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5 Easy Holiday Decoration Tips for Renters

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You don’t have to limit your holiday decorations to a plastic tree or fake candles just because you live in a rental unit.

Here are five ways to decorate for the holidays without violating the terms of your lease.

1. Suction Solutions

Putting lights around the perimeter of a window allows you to share a little illumination with the outside world.

Instead of putting screw hooks in the frame around the window, use suction-based hooks or clips designed to stick to glass or any flat, smooth, and clean surface. Suction hooks have a standard, clear suction cup on one side and a small hook on the other; simply press one every 8 to 10 inches around the perimeter of a window to hold a strand of mini lights in place.

Suction clips work just like suction hooks. The difference is a swiveling clip mounted on the non-suction side. These clips are ideal for adding light strands to a window.

You can use both the suction hooks and clips to hold other lightweight decorations against the window, such as small flat wreaths, snowflake ornaments, and other nearly flat decorations. Some companies even offer suction hooks designed specifically for wreaths.

2. Temporary Adhesive Hooks

Temporary adhesive hooks are good ways to hold items onto surfaces. Look for brands such as Command Decorating Clips. They’re designed to work on almost any smooth, clean surface and they can be peeled away without leaving a mark when it’s time to pack away the holiday decorations. These hooks work equally well for strands of lights, wreaths, stockings, and almost any decoration that can be hung.

Read the package to ensure the clips you buy are strong enough to hold the items you intend to display. While temporary adhesive hooks are designed to peel away without damaging walls, check with your landlord, or read the terms of your lease to ensure they’re allowed.

3. Frames for Festive Lights

At least one manufacturer has recognized the need for hanging lights around a window without tape, tacks, or hooks. The “Window Wonder Frame Kit” is a customizable plastic frame system that you can press in place between the windowsill and top window jamb. Add-on pieces are sold to fit windows of larger sizes so you can customize the fit for just about any window.

Clips on the plastic frame hold incandescent mini-lights in place, but they’re not designed to hold LED lights. Once installed, the lights are visible from inside or outside, and they’ll be perfectly aligned around the perimeter of the window.

4. Brick Clips

If your apartment has a brick wall or fireplace, you can use brick clips, which snap in place vertically over bricks. They can even hold weighty decorations such as wreaths. The metal clips work on any brick that juts out a bit from the masonry, and they grab the top and bottom portions of the brick without harming the facade in any way. Two small hooks in each clip offer flexibility when hanging items such as stockings or wreaths.

The clips come in different sizes based on the most common brick heights, so be sure to measure a brick before purchasing the clips. Many of the clips are designed for indoor or outdoor use, so you can decorate your patio or balcony, too.

5. Window Clings

Window clings offer an excellent way to decorate windows and mirrors without leaving any marks or residue. Static electricity holds the clings in place. When you no longer need them, you simply peel them off the window and place them back on the original backing paper.

For even more fun—especially for kids—make your own clings out of puffy paint.

  1. Draw or print out a simple design such as a snowflake, ornament, or Santa.
  2. Place it beneath a sheet of plastic wrap or a clear plastic storage bag.
  3. Trace the design with any color of puffy paint (or even several colors).
  4. Let the paint dry overnight.
  5. Peel it off the plastic.
  6. Stick it on the window.

Any of the above decorating ideas can be applied to other holidays—and they help keep homes in their best shape.

 

Credit to Kathy Adams

Kathy is an award-winning investigative journalist, not to mention a writer, brand blogger, decor/DIY expert, renter, commercial landlord. She also writes for brands such as Behr, Kroger, Canon and Black+Decker on topics pertaining to home and apartment decorating and maintenance.

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How to Solve the 5 Most Common Complaints from Tenants

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It’s bound to happen: tenants will come to landlords with complaints. How are you going to react?

If you want to keep good tenants in your property, you need to be responsive to a tenant’s complaints, or even better, not let problem situations develop in the first place. Be proactive. A landlord needs to be proactive if he or she wants to be successful.

Being slow to act on legitimate issues will frustrate and alienate your renters.

Here are some of the most common things tenants might complain about and how you can handle them. Or better yet, how you can avoid the problem situations before they arise.

1. Where’s my security deposit?

When you become a landlord, you should know the security deposit law for your jurisdiction. You can look up your state’s law here: Landlord-Tenant State Laws & Regulations

You typically have 30 days to return your tenant’s security deposit or explain why you’re keeping all or part of it. This requirement varies by state, which is why you need to know your state’s law and follow it. Otherwise, you could be sued.

Note that you can’t keep the security deposit to renovate your property. You can, however, use the money to repair anything your tenant damaged that is above and beyond “normal wear and tear.”

2. The __________ is still broken.

The debate can go something like this:

“You never fixed the broken oven,” your tenant says.

