Social Media Tips from Lewis Howes – Five Ways Social Media Can Ruin Your Reputation

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ allow us to connect with the players in our market.  But, when used improperly, social media can be a dangerous platform for entrepreneurs to ruin their reputations.

Here are five ways social media users can destroy their online rep, and tips for steering clear of these costly mistakes:

1. Boring posts.  A boring post is anything that lacks your unique personality or perspective.  Giving a fresh perspective to an old topic or going against the status quo is what gets noticed.

So ask yourself how you can infuse your own character or sense of humor into each post.  This is the essence of branding.  The last thing you want to be is forgettable.

2. Disrespecting others.  Social media is not the place to work out your problems with people.  It’s no different than yelling insults at someone in public or raising your voice at a retail store employee.  Yes, it gets peoples’ attention, but that’s not the kind of attention you want.

Unfortunately, the higher you climb in social media, the more people will want to throw stones at you.  But don’t retaliate publicly.  Simply delete the negative comment, block the person and then decide if you want to address the issue privately, or just move on.

3. Failing to promote others.  When it comes to building your business and developing a powerful network, you’ll want to develop a reputation as someone who highlights others.  Not only does this give credit where credit is due, it also communicates that you’re secure with your success and have the ability to promote others in your industry.

Some effective ways to highlight others:

When someone gives you a great piece of advice, post it on Facebook or Twitter and tag that person.

Utilize the Endorsements feature on LinkedIn and begin endorsing people within your network.

4. Not replying to comments.  Not replying to comments on your blog or other social media is no different than starting a conversation with someone and then ignoring their response.  Actively monitoring comments and questions on every post can be time-consuming, but even posting one follow-up comment per post can show you care and that you’re engaged.

5. Being tagged in questionable photos.  Most everyone has been captured in a photo that should be titled, “This is not how it looks.”  As funny as some photos can be, think twice about allowing yourself to be tagged in questionable photos.  As a business owner or salesperson, be mindful of how you want to be perceived publicly.  Untag or delete yourself from any inappropriate photos.

Your best ally in creating an image that attracts the right kind of people and attention is to simply use common sense, which usually is not so common.  As long as you’re consistently infusing your unique style and communicating with the same class that you would in public, you’ll do just fine.

10 Things You Should Be Tweeting About

Apart from creating a vibrant branded Twitter account for your business, you should consider creating your own personal account on Twitter.  Fans and followers often want to connect with the person behind the brand.

Giving customers and prospects a glimpse into the entrepreneur’s life and mindset can allow them to cultivate a deeper relationship with customers separately from the brand.  The goal, of course, is to increase customers’ loyalty to your brand.

Here are 10 things every entrepreneur can tweet about, which can allow your clients and prospects to see another side of you:

1. Personal news: Share the big events of your personal life — vacations, weddings, births — the type of info you’d share with close friends.  It can help keep your followers feeling like they’re “in the loop.”  You’re also more likely to make a connection with followers who have experienced something similar.

2. Mistakes and lessons: Sharing mistakes and what you learned is a sign of growth, not weakness. Try doing a “What I learned this week” tweet and see how your followers respond.

3. Answers to questions: If someone asks a question on Twitter and you know the answer, share it.  This can also be a way to develop a FAQ within your industry, which you can later point them to via a link.

4. Links to articles: The key to sharing articles is to also include your unique opinion.  Let others know why you liked or didn’t like an article.

Just remember that your opinion paints a public image, which means you should be cautious about which opinions you choose to share — ideally only those which are congruent with your market and your industry.  Keep the rest to yourself.

5. Pictures of unusual things you see: If something catches your attention, it’s probably going to catch the attention of others, too.  So why not share it?  This includes visually impressive products, food and architecture.

6. Wisdom from the book you’re reading: When you hit a “golden nugget” of wisdom in a book, share it.  It not only shows that you’re well-read but that you value wisdom.  Those are two things that can only enhance your reputation.

7. Interesting advertising: When a billboard or any other advertising catches your attention, take a picture and tweet it.  Everyone can benefit from seeing smart marketing.

8. Fun purchases: Sharing your recent purchases, such as music, video games or sports equipment can stir up comments and conversations from others that have bought similar items and enjoy the same kind of entertainment.

9. Share wisdom from outside the world of business: Quotes from sports heroes, military leaders and artists can teach us about innovation and leadership, which are essential to business success.

10. Your work: The greatest links you can share are links to your personal work, but don’t limit that only to what you do professionally.  If you have a hobby or passion for something creative, share it.

 

By: Lewis Howes, www.entrepreneur.com

The Ultimate Success Skill

This past year only one out of every 20 sales people has spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement!  Let me repeat it to make sure you read it correctly: In the last 12 months, only one out of every 20 sales people has spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement!  That’s based on lots of anecdotal evidence collected over the past 25 years of working with sales people.

Only five percent of my colleagues are sufficiently dedicated to their own personal growth and professional success that they will invest their own money in their careers.  That means that ninety-five percent are not sufficiently motivated to take their own personal development seriously.

I am convinced that the process of continuously improving — not only professionally in the core competencies of a professional sales person, but also personally — is the ultimate success skill for our time.

The ability to learn and grow in a proactive and disciplined way is several things:

A method to do better at your job.  Good sales people sell more than mediocre sales people.  Good sales people make more money, enjoy more success and greater status than mediocre sales people.  Good sales people work at becoming better.

A way to distinguish yourself from the masses.  Remember, ninety-five percent of your competitors and colleagues don’t care enough to invest in themselves.  When you do that, you separate yourself from the pack.

A minimal requirement from your employer.  I often tell my clients that every sales person — and every employee, for that matter — has two jobs: a).his job, and b) continually improving himself.  If someone is not interested in improving his skills, I don’t want him working for me, or for my clients.

An ethical imperative.  It is, I believe, immoral to not improve yourself.  Your employer has hired you not just for what you know and what you can do, but for your potential to know more and do more.  When you refuse to improve yourself, you rob your employer of some of the reasons he pays you.

That’s a lot of value wrapped up in a single, fundamental process.  You can see why I believe that the ability to learn in a focused, systematic way is the ultimate competency — the foundational skill that, if mastered, will eventually lead you to success.

I call this ultimate self-improvement skill for turbulent times and beyond “self-directed learning.”

Self-directed learning is the ability to absorb new information and to change one’s behavior in positive ways in response.  The key is behavior change.  Learning without action is impotent.  Knowledge that doesn’t result in changed action is of little value.  Constantly changing your behavior in positive ways is the only reasonable response to a constantly changing world.

