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4 Surefire Tips for Better Listing Photos

Simply understanding how to use a few key camera settings and pieces of equipment can make all the difference.

It can’t be stressed enough: Great photos help sell homes. The National Association of REALTORS®’ own research shows that well over 90 percent of home shoppers look online for at least a part of their search. For almost half of all buyers, accessing digital listings is the very first step in their process. And while there’s been much speculation as to the homebuying behaviors of millennials, this much is known for sure: Digital natives are much more comfortable with browsing home listings from mobile devices.

None of this is breaking news, but it does highlight just how important digital representation can be when you’re trying to show a home. One industry study found that when listings were accompanied by high-quality photos taken with professional equipment, they spent significantly less time on the market and fetched a premium of $3,400 on average.

Unfortunately, interior shots pose a variety of photographic challenges that are difficult for amateur photographers. Real estate pros shouldn’t be expected to transform overnight into professional camera wielders, but you can certainly benefit from a few tricks up your sleeve and some decent equipment.

Don’t Turn Toward the Light

This scenario might feel familiar: You want to show off the new windows in your client’s living room, but every time you snap a photo, the image is totally blown out. Photos with dark foregrounds and overexposed windows are a common problem that happens when ambient light from the outdoors tricks the camera’s light meter into overcompensating. A flash will balance out the lighting in the room, giving you a better shot. Alternatively, you can use your camera’s manual controls and settings. The right settings depend on the kind of equipment you have, however. For many point-and-shoot digital cameras, it’s mainly a matter of adjusting the ISO, although you may want to set the aperture to f/2.8 as well, if your camera offers that flexibility. For shots near a window, typically an ISO setting of around 400 to 800 works well, although you may want to go higher if you have particularly low light in the foreground. If you have full manual control of your camera, you can increase the shutter speed, which will allow less light into the camera sensor.

Try HDR Tonemapping

The main problem with photographing daylit interiors is that it’s difficult to balance between ambient daylight, artificial lighting, and dark shadows behind walls and in rooms away from the foreground. This situation presents a range of different exposures, and while the human eye automatically adjusts for the various levels, the camera will have a hard time making sense of it all. HDR, which is short for high dynamic range, is a common tool for handling such lighting situations. In essence, the photographer takes three or four photos in rapid succession, which are then combined into one image using specialized software like HDRSoft. Usually, one shot is at normal exposure, one is overexposed, and one underexposed. When those three exposures are combined into one, you’ll see all the details that the human eye can perceive. This results in photos with a vibrant, luminous quality.

Many point-and-shoot cameras have an exposure value meter, which can help you compose under- and overexposed shots. Generally, the meter reads a value of zero on the normal setting, +1 or +2 for overexposed shots, and —1 or —2 for underexposure. Use a tripod so you can play with different exposures while maintaining the same angle on each shot. You’ll also want to make sure automatic flash is turned off for this method. It takes time to perfect this technique, of course, but it can help you capture more detail in challenging settings.

Buy the Right Equipment

Unless you have a surgeon’s steady hands, you’re going to need a tripod in some situations. A tripod helps compose poised shots and avoid blurry photos, but it’s also incredibly important if you’re dabbling in HDR or mixing up shutter speeds. The longer your exposure time, the more likely it is that subtle movements will show up in the final product. You should use a tripod anytime you nudge the ISO to a higher range. Also, if you’re taking wide shots of the home’s exterior or enlarging your photos, even the tiniest shake will be a lot more obvious. In certain conditions, even the slightest breath can create a shaky shot. Avoid this dilemma with a lightweight foldable tripod.

You may also want to invest in a point-and-shoot with a wide-angle lens. When buyers are browsing through real estate listings, they really want to get a sense of the space. But that’s difficult to translate into photos unless you have a wide-angle option. This is important not just for exterior shots but for indoor compositions as well. A wider lens in the interior gives rooms a sense of luxury and space that you just can’t get with a regular shot. Point-and-shoot cameras that have a large range in their focal length specification are ideal; the lower the value at that end of the range, the wider the shot will be.

