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Protect Your Home with Our Guide to Burglary Prevention

October 8, 2013

Residential burglary is one of the most frequently reported crimes to police.  In fact, the most common threat to a home is burglary.  According to the FBI, a home is burglarized somewhere in the United States every 15.4 seconds. The majority of home and apartment burglaries occur during the day while parents and children are away at work or school.  With kids recently back in school, your home is left unattended more often, and burglars are on the prowl.  After all, burglaries aren’t random. These criminals follow a selection process, as they are looking for unoccupied homes with the easiest access, greatest amount of cover, and best escape routes.

 

Protecting your home from criminal intrusion should be a top priority!  It doesn’t cost much to outsmart burglars who are simply looking to take advantage of an easy target.  Follow these steps to minimize your risk and protect your home.

 

  1. Locks and Doors – It is imperative that you use available tools to your advantage that make your home difficult to enter.  A burglar will not target a home that takes too much effort or requires more skill or tools than they possess.
  • Garage door and back doors are often the weakest entry points and provide criminals with the most cover.  Keep your car locked, even if it is in the garage, as burglars know to look for keys to the home in them.
  • Use high quality Grade-1 or Grade-2 locks on exterior doors that resist twisting, prying or lock picking.
  • Ensure you have a quality, heavy duty deadbolt lock, as well, and a quality door knob-in-lock set.  These inhibit the use of channel-lock pliers that are used to shear off lock cylinder pins and prevent slipping the lock open with a credit card of shim.
  • Use solid core or metal door for all entry points.  These doors are harder to kick in.
  • Upgrade to a heavy duty, 4-screw strike plate with 3-inch screws to penetrate into a wooden door frame.  The most common method of forced entry is to kick the door open, and the weakest part of the door is the strike plate which is often secured only by soft-wood door jamb molding, easy to tear away with a kick.  This upgrade alone will prevent most forced entry through the door.
  • Secure sliding glass doors with blocking devices, like bars or a broomstick.  Ensure door rollers are in good condition and properly adjusted, as well.
  • Place decals on doors to disclose your home is protected by an alarm or watch dog.  Burglars don’t want to be noticed or caught, so this alone could deter them from breaking into your home.
  • Always lock your doors, even if you’re only leaving for a few minutes.
  • Don’t leave a house key under your mat or flower pot.  This is the first place a burglar looks for entry.

 

  1. Windows:  Windows are left unlocked or open at a very high rate, which is often visible from the street, and can be the sole reason for your home to be selected by intruders.
  • Keep windows closed while you are away from the home and locked.  Ensure you have good locks, especially at ground level.  When using windows for ventilation, ensure they are not open more than six inches.
  • Secure your windows with blocking devices, as windows have latches rather than locks.  Make sure the blocking device can not be removed if left open. Also, if left open, ensure there is no capability to reach in and unlock a door or window themselves.
  • Use anti-life devices to prevent a window from being lifted out.
  • Place decals on your windows that indicate crime prevention or security.

 

  1. Lighting:  Good lighting is a major deterrent to criminals because they don’t want to be seen or caught.  Interior lighting is necessary to show signs of life and activity inside your home, even while you are away.  Whether you are out of town or out to dinner, no lights send a message to criminals that you are out of town.  These tips can help:
  • Buy light timers.  They are inexpensive and should be used daily, not just when you’re away.  Place them by front and back windows behind closed curtains.  Time different lights to create a pattern of lights turning on and off to simulate occupancy.
  • Timers can also be used to turn on TVs and radios.
  • Exterior lighting is crucial, as well!  With a well lit perimeter and entry, you and your neighbors can see any threats or suspicious people lurking around.  Exterior lights should be bright enough to see 100 feet.
  • Don’t leave garage and porch lights on all day.  This is a dead giveaway that you are out of town.
  • Get security lights with infra-red motion sensors.

 

  1. Alarm Systems:  Alarm systems instill greater fear in intruders due to the increased potential of being caught; thus, deterring them from intruding your home.
  • Place security signs in your front yard and decals on windows and doors.  Burglars will choose homes without these signs and decals, so if you have an alarm system, display the proof!
  • Don’t write your alarm pass code on or near the alarm keypad.
  • Ensure that your system is properly installed and maintained, and see to it that it has an audible alarm bell or horn.
  • Talk to your neighbors.  Let them know when you will be gone, and give them permission to let in police, call locksmith or window repair, and other details you will want taken care of while you are gone.
  • Keep your alarm response call list updated.

 

  1. Know Your Neighbors:  Concerned neighbors are a great defense against crime.  Tell a trusted neighbor when you’re leaving your home, when you are coming back, your itinerary, phone numbers, and key so that they remain on guard.  If you have not yet established relationships with your neighbors, try these tips:
  • Invite adjacent neighbors to your home to establish trust.
  • Nurture your relationship by doing small tasks for each other.
  • Communicate often.
  • Once you have established solid relationships, agree to watch out for each other’s homes.
  • When away, have them pick up newspapers, mail and flyers from the yard.  Invite them to park cars in your driveway to make occupancy look visible.

 

  1. Buy a Home Safe:  Safes continue to become more and more affordable, and were designed to prevent burglars, kids, babysitters, housekeepers and dishonest guests from acquiring access to your important documents or personal property.  Protect your belongings in a safe, and follow these tips to keep the safe secure.
  • Anchor your safe into the floor.
  • Use it every day so that it becomes routine.
  • Protect your safe code, and change it occasionally.
  • Install it away from the master bedroom or closets.

 

  1. Inventory and Identify Your Belongings:  These tips are useful when reporting stolen assets to insurance or being notified if your items are recovered.
  • Engrave your drivers’ license on your TV, stereo, computers and small electronic devices.
  • Photograph and record serial numbers of your valuables (helpful for insurance claims).
  • Photocopy any content in your wallet, as well as other important documents.  Store copies in your safe, safety deposit, or with trusted relatives.