For example, let’s say that you’ve read a book on advanced sales techniques.  That’s a good first step.  But, it’s one thing to read and understand the material in the book, and it’s another to actually use it.  It’s nice that you understand it, and it’s good that you think it may help you.  But that particular piece of information is worthless until you actually start using it.  When you change your behavior and incorporate those ideas into what you do, then you will have learned.  It is not until you actually do that new thing — ask questions more effectively, for example, that you will have learned.

Self-directed learning differs from the traditional approaches to training because it requires you to assume complete responsibility for your own behavior change.  The stimulus for the learning must come from within you.  You must develop your own learning program to expose yourself to new information and to change your behavior appropriately.

I firmly believe that the ability to take charge of your own learning, to consistently expose yourself to new information and then to systematically change your behavior in positive ways based on that new information, is the ultimate success skill for the Information Age.

If you can master self-directed learning, you’ll eventually master everything else that you need to be successful.

Prerequisites to Mastering Self-Directed Learning

Proficiency at the ultimate self-improvement skill demands some fundamental attitudes on your part.  I like to characterize those attitudes as being a “seeker.”

A seeker attitude is composed of several parts.  First, you must have an attitude of proactive responsibility for your situation.  In other words, you must believe that your actions have consequences and that, to change the consequences, you must change your actions.

This sounds so fundamental as to be ludicrous, yet it seems to be a concept that is foreign to much of the world’s population.  Most people tend to blame their problems on forces outside themselves.  Your parents didn’t raise you correctly, your spouse doesn’t understand you, your boss doesn’t like you, your customers don’t respect you, the stars are aligned against you, etc.  As long as you remain, in your mind, the victim of someone else or some outside force, you have no responsibility to change your own behavior.  After all, your situation isn’t your fault.

That’s the wrong attitude.  If you are going to be successful, you’ll need to begin with the conviction that your actions have consequences, and that you can change your future.  Once you get that, then you are ready to discover what actions will have the greatest impact on your success.

So, you must accept the responsibility for your own behavior as well as for the consequence of that behavior.

Next, sales people with a seeker attitude need to be open to new information.  One of the sure harbingers of pending failure is the attitude that you know it all.  Sales people who continue to improve themselves understand that they will never have all the answers.  There is always something new to learn. They become like magnets, constantly attracting new ideas, new perspectives, and new information to themselves.

Finally, a seeker has the ability to follow through on his plans.  You must have the ability to act on decisions you make and to become a creature whose actions arise out of conscious thought rather than unconscious habit.  In other words, you must have the strength to decide to do something and then to follow through with that decision and actually do it.

The sales people who attend my seminars are open minded, interested in outside perspectives, willing to learn, and committed to the growth of their businesses.  They’re seekers.

It’s interesting that this description only applies to a small percentage of the population.  It probably describes you, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Take heart in that.  In a rapidly-changing world, the competent, self-directed learners will end up on top.  The fact that you’re probably one of them means that you’re already separating yourself from the mass of sales people who are more interested in maintaining the status quo.

Richard Gaylord Briley, in his book Everything I Needed to Know about Success I Learned in the Bible, talks about the five percent principle.  It holds that five percent of the individuals in the world provide success and opportunity for 50 percent of the rest of the population.  Applied to sales, the Briley rule would hold that five percent of the sales people in the world contribute 50 percent of the volume.

I believe that these five percenters are active, self-directed learners who maintain the seeker attitude I’ve described.  And I believe that you have the potential to be a five-percenter for the rest of your life.  The starting point is the cultivation of the seeker attitude.

Given this set of attitudes, you can begin to master the procedures and disciplines that will characterize you as a self-directed learner and equip you to be successful in our turbulent times.

Core Strategies for Self-Directed Learning

If you have the right attitude, you’ll find the following two strategies to be powerful ways to practice self-directed learning:

1. Inject yourself into learning opportunities.

There are two parts to the learning equation.  The first is to constantly expose yourself to new information, and the second is to change your behavior in positive ways based on that information.

For example, reading this article is a way to expose yourself to new information.  So is reading a book, listening to a podcast or CD, attending a seminar, etc.  That’s the first half of the process.  If you now make changes in what you do as a result of it, you’ve accomplished the second half.

The second part rarely happens unless the first part precedes it.  So, to put the whole process into motion, you must regularly expose yourself to new information.  To do that, you must inject yourself into learning opportunities.

Remember that it’s not enough to go to a seminar once a year, or read a book every now and then.  Learning should be a regular part of your work week.  I’d like to see you do something to exposure yourself to new ideas every week.

Reflect on your failures.  You’re probably thinking, “Where did that come from?”  I have learned that my failures, both as a sales person and in my life in general, have provided me with my most intensive learning experiences.  In fact, I remember all my failures far more vividly than I remember any of my successes.  As I thought about each one of them, I discovered what I had done to produce that failure, and I made specific decisions to change to prevent them from happening again.

Personally, I think that this practice has been one of the key reasons for the success that I have enjoyed as a sales person.  You can do the same thing.  You are going to fail from time to time.  Everyone does.  The most important part of failing is taking the time to reflect on the failure and to learn from it.

2. Question everything.

There are two big obstacles to learning that are especially typical of sales people.  The first is “stuck in a rut” behavior.  The second is the tendency to over-rely on assumptions.  The cure for both is the same: to question everything.

Stuck in a rut behavior evolves out of an attitude that you already know enough.  If you’re content and smug about your current situation, you’re not going to be open to new information.  This satisfaction hinders learning because it hampers the motivation to learn.  Without the motivation to expose yourself to new information and seriously consider changing your behavior, the necessary changes won’t happen.  You’re stuck in the status quo — oblivious to the need to move out of it.

One of the best ways to pry yourself out of a rut is to begin to ask yourself questions.  Question everything you do.  Is this the best way to present this product?  Should you be calling on this customer once a week?  Are you presenting the right solutions?  Do you really know your customers as well as you should?

The other major obstacle to learning is the tendency to do your job based on unchallenged assumptions.  This occurs when you operate on the basis of an assumption that you’ve never really thought about.  For example, you assume that two or three competitors are quoting the same piece of business you are, so you discount deeply.  Or, you assume that your customers always know exactly what they want, so you don’t take the time to question them.

Because you work on an assumption instead of taking the time to verify it, you make decisions that are inappropriate.

The solution is the same as getting out of a rut.  Question everything.  From time to time, stop and ask yourself what assumptions you’re working on, and then question those assumptions.  You’ll often find that your assumptions are in error, and the decisions you made that relied on them were also in error.

 

By: Dave Kahle, www.davekahle.com

 

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Fall is here: Time to get your house in shape for the cooler months ahead.  Although autumn can be one of the busiest seasons for homeowners preparing for winter, it’s also the best time to take advantage of the moderate weather to repair any damages before the first frost sets in.  Here are some home maintenance ideas that will keep your home running in peak condition all winter long.