If you’re really interested in refining your shots, you’ll want a camera with manual controls that allow you to adjust shutter speeds on your own. Or it may be time to graduate to a digital single-lens reflex camera, especially if you want to experiment with wide-angle lenses (with focal lengths under 35mm, used for very wide shots). DSLRs have come down in price recently, especially since manufacturers like Canon and Nikon have introduced entry-level DSLRs aimed at beginner photographers. Usually these run for around $300 to $700, and they are available with bundled lens kits to get you started trading out lens lengths for sharper photos.

Get Rid of the Clutter

Staging photos ahead of time by cleaning off counters, tabletops, and floors can turn an ordinary listing into a real stunner. Clear your photography appointment with your client before you arrive, and tell them to clean, clean, clean. Even a detail as minute as a crooked picture frame or a rolled carpet edge can detract from your photos, so be sure to run over your shots with a fine-toothed comb. Decluttering means no power cords or vacuum cleaners in the shot—but it doesn’t mean completely sterile surfaces. A few welcoming touches like a stack of books, a vase of flowers, or a set of candles will make the space feel lived-in and homey. After all, that’s what you’re really selling anyway: a vision of buyers’ future lives in a new and welcoming abode.

 

Credit to Erin Vaughan

Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener, and aspiring homeowner.  She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.

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5 Attorney-Sanctioned Business Practices

Protect yourself and polish your reputation by knowing how to present information—and when refer a client to someone else for assistance.

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Don’t position yourself as the primary source of information.

Your role as a real estate professional is to do what it takes to arrange and close deals—but that doesn’t mean you need to be the authoritative source for answers to every question that might come up. When a buyer asks questions such as how many finished square feet a home has, if it’s in a flood plain, what the school boundaries are, or when a new light rail line might open—in other words, anything you don’t know as a fact on your own—be sure to clearly provide the source of any information you provide in response, says Michael Baucum, a transactional real estate attorney in San Antonio, Texas.

So instead of just casting what you say as a fact, say, “According to,” or, “The appraisal document says,” or something similar, Baucum says. Those few extra words could help protect you if someone is unhappy later on with something you told them.

Be upfront about whom you’re working for.

Be sure to explain that your duty is to the seller before discussing a property with people who stop by an open house or contact you based on a sign or advertisement, advises Mike Hege, broker-in-charge at Pridemore Properties in Charlotte, N.C. Doing so could help prospective buyers avoid inadvertently breaching an agreement they may have with a buyer’s agent—and it could help prevent you from unwittingly entering a dual agency situation, too. Your best bet is to advise people who express interest in your listings to use their own agent, Hege says.

Never give tax advice.

Buyers and sellers might ply you with questions about the tax benefits and implications that relate to a home transaction, but your answer should always be the same: “Consult a tax professional,” says Jim Downing, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group in Clearwater, Fla. Even basic questions with what seem like obvious answers, such as whether mortgage interest is tax-deductible, could invite trouble, because no two people’s financial situations are identical.

Don’t interpret HOA rules or budgets for clients.

Your client has just decided to buy a condo and now has to dig through a thick stack of paper relating to the rules and finances of the building they want to move into. Explaining what the documents mean and helping your client decide if they’re acceptable might seem like an obvious way to demonstrate your value—but this is work best left to an attorney, Downing advises.

Keep a record of what you say.

Just as having a log of how many miles you drive and where you go can help you at tax time, maintaining an accurate record of what you discuss with clients can prove very useful if you have to recall what you said in the future. Mindful of the fact that he might need to reconstruct the details of a conversation long after it occurs, John Shipman, director of green operations for Coldwell Banker George Realty in Arcadia, Calif., makes a habit of writing down what he says in meetings, along with the date and time. “I’ve always been told by attorneys that if I said something but it’s not written down, it never happened,” Shipman says.

 

Credit to Sam Silverstein

As a writer-producer for the National Association of REALTORS® based in Washington, Sam Silverstein develops articles and videos for NAR’s members and others interested in its activities, statistics and research.

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5 Ways to Green Up Your Business

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Go green and you’ll see more green. Taking measures to make your brokerage more resource conscious and sustainable will result in positive results for your body, your company, and your community. Check out these simple actions we took at my brokerage, TrailRidge Realty in Boulder, Colo., and you’ll see how easy it can be to start implementing a green plan at your office today.