 

  1. Lawn, Garage and Driveway Tips:  Remember, an intruder will select a home that has limited visibility, easy access points, and doesn’t require too much time or tools to enter.  Follow these tips to ensure your home is not a desirable selection.
  • Trim your bushes and trees that hide doors and windows.
  • Maintain your yard.  Keep ladders and tools away when you’re not using them.
  • Don’t leave your garage door open.  Keep your garage door locked, no matter if it is attached or detached, to hinder criminals from acquiring certain tools and ladders needed to enter your home.
  • If you park outside of your garage, don’t leave the garage opener in your car.  It is crucial to secure your garage as well as your home.

 

  1. Community Tips:  There are a number of ways you can get your community involved to eliminate crime throughout your neighborhood.  By working together, you can maintain safer streets for you and your family.
  • Be alert to things in the community that invite crime, and work with your community and law enforcement to solve these problems.
  • Report abandoned houses, non working street lights, and other problems that facilitate crime.
  • Start or join a neighborhood watch group.  This is one of the most effective and least expensive ways to reduce crime and prevent fear.
  • Alert law enforcement to any suspicious activity.

Moving with Kids: Helpful Tips to Ensure it’s a Smooth Transition

September 4, 2013

Whether moving across the country or just across town, moving can be a daunting task for the entire family.  While parents are consumed with stress through the process, the situation can be upsetting and traumatic for children who weren’t part of the decision and might not understand.  Change is difficult for many people, but for kids, who thrive on familiarity and routine, special considerations should be made to ensure moving is a positive experience for the entire family.  After all, the home is a source of security and comfort for children.  For them, changing schools, addresses, and friends can be overwhelming.  However, kids are also resilient and adaptable.  If you maintain a positive attitude, keep them involved, prepare them on what to expect, listen to their concerns, ease their mind, give them special attention and time to accept it, and follow  additional tips below, you can paint this transition into an adventure and turn your child’s fear into excitement.

 

Hold a Family Meeting

Explain why you are moving to your children. Are you relocating for a job?  Inform them about the benefits it will bring to your family. Express your feelings about the move, and let them express theirs. Describe the most appealing features of the new area or possible neighborhoods to sell them on the move.

 

Research the New Area that You are Considering Moving to

Learn everything you can about what your potential new community has to offer. It is important to choose an area with the best schools and activities that suit your child’s needs. Ask your children what they want in their community. Young children might enjoy being close to parks, playgrounds, and other amenities while older children might want more entertainment options. Share your findings about the area with your children, and encourage them to do their own research, as well.

 

Involve Your Children in the Selection Process

Let your children make a “wish list” of what they want in a new home. It can include a big backyard, playroom, separate bathrooms, location and neighborhood amenities. Ensure that you are keeping their desires in mind when hunting for homes. If you are looking for homes in your local area, invite your kids to look at houses with you. For those looking online, bookmark your top choices, and let your children select their favorite from those. Remember, their feedback is important. Ask your children to share their favorite features about each home. Select the final choice as a family, and include them in a celebration when you know you are getting the home you chose together.

 

Plan a Visit to the Site

Take your children to do a walk-through of the home if it is located in close proximity to your current home. Tour the neighborhood and community to show them how close their home will be to everything on their lists. Visit the schools and introduce yourself to the principal and teachers. If you are moving far away, take a virtual tour online of the home, if possible, or plan a weekend trip.

 

Organize a Moving Sale

Have a family meeting to decide what items will not be included in your move.  Allow your children to help you sort through the belongings to take an inventory of what needs to go. They can help you organize and price these items for a garage sale. At the family meeting, decide what you will do with the funds allocated. Do you want a new TV for the family room or a pool or spa in the backyard? Come to a consensus as a family to increase involvement and excitement about the new home.

 

Host a “See You Soon Party”

Having to say goodbye to friends can be one of the hardest things for kids about moving. Holding a party for your child to say goodbye to his or her friends can make for an easier transition. While the goodbye party is happening, make sure everyone exchanges contact information. Consult with the parents of your children’s friends to arrange a visit soon after the move.

 

Keep Your Children Involved with the Move

Have your children sort through their toys and get rid of the toys they no longer want. You can get boxes for your children to decorate for them to move their special belongings. You may want to get the floor plans of your new home and let your children plan the layout of their new rooms.

 

Map Out Your Move

If you are moving far away, map your moving route. Look at a map or your GPS and mark the interesting places to visit on the way. This will break up the trip and excite your children with something to look forward to.

 

Say Goodbye to Your Old Home and Community

Visit your family’s favorite restaurants, shops, parks, etc. one last time before you move. On the last night in your home, cook your family’s favorite dinner and eat together. Reminisce about your favorite memories at your home. Walk through each room together, and let each member of your family recall their favorite times.

 

Have a Babysitter for Your Kids the Day You Move in

Since move-in day will be very stressful, you may want to consider hiring a babysitter for the day so you do not subject your children to the hectic atmosphere. Also, you will get more accomplished by not having to entertain your children.

 

Ensure All Children’s Rooms are Complete First

Before unloading all of your dishes in the kitchen and hanging the family photos on the wall, get each child’s room in order so that this will immediately feel like a home. Let them decide how they want to arrange, decorate and paint their rooms. Thank them for their help, and encourage them to be excited to show their friends, new and old, their new room! It is imperative to remind them that their new home will soon be full of new family memories.

 

Maintain Your Routine

Children crave security and stability. Try to keep your family routines. If you eat pizza on Tuesdays, keep this up when you move into your new home. Any extracurricular activities that your child is involved in, (i.e. sports, band, art, theater), should be researched and joined as soon as possible to maintain their own routine and make new friends faster, as well.

 

Plan a Fun Activity Immediately After Move In

Unloading all of your boxes can wait. You should make time to explore your new community early. See if there are any museums or outdoor adventures around that will make your children more excited about living in their new home.

 

Explore the Community Once You are Settled in

Once you are settled in your new residence, it is time to settle into your new community. If available, buy a guidebook for your new city. Take out your calendar, and select dates to explore the amenities throughout your new community with your family to demonstrate everything that the new town has to offer. Travel the routes they will take to school, parks, malls, movie theaters, museums, etc. If you are moving during summer or winter breaks, inquire about community activities and clubs for your children to join in order to make friends before school resumes.

