage payments during this time are primarily on the mortgage interest, which can be deducted.
  • Interest from second mortgages, refinances, home equity loans, and home equity lines of credit may also be tax deductible.  However, there are restrictions if the mortgage debt extends beyond the property’s fair market value.  Generally, equity debt of $100,000 or less may be fully deductible.
  • Interest from a second home, boat or RV may also be considered deductible.  As long as the property has cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities, even if you rent it out as a second property, there may be tax perks!
  • Consult with a tax professional or accountant to examine your personal situation and evaluate your options.

2.  Discount Points:  This is a one-time fee that occurs at closing in order to allow the borrower access to mortgage rates that are below the current market rates.

  • Discount points are treated as “prepaid mortgage interest” by the IRS, which may make them eligible for tax deductions.
  • As long as discount points are paid in conjunction with a home purchase, the cost may be deducted in full (dollar-for-dollar) in the year they were paid.
  • If you are refinancing your home or taking out a line of credit, discount points paid will be amortized over the life of the loan.  Therefore, any eligible deductions may depend on the amortization schedule, rather than deductible in full the year it was paid.  For instance, the cost of one discount point on a 30-year loan may be deducted at 1/30 of its value in a calendar year.
  • Verify that your loan meets the qualification requirements and ensure that you are deducting the right amount by consulting with a tax advisor or accountant.

3.  Real Estate Taxes: As a homeowner, you pay annual real estate taxes to local and state entities.

  • Any taxes paid to local or state entities may be deducted in the year which they are paid.
  • To deduct your real estate taxes, file your annual statement with your federal tax return.
  • Speak with an accountant or tax advisor to execute the steps properly and verify your liability.

4.  Home Improvements:  Various types of home improvements may be considered tax deductible.

  • If you or a family member living in your home has a medical issue that requires modifications to your home, the costs of those modifications may be up to 100% tax deductible.
  • Any repairs and improvements made for aesthetic purposes may not be tax deductible.  However, keep your receipts, as these improvements may be deducted from the profit when you sell your home!
  • Of course, should you need any clarification regarding your situation, consult with a tax professional or accountant!

5.  Home Offices:  If you work from home, you may be allowed to deduct the expense of maintaining a qualified home office.

  • These tax benefits may include renovations to the room, the addition of a separate telephone line and the cost of heating, cooling, and lighting the room.
  • There are special requirements of what constitutes a “home office” for tax purposes.  To avoid increasing your risk of being audited, make sure you address your home office with your accountant or tax professional to understand the benefits and liabilities!

6.  Selling Costs:  When you sell your home, you may be allotted several possible tax deductions that include:

  • Agent commission, title insurance, legal fees, any advertising costs incurred, administrative costs, escrow fees, and inspection fees.

7.  More Tax Benefits When Selling Your Home:  Since 1997, $250,000 in sales gain (or $500,000 if married, filing jointly) may be considered tax-free IF:

  • The owner owned the property for at least two years and lived in it for two out of the last five years prior to selling.
  • If the home was sold before meeting ownership and residency requirements, tax must be paid on any profit, unless the move is due to health, employment or unforeseen circumstances.
  • Ask your accountant or tax professional to be sure you are meeting these requirements.

8.  Home Improvement Deductions for Sellers:  When you sell your home, you may lessen the tax burden on profits that exceed $250,000 (or $500,000 if married, filing jointly) by deducting any home improvement costs from the gain.

  • Deduct the improvement costs from the gain (gain = home’s selling price – selling costs + tax basis).
  • Your gain – the home improvement costs will determine your tax liability from the profit of the sell.
  • Remember to seek counsel from your accountant or tax advisor, as these rules and regulations can be tricky!

9. Moving Costs:  If you are moving because of a new job, you may be eligible to deduct your moving costs if your situation meets several IRS requirements.

  • One requirement is that your new job must be 50 miles farther from your old home than your previous job was.
  • If you meet all IRS requirements, you may be allowed to deduct travel and transportation costs, lodging expenses, storage fees, and other expenses related to your move.
  • See your accountant or tax professional for expert advice in regards to your individual situation and requirements.

10.  Non Deductible Expenses:  To avoid confusion, there might be a few expenses that may not be considered tax deductible.  Prior to meeting with your accountant or tax professional, understand that the following expenses may not be eligible to receive tax deductions:

  • Insurance, including private mortgage insurance, may not be deductible unless you meet the requirements under a special PMI Law.  This is because you are paying this insurance as a result of not fronting enough money for a down payment.
  • Property hazard insurance premiums may be non-deductible, even though coverage is required as part of the home loan and included in your monthly payment.
  • HOA dues.
  • Additional principal payments.
  • Home depreciation.
  • Closing costs.
  • Local assessments that increase neighborhood value, such as sidewalks and street lamps.
  • Miscellaneous home repairs (see accountant or tax advisor for further details).