Exterior maintenance

Check the foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping.

“Caulking and sealing openings is one of the least expensive maintenance jobs,” says Michael Hydeck, Hydeck Design Build, Inc., Telford, PA, and national president, National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).  “Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold buildup,” he says.  “Regardless of whether you live in a cold or warm climate, winter can bring very harsh conditions resulting in water or ice damage.  A careful check of the outside structure combined with inexpensive maintenance can save you money in the long run.”

Install storm windows and doors and remove screens.  Before storing, clean and repair screens, spray with a protective coating and place in a dry area of the basement or garage.

Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings.  According to Carl Minchew, director, Benjamin Moore Paints, “Peeling paint is a sign that the existing paint film is failing and can no longer protect the siding of the building.  Left uncorrected, the siding itself will deteriorate, leading to expensive repairs in the future.”

Make sure the roof is in good shape.  Inspect for missing and loose shingles.  “Ice, rain, snow and wind combined with rapidly changing temperatures and humidity wreak havoc on roofs,” says Jay Butch, director, contractor programs for CertainTeed Roofing.  “Your roof is your first defense in protecting your home.  Without it functioning properly, water damage can occur.  This causes deterioration to insulation, wood and drywall, making electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems vulnerable.  It’s better to proactively deal with repairs in the fall than to discover a leaky roof during a snowstorm.  For safety’s sake, have a licensed, certified roofing professional check the condition of your roof.”

After leaves have fallen, clean out the gutters and downspouts, flush them with water, inspect joints and tighten brackets if necessary.  Clogged gutters are one of the major causes of ice dams.  Replace old or damaged gutters with new ones that have built-in leaf guards.

Weather-strip your garage door.  Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts and keep out small animals.

Inspect your driveway for cracks.  Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.

Interior maintenance

“Heating and cooling amount to 47 percent of the energy costs in your home.  Proper sealing and insulation can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, or up to 10 percent on your total annual energy bill,” says Katie Cody, spokeswoman for Lowe’s.  “Air leaks from windows and doors are easy to find by moving your hand around the frame.  Applying weather stripping and caulk to these areas will help cut down on drafts.”

Have your heating system checked by a licensed heating contractor.  Heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer and have fewer problems if properly serviced.

Get your woodstove and fireplace in working order.  Gary Webster, creative director of Travis Industries, suggests that you examine your wood stove or fireplace insert’s door gasket for a tight seal.  Also clean and inspect the glass door for cracks and have the chimney cleaned by a licensed chimney sweep.  “A clogged chimney poses the risk of a chimney fire, which can be ignited by burning creosote — a combination of wood tar, organic vapors and moisture buildup,” Webster says.

Change the direction of your ceiling fan to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.

Test and change the batteries in your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and keep extra household batteries on hand.

Check basement windows for drafts, loose frames or cracked panes.

Vacuum internal parts of air conditioners.  Remove units from windows or wrap outside box with an approved tarp or plastic air conditioner cover in order to prevent rusting of vital parts.

Clean your humidifiers regularly during the heating season.  Bacteria and spores can develop in a dirty water tank resulting in unclean moisture misting out into your room.

Yard and garden

Organize your garage.  Clean and store summer garden tools.

Clear leaves from lawn, reseed patchy areas and plant spring flowering bulbs.  If deer are a problem in your area, start deer-proofing by covering plants with netting and chicken wire.

Prepare your yard equipment for storage.  This includes draining fuel from all gas-operated equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chain saws.

Check to see that all of your snow equipment is up and running before the first flurry falls.  Organize your snow clearing gear.  When snow arrives you’ll want to have shovels, roof rakes and snow blowers where you can get to them.

“Be careful where you store equipment,” says Travis Poore, The Lawn Ranger, a Home Depot Community Expert.  “An outbuilding may not be as well insulated as a garage incorporated into a house.  Equipment that is stored out in the elements, exposed to heat and cold extremes, can develop problems when the gasoline can no longer vaporize and flow into the combustion chamber of the engine.”

Drain garden hoses and store them inside.  Also shut off outdoor water valves in cold weather.  Any water left in exterior pipes and faucets can freeze and expand, breaking the pipes.

Inspect and fill bird feeders.  Keep in mind that once you start feeding birds you should continue on a regular basis throughout the winter months.

Fertilize the lawn with a high phosphorous mix to ensure healthy grass in the spring.

Porch and deck

Check the supports, stairs and railings on porches and decks.  Make sure the handrails can support someone slipping on snow or ice.

Clean porch and deck furniture, and look for any needed repairs.  Cover and store outdoor furniture and barbecues in a protected area.

Make sure all soil is emptied from pots and planters.  Dirt left in clay pots will freeze and cause the pots to crack if left outside.

Preparing your home for the winter months ahead will make it just a bit easier to get through and save you money in the long run.

By: Barbara Winfield, www.bobvila.com

7 Ways to Keep in Touch with Past Clients

In real estate, there’s a fine line between keeping in touch with your past clients and becoming that annoying pest who’s always calling, e-mailing, or mailing.  So how do you make sure you aren’t annoying and stay within that helpful professional or friend zone?

“It’s all about making it personal, making it magic, and making the experience unforgettable so that two or 10 years down the road they’ll remember to call you,” says real estate pro Cheryl Hanna with Keyes Co. in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and also a frequent blogger about customer service issues for Service Untitled.

There are plenty of ways to keep in touch without turning them off, such as through memorable gifts and personalized cards, or even sneaky ways to get connected to their voice mail without risking interrupting them with a phone call.

A lot of it comes down to intuitively judging what your clients want in a relationship with you after a transaction, Hanna says.  For example, is your relationship more of a friendship or strictly professional?  How do they prefer to be contacted — which of them are phone persons and which are e-mail types?

Something else to keep in mind: They probably want you to stay connected.  The odds are in your favor that past clients will use you again.  Eighty-four percent of sellers say they are likely to use the same agent again or recommend that agent to others, according to the 2010 National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.  But if you disappear into the shadows following a transaction, will they really call when they — or their family and friends — need you?

Find some inspiration in what other real estate professionals do, and apply it to your own customer relationships.

1. Deliver some news they can use

Clients won’t be so turned off when you provide them with useful information, such as the latest news of the community and the local housing market.

“The real estate market is tense in a lot of areas of the country right now, and many home owners are interested in information on the mortgage market, foreclosure information, or the value of the home they have now,” Hanna says.  “Everything you send out to a former client has to have some pertinent, valuable information to them,” otherwise they’ll disregard your messages completely.

