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Preparing Your Home for Thanksgiving

November 21, 2014

thanksgivingWith Thanksgiving less than a week away, many families are using the next few days to clean their home for guests, gather their recipes, and purchase ingredients. However, when hosting family and friends for Thanksgiving, it is crucial to be prepared for an assortment of issues that may arise. After all, there’s more to the holiday than just eating turkey and watching Football, and taking the necessary precautions can alleviate stress and ensure that guests have a memorable Thanksgiving holiday!

 

Before Guests Arrive:

 

  1. Evaluate All Appliances:
  • Make sure that all appliances you are planning to use on Thanksgiving are in working order to avoid any malfunctions when preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Research the life expectancy of your most used appliances. Replace or fix any that may pose a threat.
  • Don’t use your oven’s self-clean cycle in the week before Thanksgiving, as it can be stressful on the appliance. Instead, use damp cloths to clean it to avoid a last minute break down.
  • Check your oven’s temperature gauge. Place a thermometer on the middle rack, set the oven temperature, and when it heats up, verify that the temperatures match. If they don’t, make necessary repairs.
  • Put less stress on yourself and your oven by using alternative appliances for side dishes, such as a microwave, toaster oven, crock pot, or grill. If there are no alternative options, ask your guests to bring a side with them.

 

  1. Perform Basic Cleaning and Maintenance:
  • Refrigerator:   Clean condenser coils in the fridge with a coil brush, wipe down interior and door gaskets with baking soda and water, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to gasket at hinge, clean the water and ice dispenser and soak the spill shelf in vinegar. Clear out old food to make room for leftovers.
  • Dishwasher: For stainless steel tubs, run potscrubber cycle without dishes or detergent for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, interrupt the cycle and pour two cups of white vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher. Close the dishwasher, and complete the wash.  For plastic tubs, fill the detergent cup with three to four ounces of citric acid crystals and run the normal wash cycle. Follow up with a second wash cycle and include detergent.
  • Microwave: Heat up one cup of water for three minutes on full power, and let it stand for five minutes after it is finished to allow the steam to soften the food. Then, wipe up the caked on food!
  • Pantry: Organize and remove old food, spices, etc. not only to make sure you have enough room to store ingredients for the meal and other miscellaneous supplies, but also so that you don’t ruin the food with outdated, poor tasting spices.
  • Overall: Tidy up bedrooms, bathrooms, and common areas that will accommodate your guests. In addition, make sure your home, especially your kitchen, is safe. Put household cleaners, sharp objects, lighters, and other harmful objects where they belong. Unplug appliances that aren’t being used, and wrap up the cord. If children are present, use backburners of the stove as much as possible, cover electrical outlets, or invest in a child safety gate to keep them out of harm’s way if necessary.

 

  1. Take Inventory and Create a Detailed Grocery List:
  • Food: Organize the recipes that you plan to use in one book, and write a detailed list of ingredients you will need for each recipe. Look through your pantry, fridge, and freezer, and cross the items that you already have off your grocery list. Remember to check the expiration dates of all food products and spices, and replace expired items as needed.
  • Cleaning Supplies: Make sure to have a full supply of cleaning products on hand in case any accidents occur. This includes laundry detergent, carpet cleaner, dish soap, kitchen and bathroom cleaner, etc., baking soda, non bleach detergent, ammonia, bleach, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, club soda, lemon juice, etc.
  • Cookware and Utensils: Look through your cabinets and determine if you have enough Tupperware containers, plates, spoons, forks, knives, bowls, pots, and pans necessary to cook each meal, store leftovers, and accommodate each guest. Repair or replace any broken items that you need to use, retrieve items that you loaned out but were never returned, and sharpen dull knives.
  • Seating and Eating Space: As soon as you have a head count on the number of guests you can expect on Thanksgiving, inventory your tables and chairs to make sure that they all have a place to sit and eat! If necessary, rent or buy tables and chairs, and repair defected items. Also, consider other tables, chairs, and household items throughout your home, and see if there is a way to convert them to temporary eating spaces.
  • Storage: Before guests arrive, make sure any large scale projects in the kitchen are complete and do not occupy needed space. If applicable, create more room by adding temporary storage, such as a rolling island or mini fridge, or improvise with what you have, and use spaces such as the laundry room to store food and supplies.
  • Prepare a Detailed Grocery List: Aside from food, spices, cleaning supplies, cookware and utensils, etc. there are other essential items that you don’t want to forget at the store, including garbage bags, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, coffee filters, batteries, etc.