How to Identify Overpriced Homes

August 6, 2013

With housing inventory low across the country, many homes continue to sell at or above their listing price.  After finally finding the perfect home following months of searching through a dwindling supply of inventory, home buyers will pay almost anything to secure “the one”!  However, even though current inventory levels have caused homes to sell faster and at the highest possible price, sellers still need to be sure they are pricing their homes competitively.  One of the biggest mistakes sellers can make is overpricing their home.  In a real estate climate where inventory is rapidly moving, overpriced homes can still sit on the market for an extended period of time.  Not to mention, an overpriced home encourages low-ball offers from buyer’s agents who recognize the fault.  Over priced homes often result with “Price Reduced” homes, and the amount of interest amidst many potential buyers, especially those entering the market after the price reduction, will deplete.

Desperate home buyers seeking their “dream home” are willing to pay top dollar.  However, as inventory levels off, buying an overpriced home is problematic and results in losing money for new home owners when it’s ready to sell.  The future of the real estate market is unpredictable, so while it may be tempting to compete with other bids, you very well may pay the consequences in the upcoming years.

No matter what the real estate market entails, competitively priced homes sell faster and generate more traffic from potential homebuyers.  In the current real estate climate, competitively priced homes are receiving multiple offers, many of which are above the listing price, as soon as they enter the MLS.  To evaluate whether your home is priced competitively, or avoid buying one that is significantly overpriced, pay attention to the following.

1.  What are comparable homes in the area selling for?

It is crucial to look at comparable house prices when setting the price of a home because the value of a home is partially dependent on what similar homes in the area have sold for.  Research to find out what neighboring homes are selling for and ensure that the home you are buying or selling is priced accordingly.  If your home is a luxury estate in the middle of a modest neighborhood, it doesn’t mean your home is worth a significant amount more, as the area and neighborhood can actually bring the value of your home down.

2.  How many days has the house been on the market? 

Today’s real estate climate has an abundance of homes selling within days or weeks after entering the market.  When homes sit on the market for a high number of days, it is an indication that they are overpriced.  On the other hand, competitive bids indicate that it is a reasonably priced home.  If you are selling your home, monitor the number of inquiries and showings booked.  If they are few and far between, it is a sign that your home has been over priced.  Pay attention to the traffic flow and interest of other homes in the neighborhood for sale that are comparable to yours.  Whether you are a buyer or a seller, listen to the advice of your Real Estate Agent.

3.  Is the home priced for customized, unique amenities? 

While it might be appealing for you to have a tennis court, media room, expensive pool, wet bar, bowling alley and other luxuries as part of your property, these amenities lack luster to a broader audience.  A home with these amenities should not be exorbitantly higher than similar sized homes that don’t have them unless you reside in a prestigious neighborhood with luxury estates, as homebuyers looking in these opulent communities desire similar amenities.  Therefore, homes within an elite community that lack these features may actually end up sitting on the market longer while your home will still sell in impressive timing even with a price that reflects these accommodations.  Again, ask your Real Estate Agent, as it is their goal to get you the best deal as efficiently as possible, whether you are buying or selling.

 4.  What is the current Real Estate Market?

The economy has a lot to do with pricing a home.  A house can’t be sold for as much in a slumping economy as it would sell for if the economy is booming.  Is job creation relocating people to the area?  What is the current housing inventory?  Job creation, low unemployment and low inventory will result with higher priced homes.  However, all homes throughout the area are subject to these price increases, so homes in similar locations with similar amenities should still be comparable in price.

5.  What is the location?

In real estate, it is widely known that location is everything.  There are several factors involving the home’s location that will automatically make a home worth less.  Here are a few examples:

  • The house is located on a main street or only a couple of houses away from a busy street.
  • Schools in the area are not highly rated.
  • There are a lot of older residents in the area.
  • Low Income areas generally include lower priced homes.
  • Areas with a lot of diversity generally sell for less money because they are typically viewed negatively by homebuyers.
  • Is the location associated with older homes that typically require extensive remodeling due to poor structure or home faults?
  • What is the neighborhood or area amenities/recreation/entertainment?

6.  Was the home updated or well kept? 

Homes that are updated are worth more.  When a buyer walks into a home that has outdated features or is unkempt, they become wary of probable renovation costs, upgrades, or remodeling and become reluctant to buy the home.  When you find a home to buy or are selling your home, it should be priced less than similar homes in the area if:

  • The house was built by a lower-end builder compared to similar homes.
  • Fixtures, including the faucets, lights and shower, are not updated.
  • The paint is older.
  • The fence in the yard looks rotted.
  • The cabinets have scuffs and scratches.
  • Wall paper in certain rooms is outdated or peeling off the walls.
  • Floors are poorly installed or cheap.
  • Floor plan is awkward.
  • There is clutter when showing the home.
  • It lacks desirable traits found among today’s modern homes – granite counters, stainless steel appliances, landscaping, energy efficient appliances, etc.
  • Known repairs are needed.

7.  Is the home price based on home improvements?

There are several improvements that will not only boost a home’s selling time, but will also boost the price.  These include updated kitchens, newly installed bathrooms, decks and other add-ons, and they attribute to a higher value.  However, minor home improvements and repairs do not.  While many sellers want to increase the price to offset the expense of these repairs, doing so can be detrimental in the long run, as many of these repairs are suggested to move the home off of the market faster, but do not warrant a higher price tag.  It is vital to be aware of any improvements, add-ons, remodels, etc. that you (if you are the seller) or the seller (if you are the buyer) have paid for, and verify whether or not the improvements did actually add value to the home to ensure the price is an accurate reflection of the updates.

 

In market conditions where inventory is scarce and there is a surplus of frantic buyers anxious to move, some overpriced homes are likely to sell.  Generally, many homeowners are tempted to overprice their home because they think buyers will bid low, so overpricing ensures that they end up with a fair price in the end.  However, overpriced homes eliminate some buyers that would typically be promising candidates.  The safest bet for anyone selling their home is to price the home at its most competitive price so that the property will generate interest from a broader range of buyers, prevent low-ball offers and move quickly.  Talk to your Real Estate Agent if you have any concerns or reservations about the price of your home or a home you are considering.