1. Go Digital
What to limit paper waste? There are so many digital platforms available today for document storage that keeping paper files in the office seems like the work of ancient times. Most systems include backup, encryption, and two-step verification for security. Our office uses Google Apps for Work, which provides built-in security to keep out unwanted hackers. We are also subscribe to Google Vault, which automatically backs up all the files my brokerage has stored in Google Drive as well as all company e-mails for up to 10 years. Not only does that protect us against hackers and computer or server malfunctions, but if we accidently delete something important, we can pull it from “the Vault.” Everything is saved in the cloud for longer than we would ever need, and it only costs each user in our office $10 per month. It’s a great service to offer your agents, a huge time saver, and it keeps the cost of paper and printing to a minimum. We no longer have the need for a mega printer that requires a costly maintenance plan.

2. Be Smarter About Property Brochures
While we’re cutting down on paper, let’s examine why we think buyers and sellers want it so much. Agents typically place brochures inside sellers’ homes and on for-sale signs outside. These documents are always the last thing to be replenished, and if there is a price reduction, it can be the devil’s work to remember to make updates – and that leaves the seller feeling their listing is being neglected. The simple solution is to ditch the stack of brochures in favor of just one piece that displays the property website and an invitation to text or e-mail for more information. We usually place a laminated brochure on the for-sale sign in front of the property, and another inside for showings and open houses. We use TrustyText and create a distinct text code for inside the house and a different code outside. That way we can guess if the person requesting information has an agent (inside the house) or is a passerby outside reading the sign who may need an agent. This method helps make sure buyers get the most up-to-date information, sellers aren’t sitting around waiting for replacement brochures, and our company is able to respond accordingly to potential client requests.

3. Turn Off Your Computer
Optimize those computer settings. No machine needs to be left on while you or your agents run out to show a house or see a client. But that doesn’t mean you’ll remember to turn it off before you leave. Check the energy-saving settings to make sure your computer turns fully off after a certain amount of time without use. When printers and computers are on standby they continue to draw power. Consider using a power strip for all devices, including the computer, cell phone charger, speakers, etc. That way you can switch off the power strip without unplugging everything, ensuring that no extra power is being consumed while you are away.

4. Don’t Let Single-Use Coffee Pods Take Over the World
It’s been reported that almost one in three American homes now has a pod-based coffee maker. Imagine how that statistic might increase if we add in all the real estate offices that use these single-cup machines. Reports say that more than 3 million disposable coffee pods are used daily. Let’s just imagine what that does to landfills. And most people don’t think about where those plastic pods are made. A quick Google search showed me that the coffee might be placed inside the receptacle here in America, but the plastic mold is likely made overseas. That’s a lot of traveling and even more energy wasted so that we can make one single cup of coffee. Leading the way, Hamburg, Germany has banned single-use coffee pods from government buildings. Let’s follow their example in our real estate businesses and homes. Please, brew drip coffee in your offices and encourage your agents to bring in reusable mugs. Better yet, give them all company-branded travel mugs so they can take their coffee (and your logo) into the field.

5. Can You Walk To Work?
Even though environmentalists suggest that working from home is the greenest alternative to a commute, I know this isn’t possible for many real estate professionals. While it works for some, I can say that my level of success doesn’t happen working at home. I operate an office in the heart of our community and neighborhood – I also chose a location for TrailRidge Realty that’s close enough to home so that I can walk to the office. At first I thought it might disrupt my day if a client called and needed to see a house while I was walking to or from the office. However, I find that it takes about 20 minutes total to walk home and get my car if needed, which is easily factored into my commute. I’m reducing my carbon footprint, spending less on gas, and burning more calories all at once.

 

Credit to Leanne Goff

Leanne Goff is the broker-owner of  TrailRidge Realtyin Boulder, Colo. She was named Distinguished REALTOR® in 2015 and given the President’s Award in 2013 by the Boulder Area REALTOR® Association. Leanne also completed her master’s degree in real estate through REALTOR® University in 2016.

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3 Simple Steps to Building a Referral-Based Business

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With 20+ years working in the real estate sector, most of my best (and favorite) clients have been the result of someone else’s referral.

In any given year, 85% – 90% of my business is directly attributed to referrals. Imagine what your business would be like if every day your phone rang or your inbox received new messages from people who already trusted you because they heard great things about you?

It’s called building a referral-based business and it’s easier than you might think! Here are 3 tips that have helped me build a referral-based business that thrives.