You reply, “I never knew the oven was broken.”

If you have a maintenance request system in place, you can avoid this he said/she said situation entirely.

Quick, Easy Communication

There’s no need for a notarized letter sent to you certified mail. You don’t need a formal system, but maintenance requests should be in writing.

Encourage your tenant to text or email you about the problem.

You should then respond as soon as possible (ideally within 4 hours), letting them know you are aware of the problem and how you plan to resolve it. If your tenant calls you to report a maintenance request, you should text or email them back with an acknowledgement of the repair request and the plan is to resolve it. That way, you have a paper trail.

Not All Repairs Need to be Fixed

Then you should get the oven, or whatever the problem might be, fixed.. As soon as you know when the repair person is coming, let your tenant know that they either need to be home at that time, or if they can’t be there, you or your representative should let in the repair person. If you don’t intend on fixing the problem, communicate that to renters, too. Don’t go radio-silent.

Don’t mistake a wish list from a repair list, but don’t go radio-silent either.

It’s worth mentioning that not all requests need to be fulfilled. Perhaps the renter is asking you to change the paint color, or install granite countertops. Don’t mistake a wish list from a repair list. While you should strive for excellence, a landlord is only required to make repairs for issues that affect habitability.

After the repair is finished, follow up with your tenant in writing to make sure the repair was satisfactory.

3. I can’t reach you.

It’s best if you don’t set up arbitrary times when you can and can’t be reached. Your tenants should be able to contact you for legitimate reasons any time, and you should answer in a timely manner.

If your tenant starts to contact you for non-pressing reasons, you can let them know—in a calm and professional manner—when they should and should not contact you. And give them examples of “crying wolf.”

Good communication with your tenants comes with the territory. If that’s something you’re unwilling to do, hire a property manager to communicate on your behalf. It’s unacceptable to ignore your tenants.

4. The neighbors are horrible, so I can’t sleep.

Landlords often get complaints that the neighbors are undesirable in some way, usually because they’re noisy.

Unfortunately, you usually can’t do much about bad neighbors unless they’re also your tenants.

You could take measures to better insulate your property from sound, by installing carpeting or planting bushes around the house, but that might not be enough.

In situations where cigarette smoke is crossing into other units, you could seal up all the gaps around outlets and switches, and try to keep the air systems isolated.

If the Neighbors are your Tenants

If the noisy neighbors also happen to be your tenants, you can speak with them. If they continue to be inconsiderate, and by doing so, are violating lease terms, you might wish to consider giving them an eviction notice. Or you might not want to renew their lease at lease renewal time.

If the Neighbors are not your Tenants

If the noisy neighbors are not your tenants, ask your complaining tenants to speak with their neighbors about the problem. If that doesn’t do any good, or if your tenant doesn’t want to take action, have your tenant send you something in writing about the problem.

If your property has a homeowners association, send them a copy of the complaint. Ask to be notified about any action they might take.

If there is no HOA, let your tenants know they can call the police. Explain that it’s difficult for you to approach the neighbors or call the police since you aren’t involved, and, therefore, can’t give a first-person recounting of what happened. Plus, you can’t be certain the neighbors really are out-of-bounds.

5. Eeeek, bugs!

If your property is infested with bugs, rodents, or other such nastiness, call an exterminator. Don’t blame your tenant or accuse them of being dirty. Most of the time, your tenant isn’t the reason for a pest problem.

Also, if you had one infestation, it’s a good idea to have a pest service perform periodic or quarterly treatments. This benefits you as well, since you are the property owner.

If your tenant leaves dirty dishes all over the house or maintains other unsanitary conditions, you can evict them if that’s a violation of the lease terms. If not, just wait it out. You don’t need to renew their lease.

Bottom Line

It’s your responsibility to reply to legitimate complaints in a timely manner. Proactive landlords will prevent issues before they arise.

As long as you do your best to fix issues that are in your control, you should have no problem keeping good tenants in your property.

 

Credit to Laura Agadoni

Laura Agadoni is a landlord and journalist whose articles appear in various publications such as Trulia, The Houston Chronicle, The Motley Fool, SFGate, Zacks, The Penny Hoarder and azcentral.

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6 Top Ethics Issues Today

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Technology is raising a host of ethics issues, such as what’s okay and what’s not to say on social media. But the biggest ethics issues continue to be those that recur year after year such as matters involving property disclosures and settlement procedures. Here are the biggest ethics issues today along with how to handle them.

1. ‘Coming Soon’ properties.