 

Market Yourself With a Professional Real Estate Headshot

July 3, 2013

It is no secret that 80% of home buyers begin their search online, so a real estate agent’s online presence is crucial with the headshot playing the most important role.  A professional photograph speaks volumes to potential clients.  They are seeking to hire a real estate agent who conveys trust, honesty and integrity, and your appearance on your business cards, website, and social media sites is the first impression you give them.  Not to mention, buyers and sellers encounter a number of real estate agents daily, whether it’s through agent networking, attending open houses or receiving agent marketing material.

Studies show that with the right photograph, an agent can actually win business.  Your headshot should be used as a marketing tool to brand yourself, attract clients and help you stay memorable in this competitive industry.  An unflattering or unprofessional headshot can, in turn, hinder your business and cause you to lose potential clients to your competitors.  If you want a headshot that will generate business by effectively marketing your brand as a professional, hard working agent, follow these suggestions.

 

General Tips on Your Headshot

camera  Pay for professional photographs. Surveys show that 100% of respondents feel more comfortable hiring agents with a professional photograph.  It gives clients the idea that you hold yourself to a high standard and do things properly at 110%.

camera  Show your teeth!  A study showed that 97% of respondents gravitated towards agents who showed teeth while smiling in their headshots.

camera  Don’t use an outdated backdrop.  The survey showed that respondents were more likely to choose an agent who had an outdoor photo or backdrops that aren’t outdated colors or patterns.

camera  Update your headshots every two years!  Potential clients tend to feel uncomfortable hiring an agent with an out of date photograph.  It makes them feel like the agent would also be out of date on trends, marketing, rules and regulations.

camera  No props!  This includes hats, pets, cell phones or office phones, “sold” signs, cars, drinks, etc.  The headshot should just focus on you!

camera  Avoid pointing to the camera, giving the camera a “thumbs up”, or other cheesy poses.

camera  Do not use glamor shots.

camera  If you are 60, don’t use a headshot from when you were 35.  Your headshot should be up to date and make you recognizable to potential clients that you meet.

camera  Smile from within.  Forced smiles show up in pictures.  Practice your natural smile in the mirror and change different angles to find what works best with your body and face.

camera  If you wear glasses normally, wear them for your photograph.  However, be prepared to take out the lenses, as the flash could cause a glare.

 

Clothing

 

camera  Clothing is the most important factor.  With proper clothing, your face commands the picture.  The wrong clothing takes away the attention where you want it.
camera  Dress in a fashion that best represents you and your company.
Dress as you would if you were making a presentation to your most important clients or associates.  Even if you have a more casual picture, wear something that looks upscale and smart.

camera  Men photograph well in a solid, dark colored suit with an ironed, well-fit light colored shirt and a dark tie.  Don’t wear wrinkled or dirty clothing.

camera  Women photograph best when they wear a solid suit and a light colored blouse that flatters the neckline and falls well on the shoulders.  Avoid wearing gaudy jewelry, low cut shirts, dirty or wrinkled clothes.

camera  Avoid wearing anything distracting, like stripes, plaid, checks and dots.  Patterns are ok to wear as long as they photograph well and aren’t distracting to the viewer.

camera  Do not wear flesh toned colors like beige, tan, peach, pink, white or yellow.  These colors can wash you out in photographs or be distracting to a viewer who could confuse it as skin.

camera  Do not wear solid black to your photograph session.  Photographs in all black lack detail and dimension.

camera  Avoid wearing short sleeves and turtlenecks.

camera  Light grey suits typically don’t photograph as well.

 

 

Grooming

 

Women

camera  Consider hiring someone to do your makeup.  Professionals know what colors and textures will photograph well and how much to apply.  For those who decide to do their own makeup, apply it the same as you would for a formal evening out without looking cakey.  If you typically don’t wear makeup, consider wearing at least a little for your photo session.

camera  Bring hair products to your photograph session.

camera  If you typically color your hair, make sure you don’t have roots.

camera  Don’t wash your hair the night before or the morning of the photo shoot.

 

Men

camera  Tidy up your hair.

camera  Consider using powder on your face to reduce shine.

camera  Shave early in the day.  If your session is late in the day and you have a heavy beard, you might need a touch-up shave midday to eliminate a 5:00 shadow.

camera  Don’t cut your hair the day before.

 

 

With the internet becoming increasingly important in attracting clients and generating business, creating an optimal first impression is vital.  A professional, flattering, appropriate headshot on your social media sites, website, business cards and/or marketing materials is crucial in creating a memorable first impression and building your brand.  To compete with the thousands of real estate agents in your area, it is extremely important to utilize every opportunity to market yourself as a welcoming, dedicated, up to date, hard working professional.  Consumers are looking to hire an agent they can trust, so let your photo be modern, simple and realistic.

Have a Safe and Happy Fourth of July

June 28, 2013

With the kids out of school for the summer and a plethora of appealing events for the Fourth of July, the holiday is an ideal day to spend with family and friends by the pool, having a backyard barbecue, hanging out on the lake, or shooting fireworks in celebration.  However, through all of the joy and excitement, many become negligent regarding safety precautions for themselves and their family.  Each year around the Fourth of July, thousands of people are treated in emergency rooms for firework-related injuries that could be prevented.  In addition, the number of traffic accidents, injuries and deaths rise significantly on Independence Day.  To ensure that you, your family and your friends will enjoy a safe and happy holiday, follow these safety guidelines.

 

Firework Safety:

Independence_Day Keep children away from fireworks.  Don’t allow children to touch fireworks of any kind, even after they have “gone off”.  Almost half of the 10,000 reported injuries a year are children under the age of 15.  Even sparklers are dangerous, and cause the majority of injuries to children under 5.  Sparklers burn at high temperatures and emit sparks that can set clothes on fire or cause permanent eye damage, so keep them out of the reach of young children.

Independence_Day For older children, only use fireworks with adult supervision.

Independence_Day Avoid alcohol and drugs while lighting fireworks or around someone lighting fireworks.

Independence_Day Obey all of the local laws.

Independence_Day Only buy fireworks from a reliable seller.

Independence_Day Store the fireworks in a dry, cool place.

Independence_Day Be sure to only use fireworks of any kind outdoors and away from dried grass, leaves, homes and anything else that could catch on fire from the sparks.

Independence_Day Always have a good amount of water nearby, like a bucket or a hose.

Independence_Day Read and follow label directions.

Independence_Day Only light one firework at a time.