Tip 1:  The Relationship

The relationships you build with your clients are vital to your business. Most agents and investors tend to focus more on the transaction rather than the relationship with the other parties involved with the deal. Transactions come and go, but relationships can last for an entire career and beyond.

Building trust, keeping the client’s best interest at heart and doing the right thing is the foundation for building a lasting relationship. It’s easy to feel compelled to get the latest tool or gadget that will solve all of your lead-generation problems. The issue with this approach is that most real estate professionals fail to develop lifelong relationships that can result in far greater business success over the long term. While many buyers go online to search for properties, the majority of them will be happy to continue working with the person who provided them a great service and opportunity in the past, not a stranger who electronically reached out to form an e-relationship.

Tip 2:  Build a Reputation People Can Count On.

When someone refers a friend, family member or colleague to you, they need to be assured you are going to provide the level of care that they were promised – so it’s important that you build your reputation around what you can deliver.

Building a reputation can be as easy as just doing what you say you’ll do. When you commit to a task and follow through, it builds trust. It is important to note that you must be consistent and don’t over-promise. If you commit to something, you must see it through or risk losing trust. Most people are quicker to share a bad experience than a good one, so you must understand your capabilities and act in accordance with them. If you’re not able to help, offer them a solution or refer them to someone who can.

Tip 3: Stop Prospecting and Start Cultivating

How should you spend your marketing time and effort? The answer is simple: build relationships, serve your customers and ask for referrals.

When you focus your attention on your relationships, generating leads is more fun too! You’ll look forward to picking up the phone to chat with them and you’ll enjoy taking them to lunch. Lead-generation won’t be a chore, but an opportunity to connect with some of your favorite people. What better way to replicate your best clients than by spending time with them? Here are some ways I have found success in generating referrals:

  • Make the call. Sometimes there is a specific reason for a follow-up call with a past client, but often you are just calling to check in and talk about the market or a home you saw on caravan. So many times I’ve made impromptu calls and heard them say, “I was just thinking about you, my friend is planning on selling”. It is a win-win and I am more than happy to take the information and follow-up. The important thing is that you are calling to remind them you are still there. If someone doesn’t hear from you, they’ll assume you’ve moved on. It’s the single most important reason for the call.
  • Write a hand-written note. Set a goal for how many notes you want to write each day and write your daily notes before you check your email. A good hand-written note only needs to be two or three quick sentences… simple phrases like “Thinking of you today” or “It was nice talking with you” will suffice! Everybody appreciates a handwritten note.
  • A short visit to your key referral sources. For example, in the autumn season, you can drop by with a pumpkin carving kit. Over the Fourth of July, you can bring a BBQ item or an American flag. The point is for you to get face-to-face time with your current and potential clients and when you’re working by referral, face-to-face communication is the best by far.

So there you go – 3 tips that can help you build a business that levels out the peaks and valleys of real estate sales. Before I sign off, I will say that it is important to set goals and stay at it. Implementing a referral-based business takes time, so track your activities and be consistent with your prospecting. These efforts will help you achieve your goals and before you realize it, daily lead-generation, client calls and handwritten notes will become part of your subconscious.

 

Credit to Kathleen Finnegan

Kathleen Finnegan brings more than twenty years of selling real estate, office management and investment ownership to her role as real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Calabasas.

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Healthy Tech, Healthy Business

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Until it slows to a crawl, idles, or crashes, you likely take for granted that your laptop or desktop computer will do what you expect it to. But it’s risky to overlook regular computer maintenance and even worse to be in the dark about whether your backup system is functioning. The fact is your computer will give out on you one day; you just don’t know when. The average useful life expectancy of today’s computers is anywhere from two to five years, says Matthew Cohen, chief technologist for Clareity Consulting, a real estate technology firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. But you’ll likely be able to increase the longevity of your devices—and eke out perhaps seven or eight good years—by following these tips. In short, a fast, fit, and trouble-free computer requires regular updates, cleanups, and backups.

Keeping It Clean

Your computer is probably covered with tiny dust particles, which can severely shorten its life span. “Dust is a killer,” says Burton Kelso, owner and chief technology helper of Integral Computer Consultants, a Kansas City, Mo., computer repair company. “When dust collects inside your technology, it can cause your devices to overheat, which will cause them to fail.”