For example, Desiree DiDonato with Century 21 Rauh & Johns in Sewell, N.J., likes to send her past clients a “hello” e-mail that includes home sales in the area where they own.  Or, she might call them with current rates on mortgages.

Or offer home maintenance reminders (e.g., changing out smoke detector batteries once a year), home design tips, or remodeling ideas (cite Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report) to show what remodeling projects offer the biggest return at resale).  You also can find helpful articles — on everything from home maintenance to selling advice — to send to clients at HouseLogic.com.

2. Offer an unusual gift

Shelley Tinnel with Boulder Bay Realty Group in Valparaiso, Ind., likes to make gifts memorable.  She’ll send past clients an odd gift usually at the beginning of every year.  Last year, she sent “dirty/clean” magnets for the dishwasher.  Or she has mailed rival sports team schedules so they can root for the other team; or once she sent bags of popcorn with stickers that say “Real estate is popping; give me a call.”

“Mostly they call to laugh, but they remember me,” Tinnel says.  “I love to get a smile or a kick out of people, and little odd items do the trick.”

3. Make your cards memorable and personal

Remembering important events in your clients’ lives and sending a card in the mail or a simple e-mail message can go a long way in building memorable relationships.

Hanna isn’t big into popular holiday cards because she says they get mixed up with everyone else’s cards and are quickly forgotten.  Instead, to stand out she likes to send off-season cards, such as “Welcome to Spring” or Thanksgiving cards.

Here are some more ideas:

Birthday cards with an extra touch: Vincent Prestileo Jr. with RE/MAX Hometown in Media, Pa., sends his clients a birthday card each year that includes a $1 scratch-off ticket.  And don’t forget Fido: Pet birthdays count too, adds Donna Mikesh with Century 21 Pro Service, Realtors®, in Johnson City, Tenn.

Home anniversary cards: Send out cards each year celebrating the anniversary of closing on the clients’ home.

Congratulatory cards: Remember graduations, wedding anniversaries, or a new baby in the family.

Important date reminders: Consider card reminders about daylight savings time or upcoming deadlines for home energy-efficiency tax credits.

Every month, Vicci Hall with ERA Real Estate Professionals in Ridgeland, Miss., will select 50 past clients with whom she has a close relationship and send them a special letter, which she calls a “Letter from My Heart.”  She’ll handwrite the envelopes to add a personal touch, and the letters will include inspirational stories or focus on a special holiday or event.  For example, she recently used breast cancer awareness envelopes and stamps and pink stationery for a letter to past clients to show them she also supports a cause that is near and dear to them.

“I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of positive comments and feedback from this letter,” she says.  “This contact with past clients ensures that they don’t forget me and also reminds them to refer me to friends and family.”

4. Give them a call

Sabena Branche with Pulte Homes in Newburgh, N.Y., likes to follow up with her clients with a phone call a few days after they move in to check on how the move went and offer her assistance if needed.

Phone calls for past clients’ birthdays or special days also can make a great personal touch.  But how about if your client isn’t really a phone person, but you still want that personal touch a voice offers?

Phone services such as SlyDial allow you to connect directly to someone’s mobile voice mail to leave them a message without disrupting them with your call.  You simply call the SlyDial number (267-759-3425) and then at the voice prompt, enter the mobile phone number you want to reach.  You’ll be directly connected to that person’s voice mail to leave a message.

5. Follow up with a survey

Hanna always uses customer feedback surveys following a transaction.  It’s a way to not only make contact with your past clients but also show them you care about finding ways to better serve them in the future.

Experts recommend sending customer-satisfaction surveys two to three weeks after closing.  Keep the surveys brief, asking your customers what services they liked and what needs improvement, Hanna suggests.  You can easily build your customer feedback surveys online, such as through SurveyMonkey.com, KeySurvey, FreeOnlineSurveys.com, or Zoomerang.

6. Make a social networking connection

Social networking sites online can make it easy to keep in touch with past clients on an informal and more friend-type basis.

Deb Counts-Tabor with Oregon Realty in Portland, Ore., makes sure to connect with all of her past clients on Facebook.  “I use it for everything, from knowing when a past client is having a baby to reminding folks to check basements during the first heavy rain of the year,” Counts-Tabor says.  “I’ve only lost contact with two clients in four years — I count the rest as friends.”

Tip: You can use Facebook’s friend lists feature to group your friends into customized lists (e.g. “first-time home buyers,” “past clients,” “industry contacts,” etc.) to better manage all your contacts on Facebook.  (You can put friends into multiple lists.)  By categorizing your friends on Facebook, you’ll then easily be able to view news feeds based on your contact lists or send messages to certain lists of contacts.  Just be careful what you call your lists — some friend lists can be made public and even notify your contacts about it.  Check your privacy settings!

Also, to stay on top of what your clients are doing online and find excuses to connect again, you can use plug-ins to your e-mail systems to reveal what your contacts are doing online.  For example, services such as Xobni and Rapportive create an address book of all your e-mail contacts and show you profiles of each contact, including their latest status updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

7. Get creative

Special events or extra helpful touches also can go a long way in getting your past clients’ attention and set you apart.  Here are three ideas:

Host a party: Counts-Tabor has created a Halloween tradition among her past clients.  She invites them to her home on Halloween for a party; costumes are optional.  The early part of the evening is kid-friendly with her clients’ children trick-or-treating; people at the party will take turns answering the door to hand out treats.  About 75 past clients showed up last year.  Counts-Tabor has also rented a hotel suite on the fourth of July across from where the fireworks in the city would be set off and invited all of her clients to watch the fireworks from there.

Help them get organized: To help your clients better organize their housing paperwork or prepare for tax time, create a binder containing copies of paperwork generated during the transaction, such as appraisals, inspection reports, warranties, and settlement statements.  For example, Mikesh of Century 21 Pro Service sends a letter and copy of her clients’ HUD form to them at the beginning of the year following their closing.  “The HUD form is greatly appreciated because of tax preparation, the fact that they have moved recently, and — in most cases — they’ve misplaced their paperwork temporarily,” she says.

Come to the rescue: Consider what information your past clients may need to make home ownership happier for them and put yourself in the “save the day” role.  For example, offer past clients a list of vendors — from handyman to electricians to plumbers — to help them with any home problem they may face.  Or, many home owners, despite having a drop in market value of their homes, have had to face rising property taxes.  You can help point them to information on how to appeal their property taxes.

Make Lasting Connections

Regardless what you do to keep in touch, be consistent in your contact.  Many real estate professionals use a customer relationship management solution, whether it’s an online or computer software program, to better manage all of their past contacts and set notifications to alert them to establish contact at certain times of the year.