 

Thanksgiving Day Cleaning Tips:

 

  1. Garbage Disposal:
  • Remove build up in your garbage disposal by grinding harder items, such as fruit pits, ice, or small bones, that scrape the inside of the disposal and pipes before grinding any other foods.
  • Flush food waste through the plumbing system and prevent debris from settling in pipes by running cold water for 30 seconds before and after each use.
  • Throw away non-food items, grease, and fat that can clog the disposal.
  • Take your time when cleaning up.

 

  1. Dishes:
  • Set up stations of plastic tubs, and fill them with soapy, lukewarm water. When you run out of room in the dishwasher, place dishes in the tubs until you can clean them or run another cycle through the dishwasher.
  • Line baking dishes and pans with foil before you start preparing the food. Then, when you are finished and remove the foil, the dish will be nearly spotless and require minimal cleaning!

 

Marketing Your Real Estate Business on Instagram

October 10, 2014

instagram logoAs one of the fastest growing social media networks, Instagram is an instrumental marketing platform for real estate agents, as it provides another free outlet for branding, exposing listings, generating leads, and engaging your audience. In addition, its function as a photo and video-sharing social networking service enables Instagram to establish a more personal and emotional connection with followers since consumers tend to be visually driven. In fact, statistics show that Instagram delivers 58 more engagement per follower than Facebook and 120 times more engagement per follower than Twitter. Plus, with 200 million active monthly users, it is an effective and significant channel to reach potential clients, impress your current clients, and stay relevant to your past clients.

Whether new to the industry or an industry veteran, Instagram is a beneficial tool that will aid in virtually every aspect of branding, marketing, and prospecting.   Therefore, it is imperative that agents take advantage of this platform and incorporate the tips, various apps and capabilities below into their daily marketing regimen in order to stay competitive and build their business.

 

  1. Set Up Your Account:
  • Instagram does not offer the ability to create a separate business identity like Facebook does, so users are able to integrate their work related images and videos with their personal photos.
  • Current Instagram users should make necessary adjustments to their account to ensure that the username, picture, bio, and website represent their business and brand. To do this, login to your account through your smart phone, tablet, or computer, and select “Edit Profile”. Once you make the necessary changes, hit “Submit”.
  • New users will have to establish an Instagram account by downloading the app on their smart phone. Then, you can login with your Facebook username and password or create a separate username and password. Again, choose a username that represents your brand (i.e. RealtorJohnDoe).
  • Add your real estate headshot or a photo of one of your listings as your main image, upload your real estate biography to your account bio and your agent website to your website in order to send backlinks to your website and improve rankings!
  • Once the account has been updated or created, sync it to your Facebook account so that you can easily find your friends on Instagram.
  • Download a badge and paste it on your website, blog, email signature, email marketing, and other social media sites from your computer by logging in to your account, clicking on your username from your home page, and selecting “Badges” from the drop down menu.

 

  1. Interact with Other Users:
  • Consistently engaging not only those that follow you, but also those that you follow is crucial!
  • If your Instagram is synced to your Facebook account, you will be able to follow your Facebook friends immediately after creating your account.
  • Find other users to follow by searching for hashtags that interest you in the search bar, such as real estate, home décor, luxury listings, etc.
  • Spend time daily interacting with users by liking and providing thoughtful commentary on their posts as well as responding to comments from other users on your posts.
  • Add your Instagram badge with a link to your profile to your social media, email signature, blog, website, and email marketing campaigns as mentioned earlier, and include a call to action to encourage others to follow you.

