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    Bill Gassett: 7 Blogging Tips for Real Estate Agents

    June 30th, 2015

    Blogging Tips For Real Estate Agents Bill Gassett Point2 Agent

    Today’s “ask an expert” guest post comes from Bill Gassett, a popular real estate blogger who shares his tips and tricks with buyers, sellers and other agents. This article is an excellent resource for both agents looking to start a real estate blog and those who already have blogs that they’d like to amp up a little!

    Blogging can be a fantastic way for real estate agents to increase business and establish a positive image with both potential clients and other professionals. But for blogging to work well, you have to do it right. Just writing random blogs whenever you feel the urge will not get you the results you want. You need to be smart and strategic about how you blog, what you blog about and the way you get your blog out to the world. The most successful bloggers write extremely well and know how to market their content.

    These same content providers also understand the kind of information consumers are looking for. A great real estate blog will generally answer questions that people are searching for online.

    7 Ways To Make Blogging Work For Your Real Estate Business

    1. Pick a great platform

    You have a lot of options when it comes to blogging platforms. One of the most popular platforms for business blogging is WordPress. You can use WordPress to write and publish your blogs – all for free.

    WordPress is so popular because it gives you all the tools you need to write your blog, add pictures or video, tailor the blog for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes and publish it. WordPress is also customizable. You can add headers, graphics and other customizable features that make your site stand out from a sea of competition. If you are at all interested in starting a real estate blog, you should give WordPress a spin.

    If you’re a Point2 Agent Professional or Elite user, you already have access to create your own WordPress blog! The tips in this post will help you add a blog to your real estate agent website.

    2. Write about topics that encourage both local and national interest

    Blogging is all about attracting an audience. When choosing your topics to write about, you should think on both the local and national level if you want to draw the most readers. You don’t have to hit both in every post, but you should try to work in both local and national topics over time.

    When writing about housing prices, you could talk about how your local prices compare to the national numbers. Sometimes you can write about local neighborhoods, while other times you can write about general real estate topics that apply anywhere, like how to prepare for a buyers home inspection. How many times do you think a homeowner may have asked this question either prior to putting their home on the market or right after accepting an offer? The answer is lots! This leads to the next blogging tip for real estate agents which is to answer popular questions you know people are typing into Google or another search engine.

    3. Answer questions that people are asking Google

    Buyers and sellers all head to the Internet now when they have a question about real estate. Most of them ask Google before they even think about asking a real estate agent. You want your blog to pop up in the results when these people do a search, so it makes sense to try and answer their questions with your blog. Google offers tools to find out about the most searched terms, tools that you should become familiar with if you want to target as many people as possible with your blog.

    4. Become a local expert

    You want to stand out among all the other agents writing blogs. One of the easiest ways to do this is to become an expert on your local communities and neighborhoods. You probably already know a lot about your area. That’s information that people are probably looking for online. Write blogs that cover your local knowledge. If people think you are an expert on the area where they want to buy or sell, they are more likely to hire you as their agent. One of the best ways to create business is to have real estate community pages for all the cities or towns that you cover locally. This is an exceptional way to show that you are the “go to” real estate agent in the area.

    You may be wondering what a great community page looks like? Here is an example of my real estate agent’s guide to Framingham Massachusetts. If you were not from the area and were thinking about buying a home, wouldn’t you find this information helpful? You might even consider picking up the phone if you were selling a home in Framingham as well.

    5. Get familiar with social media marketing

    Social media is one subject that every real estate blogger needs to be familiar with. There are a lot of different channels that people are using now, including Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn. You will want to establish a presence in online communities like these, because they are a perfect platform for advertising your blog.

    One thing to keep in mind as you start to work with social media – people are not participating in social media communities because they want to be sold to. They are there to connect with other people and to get information from companies and personalities they like. Avoid hard selling yourself, unless you want to be ignored or avoided. Instead, become a useful member of the community, offering knowledgeable advice and helpful information. Over time your efforts can yield big dividends.

    Here are some tips for real estate bloggers using each of the top social media networks:

    Pinterest: Here is a guide on how to use Pinterest for Real Estate. Pinterest is one of my favorite social platforms because of the continuous nature of how something can get shared for an extended length of time. This is unlike any of the other social sites where the bulk of articles being shared lasts a couple of days.

    Google+: Without a doubt Google+ is one of my favorite platforms for building relationships with other agents. It is much like Facebook but with a much more professional flair. You can really excel at driving tons of traffic to your blog by connecting with other fellow professionals. Here is a guide on how to use Google+ for real estate.

    LinkedIn: LinkedIn is another great place for a real estate agent to get traction for their blog, yet most agents don’t know how to use it properly. Here is a great field guide on how to use LinkedIn for real estate. See some handy tips on what to do and what to avoid on this professional platform.

    Twitter: Without question many real estate agents don’t know how to use Twitter all that well. Twitter can be a fantastic tool for drawing people to your blog when used properly. Here are some tips for real estate agents on how to use twitter the right way!