It is important to note that Connect Realty provides the information in this article for general guidance only, and what-you-should-know-about-employer-tax-responsibilitiesdoes not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation.

In addition, this article is not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding accuracy-related penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided “as is,” with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.

How Can You Incorporate Facebook into Your Real Estate Marketing Effectively?

February 6, 2014

facebook marketingWith the majority of homebuyers beginning their home search online, it is imperative that real estate agents are maximizing their online presence to capture buyers and sellers.  This includes utilizing the most beneficial social media platforms, especially Facebook.  After all, with over 300 million active users, Facebook is becoming the ultimate social destination.

For real estate agents, Facebook’s features, apps, and numerous capabilities create an ideal environment for prospecting and growing your business, as it allows agents to establish a faster and more personal connection, engage with fans or followers, share valuable information, acquire new clients, and more.  To summarize, it is truly an essential component to an effective online marketing strategy.   However, to be effective, real estate agents must embrace Facebook and take advantage of its countless resources.  By executing the following steps and implementing the suggested tips regularly, you will build value in your brand, instill trust and loyalty with your followers, and enhance your real estate business.

1.  If you don’t have a Facebook Business (or Fan) Page, Create One.

  • Setting up a Facebook Business (Fan) Page is simple.  Just go to Facebook.com, and click      “Create a Page” on the login screen, and follow the steps.
  • A Facebook Fan Page functions just like your personal page except for it collects “fans” instead of “friends”.  However, creating a Fan Page allows you to remain professional by separating your personal posts from your business posts.
  • When inserting your page information, complete each field with as much detail as possible. Include your website in the “About” section to increase      visibility.
  • After your page is complete, publish it and invite your personal Facebook friends to “like” it.  In addition, you can upload your database to your Fan Page and invite your clients to “like” your new page, advertise it to a target audience, etc.

2.  Incorporate a Facebook Marketing Strategy into Your Business Plan.

  • Establish clear goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound.
  • Budget the amount of time daily that you will devote to Facebook Marketing, and compose a list of ideas that you would like to implement into your Facebook Page with a time table.
  • Map out your daily schedule and allot time to post at least two or three times a day to Facebook, preferably during peak usage times to get more exposure, “likes” and “shares”.

3.  Connect your Facebook Page to your other Marketing Initiatives.

  • Add the Facebook icon with a link to your Fan Page to your website, blog, email marketing, and other marketing collateral.       This will produce more exposure for your page, and therefore, more “followers” or “fans”, by allowing site visitors and email recipients to conveniently access the page.
  • Add the link of your Facebook Fan Page to your email signature so that email recipients can easily access it, as well.
  • Connect your Facebook Page with your other social media accounts.  Apps like Ping.FM and Selective Twitter Status allow Facebook to automatically share the content that you post to  your other social media accounts (and vice versa).  This will enable you to engage on all of your social media pages without spending any additional time.

4.  Post Consistently.

  • Remember, the goal of social media is to be social, offer value, and engage your  audience; therefore, the most vital component in executing a successful Facebook Marketing Campaign is to post useful content at least two or three times a day.
  • As a “Golden Rule”, 80% of the content posted to your Business Page should focus on lifestyle, customer interests, tips, etc, while only 20% of your      posts should be business oriented.
  • Actively seek and share informative content that will engage your followers, entice them to “like” or “share” the post on their page, and attract a wider audience.
  • Post your personal blogs as well as articles written by outside parties to diversify the material and information on your Facebook Page.  Just copy the link of the specific article, and paste it as your “status”.  Generate traffic and blog clicks by adding compelling information about the article to your status.
  • Be careful not to bombard the news feed with consecutive posts, as it can annoy your followers and fans.  Instead, consider waiting at least an hour or two between your posts to maximize their visibility on the news feed.

5.  Incorporate Images and Videos in Your Posts.

  • Posts with images receive more traction and often remain in the news feed for a longer period of time, as people generally connect more with images.
  • Add stimulating images, graphs, charts, etc. to capture the attention of more fans and followers in the news feed, and encourage more “likes” and “shares”.
  • Include a video or a virtual tour of one of your listings.  However, too many status updates of listing photos or virtual tours detract value from your page.  Remember to keep 80% of your posts related to the community, news, and other material that users deem useful.
  • Share a photo of a property you just sold.
  • Utilize functions of other social media for videos, including Flippagram, Vine, Instagram, and YouTube to create and display memorable photos, videos, or slideshows.
  • Take advantage of the “YouTube for Pages” app by Involver to share your YouTube videos on your Facebook Fan Page.