Hall manages all of her past clients in a database.  She sends about 175 cards a month to people on her list, such as postcards for holidays or mailings that offers different types of advice like home maintenance tips.

“I’ve been doing this for about six months, and it is truly paying off now,” she says.  “I’m getting new business every few days, most of which is somehow related to this mailing list.  People on my list are referring me to friends of theirs, which is the idea behind it.”

Branche has a “Keep in Touch” program that goes into action immediately after closing for every client.  It includes mailings and e-mail from her every holiday, birthday, and anniversary of their closing.

“I have found being consistent with these actions opens the door to repeat business,” Branche says.  “Also, it allows me to continue building my referral base, which has created much more business to come directly my way.”

 

By: Melissa Dittmann Tracey, www.realtor.org

Sowing the Seeds of Green Renovations

Hey I am not the most environmentally conscious guy (I kinda say worship the creator not the creation) but there are a lot of good thoughts on Real Estate in the article and I thought you might enjoy it.  Hope you have a great weekend.  Jerry & Jordan Case

Green building and energy-efficient home upgrades do more than merely help the environment.  For homebuyers, energy-wise improvements can help reduce future utility costs and deliver a comfortable home with improved air quality and living standards.  In many cases, energy-efficient upgrades also can bring a home up to current building codes, increasing its value and, by extension, bolstering the value of the entire neighborhood by converting an old, functionally obsolescent home into an energy-wise, renovated home.

As appealing as a renovation may be, however, upgrading a home can be a difficult undertaking.  With that in mind, how can mortgage brokers and originators help their green-minded clients plant the seeds for success?  When it comes to upgrading a property with energy-efficient improvements, homebuyers need to know that it takes a team of informed professionals to help a project flourish.  Navigating the world of underwriting can be tricky business, however.  Even if a loan fits given parameters and guidelines at the time of closing, originators still can be held liable for mortgage-insurance rescissions and repurchase demands long after a loan’s closing.  When it comes to steering clear of underwriting trouble, brokers and originators must have a solid grasp on general underwriting processes and the many layers of due diligence that occur after a loan closes.

Mortgage brokers and originators should know what to expect out of the entire process when helping clients finance green renovations.  By working together, the right team of professionals can help their clients create energy-efficient, environmentally friendly homes that will decrease energy use while increasing value.

The Green Team

Closing any deal within the mortgage industry requires a degree of teamwork, but this is especially true when it comes to green purchases and refinances.  Homebuyers — and the originators who are working with them — should be sure to align themselves with an experienced, well-functioning team to ensure that their green deal doesn’t wilt away.

The green-buying process likely will begin with a qualified Realtor who can identify viable properties that meet the borrower’s specifications.  This person can estimate current market value and negotiate an acceptable purchase price and terms.  In today’s market, these professionals must be skilled negotiators in addition to being well-versed professionals when it comes to green homes specifically.

A general contractor who is a certified and experienced energy professional can act as a project manager for a deal, providing a viable project estimate and identifying available rebates and incentives.  Once again, experience is key.  With regards to green building and renovations, general contractors must work through a myriad of problems and bumps in the road, so it’s vital for this person to stay informed about the latest techniques and tools of the green industry.

Finally, there’s you: the loan professional who is tasked with providing realistic cash requirements and a fully documented pre-approval.  There are multiple energy-wise financing options in today’s industry, so it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your borrower’s desired outcome and qualifying capacity.  This can be a great help in determining the best approach to your client’s financing options.

Invariably, many of your borrowers will be interested in either the FHA’s 203(k) loan program or an energy-efficient mortgage.  In working with these borrowers, mortgage brokers and originators should consider several key factors before the deal gets fully underway:

Is the borrower clear about the specific type of home that’s desired?

Does the borrower have a realistic expectation for the purchase or renovation, given the state of the housing market?

Does the borrower have enough cash for the transaction?  When working with the 203(k) program the loan amount will be determined by the lesser of two calculations: Either the sale price (or appraised value) plus rehabilitation and other allowable costs; or the property’s ultimate, improved value plus 10 percent.

For investors or flippers, a green property’s value and project cost obviously can affect the deal’s cash requirements.  For this reason, it’s important for the Realtor’s assessment of the property’s value to be as accurate as possible, and it’s critical to have a timely and realistic project proposal from the general contractor.  In other words, regardless of a deal’s specifics, communication and cooperation among the members of your green team always will be of the utmost importance.

Home-energy inspections

Mortgage brokers and originators also can assist their energy-minded clients simply by helping them understand some of the steps necessary for a green home renovation.  For one thing, in addition to advising their clients about funding and loans, originators can get their clients up to speed about a key part of the green-renovation process: the home-energy inspection.

A home-energy inspection is a great tool for diagnosing problems with a property and for planning cost-effective solutions.  These home inspections typically cost between $350 and $600, and it generally takes four to six hours to have a qualified energy expert perform the inspection.  Mortgage brokers and originators can help their clients know what to expect when it comes to this preliminary renovation phase.

For instance, before the day of the inspection, the inspector — i.e., a Building Performance Institute building analyst — will ask the borrower for a copy of the home’s utility billing statements.  These statements will contain information about the base amount of energy consumed in a period of one year.  The inspector also will ask the borrower to ensure that there are no fires in the fireplace and even will ask that the fireplace be cleaned before the day of inspection.  This is because the inspector will be performing air pressure testing, so it’s important for the home to be free of ashes and dust.

On the day of the inspection, one of the primary concerns is to check for ambient levels of carbon monoxide in the home.  Inspectors will examine the entire house, looking for drainage, moisture or other concerns.  The inspector also will want to talk with the home’s occupant to glean any information about areas of discomfort or other concerns that may relate to the home’s environment.

An exterior inspection will assess potential leaks coming from gas lines entering the home.  The inspector will look for structural concerns and take note of combustion appliance vents connected to the dryer, hot-water heater, fireplace and stove. In addition to these considerations, an exterior inspection may note any or all of the following:

The air conditioner’s size, make and model, which could reveal a problematic design that may inhibit air flow;

The condition of the windows and doors, particularly noting how tightly they shut or if there are any breaks in their seals;

The home’s landscape and grading;

Any moisture that may be present in the crawl spaces under the home;

The condition of the home’s electrical wiring and phone boxes;

The home’s total measurements.

The inspector also will identify the house’s insulation type, as well as its thermal boundaries.  Measuring the entire indoor living space and calculating square footage and volume will determine the minimum acceptable airflow.

Following the initial review, inspectors will perform combustion safety testing on all of a home’s combustion appliances.  This inspection records how the home performs under its natural pressure state.  Finally, by turning on and off the exhaust and other fans while opening and closing doors and checking pressures, the inspector will bring the home to its most negative natural pressure state to re-test and determine if combustible appliances are adequately carrying combustion byproducts out of the home.