    Facebook: Facebook is still the most popular of all the social networks, so as a real estate blogger it makes sense to use this site as a way of making your blog more visible. Here are some excellent tips for using Facebook as a real estate agent. Finding some of the most popular real estate groups on Facebook is another great way to skyrocket your blog’s visits.

    Never underestimate the power of social media for your blog. This form of communication is getting stronger every year. More and more people are spending significant time using social channels!

    6. Build relationships with other real estate bloggers

    As you start building your blog, you should try to establish positive and mutually beneficial relationships with other real estate bloggers. Links are an important part of SEO, and a friendly mention from another blogger can drive a lot of traffic to your blog. Again, the online community – including your peers – can be a great help in building your online presence. Building solid relationships with others should be a big part of your real estate social media planning.

    Alternatively, you can easily develop a bad image that will hurt you unnecessarily if you are known to be unpleasant to deal with. You want to be loved, especially by your peers – at least if you want to maximize your business. In fact, the only reason I am writing this article here at the Point2 blog is because of the relationship that has been built between us.

    (From the Point2 editor: And we are so thankful for that, Bill!)

    7. Learn The Basics of SEO and Content Marketing

    Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your website for search engines. You want Google to bring up your blog on the first page of search results, if you can manage it. This takes time and some effort, so don’t expect it to happen overnight. But if you learn how SEO works and put it to use in your blog, you have a much better chance of getting your blog in at least the first few pages of search results. SEO is something that never should be discounted. Understanding and using solid SEO tactics is where you can take your blog from being average to exceptional. You can have the greatest blog content around but if nobody finds it, you will be missing opportunities. Learning both onsite and offsite SEO strategy is important.

    Remember: Blogging Is Content Marketing

    Content marketing is the act of creating content – blogs, articles, videos, etc. – that people want to read and watch. You are trying to meet a need that people have, and ultimately become a trusted source of information on real estate. It is marketing by giving away great material for free. You build your image or brand, and eventually people come to you for your services. Who wouldn’t want to use their favorite real estate blogger as an agent?

    Content marketing can also be used to further the reach of your blog content. There are some great standalone platforms that are fantastic for driving additional people to visit your blog. Two of my favorite content marketing platforms are Scoop.it and Storify. Each of these platforms can be used to magnify not only your content but other favorite blog posts or people who have linked to your blog. Doing the same in one of these places is an ideal way of saying thank you and strengthening a bond.

    Want to see what I mean? Check out my Scoop.it Real Estate page and my Storify Real Estate Pages. Notice how on each of these platforms you can share content you have already created and add additional thoughts on the subject. Those that are interested can follow the topic back to your blog!

    There are so many other places where your blog can gain additional exposure besides what I mentioned here. These blogging tips will be a great start, but you should always be on the lookout for additional opportunities.

    Above all else understand that gaining actual business from your real estate blog takes time. Don’t expect that you will write a few articles and buyers and sellers will be beating on your door within weeks. Like anything else blogging is hard work – it takes time to get noticed and gain recognition from others.

    Share a link to you real estate blog below, and we’ll take a peek!

     

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    4 Google Analytics Tips You Don’t Want to Miss

    March 24th, 2015

    Today’s guest post comes to us from Paul Koks, a passionate Analytics & Optimization Consultant and founder of Online-Metrics.com4 Google Analytics Tips for Real Estate Agents by Paul Koks

    As a real estate agent, you know that your online presence is of crucial importance to grow both your lead database and your bottom line. You need to establish your brand, have a stunning platform and turn your visitors into customers.

    That’s when the measurement part comes in play. You can’t optimize what you don’t measure. It’s great you already have access to Google Analytics, but does it really help you to get more out of your business?

    In this article I share four tips to help you work with Google Analytics in a better and more effective way.

    1. Filter Out Your Own IP Addresses

    I imagine that you work on your online platform on a weekly or even daily basis.

    You need to add new content, change existing pages or simply like to see whether everything works the way it should.

    By default, Google Analytics tracks sessions (their term for visits) from all people that visit your website. This includes sessions that reflect visits by you and your colleagues.

    In my experience, especially when traffic numbers are not incredibly high, this can skew your data a lot.

    Let’s assume you measure 100 sessions on your site, and four sent in lead generation forms. Within these numbers there are 20 sessions from yourself (or colleagues) and two lead generation forms sent as a test.

    Here are the resulting numbers:

    Example - leadgen formsWithout any additional configuration you measure your conversion rate as 4.0%, but in reality it is 2.5%. Small numbers, big differences!

    That’s why I recommend that you filter out any “known” IP addresses from your company or partners. Your office behavior doesn’t have anything to do with the performance of your site. Please keep that in mind.

    How to Set This Up

    I do my best to keep things as simple as possible.

    You need to have “Edit rights” to set up filters in Google Analytics. This gives you access to the Google Analytics admin interface.

    Step 1: Click on All Filters in the admin interface.

    Filters - step 1Step 2: Click on red new filter button.

    Step 3: Select the fields as shown below and choose your expression.

    Filters - step 2If you have a single IP address, you can select that are equal to.

    If  you want to filter out a range of IP addresses, choose that contain.

    Talk to your developer if you need some help here.