6.  Utilize Facebook’s Cost Effective Advertising Platform.

  • Facebook allows users to create right column ads that are targeted to a specific audience.  For example, if you want to advertise a new listing, you can target a specific city, or narrow the audience to those who are renting or relocating.
  • In addition to creating a right column advertisement, you can promote your posts.  When you promote a post, it will remain at the top of the news feed for an extended time period to increase its visibility among your followers or fans.  If you want to maximize exposure of a post, determine the audience you want to target, and your post will appear on their news feeds even if they are not followers or fans of your page.
  • Both methods of advertising allow you to connect with Facebook users outside of your Fan Page; thus, creating opportunities to capture more fans or followers, promote your brand, and expand your reach.
  • Compared to other paid search marketing, this is an inexpensive and effective way to enhance your Internet Marketing Campaign.

7.  Employ the Use of Facebook Tabs and other Free Advertising Options.

  • Update your Cover Photo with a picture of your newest listing.  Download a customizable template that enables you to highlight key features and include multiple images of the home.  Encourage users to visit your Fan Page by posting about a special offer or incentive to secure page traffic and exposure of your new listing.
  • Use a tool like TabSites Website ReSizer to create a Facebook Tab for your Featured Listings within 10 minutes, rather than share every listing on      your news feed.  Just select a few listings that you want to occasionally post to your news feed, and embed the URL of your Featured Listings Tab.       This adds a great dimension to your Fan Page and will attract and engage visitors.
  • Set yourself apart from other REALTORS by incorporating your MLS web page to a Facebook Tab with TabSite Website ReSizer.   After easily creating the tab, visitors will receive full access to your website’s MLS straight from your Facebook Fan Page.
  • Add a “Contact Me” tab to prompt visitors of your Fan Page to input their email address and information.  Post about the “Contact Form” periodically on your news feed, and offer incentives to motivate users to opt-in. You can add their email addresses to your database and send them your email marketing campaigns.  This is a great way to expand your database.
  • Make an appealing “Welcome” tab, complete with testimonials, awards, or an introductory video that showcases your skills.
  • Run contests and sweepstakes through third party apps, like Wishpond, to generate traffic to your page and increase visibility of tabs and posts.

8.  Miscellaneous Tips for your Facebook Page

  • For  your business related posts, share stories about your clients that illustrate how much you care about them.   Write about showing houses to your buyers, getting a contract on a house, etc.  Make it short and sweet, just to remind your fans that you are a real estate agent.
  • Engage your followers by updating your status with questions that encourage a response from fans.  Respond promptly to continue interacting.
  • Avoid political or religious posts on your Fan Page to keep it professional.
  • Provide links with helpful information to your Fan Page, like road construction, the website of a recommended vendor, a fundraiser or event, etc.
  • Interact with users or pages that you follow by “liking” or “sharing” their status updates and pictures.

There are an abundance of additional features and functions of Facebook that will help you expand your reach and build your clientele.  Although applying these tips to your marketing initiatives will promote your brand, it is crucial to stay adept of new trends and apps that you can adopt that will continue advancing your social media presence and set you apart from the competition!  Search for new ideas on Facebook or online, and integrate as many components as possible to your Facebook (or other social media) marketing initiatives!

New Year’s Resolutions That Will Advance Your Real Estate Career and Enrich Your Life

January 3, 2014

Now that 2014 has emerged, many people have been reflecting on 2013; its successes, triumphs, pitfalls and new-years-resolutionstribulations.  Upon recognizing areas for improvement, resolutions are in development or already in full effect.  After all, 2014 is a New Year; a clean slate and a fresh start to enrich your life, both personally and professionally.

For real estate agents who wish to implement New Year’s resolutions to secure a more profitable 2014, it is imperative to remain realistic.   With a career that depends on building strong relationships, agents tend to work hours that extend well-beyond Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, and it becomes increasingly challenging to find a balance between work and personal life.  Consider the following resolutions for 2014 to ensure it is a lucrative year in all aspects of your life!

 

 1.  Develop a Business Plan:  Whether you are just now building your business, would like to earn more money, or seek to allot more time to family and friends, every successful real estate agent needs a Business Plan for the New Year.