Of course, in terms of energy-related issues and necessary repairs, each home will be different from the next — and the same certainly goes for borrowers and their budgets, as well.  Major problems can exist even in homes that seem to need only minor renovations.  Carbon monoxide, for instance, can be an invisible threat, as it has no noticeable smell or taste.

The home energy inspection is one of the single most important aspects of the renovation process.  While providing borrowers with qualified information about a home’s current condition, the inspection also ensures that the home in question is safe.  Borrowers should be advised to take their inspections seriously and, furthermore, should choose their inspectors wisely.

 

By: Susan Frost, www.scotsmanguide.com

Time for Presidential Candidates to Talk Housing

President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney should start talking about their housing policy intentions, experts in the industry said.

A group of associations, nonprofits and think tanks made speeches and conducted a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., late last month to elevate the housing debate onto the national stage.  They challenged political candidates to address the still ailing housing market as the presidential campaign shifts into high gear.

Both presidential candidates have been mostly silent on housing policy aside from Obama’s push to allow more homeowners to refinance and Romney’s comments early on the campaign trail to let the foreclosure process run its course.

Neither campaign, to date, has released substantive housing policy proposals.

“We are entering a critical phase of the presidential campaign,” said David Abromowitz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. CAP and the National Council of La Raza, among others, sponsored the event.

In conjunction with the event, CAP released a set of seven housing questions it said it sent to each presidential candidate in a “Home for Good” campaign to bring more awareness to the still struggling housing market:

1. What will you do to prevent more unnecessary foreclosures and keep more families from losing their homes?

2. How will you address the problem of “underwater” mortgages?

3. How will you revitalize communities already hit hard by the foreclosure crisis?

4. How will you meet the pressing need for affordable rental housing?

5. What will you do to assure that working and middle-class families can achieve homeownership in the future?

6. What do you plan to do with the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and what will take their place in the mortgage market of the future?

7. How do you plan to protect households from predatory lending and discrimination in the U.S. mortgage market?

“We’ve caused extraordinary damage, my industry has,” said Mortgage Bankers Association President David Stevens, who spoke on a panel at the event.  “The question is, How do we get hope back into the housing system?”

Stevens said he doesn’t want to create irrational exuberance over recent good news about home sales and house prices, but rather seeks balance in the housing market, including a balance between homeownership and renting.

“Clearly we had too many people promoted into homeownership, and it disparaged and destroyed communities,” he said.

Homeownership needs to shift toward well-qualified borrowers with fully documented loans who can prove their ability to repay while balance on the renter side requires addressing a shortage of affordable rentals in key urban markets, Stevens said.

“I’m very concerned about the future of access to homeownership.  In the effort to eliminate risk and unfair practices of the past few years, we’ve moved too far,” he said.

First-time homebuyers, especially, could be locked out of the market with the movement toward requiring a 20% down payment and higher credit scores, he said.

Regulators and the housing industry must find a balance in which access to credit is not restricted, Stevens said.

“That’s the fundamental dialogue that we need to be having.”

 

By: Kerry Curry, www.housingwire.com

 

How to focus and increase your business by 40%

Is it Time to Try the Distraction Diet?

Are you feeling lethargic?  Pulled in too many directions?  Are you unable to complete the tasks you used to handle so easily?  Feeling weighed down and uninspired?  Lacking energy and focus?

If so, it may be time for what I call the “distraction diet.”

I work with real estate agents with varied backgrounds and varied businesses in various parts of the country.  But here’s what I can tell you most of them have in common: a problem managing distractions.

Feed the engine

Think of your real estate business as an engine that must be fed.  An engine that isn’t fed the right fuel will sputter and eventually stop running (perhaps stranding you in the middle of nowhere).

If the car analogy leaves you cold, how about comparing your business to the human body?  Prior to doing an activity — let’s say, playing in a soccer match — do you eat three candy bars and hoist a shot of tequila?  Not if you want to have a great game, you don’t.

Yet many real estate agents feed the same sort of temporarily satisfying but absolutely non-nourishing “work calories” to their hungry business.

So, let’s look at the word “distraction.”  It’s defined as: a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else; a diversion or recreation.

I think this definition perfectly encapsulates the problem with distractions.  Sure, they can be fun (otherwise they would just be work, and we would be distracted from them by something else).  Distractions draw us in because they either add pleasure to our lives or remove pain from our lives.  It’s that simple.  Distractions allow us to take the easy route — the pleasure route.  At least for the moment, we avoid the pain.  But you and I both know that a distraction is just a temporary turnoff on the road to a successful business!

The lie you tell yourself

Do you (or did you) have a teenager in your life?  Do you remember the battles about turning down the music, or turning off the TV, so they could do a better job with their homework ¦ and how they would try to convince you that they actually got more done with the noise?

You tell yourself that same lie if you are allowing distractions in your work life.

What gets you off track?  Depending in your personality style, your distractions will vary.  It could be friends calling or stopping by, social media, nice weather, or surfing the Internet.  Think about what it is for you.

Staying on track

Try keeping track of your distractions for a week, and see if there are any commonalities.  Understanding what’s getting you off track is the best way to start keeping on track.

Also look at what you’re being distracted from.  What is it that is so unappealing or painful to you that you want to divert your attention elsewhere?  Then spend some time trying to figure out why the activity is so repellent.  It may well be that it’s something you could have someone else handle for you in your business.

I’ve spoken before about my “hour of power” — that hour that I dedicate at the beginning of each day with no phones, no email and no interruptions from family or friends.  That hour of power ensures that I have a big block of time to get work done each day and helps make up for potential distractions later on.  It is the #1 thing that I’ve built in to my business which has created success for me.  If you’re not doing an hour of power, try it!  You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done.

But of course, you need to be focused for more than just an hour a day.  Here are some suggestions for providing an overall structure to make that easier:

1. Set core priorities.  What must get done in your business each week?  Lead generation?  Follow-up?  Market research?  Previewing properties?  Make your list, and figure out the frequencies for these activities.

2. Determine what keeps you from doing these “musts” in other words, your distractions..

3. Start building a series of small good habits and patterns.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and habits are hard to change.  But pretty quickly, small habits become easy-to-manage-routines for productivity.

4. Have goals in your business.  Framing up your daily or weekly activities in this perspective helps you realize that not spending three hours per day on Facebook isn’t going to mean the end of your social life and may actually help you achieve your business goals.

5. Create bite-sized bits of work.  A three-hour lead generation project too daunting?  How about doing it in 30-minute bits instead?