    Step 4: Add your new filter to your reporting view.

    Filters - last stepRepeat this procedure for any other IP addresses that you have. On average it takes one hour before the filters become active.

    2. Set Up Goals and Goal Values

    It is very important to set up goals for the desired actions on your website. What do you like your visitors to do?

    I am sure you like to receive more lead generation forms. In most cases after someone sends in a lead gen form, they end up at a unique thank you page on your site.

    I will show you how to set this up in Google Analytics.

    1. Click Admin in the header
    2. Click Goals
    3. Click New Goal
    4. Type in the Name of your goal
    5. Select Destination as the type of goal
    6. Click Next step
    7. Set the destination equal to your goal page URL
    8. Select Value > On and assign a monetary value to your goal
    9. Select Funnel > On (fill in the required steps/pages leading up to your conversion)
    10. Click on Create Goal and you’re ready!

    There is one more thing I like to share about goal values and how to make a good estimation.

    Scenario:

    • In period x you have received 20 lead generation forms.
    • You have earned $20,000 via these leads.
    • Per lead you have earned $1,000.

    In this case you could work with a goal value per lead of $1,000. And so you would fill in 1,000 in the goal value field.

    Apply the same calculation to your situation, and you have great numbers to work with!

    3. Always Segment Your Data

    This is one of the greatest things I have learned in the past: averages lie.

    I often hear people say things like:

    “My average bounce rate is 40%? What do you think about that?”

    “My average conversion rate is 2%? Not bad, what’s your opinion?”

    Every time, I suggest looking at these numbers in perspective.

    What if you have an email campaign with no leads, but a banner that directs great, converting visitors?

    You feel successful, but underneath is an email campaign that you have the opportunity to optimize.

    In other words, make sure to always segment your data.

    A few tips for segmenting your conversion rate (CR):

    • Segment your CR by device category (mobile, tablet, desktop)
    • Segment your CR by traffic source
    • Segment your CR by landing page
    • Segment your CR by region
    • Segment your CR by day of week

    This will help you interpret the numbers in a better, more accurate way.

    Note: You need to set up your goals first to segment on conversion or conversion rate.

    4. Track Your Campaigns

    Whether you are just starting out or count yourself among the advanced Google Analytics users, campaign tracking is a very important topic to know about.

    In short, campaign tracking lies at the foundation of how your sessions are recorded in Google Analytics.

    By default, Google Analytics measures three different traffic channels:

    • Direct traffic: people that come to your site via a bookmark or directly typing in the URL
    • Referral: all incoming traffic from external domains
    • Organic: organic (unpaid) traffic from the search engines

    What about email marketing or advertising banners on other domains? If you don’t do anything, these visitors will be recorded under direct or referral traffic.

    Unfortunately it means that your data gets skewed, and the visitors land in the wrong bucket.

    How to Track Campaigns

    Let’s take email marketing as an example. You might send out a real estate newsletter every week or month.

    Of course you would like to know how the people who click on it subsequently behave on your website.

    Every single link that leads to your website needs to be tracked separately.

    Google URL builder is a great feature that helps you to track your links and traffic in the right way. It enables you to analyze your email campaigns as a separate medium.

    Two years ago I published a comprehensive guide on campaign tracking that you might want to check out!

    I hope that these tips help you to understand Google Analytics in a better way. It’s easy to get things running, but it’s more important to be sure you can trust and act on your data.

    Do you use Google Analytics on your Point2 Agent website? Click here to learn how to set it up!

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    3 Tips for Social Media Success for Real Estate Agents

    January 19th, 2015

    SocialMediaSuccess_01-19_blogIt’s hard to figure out why there are still real estate agents who don’t include social media objectives in their business plans. There are so many benefits for real estate agents who use social media (which is an article all in itself).

    Some real estate agents make using social media look like solving a Rubik’s cube. It doesn’t have to be like that! There are hundreds and thousands of tips on how to use social media, like these easy Twitter tips for agents.

    Nobody wants to read thousands of tips though, so here are the 3 tips that, if followed, will lead to your success in social media as a real estate agent.

    Create Epic Real Estate Content

    The first tip to social media success for real estate agents is to create epic real estate content. You’re asking: what is epic real estate content? Epic real estate content is something written by a professional that even a 30 year real estate veteran would learn something from or find value in.

    Creating epic real estate content is not something that can be pieced together in 15 minutes. The effort it takes to create epic real estate content can be seen from a mile away. Writing epic real estate content isn’t only about the content either. Creating high quality graphics to compliment the content is extremely important. This is especially true if you plan on being successful on Pinterest as a real estate agent.

    Taking the time to write epic real estate content pays off big time. Creating sub-par content will lead to frustration and the belief that social media doesn’t work for real estate agents, which is false.

    Realize It’s Not All About You

    Probably the biggest “pet peeve” of other top influencers who know how to use social media is when a real estate agent constantly blasts social media with posts about themselves and their products (or listings). Social media is about building relationships, sharing and creating epic content, and showing the general consumer that you have strong knowledge of the real estate industry.