 

  1. Brand Your Business in Every Post:
  • Instagram is a fast, simple and fun way to share your life with family and friends through photos and videos, so it is essential to post both personal and business related pictures throughout the day to relate to a broader scope of followers. However, even your personal posts present branding opportunities.
  • Let your personal posts illustrate your connection with and knowledge of the local neighborhoods and surrounding communities; thus, branding you as an area expert. Capture and share images while at local hot spots, a new restaurant in the area, neighborhood or community events, fundraisers, school functions, etc.
  • Integrate real estate oriented posts while on the job to remind your audience that you are a real estate agent. Share pictures of your happy clients, your personal listings, new listings or featured listings in the area, behind the scenes glances of the life of a real estate agent, new construction sites, homes you are showing to a buyer, vendors you work with, a successful closing, decorating or home staging ideas, gardens, etc.
  • Include captions to each post with information about the photo or video, such as details about an event, thanking a vendor or agent who helped you with a closing, the final score of a local sporting event, a restaurant review, a local business recommendation, remodeling or decoration advice, etc.

 

  1. Utilize Tools to Expand Your Reach:
  • Tag clients, colleagues, family and friends who are pictured in your images and videos or relate to them in some way. This will give you thehashtag opportunity to interact with them and their followers and broaden your scope.
  • Incorporate hashtags into the captions of your posts. Hashtags are essential and necessary to boost engagement and attract followers, as users can search for hashtags to find posts. Therefore, your hashtags should be relevant to your post and generic so that it is easier to find. For example, if you post an image of a listing, you could use #realestate, #realestateagent, #houstonhomesforsale, #pricereduced, #luxuryhome, #waterfrontproperty, as well as other property descriptions or the name of the neighborhood. If you are posting a picture of a football game at a local school, you might hashtag the school name, the opposing team’s name, football, the school district, other information about the school, like #awardwinning, #exemplary, #statechampions, etc. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags for each post, so the more the merrier!
  • Enable photo maps when you post a video or picture to pin your location on a map. Not only does this demonstrate your familiarity and knowledge with your community and neighborhood, allow users to find your photos on the map, and mark the exact location of different listing or showings, but it also builds your credibility as an expert in that area and creates relevance in your community.
  • Maximize exposure with social media integration to automatically share your posts to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. This not only saves you time, but it also ensures your branding is consistent on all social media platforms. To manually share your posts, click on the dots at the bottom of the image or video you want to share. Then, elect to “Share” or “Copy URL” and paste it to your desired destination.

 

  1. Capture Your Audience:
  • Enhance your images by using clear, focused pictures with natural light, and apply digital filters to edit brightness, saturation, contrast, etc.
  • Showcase your media marketing skills by posting videos of your listings, parks or amenities in the community, a certain neighborhood, a client testimonial, etc. to boost traction and response on your Instagram. In addition, surveys prove that current, past, and potential clients are more impressed and likely to hire agents who incorporate video into their marketing.
  • Download third party apps with the ability to modify or develop intriguing content. Flipagram is a free tool that allows users to create a short video of previously taken photos, complete with music and captions. You can also post beautiful collages that capture more followers through Pic Stitch or a similar app. Transform images into powerful marketing tools with Over, which allows users to add text to images, whether marketing an upcoming open house, your website, listing highlights, or adding inspirational messages to your photos. Take extended videos of your listings, a neighborhood, community events, etc. with Hyperlapse, a time-lapse video app that enables users to control the speed at which the finished video will play; thus, eliminating time restraints.
  • Stunning images, enticing videos, and third party modifications will help you construct appealing posts, but timing is equally important when capturing followers. Ensure you post during the most active times of day to increase engagement and reach more followers. Typically, social media usage is most active in the evenings, but you can analyze your follower’s peak usage hours on Instagram with Icono Square.

 

With new apps and capabilities consistently introduced, Instagram’s popularity among internet users continues to rise. Although all social media platforms are dominant sources for effective marketing and branding, Instagram caters to visually driven consumers, which accounts for an overwhelming majority of internet users and attributes to its status as the fastest growing social media network. Plus, it maximizes efficiency by allowing users to share the same visually stimulating posts with their fans and followers on other networks. Not to mention, with real estate agents devoting roughly 40% of their time daily to marketing related activities, the ability to market yourself on the go, whether in the car, at an event, or at a local hot spot with friends, family or clients, is a constructive use of that time. As new Instagram features continue to emerge, the opportunities to market your business, generate leads, attract clients, and deliver your message will be more profound, as will the need to embrace it in your daily marketing.

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.

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