To beat back interior dust bunnies, Kelso recommends his clients—15 percent of whom are real estate agents—clean the inside of their computers once a year. If you’re not comfortable with unscrewing the housing and zapping the inside with a can of compressed air, then hire a professional. The can costs less than $10, while professional help will set you back between $50 and $100 per hour.

Aside from keeping mechanical parts of your computer clean, you should also pay attention to software clutter. Delete programs and applications you don’t use. Cohen suggests using the “add and remove software” feature to cull old files and programs. “Always keep the hard drive at least 20 percent empty,” he adds. “If you have too much stuff, it’s time to upgrade your hard drive, with technical help, or remove unneeded files.”

Don’t install another program just to find out which programs to clean up. Cohen says practitioners should avoid utility apps that promise to optimize or clean your computer. “They cause more harm than good,” he says.

Older computers used to benefit from defragmenting, which basically compacted information on your hard drive, speeding up your system. Cohen says most Windows defragmentation utilities are set to run automatically. “However, sometimes, one needs to analyze and defragment the discs,” he adds. To do this, go to the Start menu, type “defragmenter,” and locate the “disc defragmenter” utility. Mac users “generally don’t have to defrag,” Cohen notes. “It does it on its own.” Finally, check your preferences and examine which programs launch automatically upon startup and which ones are constantly running in the background. You can almost always change the settings so that they use up less of your computer’s operating power.

Staying Secure

Kelso says malware is the cause of many computer issues, so Windows and Mac users need to take protective steps. Always download antivirus software directly from the vendor site, and don’t share your account information with others.

Part of keeping your computer secure is limiting access to it. Marc Catuogno, director of information technology for Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty in New City, N.Y., oversees 200 computers for 800 active agents and 23 offices. To keep data safe on corporate computers, Catuogno suggests centralizing important information and making it inaccessible to the general sales population.

“We keep our data in the main home office,” Catuogno says. “Anything really important we keep on our extranet, [which] is password-protected and limits the harm that agents can do to each other’s data.”

Keeping information stored this way can actually help agents’ computers run more efficiently, because the hard drive doesn’t have to store data locally. “There is very little information actually on the computers; everything is Internet-based,” Catuogno says. “We encourage the agents to keep their own portable thumbnail drives if they need to access things.”

And it’s not just other users you need to be careful about; be choosy about the web applications you use as well. Read their user agreements and research past security breaches before signing up. If you’re looking for a free e-mail solution, choose Gmail, Kelso says, over the less-secure Yahoo or AOL.

Keeping Up-to-Date

Sometimes computers are slow because you’ve been ignoring that box that pops up telling you it’s time to update programs, or even to get the latest operating system. If you’re really far behind, that can mean your software and hardware don’t have the patches they need to interact smoothly and safely.

However, don’t get too update-happy. Sometimes it’s best to wait a few days on major updates to make sure they work properly. United Real Estate Scottsdale broker Byron Short, who oversees information technology for 42 agents, warns practitioners against updating immediately. “There’s no reason to be on the bleeding edge,” Short says. “Let somebody else take the damage. Then come in when it’s proven and it works.”

Having an End Game

Everyone needs to prepare for the worst-case scenario: losing your data in a crash. Store critical business data on secure servers or using cloud-based systems like Carbonite or Dropbox. Even when your computer suffers a catastrophic failure, this doesn’t mean your business has to experience it as well. Kelley Skar, a real estate practitioner with CIR Realty in Calgary, Alberta, says the last time his laptop crashed in 2012, he lost 30 percent of his data. Fortunately, he’d backed the remainder up using online storage systems. Since then he’s spent about $300 to add a two-terabyte external hard drive that uses Apple’s Time Capsule program to back up his data locally once a month.

No matter how well you manage your computers, you’ll need to replace them eventually. Catuogno’s company uses Windows and Acer machines, but it doesn’t change out its inventory wholesale. Instead, he replaces the oldest machines with new PCs every 12 to 18 months. The company does keep older models that still have life in them available for agents who prefer to stick with what they know..

 

Credit to Michelle Hofmann
Freelance Writer

Michelle Hofmann is a Los Angeles-based freelance reporter who loves all things real estate. Connect on Twitter @realestatewritr or via LinkedIn or michellehofmann@earthlink.net.

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