6. Track your results!  When you can look back to accomplishments that occurred as a result of the distraction diet it’s a whole lot easier to stay motivated when the next one occurs.

7. Build in rewards.  Only you will know what’s best and most motivating, of course.

8. Block out time.  Not just for work — but for fun, too!

9. Ask friends and family for help.  Sharing your goals with those close to you accomplishes two things: It allows them to support you by reminding you to keep on-task; and if they are the distraction it can help them understand why you may sometimes need to say “no” to them.

10. Finally, remove distractions as best you can.

Like all diets, the distraction diet requires effort — but boy, will it ever yield rewards!

Why not make today the day you start making good “work calorie” choices for long-term, sustainable results?

 

By: Denise Lones, www.realtown.com

If You Had Only Three Minutes in Front of a Group of Realtors

I was surfing a message board that I frequent with high performing loan officers.  One of them has an opportunity to present to a group of Realtors next week, and he was told that he has a whole three minutes to do a presentation.  Hm-m-m, three minutes.  The post started by asking what would other loan officers do with this opportunity.  It got me thinking about opportunities that I’ve had like this and how I approached them.  Here was my response:

If I had only three minutes to “talk” to a group of Realtors, I would let them talk first.  Ask them what their biggest frustrations are, ask them what they are not getting from their current lender relationships, ask them what they would like to see from a relationship.

I would spend the first two minutes finding out what their issues (“pain”) happen to be, and then I would spend one minute explaining how I could help ease that pain or resolve some of their issues.

If you talk to them they won’t listen.  If you listen to them and then address their concerns I think you would get a much higher interest level.

There are two important preparation points here:

1. Be prepared for no one to speak.  I’m sure that, in the current market, this won’t happen, but you should be prepared with stories or pains that other Realtors have shared and then ask them if they are experiencing any of the same things.  You will certainly get a response when you hit some hot buttons.  Understand which of those issues the audience seems to respond to, and focus on those.

2. The reality, of course, is that you already know what they are going to say and what their issues are.  This is not the point.  Anyone can “show up and throw up” and “tell” the Realtors what he or she can do for them.  But you really want to engage them and let them know that what they feel is important.  Prepare your presentation, and then mentally put each of your USP items or points that you want to make into categories that you can then use to help solve their pain.

This way you can get your points across and focus those points on what is most important to your audience.

Also remember that you can’t tell them everything, so don’t try.  Pick the top three key items that you want to convey — the things that will create the most business for your Realtor partners, the things that will save them the most time, make them the most money, relieve the most frustration, help them build their business and get continued referrals, etc.

I would be surprised if, when you try this approach, the following doesn’t happen:

1. You get more than three minutes.

2. You get multiple questions.

3. You have the opportunity to set up appointments with individual agents to go into further detail with them in a more intimate setting.

Touch on their concerns and offer to follow up with each of them, if they wish.  Get business cards and contact info (biz cards).

Maybe pick one or two products to highlight.  Any more than that won’t fit in that timeframe.

Bring printed materials with your contact info and logo on it.  Make sure it is very valuable information.

Show them some other printed info you have, and whet their appetite.  Offer to send it via email and even offer to personalize it with their information on it (next to yours, of course).  I would bet that you would get a lot of takers.

Remember, it’s just three minutes, and that’s not a lot of time to get anything across — let alone everything — so don’t even try.

My approach would be: Ask, Answer, Tease.

That’s what I would do.  By the way, this is in fact what I actually do — and it works!

So, get out there, and start seeing more Realtors!  It’ll make a big difference in your business.

 

By: Jason Klaskin, www.topofmind.com

Why the Fed is Powerless to Clean up Housing Mess

Federal Reserve Board policymakers face a terrible dilemma.  They can’t do what needs to be done to stimulate a near moribund economy.  And what they can do won’t help very much.

The dilemma stems from the core problems facing the economy, which slowed to 1.5 percent in the second quarter.  First and foremost is the continued economic drag from government budget cuts, which has cost over 600,000 state and local public employees their jobs over the past 18 months and over 50,000 federal employees their jobs in the past year.  Without those job losses, unemployment in the U.S. would be a half to a full percentage point less than what it is today, economists say.

The second major headwind facing the economy comes from Europe, where budget austerity and bond market turmoil have triggered deep recessions along the eurozone’s southern tier.  That’s depressed U.S. exports, reduced the overseas earnings of U.S.-based corporations and created a worldwide  climate of economic uncertainty that impedes spending and investment.

The Fed can encourage its European counterparts to take action.  But it can’t pull the trigger.

The final and perhaps biggest headwind is the continuing near depression in the U.S. housing market, which is still operating at half to three-quarters of its pre-Great Recession peak.  New housing starts in June totaled an annual rate of 760,000 units, about half the 1.5 million units registered in the mid-2000s.  Sales of new and existing homes are running at about 4.7 million units a year, well below the 6 million units a year considered normal.

You would think the Fed has real power to intervene on the housing front, primarily through its ability to buy mortgage-backed securities and lower interest rates to stimulate the market.  But, as we’ll see in a moment, there are financial sector roadblocks to wielding that power in an effective manner.

Fed chairman Bernanke directly addressed the fiscal issue in his testimony before both houses of Congress in July.  He repeatedly implored legislators on both sides of the aisle to adopt a sustainable fiscal policy that would combine a short-term stimulus to get the economy moving again with a long-term plan that would bring the nation’s yawning budget deficits under control.

Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road and left businesses and the American public with the gnawing fear that renewed stalemate after the election will result in the government running the economy off a fiscal cliff — a combination of large tax increases and budget cuts looms, which would inevitably lead to renewed recession.

How about the housing market?  The Fed’s chief tool to provide help there would be a third round of quantitative easing that would achieve lower long-term interest rates by increasing the Fed’s purchases of mortgage-backed securities.

An aggressive move by the Fed on that front could succeed in lowering mortgage rates to 2.5 to 2.75 percent, a full percentage point below current levels and the lowest rates of the modern era.  In theory, that should cause a rush of new home buyers to scoop up houses that are now selling for inflation-adjusted prices that in most parts of the country are about where they were in the late 1990s.

But high unemployment, stagnant incomes, especially for younger families, and fear that home prices could fall farther continues to depress new and existing home sales.  And as events in other precincts of Washington on Tuesday showed, there are structural reasons why lower rates might not work in clearing up the twin plagues of the post-bubble era: foreclosures and underwater mortgages.

While foreclosures have gotten most of the attention, the single biggest deadweight dragging down housing activity is the 11.1 million American homeowners who are stuck with mortgages worth more than the value of their homes — so-called underwater mortgages.  Fully 80 percent of these homeowners are not deadbeats.  They make their payments every month — often at rates far above what is available in the current marketplace since they were acquired near the height of the housing bubble when first mortgages were close to 6 percent and second mortgages could be 7 percent or higher.