    Hate to say it, but your local buyers and sellers are not going to their Twitter feed to look for a real estate agent. Same can most likely be said about them looking for local real estate listings. It’s possible though that they could be scrolling through their Facebook and click through to a great article you may have recently written debunking common real estate myths. The chances of them seeing value in a high-quality real estate article you wrote and calling you is much greater than them stumbling across that 3 bedroom ranch you just listed in xyz neighborhood and picking up their phone to call you.

    Bottom line, don’t consistently be blasting your social media channels with your newest listing or that you are currently looking for new listings. Everyone already knows that you want to sell your listings and get more. Avoid this and other social media no-no’s for real estate agents at all costs.

    Share & Recognize Other Epic Real Estate Content

    This third and final tip is where many agents fall short in social media. Sharing only your epic real estate content does not work. It’s great that you’ve created a quality real estate article, but it does no good if it’s only able to be read by your limited group of followers. If it’s shared though by other top real estate professionals, the potential reach is much greater.

    For example, if you have 500 Twitter followers that you share your article with and it gets no retweets, the potential reach is about 500 followers. Now let’s say you’ve built some nice relationships with some other top notch real estate professionals on Twitter, and you get a retweet from a professional who has over 20,000 followers. The potential reach has now just grown from 500 to 20,500. That’s a huge difference!

    A good rule of thumb is to share other epic real estate content 5-6 times for every piece of your own content.

    Another excellent way to recognize other epic real estate content is by including links to other real estate bloggers’ articles within your own content. This can lead to tremendous success for several reasons. First of all, the probability that your article gets shared by the professional whose article you linked increases exponentially. This can lead to more exposure for your piece of content. I recently published an article of the Top Real Estate Blog Articles from 2014 and included links to several top real estate bloggers. The article has been a huge success, is being shared all over social media, and is ranking very well in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Page).

    Secondly, the possibility that a link to one of your pieces of epic content gets included into one of their future articles also increases. This will lead to more traffic to your blog which should lead to more success in the SERPS.

    If you’re not utilizing social media in your business plan, you need to be. Follow the above tips, and you will see some nice results from social media.

    Kyle Hiscock is a top producing Irondequoit, NY real estate agent with Nothnagle Realtors, based out of Rochester, NY. Kyle has helped hundreds of buyers and sellers move in and out of the Greater Rochester, NY area. In addition to his vast real estate knowledge, Kyle runs a very active real estate blog and is active on many different social media websites.

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    Marketing to Military Families

    November 11th, 2014

    While many military families opt to rent, others enjoy homeownership and all of its perks. In addition to clients’ specific request, there are many features that are convenient to the military lifestyle in general; knowing in advance what these families want in a property can help you save time and enjoy quick sales. post

    Airport Access No service member wants to step off of the plane after a long tour just to sit in a vehicle for hours trying to make it from the airport to the house. Neighborhoods with easy access to airports and their surrounding thoroughfares minimize commute times for service members and their families.

    Nearby Public Transportation Many military families forgo owning a private vehicle, especially if they’re often stationed internationally. (Shipping a vehicle—or trying to sell at the last minute—isn’t worth it.) For those reasons, easy access to public transportation or ride share programs are vital to military families.

    Proximity to Night Life and Family Entertainment Service members range from singles to established families–and all of them want something fun to do with their downtime! Identifying parts of town that provide ample and interactive opportunities for socializing will win points with your buyers.

    Ample Storage While some families embrace minimalism to avoid lugging belongings around the country, others like the idea of loading up on quality items in order to avoid frequent shopping trips. Learn which approach appeals to your buyers. The latter will need ample onsite storage while the former will accept limited space in exchange for other amenities.

    Privacy While on duty, service members have very little privacy. They want the return home to feel like a personal oasis. Private lots are also beneficial for families with children and pets, who desire the security of an enclosed play space. Fenced-in backyards and houses with wooded lots may add the privacy that such families seek.

    Strong Wireless and Internet Reception Today’s military families cannot thrive in a communications dead space. If they can’t communicate with family and friends abroad, the family will quickly feel dissatisfied with the property and frustrated with the location. When sorting through potential homes, have buyers bring along their wireless devices for a test run. It may also help to research available internet providers and explore the services available in the area.

    Today’s guest post comes to us from Erica Rascón, an online content developer and contributing editor for The Balance Sheet — the Yardi corporate blog.

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    Highlights from the 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers

    November 10th, 2014

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    Every fall agents and brokers across North America eagerly await the publication of the National Association of REALTORS® ‘Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers’. This 100+ page report serves as a bellwether to consumers wants and needs and is widely referenced by everyone in the industry until the day the next report is released.

    Since the 2014 report was released on November 3rd, many real estate professionals have been pouring over the data to see what to expect in 2015 and beyond. In order to help you we have combed through the report and picked out the more important stats and statements:

    – Thirty-three percent of recent home buyers were first time home buyers, which is still down from the historical norm of 40 percent among primary residence buyers.

    – The typical first-time buyer was 31-years-old, while the typical repeat buyer was 53. Sixty-five percent of  home buyers were also married couples, which is down just 1 percent from the previous year.