Independence_Day Stand away from the firework when you are lighting it.  Make sure no part of your body is positioned over it, and make sure all onlookers and guests are out of its vicinity.

Independence_Day Don’t throw or point the fireworks at anyone.

Independence_Day Don’t light fireworks in a container.

Independence_Day Never relight a “dud” firework, or a firework that never activated.  Instead, wait 15 to 20 minutes, and then throw it in a bucket of water.

Independence_Day Keep pets away from the fireworks as well, as there are dangerous chemicals even in unopened fireworks.

Independence_Day Watch firework displays by professionals rather than light your own, if you can, to ascertain your safety.

 

Barbecue Safety

Independence_Day Never grill indoors, in your garage, under an awning, carport, or other surface that can be reached by flames and catch fire.

Independence_Day Keep the grill away from trees and position it at least ten feet way from any buildings, including your home and garage.

Independence_Day Instead of using lighter fluid for a charcoal grill which can be hazardous, use and electric or chimney lighter to light a newspaper to start the charcoal.

Independence_Day Check for blockages from grease or insects in the tubs that lead to the burner.  Clean any blockages with pipe cleaner.

Independence_Day For gas grills, check the hoses for cracking, brittleness, holes and leaks.  Ensure that there are no sharp bends in the hose or tubing.

Independence_Day Inspect gas grills for gas leaks, and don’t light the grill if you suspect there is a leak or smell gas.

Independence_Day Keep children and pets away from the grill area.

 

Driving SafetyIndependence Day was the deadliest day on the roads from 2006 through 2010. If you are on the roads on the Fourth of July, maintain the highest level of safety precautions.

Independence_Day Drink responsibly.  Even if you just have one drink, have a designated driver drive you home or call a taxi.

Independence_Day Those driving must stay alert and focused the entire time.  Keep an eye out for impaired drivers that could cause harm to you or others.

Independence_Day Don’t follow cars too closely, listing to loud music, or chat with passengers in your car.  If you have passengers, instruct them to stay quiet so you can concentrate on arriving home safely.

Independence_Day Put down your cell phone!  If you need directions, check your GPS before you leave the house.  If you get lost, pull over to get directions of have a passenger call someone.

Independence_Day The safest thing you can possibly do to celebrate Independence Day is to stay home!  Go to a neighborhood party or invite friends over to your house where they have a safe place to stay the night or safely walk home.

 

When making your plans to celebrate the Fourth of July next week and over the weekend, remember these safety tips!  Plan to watch a local firework display, make arrangements with friends and family for a designated driver, search for a neighborhood party or make plans to throw one of your own to stay as safe as possible.  No matter what you do or where you go, use your common sense regarding what to avoid and what to do in order to have a Happy Independence Day!

 

 

Save Money This Summer With These Energy Efficient Tips

May 31, 2013

As summer approaches, it is imperative to be energy efficient to avoid high energy bills.  As a home owner, there are several measures that you can take to control, or lower, your monthly utility bills.  These suggestions will improve the way your home uses energy, and even offer ideas that you and your family can implement to be more energy efficient during the coming hot, summer months.

 

Air Conditioning

sunshine  Monitor your heating and cooling systems.  Replace air filters once a month to maintain an adequate and clean air flow which will reduce energy costs.

sunshine  Keep the registers and vents free of dust, dirt and other blockages.

sunshine  Keep vents and doors closed in rooms that aren’t used.

sunshine  Give your AC a tune up.

sunshine  Set your thermostat fan to “auto” instead of “on”.

sunshine  Open interior doors so that cool air will flow freely throughout your home.

sunshine  Grill outdoors more often during the hot summer months.  The oven and stove will force your AC to work harder.

sunshine  Keep outdoor air unit clean and clear of debris.

sunshine  Keep your thermostat around 78 degrees.

sunshine  Dress appropriately for the weather so you can keep your thermostat as high as possible.

Insulation

sunshine  Add or replace insulation.  Appropriate insulation can save you up to 30% on your heating bill.

sunshine  Insulation of attic, floors, exterior walls and crawl spaces can help prevent energy loss.

sunshine  Choose high-quality materials and replace matted or town insulation.

 

Windows and Doors

sunshine  Use shades, blinds, drapes, awnings, trees and shrubs to shield the sun from heating up your home, whether it is inside or an outdoor porch.

sunshine  Caulk and add weather stripping around windows and doors, as your home may have small openings around doors and windows that allow for heat or cool air loss.  Caulk and weather stripping can reduce energy loss and protect your home from moisture damage.

sunshine  Install storm windows and storm doors for spring and summer.   This can reduce energy usage by serving as a barrier to your outdoor environment.

sunshine  Don’t leave windows or doors open when the AC is running.

sunshine  Replace windows with high-performance windows to eliminate “hot spots”.

Ceiling Fans

sunshine  Install ceiling fans to help more evenly distribute cool air generated from your AC.

sunshine  Switch the ceiling fans to counter clockwise in the summer.

sunshine  Turn off kitchen and bath fans immediately after use.

Water

sunshine  Shut off water when you brush your teeth, wash dishes by hand, etc.

sunshine  Run the washer and dishwasher only when they are full.

sunshine  Fix leaky faucets.

sunshine  Wrap your water heater with insulation or install an insulating blanket.

sunshine  Set your dishwasher to economy mode.

sunshine  Wash your clothes and shower with cold water.

sunshine  Reduce your water heater temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees.

sunshine  Check hot water pipes for leaks.

Lighting

sunshine  Turn out lights not in use.

sunshine  In the cooler parts of the day, open the windows and let Mother Nature light your home.

sunshine  Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents.  They use 75% less energy and last ten times longer.

sunshine  Use low-watt bulbs when lighting is not critical.

sunshine  Place floor lamps and hanging lamps in corners.  The reflection of the light on the walls will create more light.

sunshine  Turn off outdoor lighting during the day.

sunshine  Use motion detector lights for outdoor lighting at night.