  • Set a specific amount that you would like to earn for the year, and make sure it is reasonable.  Pushing yourself to achieve unrealistic expectations will cause unnecessary stress and pressure.
  • Set goals for yourself and develop a time table of when you would like to achieve those goals; by the week, month, quarter, etc.
  • Develop a series of plans to execute in order to achieve each goal on your timeline.  These plans should include budgeting, action steps, marketing strategies, prospecting, and more.
  • Track your success to ensure you remain focused and committed.

 

2.  Maintain a Positive Attitude:  Employing a positive attitude immediately gives you an advantage.  It will help you see the opportunities, overcome obstacles, influence your decisions and instill confidence.

 

3.  Utilize the Resources at Your Disposal:  Real estate agents, especially at Connect Realty, have an abundance of material and training that are instrumental to advancing your business.

  • Attend as many meetings or trainings as possible.
  • Optimize the benefits that accommodate being a Connect Realty Agent, like agent websites, cloud-based technology, a virtual office, Quick Links, Round Table, a BackAgent calendar, virtual tours, marketing material, lead generation and more, including individual property websites for every listing, cloud-based flyers, and new, even more sophisticated agent websites (coming in early 2014).
  • Attend networking events, seminars, or go to local venues to hear presentations of experts.

 

4.  Indulge in Various Modes of Communication:  Communication is essential when trying to build or grow a business.  From maintaining relationships with past clients to prospecting for new ones, it is essential to remain adept of, and active in, all possible outlets of communication.

  • Don’t rely on mail outs and emails for your sole method of communication.
  • Stay active on social media networks or blogs to engage with as many people as possible.
  • The more channels of communication that you utilize to reach past, present, and potential clients, the more business you will generate.

 

5.  Focus on Quality Rather than Quantity:  Too many responsibilities can weigh you down, and it will benefit your personal life, as well as your business, if you don’t bite off more than you can chew.

  • Avoid taking on too many clients at once.  Instead, provide your expertise only to the amount of clients you can effectively manage at the time to ensure you are delivering the utmost service and professionalism rather than sub-par service.
  • Don’t look at your clients as an opportunity for profit.  Businesses that view their customers as family or friends tend to be more successful.
  • Optimizing your service and the experience of your clients will result in a greater return on your investment in the long run, as the more enhanced your service is, the greater likelihood that your clients will refer their friends and family for years to come.

 

6.  Make Yourself a Priority, Too:  Real estate agents always have an assortment of priorities to juggle at one time with closings, marketing, training, and clients consistently commanding attention.  However, it is important that you don’t neglect yourself and your own needs.

  • Eliminate the unessential responsibilities to lighten your burden.  There’s no need to add more to your plate in an already overwhelming time.
  • Ask for help.  Hire an assistant to help you with your clients, or ask family members to help you with chores around the house.
  • If you can’t delegate some tasks to others, make sure you still make time for yourself.  Get plenty of rest, listen to your favorite music, take a walk, stretch, take short breaks every hour or two, break up your daily chores and personal care, light candles, etc, to better manage the stress.

 

7.  Get Organized:  Schedule, plan and organize every task you have to execute.

  • Develop a plan of listing and closing activities for each client you are representing.
  • Keep data of all of your current clients in one place, including notes about their likes/dislikes, progress, feedback, marketing plan, etc.
  • Set reminders and “to-do’s” on your calendar, phone and other devices to ensure you are efficiently executing all of your marketing initiatives.
  • Buy a calendar and write a list of daily tasks and appointments.  Check tasks off the list as you complete them to track your progress.

 

8.  Manage Your Time:  When planning your weekly schedule, set aside time for each daily activity.

  • Block off time every day for checking email, and social networking, prospecting.  Allot time to catch up on uncompleted tasks.
  • Prioritize your schedule to make time for friends and family. Map out personal time for non-work related activities, like school plays, birthdays, family dinners, etc.
  • Plan vacations and some short getaways at the beginning of the year.  This guarantees you are taking time for yourself, allows you to better plan ahead, and having something to look forward to will increase your productivity.

 

9.  Stay Involved:  Businesses that are active in their community attract more clients and experience more success.  For real estate agents, community involvement also solidifies that you care about and are connected to your community; thus, better equipping you to connect clients to their community.

  • Volunteer, donate money, sponsor a cause, contribute to food drives, etc.
  • Stay adept on the community’s schools, services, etc.
  • Emphasize the importance of helping others, not just your business.

 

happy new yearWhile many people focus on executing the common resolutions, like exercising more, eating healthier, not procrastinating, etc, it is crucial not to neglect the other areas of your life that could stand improvement.  Real estate agents who are able to effectively execute these  suggested resolutions, and develop  their 2014 Business Plan accordingly, will benefit with a well-balanced and organized life, as well as a more profitable and stress-free business!

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