    – The typical home purchased was 1,870 square feet in size, was built in 1993, and had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. This is a change of -30 square feet overall.

    – Buyers expect to live in their home for 12 years after buying which is up from 10 years in 2013 and dramatically up from 6 years in 2007.

    – 92 percent of consumers used the internet in their home search. This is unchanged from last year.

    – For 43 percent of consumers, going online to look at properties was the first step in their home search. This is a change of 1% from 42 percent in 2013.

    – The percentage of consumers who found the information a real estate professional provided useful changed significantly from 87 percent in 2013 to 98 in 2014. Bottom line, agents provide better value!

    – The typical home buyer searched for 10 weeks and viewed 10 homes—this is two weeks shorter than the 2013 report.

    – Thirty-eight percent of sellers who used a real estate agent found their agents through a referral by friends or family, and 22 percent used the agent they worked with previously to buy or sell a home.

    – Seventy percent of home sellers only contacted one agent before selecting the one to assist with their home sale.

    For more highlights from the 2014 Profile report, check out the report below as well as the presentation NAR’s Jessica Lautz:

    2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers Highlights

    Presentation: 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers

    What did you find most interesting about this year’s report?

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    .REALTOR Domain Names Are Here

    November 5th, 2014

    The wait is over. After years of teasing and speculation .REALTOR top-level domain (TLD) extensions are here. As of October 23rd, 2014 members of NAR and CREA can visit about.realtor to claim their very own .REALTOR domain. Even better, the first 500,000 NAR and 10,000 CREA members can claim their domain FREE for one year. .REALTOR domain name

    This is big news for real estate professionals as this new domain extension allows you to clearly showcase yourself online as a trusted source of real estate information – something almost all potential clients are looking for. Plus, this domain extension is exclusive only to members of NAR and CREA.

    Ready to get started with this new domain extension? Here is what you have to know first:

    1) Who is eligible for a .REALTOR domain?

    You are eligible for a .REALTOR domain if you are a member of one of the following groups:

    – REALTOR® members (agents and brokers) including International REALTOR® Members
    and members of The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA)
    – REALTOR® firms/offices
    – State, provincial and local REALTOR® Boards and Associations
    – REALTOR® owned Multiple Listing Services (MLSs)
    – NAR affiliated institutes, societies and councils

    2) Where can I claim my domain?

    You can claim your domain at any time by visiting claim.realtor and following the instructions to search and then receive your domain.

    3) How much do .REALTOR domains cost?

    .REALTOR domains will start at $39.95 USD annually, however the first 500,000 NAR members and 10,000 CREA members will receive their first .REALTOR domain free for one year.

    4) Are there any restrictions on what you can register as a domain name?

    Yes. At the bare minimum .REALTOR domains should contain your name (either first, last or both) or a key business phrase, but cannot include a street address or the word ‘REALTOR’. A full guide on domain naming rules by NAR can be right here.

    5) What will happen to my .REALTOR domain if I exit the real estate business?

    If you are no longer a licensed REALTOR® your .REALTOR domains will continue to be active until your next renewal period, at which time it will be automatically cancelled.

    5) Can I use my new .REALTOR domain with my Point2 Agent account?

    Absolutely! As .REALTOR domains operate  like any other domain extensions (.com, .net, etc.) you can point them to your Point2 Agent website to use in your online marketing initiatives. You can find a guide on how to point domains you own to your Point2 Agent account on our support page.

    You can learn more about the .REALTOR domain from NAR in the video below:

     

    Are you going to get a .REALTOR domain?

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    9 Ways to Clean the Clutter Before Selling a Home

    October 15th, 2014

    Today we have a guest post from Bill Gassett, a popular real estate blogger who shares his tips and tricks with buyers, sellers and other agents. This article is an excellent resource to pass on to your clients and prospects.

    So you have decided to leave your old home behind and move into a house better suited to your current lifestyle. The initial excitement you feel after making this decision is pretty invigorating, but there is still a lot of work to be done to transition from one home to another. Depending on how long you have been in your current home you may have a great deal of clutter to go through – stuff you have no reason to bring to your new home. Getting rid of all of the “stuff” you no longer need can be a monumental task if you are not well prepared in advance. 9 Ways to Clean Clutter

    We asked Bill Gassett, a top Realtor in Bellingham Massachusetts to share his best tips on ways to clean the clutter before selling a home. Bill has been selling real estate for nearly thirty years so he has seen it all when it comes to the showing condition of homes. Using Bill’s tips for de-cluttering your home will more than likely increase your chances for a quicker sale while also keeping your life more manageable.