To put up a sign or advertise to let consumers know a property is coming on the market, you have to do it the right way. First, you have to have the owner’s authorization before you can provide notice of sale of a property or advertise the property, and “coming soon” would constitute both a notice of sale and an advertisement.  Second, you need to check your state license laws, because they might require you to have a listing agreement in place before advertising a property, and saying a property is “coming soon” would constitute a form of advertising. Third, you can’t let other associates in your firm show the property if you say in the MLS that it’s not available for showing. If they do, that could be construed as a misrepresentation of its availability. Conversely, if it’s listed as available for showing, associates from any firm have to be able to show it.  Fourth, if buyers are interested in the property, you have to direct them back to their exclusive representative, if they have one, and not provide them any substantive services.

2. Multiple offers.

With prices rising and interest rates low, multiple offers are becoming more frequent in many markets. Here’s the right way to handle them: First, present all offers as objectively and quickly as possible. Second, if you’re asked about them by a buyer or cooperating broker and if the seller has given you approval, disclose the existence of all offers, as well as their source. Third, If you have a signed agreement to act as the buyer representative, you have to let the buyer know that the seller or the seller’s representative might not treat the existence, terms, or conditions of their offer as confidential. Only if the seller or seller’s agent is required to by law, regulation, or an agreement do they have to treat the offer confidentially.

3. Unauthorized access.

It’s not always convenient to meet clients when they want to look at a house, but you need to be there or you risk violating the terms and conditions the seller has set for viewing the property. You also can’t give a prospect a key, a lockbox combination or use of a lockbox key. And allowing any unauthorized user, whether a member of the public or a broker without a lockbox key, the use of that lockbox key is  a violation of common lockbox system rules through MLSs or associations.

4. Social media.

Public? Personal? Professional? Anything you say on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform about real estate, even if you’re just giving your informal opinion, must be accurate to the best of your knowledge. That’s because social media posts, for all practical purposes, are treated as marketing under the NAR Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. That’s the case even though it’s typical in social media to blur the lines between what’s personal and professional. What’s more, anything you say must present a true picture of the market or a property. And your professional affiliation must always be clear. That means either including the name of your firm in your post or tweet or linking to it. On platforms such as Craigslist, where there is no link to another display, you have to include the firm name in the communication.  Check your license law for any additional requirements.

5. Settlement procedures.

There are important differences between the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and the NAR Code of Ethics. The Section 8 anti-kickback part of RESPA prohibits the giving and receiving of a thing of value in exchange for a referral, with one exception: if the referral is to an affiliated business, like a mortgage originator or title company properly set up under RESPA, and that business arrangement is disclosed. The Code of Ethics and Standard of Practice 6-1 require disclosure of any financial benefit you receive for referring someone for something.

6. Property disclosure.

Each year property disclosure disputes are the top complaints filed by consumers and the past year has been no different. You are not obligated to discover latent defects with the property or provide advice on matters that are outside the scope of your license. For example, when asked about roofing problems, you should direct your client to a roofer.  What you must disclose, though, are matters you observe within the scope of your license. Brown water stains on the ceiling, for instance. Even if the owner doesn’t include that on a seller disclosure form, you should disclose that as a sign of possible water intrusion. When in doubt, disclose.

Credit to Bruce Aydt columnist

Columnist Bruce Aydt, ABR, CRB, is senior vice president and general counsel of Berkshire-Hathaway HomeServices Alliance Real Estate in St. Louis and a former chair of the Professional Standards Committee for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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How to Ask ‘Why’ the Right Way

This simple question could become your business’ best frenemy. Teach agents how to use it wisely.

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“Why?”

It’s a preschooler’s favorite word and your agents’ best friend and worst enemy, or frenemy, when it comes to actually finding out why a potential buyer is looking for a home. A good agent will want to know why a client wants to buy or sell; a great agent will want to understand the reason behind the desire. So just asking why is a good start, but without digging deeper, it can come across as more of a business question than a desire to truly understand what the customer is thinking and experiencing. That’s what makes it dangerous. To truly understand a customer’s mission, agents must dig deeper.

There are two key ways you as a broker can teach agents to dig deeper. First, make sure your salespeople are looking to actually understand clients’ problems, not just sell them a solution.

In order to do this, they have to connect with customers on a personal level. Ask your agents to think about how different it feels when a doctor is sincerely interested in you, rather than just trying to get through the appointment so they can move on to the next patient. When a doctor takes the time, asks the right questions, and really listens to make sure they understand, you have confidence in them. When they take a sincere interest in you, you trust them and will follow their advice and leadership.

Another thought exercise to help agents understand this concept is to ask them about a friend or family member who is really good at helping them work through problems they’re trying to solve or a decision they’re trying to make. Chances are the friend or family member is truly interested in helping find the right solution. They become a partner in understanding, solving, and resolving issues. That’s the kind of connection agents can create with customers by seeking to understand their problem rather than seeking to sell a solution.