 

Appliances

sunshine  If you need to buy more appliances, get the most energy efficient models that you can afford.  Look for appliances that have earned the Energy Star.  These can cut your bills down by $450 a year.

sunshine  Plan meals ahead and bake more than one at a time.

sunshine  Cook with lids on your pots to conserve energy used when cooking.

sunshine  Use cooper-bottomed pots and pans that use heat more efficiently when cooking on the stove.

sunshine  Turn off ovens and burners when the food is almost ready, and let the existing heat finish cooking your food.

sunshine  Use tight fitting covers on pots and pans to shorten cooking time.

sunshine  Match your pot size to the size of the burner.

sunshine  Use the microwave or toaster oven to heat up smaller items and leftovers.

sunshine  Close the refrigerator door completely.  It is one of the most used appliances, as it runs 24 hours a day.

sunshine  Replace worn out seals on your refrigerator and freezer.

sunshine  Set your refrigerator at 36 to 39 degrees and your freezer at 0 to 5 degrees.

sunshine  Defrost frozen food in the fridge before cooking.

sunshine  Keep the freezer full.  The fuller the freezer, the less cold air you lose when you open the door.

sunshine  Unplug a second refrigerator outside in the hot garage.

sunshine  Air dry dishes instead of heat dry.

sunshine  Make sure your dryer’s outside vent is clear and clean the lint filter after every load.

sunshine  Avoid over drying your clothes.

sunshine  When doing several loads of laundry, dry each load of clothes immediately after the other one to reduce heat loss.

sunshine  Use the self clean cycle of your oven right after you finish baking to give it a head start on heating up.

sunshine  Read appliance manuals for information on how to take care of them and possible energy saving tips.

sunshine  Use power strips for home electronics and turn off the power strips when equipment is not in use.

sunshine  Unplug battery chargers when the battery is fully charged or it’s not being used.

Without a doubt, attempting to cool down your home and yourself throughout the summer months will increase your bills.  Using these cost effective tips will ensure you stay as comfortable as possible by cutting back on energy use elsewhere throughout your home and utilizing the essential energy efficiently.

Tips for Writing Your Real Estate Biography

May 3, 2013

When your Real Estate Biography is properly written, it gives clients a warm feeling about your capabilities. Clients want to be assured of three main things: you know the local market, you can understand their needs, and you will work hard for them.  Listed below are a few critical elements to include in your biography that will draw potential clients to you.

  • Your Real Estate Biography should only be a few paragraphs and kept to one page or less.
  • Always write in the third person, refer to yourself by name, he, or she.
  • Make it brief-it’s not just about what you do, it’s who you work with.
  • Briefly mention where you were born, where you were raised, where you went to school, previous job experiences, and what they taught you/how they helped you excel in the real estate industry.
  • Include a sentence or two about your niche/niches as well as the type of clients you serve.
  • Briefly name the real estate organizations, clubs, or professional designations/associations to which you belong.  Spell them out; no one outside of the industry will know what they stand for.
  • Mention anything that will enhance your credibility (like published real estate articles or books).
  • Aside from experience, talk about your connection to the community.  How long have you lived there?  What hidden gems do you treasure?  What groups or networks are you involved in?  Let them know you live and work nearby, and can provide detailed answers to their many questions.  No matter what your experience level is, a client is more eased with a high level of knowledge about the community.
  • Understand what your clients need.  Specify the latest marketing tools that you use, or a particular business style that has helped past clients.  People will trust you more readily if they know you’re keeping their interests foremost in mind.
  • Don’t forget to mention the personal qualities that qualify you for the job.  For example, clients like to work with professional, pleasant, hard-working, enthusiastic, and organized real estate agents.   List personal and professional strengths as they pertain to your career in real estate.  If you’re great with computers or have access to exceptional technology tools, say so.
  • Remember, an impressive list of credentials doesn’t always matter to clients.  Ease their fears and worries by listing ways you can help solve their problems.  Let future clients feel confident in your ability to communicate clearly and with professionalism.
  • Make sure all of your contact information is included in the last paragraph of your biography.  This includes your name, company, address, phone number, fax number, email address, and website address.
  • Write, rewrite, and rewrite.  Then edit!  Eliminate extra words and use descriptive words.

Keep in mind, clients want to work with a professional who is attentive to detail, has great communication skills, is comfortable with technology, possesses an inside understanding of the market, and is goal-oriented.  These guidelines will help you compose a biography that will reassure them that you possess these qualities, and are the perfect person for the job.

How to Highlight the Most Desirable Features of Your Home

February 28, 2013

Tips for Making a “Best Features” List

When selling your home, it is beneficial for your real estate agent to know what your favorite features are so that he or she can point out these attributes to buyers who might have otherwise overlooked them or what they add to your home. Your home is your castle, and whether it is something big or small, common or unusual, every home has stand out features that allures homebuyers. From something as changeable as color to the enduring elements of architecture to something small like drawers, there are a number of details that you have loved about your home that will translate with buyers!

The following is a list of favorable elements that buyers appreciate when looking for a home. Feel free to select any that apply to you regarding your home, or add your own, so that we can use these strengths to market your property to buyers. You can add descriptions such as: exceptional, beautiful, exquisite, spectacular, breathtaking, spacious, elegant, custom, lustrous, refined, gorgeous, fantastic, unique, rare, amazing, vintage, antique, classic or other adequate descriptions to better highlight your property.

Kitchen:

  • Walk-In Pantry
  • Double Sinks
  • Wood or Tile Floors
  • Amount of Space
  • Kitchen Layout
  • Exotic Stone or Granite Counter Tops
  • Open Kitchen/Family Room Area
  • Natural Light
  • Large Tiles on Kitchen Floor
  • Smart, Accessible Features of Design
  • Fireplace (it is especially useful to mention fireplaces in bedrooms or kitchens)
  • Soft, Neutral Paint Colors
  • Well Crafted, Functional Features
  • Stainless Steel Appliances
  • Wine Coolers
  • Towel Warmers and Warming Trays
  • Laundry Room
  • Insulated Door with Outdoor Access
  • Views
  • 6-Burner Stoves and Convection Ovens

Bedrooms/ Bathrooms:

