Archives for October 2012

Google Calendar

Google Calendar has become the standard for Web calendars. It allows you to share any event with others and sends reminders to any device you own. Scheduling events with friends, family and co-workers is a breeze.

You can manage your calendar on any device, as well. Unlike other calendars, you’re not locked down to your email client or a website.

7 reasons to use Google Calendar

Organizing your schedule shouldn’t be a burden. With Google Calendar, it’s easy to keep track of life’s important events all in one place.

1. Share your schedule
Let your co-workers, family, and friends see your calendar, and view schedules that others have shared with you. When you know when everyone is free or busy, scheduling is a snap.
2. Get your calendar on the go
With two-way syncing to your mobile phone’s built-in calendar or a mobile version of Google Calendar that’s made for the small screen, you can access your calendar while you’re away from your desk.
3. Never forget another event again
Customizable reminders help you stay on schedule. You can choose to be notified by email or get a text message sent right to your mobile phone.
4. Send invitations and track RSVPs
Invite other people to events on your calendar. Guests can RSVP to your events by email or via Google Calendar.
5. Sync with your desktop applications
Access your calendar however and whenever you want by syncing events with Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCal and Mozilla Sunbird.
6. Work offline
Know where you’re supposed to be even when you don’t have internet access. With offline access, you can view a read-only version of your calendar no matter where you are.
7. All this is free?
Yep.

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

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