Once you’ve enabled your agents to see the difference between knowing and understanding their clients’ issues, you can give them the tools they need to act on it. Show them that “how,” “when,” and “what” questions will help them uncover the deeper “why” of any situation.

A depressed person doesn’t walk into a counselor’s office knowing why they are depressed. They’re there because they haven’t figured it out. So a counselor might ask, “When was the last time you were depressed?” Then they might ask what happened or what they were doing before they felt depressed. Similarly, agents may have to ask a series of “what” and “how” questions to uncover the why. They might ask what a customer likes or doesn’t like about their current situation or the options they’ve seen so far. From there, agents can summarize and recite the answers back to them, saying something like, “So it sounds like you’re looking for X, Y, and Z. Suppose you had that today. How would that improve your life?”

Agents who are skeptical of this approach might need an example to help them understand how powerful it can be when they help clients discover a deeper truth they didn’t even know about themselves. Let’s say a salesperson asks why a potential buyer wants a bigger backyard, the customer might say they want a pool. After asking why having a pool is important to them, the agent may find out that the family wants to have friends over so they can entertain and have fun at home. Simple enough, right? In times like these, agents have to go through a side door to find out the deeper answer and discover what’s truly important to their clients. For example, they might ask one more question: “How do you feel it will affect your kids’ lives to have a pool?” From here, customers may reveal they didn’t grow up with a house or atmosphere that was accommodating to friends and they want their kids to have a better experience than they did. This gives the agent a much greater understanding of what the consequences are if the customer doesn’t make a change. It may be too much pressure on the client to discover the deeper truths, and it’s an agent’s job to uncover it for them.

This approach requires staying focused on finding out the full story to truly understand the client’s mission to improve their lives. This information is one of the most powerful sales tools an agent has. But to discover the why, agents must do more than just ask why.

Credit to Jason Forrest
Jason Forrest is a sales trainer, management coach, member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group, and author of three books, including his latest, Leadership Sales Coaching.
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The Safety Benefit of Smart Homes

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The latest technology doesn’t just make properties more marketable. Learn how to use these smart devices to thwart danger when you’re out in the field.

Sure, smart-home devices can make a property more desirable, but have you considered how they can keep you safe as a listing agent or when showing homes to buyers? Open houses and vacant properties are the top places where real estate professionals report encountering threatening situations, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2016 Member Safety Report. Tara Christianson, technology and training director at Century 21 Redwood Realty in Arlington, Va., recently hosted a webinar and offered tips on how smart devices can protect your client’s property and yourself.

  • Smart door locks and keyless entry systems can help keep a vacant property more secure. Products such as Schlage’s Bluetooth-enabled locks not only allow you to control access to the property but also can record traffic in the home. You can create e-keys for contractors, assistants, and your real estate team members.
  • Video doorbells, such as SkyBell, contain video cameras so you can talk to whoever is on the other side of the door without even being on the premises. The video streams to your phone, and some products even allow you to take a photo of the person at the door to send to authorities if you become alarmed.
  • Motion sensors are helpful for both vacant homes and new construction — both properties squatters tend to target. Fibaro, for example, sends activity alerts to your phone when there is movement in the home. You can set alerts to the times you expect the home to be empty. “Maybe someone’s in the home that you need to be aware of so you know to bring someone with you when you arrive,” Christianson says.
  • Use devices that monitor doors and windows so you can tell when they’ve been left open. This will likewise alert you to suspicious activity at a listing, and these devices are useful for sellers as well so they can monitor their homes on days when they’re being shown.
  • Smart lighting and entertainment systems don’t just help you set the ambiance for a showing. Systems like Hue and Lifx allow you to set on and off times for lighting systems, making it look like a listing is continually occupied.

Do Smart Homes Invite Threats?

Such technology can make a home more vulnerable to hackers, Christianson admits, but there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk. You should never use open Wi-Fi networks when operating smart devices. If your client’s network is less secure, you can protect your own device with a virtual private network, which creates an encrypted connection when using your client’s Wi-Fi. But if you’re going to use a device in a seller’s home, you should always ask them how protected their network is. Do they have a password that’s hard to guess, or are they using a simple code like “123” or “password”?

Give Clients Smart Advice

Steer clients interested in smart devices toward well-known vendors such as Nest, which is backed by Google. “Sometimes, products or companies sound great, but then the vendor stops updating their devices or shuts down without notice,” Christianson says. “You don’t want your client to be stuck with something that suddenly stops working.”

Tell your sellers to disclose what smart devices they have in their homes to buyers up front. That will absolve them of any responsibility in case a buyer has a complaint about being monitored during a showing. “You don’t want conversations with buyers caught on tape without their knowledge,” Christianson says. Let informed buyers make their own decisions about whether they want to even enter rooms that have active recording devices.

 

Credit to Graham Wood
Senior editor

Graham Wood is a senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

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