  • Walk-In Closets
  • Large Windows
  • Amount of Space
  • His and Her Walk-In Closets in the Master
  • Large Master Bedroom and Bathroom
  • Hardwood Floors
  • Natural Light
  • Decorative Light Features like Antique or Retro Fixtures
  • Glass Shower Doors
  • Large Modern Bathrooms
  • Smooth Texture on Walls and Ceilings
  • Smart, Accessible Features of Design
  • Dramatic Views
  • Soft, Neutral Paint Colors
  • Sense of Style and Spaciousness
  • Well Crafted Functional Features
  • Fireplaces
  • Wide Trims Along Doors and Windows
  • Bright Colors
  • Ceiling Fans
  • Nickel Accents on Faucet Fixtures
  • Stone or Granite Bathroom Counters
  • Hung Mirrors
  • His and Her Bathroom Sinks
  • Whirlpool Jacuzzi in Master Bath
  • Tile Floors in Bathroom

Living Area:

  • Wood or Bamboo Floors
  • Smooth Texture on Walls and Ceilings
  • Decorative Light Features (Chandeliers, Antique or Retro Features)
  • Spacious Living Quarters
  • Spectacular Views
  • Natural Light
  • Large Windows
  • High Ceilings
  • Framed or Hung Mirrors
  • Smart, Accessible Features of Design
  • Vintage Architectural Details
  • Soft, Neutral Paint Colors
  • Sense of Style and Spaciousness
  • Well Crafted Functional Features
  • Mention if There are Multiple Living Spaces (Dining Room, Family Room, Media Room, Game room)
  • Open Area with Kitchen

Outside:

  • Deck
  • Amount of Space
  • Attached Garage, or Garage with a Safe Walkway
  • Three-Car Garage
  • Screened Porch Area
  • Outdoor Kitchen Area and Fireplace
  • Pool
  • Lit Walkways
  • Pool/Spa
  • Gated Pool or Play Area
  • Dramatic Views
  • Landscaping
  • Length of Driveway
  • Sprinkler System

Other Admirable Qualities of Homes:

  • The Neighborhood’s Location
  • Neighborhood Amenities, Recreational Facilities, Parks, Playgrounds, Schools
  • Access From Rooms to Outside
  • Energy Efficiency (Efficient AC, Good Insulation, Programmable Thermostats, Ceiling Fans and Double Paned Windows)
  • French Doors
  • Finished Basement
  • Home Office
  • Open Floor Plan
  • High Ceilings
  • Wide Trims Along Doors and Windows
  • Smart, Accessible Features of Design
  • Vintage Architectural Details
  • Breathtaking Views
  • Soft, Neutral Colors
  • Multiple Living Spaces
  • Reasonable Taxes and Maintenance Costs
  • Security Features (Alarm System, Gated Community, Gated Home/Driveway, Gated Pool Area)
  • Style or the Age of the Home (Pre WWII, Mid-Century, Mediterranean Style)
  • Stucco Exterior
  • Grand Entrances and Archways
  • Wrought Iron Accents
  • Dramatic Staircases

Make Your Life Easier and More Productive by Using Mobile Apps

February 4, 2013

In today’s competitive Real Estate market, it is essential for agents to stay current with the available technologies that help them grow their business, stay organized, offer exceptional services, and most importantly, set themselves above the rest!  Mobile technologies are completely transforming how consumers experience the Real Estate transaction.  There are a number of applications that can help you organize your real estate business, make your life easier and increase productivity.

Stay Organized:

Docusign: This App allows you to send, sign and save contracts and other documents on the go with any device. It is a huge time saver and productivity booster!

Evernote: As the second best productivity boosting App, Evernote can save inspection reports, client notes, photos, articles and almost everything else. The information is stored on the Cloud for easy access, and it includes a powerful search function.

TurboScan: With this App, you can scan and email receipts, business cards, and even larger items like documents and reports.

Shoeboxed.com: Scan receipts and business cards from your phone or computer and keep them in a safe, secure online account.

Google Drive: Allows you to store all of your files in one place so you can access them anytime from anywhere. You can access photos, documents and files stores on your Google Drive and share any file you want with contacts.

Clear: As one of the most user-friendly and more popular to-do Apps, Clear focuses on a visual interface that allows you to color code tasks. You can easily add a task, delete a task, or check off an item.

Contacts Journal: This App is a mobile CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. It allows you to mark a contact as private and enables you to separate clients from your personal contacts; set to-do’s for your clients; set reminders and make notes about each contact.

Diverse Solutions Mobile IDX: Allows easy searching of the MLS from anywhere. With this app, it is easy to contact the agent and find homes in the neighborhood.

Milog: Keeps a record of mileage for reimbursement or tax purposes.

Great Apps to Use for Photographs, Home Tours, Videos and Property Information:

HomeSnap: By just taking a picture, the GPS in your phone can get instant public information and data on properties.

HaikuDesk: With HaikuDesk, you can create listing and business presentations for your clients to review. It is impressive to clients and is generating more listings for its users.

Magicplan: Creates floor plans and room sizes for listings when you take interior pictures of the home. It exports pictures into PDF, JPG and DXF formats, so you can post images or design interactive floor plans.

Instagram: Ensures that you will never take a bad photograph. Filters lend an artistic look to each photo. The App links to Facebook, Twitter, email, Tumblr and Instagram, its own social media channel. Instagram can be used to promote listings, neighborhood amenities or branding.

Videolicious: An easy way to create a home tour or video, Videolicious allows you can take up to ten videos. After viewing numerous homes, clients might forget which home had certain attributes. Agents can film homes as their Buyer looks at them, and can later send it to their client as a refresher about the house.

360 Panorama: This App is perfect for those large rooms! It creates panoramic photos of any subject in Real Time, a great commodity for listing photographs or advertisements.

Camera+: In order to take better photographs, especially in low light conditions, Camera+ adds additional controls to your phone’s camera.

Diptic: Diptic combines photos and layouts to generate over 52 types of photo combinations and collages.

Tout: This is a great App for agents, as well, especially for those marketing their listings! With Tout, you can create 15 second videos and share them instantly on social media sites, as well as email.

Simplify Your Communication:

Slydial: This is a great App to use when you need to relay important information to a client, but don’t have a lot of time between meeting another client. With Slydial, you just dial 267-Slydial, follow a prompt, dial the client’s number and go directly to their voicemail.