    Ways to De-Clutter Prior to Moving

    • Organize your paperwork. Mail and other paperwork has a way of accumulating for even the most organized people. The next thing you know, you have drawers and piles of it everywhere, and the first thought that comes to mind is to just throw it all away. Take a deep breath and deal with this the only way you can – with patience. Once you begin going through your paperwork you will discover that much of it is no longer relevant and can be discarded. Shred any documents with sensitive information and recycle the rest.
    • For documents that you need to keep, consider buying boxes specifically for that purpose. Label them with as much detail as you can so you know where to find important documents later. Keep in mind that not all documents that appear important actually are. Supporting documents for your tax returns – like your W-2s and similar documents – only need to be kept for three years. If you run a business, the supporting tax documents must be retained for six years. When it’s time for you move, make sure to pack these in a place where you will be able to easily access them, especially if there is anything concerning the sale of your house.
    • Clean out your closet. Clothes are another category that tends to accumulate over time. There is no reason to haul all your unused and unwanted clothing to your next house though, so take a few hours to clear out your closet. Those outfits you loved in 1997 need to find their way to the local thrift store, and the pants that stopped fitting eight years ago should probably go as well. The less you have to move the better (and all that extra closet space is a fun excuse to go shopping). A great way to discard unwanted clothing is to visit the nearest Goodwill. Goodwill is a non-profit organization specifically set up to help those in need of life’s necessities. Not only will your donation help make your home look better, it will undoubtedly help someone who is less fortunate. A win-win for everyone!
    • Gather your home improvement records. When going through all of your documents, be sure to collect your home improvement records and receipts. These can come in handy when you are selling your current home and provide a nice history for those who eventually purchase the house. This way they know when things were done and by whom. Making a list of home improvements that will help sell a home is a great marketing idea. Buyers love to see what you have done to your property and when. Providing them a list as part of the real estate marketing brochure or on your single property website is something they will love!
    • Donate old electronics and appliances. Everyone has an old computer, appliance or other bit of electronic gear sticking around. Whether it’s in the garage, the basement or a closet, you probably imagined one day you would get around to fixing it, or that it would make a great backup when the new one broke. While your intentions were good, the fact is that these items are just extra things to move – things that will probably sit in a similar place unused in your new home. Where you donate these items will depend on your area and what donation organizations accept. Make sure to call ahead and verify that the place you are planning to take the item actually accepts it. It shouldn’t be necessary to stick it in a landfill, but it may take some searching to find someone who can actually use your particular item.
    • Clear out the cupboards and the freezer. Stockpiling food is very easy to do. Between your cupboards and your freezer you may have a good deal of food items that are past their expiration date or food you never really plan to eat. Check all of the expiration dates and discard all food that is no longer good. For your freezer, expiration dates are not the only concern. Food that remains in the freezer for more than three months often degrades in quality. Discard anything you think is old enough to no longer taste good. You may also have items that are still within their expiration date, but you just don’t see yourself eating them. These you can take to the local food bank so others can get use out of them.
    • Dispose of unused hazardous materials. If you have paint cans or other toxic home improvement or cleaning materials, some of these may need to be discarded before your move. Materials like this that have not been used within the past year may not even perform well anymore, and hauling already opened containers of things like paint risks unpleasant and possibly hazardous spills. This is something you should consult with your REALTOR® to find out local best practices. Some buyers love to have the old paint for touch up purposes while others plan to completely change the home’s color scheme and have no use for old paint. Contact your local hazardous waste disposal organization to find out where and how to discard these items.
    • Finish the de-cluttering process as early as possible. Moving is a real pain… even when everything goes perfectly. By starting your de-cluttering process early you can ensure that everything is ready to go by the time moving day hits. In fact, take a look at this helpful guide on how to prepare for moving. You will find tips that will make your move far less stressful than just winging it. The advice will help with considerations before and during your move. More than likely things you have not even thought about. Most people are surprised at just how much time it takes to go through all of their things.
    • Look over the home carefully. Lastly while you are going through your home doing the necessary cleaning and organizing, make sure you also give your home a once over looking for any necessary repairs. A buyer will almost certainly be doing a home inspection. A good home inspector will find common home inspection issues very easily. As homeowners we often forget to really look at our homes through the eyes of a buyer. We get used to our surroundings and don’t realize we have problems until they become a major issue. Home inspections are the #1 reason homes come back on the market. Don’t let this phase of the real estate transaction stop your sale cold in its tracks! By getting your home to look its absolute best, you stand a much better chance of getting top dollar and sitting at a closing table sooner than you expected.

    A lot of decisions must be made when you are selling your home. Start early so you can be ready when the moving truck arrives. There is nothing that will take the stress out of a move more than being fully prepared for what lies ahead. Best of luck with your sale!

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    4 Office Productivity Killers And How To Fix Them

    October 1st, 2014

    office productivity killers

    As any real estate professional knows, time management and office productivity are crucial skills to master in order to become a top producer, but this is of course easier said than done. There are a whole host of factors that can drag down your productivity, whether or not you are conscious of them.

    Here are 4 of the most common office productivity killers and how to prevent them from affecting your own productivity:

     

    1) Sleep (or lack thereof)

    Sleep might not be the first thing that people associate with productivity, but it is surely one of the most important factors influencing it. In fact, studies have shown that sleep deprived workers consistently perform tasks more slowly which of course will directly impact how much you can accomplish in your workday. In addition, sleep deprivation has shown to increase the error rate – that is, the amount of mistakes you make in your work – by up to 30%!