But when these responsible borrowers show up at the bank to refinance, they get turned away.  They can’t get a loan because the appraised value of their homes is below the mortgage value.  Often it is far below.  A report issued Tuesday by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said more than half of its underwater mortgages, and those two agencies back about 41 percent of the 11.1 million underwater loans, had loan-to-value ratios above 115 percent.

Some Congressmen are pushing FHMA to use leftover funds from the Toxic Asset Relief Program — the bank bailout bill passed in October 2008 — to write down the principle of mortgages where homeowners have remained current in their payments.  But FHMA acting director Edward DeMarco recently rejected that idea.

“Given our multiple responsibilities to conserve the assets of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, maximize assistance to homeowners to avoid foreclosures, and minimize the expense of such assistance to taxpayers, FHFA concluded that principle reduction did not clearly improve foreclosure avoidance while reducing costs to taxpayers relative to the approaches in place today,” he said.

Clearly, the overseer of Fannie and Freddie is no different than the private banks and bondholders who own mortgage-backed securities.  While they face some risk that underwater homeowners will walk away from their loans, 80 percent don’t.  That means the lenders continue to benefit from the high cash flow from overpriced mortgages taken out at the peak of the housing bubble.

If these same homeowners could refinance at current rates — about 3.5 percent — it would save an estimated $500 to $750 per month per household in lower interest costs, according to a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who has sponsored an alternative approach to the problem.  His bill would replicate a depression-era housing refinance corporation that could sell federally-backed bonds (now costing about 2 percent a year) to raise cash to purchase the old loan.  Charging the homeowners about 4 percent on the new loans would be sufficient to create a fund for anticipated losses while insuring that the program didn’t cost taxpayers anything.

Given the likelihood that the current Congress won’t act on his innovative proposal, Merkley pressed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at a hearing on the Libor scandal to experiment with a pilot project for underwater homeowners.  It will take a new Congress actually open to solving some of the nation’s pressing economic problems to get movement on the Hill.

“It would help reduce the remaining pressures that housing is putting on the economy as a whole,” Geithner agreed.  “We’d be very supportive of progress in that area.”

“Underwater mortgage debt is strongly linked with weak consumption, high unemployment, and sluggish wage growth,” said Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.  “The blockage of prepayment has created a windfall for creditors in a weak economy with low interest rates.”

Congress and the White House could, of course, wait until home values return to pre-recession levels — in essence, letting the market clear on its own.  Or they could devise a program that actually helps underwater homeowners — something previous programs have failed to do.

One thing is certain.  One more round of the Fed lowering interest rates through quantitative easing isn’t going to get the job done.

By: Merrill Goozner, www.thefiscaltimes.com

Health Care Tips

Saving Money on Individual Health Care Policies

In today’s economy, many people are forced to enroll in an individual health insurance policy due to being unemployed or being employed by a company that is unable to provide health insurance to its employees.  You should consider yourself fortunate if you receive health coverage from your employer.  Individual health coverage can be extremely expensive if you do not choose carefully.  While you are more likely to pay higher out-of-pocket costs with an individual policy than with an employer-funded group plan, there are some effective ways to lower your costs.  Here is a look at how you can save money when enrolling in an individual health insurance policy.

Shop Around

Just like with any other purchase, when purchasing health insurance you will want to shop around and compare various policies with a fine-tooth comb.  Individual health insurance policies have different features and vary quite broadly from one another.  In order to find the individual health insurance policy that best fits your needs, comparison shop and you can quickly see which health insurance policy is right for you.

HMO vs. PPO

The type of plan you choose could mean the difference between saving money and shelling out a lot more than you intended.  There are several different types of individual health insurance policies available on the market.  Just two of the options are PPO (Preferred Provider Organization), and HMO (Health Maintenance Organization).  A PPO policy allows you greater flexibility with the doctors and hospitals you visit.  However, you can expect to pay a higher out-of-pocket cost in terms of deductibles and premiums.

Alternatively, HMO policies frequently have a lower out-of pocket cost.  However, with HMO policies, you will not have the same flexibility that a PPO plan would allow and it may only allow you to visit specific healthcare providers.

Higher Premium Often Means Lower Co-Payments

A common method of determining premiums of health insurance is if you pay a higher premium, your out-of-pocket costs, such as copays and deductibles, will be less.  This is where you will need to weigh your options very carefully.  If the consumer is in good health, he or she may want to consider a plan that has a low premium, since he or she does not to have many medical expenses throughout the contract year.  However, if the consumer expects to have a considerable amount of medical costs throughout the year, he or she may want to consider a plan that offers a higher level of benefits.

Keep Your Eye Out for Additional Perks

Some individual policies have added benefits, such as prescription coverage programs to enhance a healthy lifestyle or dental coverage.  Not all individual policies are created equal.  When you are shopping around, don’t just look at the basic services that the plan covers.  Call the insurance carrier and ask if there are any added bonuses to enrolling with them as opposed to a competitor.  You may be surprised by how much one insurance carrier offers vs. another.

Look Out for Age Branding and Pre-Existing Condition Clauses

Enrolling in an individual policy is much different than signing up for health coverage with an employer.  Many individual policies are subject to age banding and pre-existing condition clauses that can cause plans to skyrocket.  Prior to enrolling, ask a representative at the insurance company about these items.

Age banding is a method that insurance companies use to determine premium rates.  As patients age, their need for health insurance becomes greater than it was when they were young adults.  Due to this fact, some insurance companies charge a higher rate for aging subscribers.

Additionally, if you have a pre-existing condition, your health insurance carrier can employ a clause stating that it does not have to pay for charges related to pre-existing conditions for a specific amount of time.  Play it safe, and get all of your information upfront about these costly features.

Beware of Hidden Costs

There can be other hidden costs with health insurance, such as co-insurance.  Co-insurance is a percentage of the total bill that is the patient liability.  Typically, there is a coinsurance limit or out-of-pocket maximum clause on most individual policies.  However, if there is no maximum, patient costs can skyrocket.  Be sure that you understand your health insurance policy before signing on the dotted lines.  Most health insurance carriers will give potential subscribers a breakdown of patient liability should they need to seek medical care.  Don’t let your medical policy catch you off guard, review the information at great length before making a decision.

The Bottom Line

Enrolling in an individual health insurance policy can be quite expensive if you do not tread carefully.  You can protect your wallet when enrolling in an individual health insurance policy by carefully comparing the features and prices of each individual policy and then selecting the one that best meets the needs of your family.

 

By: Amanda C. Haury, www.investopedia.com

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