YouMail: Another great tool, YouMail offers a number of voicemail solutions, including transcription, which converts voicemails into texts. This is useful when you are with a client and receive a phone call from another client. You want both clients to receive personalized service, so taking the phone call, or even checking your voicemail, might not be a good idea. With YouMail, you can read the content of the voicemail in a text.

Checkon.me: This App communicates automatically with a pre-designated contact if you don’t “check in” within a certain amount of time that you set. It is a great App to use while showing a home or conducting an open house. The App can also send the contact the location of your phone.

Social Media Apps That are Great for Real Estate:

HootSuite: This provides agents the ultimate dashboard to manage multiple social media accounts from anywhere.

LinkedIn: A free App, LinkedIn allows you access to your professional network from anywhere. You can follow real estate groups, post content and research your clients.

Flipboard: Agents can use this App to stay up to date on what’s going on in the industry. It is also a fun away to see your Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Zite: For agents who want to stay up to date and current on trends, technology, marketing and more, but don’t have the time to search the web to find valuable articles, Zite can curate the content you want, from real estate news, housing, home improvement, finance, social media and more. You can read the articles for your own knowledge; share them with clients and more.

Preparing Real Estate Listings for Photographs: What to Do and What to Avoid

January 9, 2013

In today’s competitive real estate market, real estate agents constantly have to explore ways to highlight their listings to make them stand out. With 80% of homebuyers using the internet to search for homes, proper online pictures of listings are essential. After all, the listing pictures are the “first impression” the potential homebuyers receive and it is imperative to make a good first impression. In fact, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors, homebuyers rated photos as the feature they use the most when searching for a home on the web. Photos are powerful tools for marketing, and they can have a positive effect on the price of the home and selling time as better photos command higher listing prices and get more online attention. Both real estate agents and sellers should follow these do’s and do not’s to attain flattering pictures that will expose the home in its best possible light.

Do:

Camera_Image_for_BlogInvest in a decent camera or hire a professional real estate photographer. For those not using a professional, always use a tri pod to keep the camera steady.

Camera_Image_for_BlogShoot exterior shots in the middle of the day to create the best lighting, but make sure the sun is behind you. If tall trees create shadows in the picture, shoot on an overcast day.

Camera_Image_for_BlogFor exterior shots, use a wide angle lens and stand on top of a ladder or car to create the best possible angle of the home.

Camera_Image_for_BlogStage the outside of your home for the photo by mowing the lawn, planting some mulch, or placing potted plants by the front door.

Camera_Image_for_BlogRemove cars, trash cans, dead tree limbs, and outside holiday decorations out of view from the photo. Remember to take pictures of the back of the house and yard, as well.

Camera_Image_for_BlogStage the interior of your home. The idea is to show off the home’s space, not distract potential buyers from what’s in it. Remove clutter from the area before photographing it, clear counter space, remove fridge magnets, hide children’s toys, make beds in the bedrooms, hide trash cans and trash, close toilets in bathrooms, move appliances around, and put away the dirty dishes.

Camera_Image_for_BlogBe sure to photograph the entire house. Buyers want to see pictures of the front of the house, back of the house, living room, kitchen, dining room, family room, master bedroom, other bedrooms, bathrooms, and the best features of the house, like an exercise room or a home theater.

Camera_Image_for_BlogUse as much natural lighting as possible, turn on all of the interior lights, and use the flash on your camera to make the colors and the room look brighter. Face away from open windows to avoid back lighting, and let the flash create even light. Close the drapes or blinds if the camera’s light meter is being fooled by the bright exterior light, or turn off the flash if it turns out making the room look dark.

Camera_Image_for_BlogChoose the best angles and compositions for the photographs. For instance, shoot rooms from a corner doorway to include as much of the room as possible, provide context, and make the home appear more spacious.

Camera_Image_for_BlogKeep a few personal items in the images. Buyers should see that someone actually lives there. Add color with vases of flowers or bowls of fruit and set the breakfast or dining tables.

Camera_Image_for_BlogMove furniture around when necessary so that they don’t block architectural features, like a fireplace.

Camera_Image_for_BlogMake sure to capture special features of the home, like new floors, fresh paint, or spectacular views of a golf course, beach, lake, or mountains.

Camera_Image_for_BlogFor empty houses, use a prop like a chair to give an empty room a sense of scale. Photograph rooms that are together, such as the master bedroom/bathroom to add interest to the image.

Camera_Image_for_BlogTake lots of photos! Experiment with a variety of angles and camera settings for every shot, and post the picture that presents each area of the house in its best possible light.

Camera_Image_for_BlogImprove photos by using basic photo-editing software. Crop out ceilings or unnecessary backgrounds and adjust the brightness or contrast.

Camera_Image_for_BlogFor condos and apartments, take shots of the amenities offered, like the pool, gym, tennis courts, and more.

Do Not:

NO_CAMERASMake the home look like something it’s not. Ensure you don’t mislead buyers. For instance, a wide-angle lens can make a room look deceptively large. Buyers will be disappointed and irritated to learn the actual size of the room is much smaller.

NO_CAMERASAvoid including animals and people in images. This includes both live animals and taxidermy, like deer heads on the walls, as well as anything else that can distract homebuyers from the point of the photo.

NO_CAMERASDon’t get too personal with staging. The purpose of staging a home is to create a neutral canvas on which a wide range of buyers can visualize themselves and their lives.

NO_CAMERASDon’t use wide-angle lenses in interior shots. It will distort rooms to make them look much smaller or larger.

NO_CAMERASDon’t use a camera phone!
Refrain from tilting the camera up or down. It will cause objects to have odd, unnatural shapes.

NO_CAMERASAvoid taking shots of the back of a chair, book cases and other furniture. Position yourself in angles that show the front of the room, or rearrange the furniture if the best angle to photograph the room will expose the back of furniture.

NO_CAMERASMost importantly, don’t omit a photo of the property altogether. Take plenty of photos from every room at every angle, and use the best shots.

Listing photos are both the seller and the real estate agent’s main way of advertising the property. In order to generate interest in the home and sell it quickly for the highest possible price, it is crucial that listings include as many images as possible that illustrate the attributes that would make a home desirable to live in. Listings that portray an untidy home, or worse, listings that have no picture at all, turn off many prospective buyers. Although this might seem like extra work and time, the payoff in the long run will be worth it!

 

 

 

 

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