    How to fix this: This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but get more rest! But because this simple solution might not fit everyone’s lifestyle a great first step is to try and add a 20 minute “power nap” in your day. This has been proven to be the optimal time necessary to refresh your mind and help you stay productive.

     

    2) Stop multitasking

    This sounds counter-intuitive, we know. Wouldn’t doing more at once increase your productivity rather than decrease it? Turns out not exactly. While multitasking may lead to a short-term burst of added productivity long-term reliance will decrease your productivity by up to 40% according research conducted in 2001. Why does this happen? As you switch between tasks there is time lost which when added up is quite significant and this lost time only increases as you introduce more complex tasks.

    How to fix this: The best way to combat the urge to multitask is to utilize the concept of “timeboxing” or “time chunking”. This is the idea that you only work on a single task for a pre-determined amount of time of your choosing. This way you can focus on producing your best work without ever giving in to distractions, be it a text message or a funny link from your coworker. You can help spur this habit on with Moosti which helps you set timers for your “time box”.

     

    3) TXT free zone

    Texts, Twitter, Facebook Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, WeChat or WhatsApp. There is no end to the amount of notifications your smartphone will send your way once you start using fun apps like these. It’s no wonder then that in a survey conducted by CareerBuilder 50% of respondents said that smartphones and texting were the number one cause of distractions and loss of productivity in the workplace. This is because when we shift our attention from the task at hand to checking the notification that has popped up our phones, it takes us on average 6 minutes to get back on task. With all the distractions that our phones bring in the day, think of how much productivity you are losing!

    How to fix this: There are two options here. The easiest (and more extreme) of the two is to simply put your phone away and do not use it for the duration of your work day. The downside to this being that you might miss that all important client phone call or lead. The second option is to introduce a selective “do not disturb” mode on your smartphone which will temporarily halt notifications that may distract you, but will still alert you to things you specify, such as calls or certain emails. You can find a guide to setting this up on your iPhone right here and Android users can follow a similar guide here.

     

    4) Let there be light!

    The stereotype of the cold, barren office filled with flickering fluorescent lights exists as an office trope for a reason – anyone that has spent time in an office with bad lighting knows the effect it has on you. Numerous studies have shown that inadequate lighting will zap your mood and affect your productivity in a dramatic fashion so it is important to make sure that you have the right amount in addition to the right type of lighting for your workspace.

    How to fix this: Begin by taking stock of your current workspace lighting and answer two questions:

    1. How well lit it the workspace?
    2. What type of light is being used?

    If there is not enough light, consider adding more natural light sources which has been shown to increase alertness and happiness. If natural light sources are not available, look at introducing more 6500K lights. These are often referred to as ‘daylight bulbs’ are they have a similar spectrum to natural sunlight and do not have the same negative effects as standard halogen bulbs.

    Do you have any other office productivity tips to share? Leave a comment below!

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    7 Smartphone Security Tips for Real Estate

    September 30th, 2014

    smartphone security

    As a real estate professional your smartphone is undoubtedly your most important possession. It’s your mobile office, your primary means of communication, your Rolodex, your weather forecast, your camera and more.

    But with this reliance on one device comes risks. A lost or stolen phone can potential compromise our most important business data, your sensitive client information – even your own identity.

    Reduce your risk by following these 7 smartphone security tips that work whether you are an iOS or Android user.

    1. Use a device PIN or password

    While this might seem like a no-brainer more than half of smartphone users don’t use a pin, password or any other type of locking mechanism. Make sure you keep a lock on at all times to create a first line of defense between people that have physical access to your device and the data stored on it. Make sure to also change this lock periodically in the event that someone has glanced your password over your shoulder.

    2. Use a GPS-aided phone finder

    In the event your phone goes missing it is important to be able to retrieve it as quickly as possible. Most smartphone makers offer some sort of web-based tool to geo-locate your device, call it or remotely wipe it should you suspect it has fallen into the hands of crooks. Here are your options for each device maker:

    3. Don’t use unsecured Wi-Fi or Bluetooth

    They say “home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically” and real estate professionals should heed this warning! Coffee shops, airports, restaurants or transit services might offer complimentary Wi-Fi but unlike your home network you cannot vouch for its security. Avoid using these services if possible since any data transmitted over them (like your business or banking information) is at risk of being intercepted.

    4. Defend your phone against Malware

    Phones are just as susceptible to the same kind of malware and viruses that your desktop computers are and they need the same level of protection. The problem appears to be less hazardous for iOS users thanks to Apple’s strict control over the App Store, however the open-source nature of Android makes them a lot more vulnerable, as malicious apps can be loaded onto the device without being checked by Google first. In both cases this is something that can be countered through the use of mobile antivirus software application from the likes of McAfee, AVG, Norton or another reputable antivirus company – all of which can be found in the App Store.

    5. Consider a password manager

    Chances are if you are using your phone for your real estate business you have multiple apps or websites you need to login to on a regular basis, such as your Point2 Agent account. If so, consider the use of a password manager like 1Password, which works across all platforms and keeps your passwords – and by extension your sensitive data – safe, encrypted and secure.

    6. Keep your phone software up-to-date

    There is a reason that smartphone makers always update their devices with new software – to patch security flaws and bugs that put your information at risk. Make sure that you do your part to close these security loopholes by updating to the latest operating software. Most manufacturers allow you to set your phone to check for updates automatically, so always make sure this option is enabled on your device.

    7. Use a digital “vault” for super-sensitive information 

    If you have information on your smartphone that is too important to keep with the rest of your documents – be it contracts, signatures or loan documents – consider keeping them in a separate area of your smartphone. On iOS you can use an app like The Vault or NQ Mobile Security on Android, which provides you with encrypted and password-protected storage for documents, images or videos.

    Do you have any other smartphone security tips for real estate professionals that you would like to share? Comment below!

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    Data Security for Real Estate

    July 18th, 2014

    It is one of the harsh realities of conducting business in 2014: data breaches or data loss are an increasingly common threat that are only becoming more expensive to recover from. Bad guys have an arsenal of sophisticated tools at their disposal that they can use to steal, hack, deface or otherwise ruin your business. IBM estimates that in 2014 the average cost of a business data breach is $3.5 million US – a 15% increase over the 2013 cost. data security

    An industry like real estate is an especially juicy target since real estate professionals often have access to sensitive client information including banking, legal and personal contact information. If this information is unlawfully accessed it allows crooks to do things like steal identities, empty bank accounts and take over your computer.

    So what is a savvy real estate professional like you to do to counter this very real threat? Two things:

    1. Learn how protect your data
    2. Implement “defensive layers” around your data

    1) Learn to protect yourself

    Knowledge is power and, when it comes to data security, this holds especially true. If you do not understand what you are dealing with it will be hard to follow through in the next steps. A great first step is to see what manner of educational resources are offered to you through your broker or your board/MLS/association. Most will either offer courses or have experts on hand who can help you understand what the prevailing threats are.

    We also recommend periodically visiting the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Alerts site or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to see what kind of new threats are cropping up. You can also find a heap of information from your governing bodies. NAR offers courses on data security, as well as a helpful downloadable security toolkit, while CREA offers a series of articles on REALTOR Link®.

    2) Implement your own “defense layers”

    Once you have a grasp on general data security, you can start implementing your own defensive layers. Just like an old castle or fortress in the movies has a moat, walls and guards surrounding it, your data should have multiple digital AND physical layers surrounding it. Matt Cohen offers a great example of physical data security over on the CREA Cafe blog. We have extended that with our own example of defense setup that covers both physical and digital concerns:

    defensive security layers

    First Layer: Area Security

    It is one of the ’10 Immutable Laws of Security’ – “If a bad guy has unrestricted physical access to your computer, it’s not your computer anymore.” In order to keep your data safe, you must make sure the immediate area around you is secure. This includes places like your office, your vehicle and even your home. Make sure that all entrances are secured at all times, you have appropriate alarms or surveillance in place and you keep sensitive information out of sight.

    If you are on the go, keep all devices locked in your trunk or glove box at all times. If you have print outs of anything sensitive make absolutely sure you dispose of it in the proper way – with either a cross cut shredder or via a document disposal service. In addition, an often overlooked point of breaches is your office Wi-Fi and network printers. Make certain that your wireless network is secured with WPA2 encryption and that your office printers cannot be accessed by anyone outside of your network… unless you want something like this.

    Second Layer: Physical Security

    You may think this simply means securing your devices with an access password or a something like a Kensington lock but (while that is important) physical data security extends much further. To increase your data security, one of the most important things to have is a backup of your data so it can be restored in the event of a loss or breach. Online services such as Apple’s iCloud or Microsoft’s OneDrive allow you to quickly and inexpensively back up your information to the cloud. You can take this one step further by copying all data onto a USB drive or external hard drive and storing it in a secure location such as a safety deposit box or a safe.

    When it comes to mobile devices such as smart phones or tablets, make sure you have some sort of tracking application such as Find My Phone for iOS and Device Manager for Android. In the event you are physically separated from your devices, you will be able to track them down and/or remotely disable them.

    Third Layer: Digital Security

    Arguably the most important layer of data security, “digital security” refers to all of the measures you take on or within your devices to keep your data secure. This starts with strong passwords. With that in mind, here is a terrific infographic to help you pick a strong, memorable password that will be harder to crack. Once that is complete, consider implementing a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password to eliminate all of those password sticky notes that do more to compromise your security than help it.

    Another important measure to implement is what is called “two-Factor Authentication,” a security setup that requires an additional step beyond entering your password, usually by sending a message to your mobile phone or using an app in your smartphone. Check out the resources here and here to learn which services support it and how to implement it for yourself.

    Lastly, be proactive about your data security. By keeping all the applications and operating systems you use for your business up-to-date, you significantly decrease the chances of suffering a breach or data loss. If you are concerned about securing your communications further, consider using an application such as Tor to encrypt your data for maximum protection.

    And remember, if something doesn’t feel right, ask a trusted professional for assistance to prevent a potentially pricey problem for your business before it ever starts.

    Do you have any of your own security tips or tricks to share? We are sure the Point2 community would love to hear them! Leave a comment on the post below.

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