7 Reasons Fall Might Just Be the Best Time to Buy a Home

Arpad Benedek/iStock

Spring and summer usually get all the real estate glory with lofty accolades as the best time to buy a home—and, of course, the busiest. Meanwhile, their seasonal sibling, fall, often gets tossed to the leaf pile by potential buyers who might think autumn is just about haunted houses and turkey dinners rather than house hunting.

But surprise! Fall is not only a great time to buy a home, it might also be the best season to find the perfect property (and not just because you can browse the listings while cupping a pumpkin latte).

Read on to discover the many reasons.

Reason No. 1: Lower home prices

The best month to snag a deal when buying a home? October. This isn’t just some random guess; it’s based on RealtyTrac’s analysis of more than 32 million home sales over 15 years. The resulting data showed that on average, October buyers paid 2.6%below estimated market value at the time for their homes.

For a house that would normally be $300,000, 2.6% translates into a $7,800 discount. Those savings are nothing to sneeze at, so bargain hunters should get hopping once autumn rolls around. (For an even better deal, aim for Oct. 8, when buyers get a home, on average, at 10.8% below estimated market value.)

“For buyers looking for a better deal, fall is a great time to make offers,” says New York City Realtor® Joanne R. Douglas. (In case you’re wondering, the worst month for buyers is April, when homes sell for 1.2% above estimated market value. The worst single day is Jan. 19, with an average 9.6% premium.)

Reason No. 2: Less competition

Like a beach after Labor Day, the realty market clears out as the days turn crisp. Most summer buyers have already found a home, meaning a fall buyer will have way less competition for the available houses on the market, says Bill Golden of Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside. And don’t worry about those buyers who didn’t close before August, either.

“Many folks will drop out of the market until after the new year,” says Golden, giving a fall buyer even greater room to roam at open houses. There may not be as many properties to choose from, but as Golden says, “a little patience and perseverance could reap big rewards.”

Reason No. 3: Worn-out home sellers

Say hello to your little friend, leverage. Sellers who have their homes on the market in the fall “are generally people who need to sell, which can make for better negotiations for the buyer,” says Golden. And if a home you have your eye on has been on the market all summer, you’re really in the driver’s seat as far as making an offer the seller can’t refuse. The longer a home sits on the market, the more negotiating power the buyer wields.

Reason No. 4: The holidays are around the corner

Not only are most home sellers worn out after the summer selling season, they’re also caught between a real estate rock and a hard place in that the holidays are barreling down on them. If they want to move and settle down in time to host Thanksgiving and put up their Christmas lights, they’ll have to close, fast. So use this preholiday window to your advantage by offering to help them vacate fast if they cut you a deal.

Reason No. 5: Year-end tax credits

No one wants to buy a home purely to make their accountant happy. But there’s a sweet added incentive to closing on a home at the end of the fiscal year. Come the following April 15, you might be able to take some nice tax deductions, including closing costs, property tax, and mortgage interest, to offset your taxable earnings.

Reason No. 6: More quality time with your real estate team

As the year comes to an end, fewer buyers also means you should have the full attention of your real estate agent, mortgage broker, real estate lawyer, and everyone else on your house hunting team. You can take your time to ask all those questions you have aboutearnest money, due diligence, title transfers, and more without feeling like you’re horning in their busiest season to turn a buck.

Reason No. 7: Home improvement bargains

Once you close on that home you found in the fall, you may want to upgrade your appliances. Luckily, December is when major appliances—refrigerators, stoves, washers, and dryers—are at their very cheapest, according to Consumer Reports. It’s also the best time of year to buy cookware and TVs.

So once you’re settled in (and provided you have any money left), get ready to renovate!

Posted by Margaret Heidenry on realtor.com

Tiny Home Traits: 5 Features Every Small Space Needs

Live more comfortably and efficiently in any size dwelling with these clever tips.

Tiny homes appeal to many people, whether as a solution to surging rents or because of the freedom they can lend your lifestyle. But if you decide living in 400 square feet (or less) is for you, how do you actually make it work?

Here are five features that help make tiny homes functional — and even comfortable.

1. A bed on the main level

Although most tiny homes have lofted beds for obvious space-saving reasons, it’s a good idea to also have somewhere to sleep on the main level for guests, or if you can’t make it up the stairs due to an injury, notes Dee Williams, author of “The Big Tiny” and founder of Portland Alternative Dwellings.

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to put a bed in the main living area is to purchase a couch that converts to a bed.

2. A ton of natural light

Many tiny homes are restricted to an 8.5-foot width and 13.5-foot height due to federal and state highway rules on transporting structures. (Although you can build a tiny home on a foundation, many tiny home owners choose to place theirs in backyards or even in RV parks, which means the home will need to be moved once it has been built.)

Because of this limited amount of space, the more natural light, the better. “Using windows or different wall finishes can make a space feel a lot bigger,” explains Derin Williams, builder and designer for Shelter Wise, a design-build firm based in Portland, OR.

3. Creative storage solutions

If you are living (or planning to live) tiny, then a large majority of your items will most likely need to be recycled, given away or tossed. However, the items you still have will need a space, which can be a challenge in less than 400 square feet.

Simple solutions like hanging up your pots and pans instead of storing them in drawers, or keeping extra blankets and pillows in an ottoman or trunk, are good space savers.

When building your tiny home, consult with your builder, as there are tons of creative ways to make space for your items. “Many people have collapsible or hidden drawers in their tiny homes,” notes Dee. “A lot of builders are now also putting drawers in the toe-kick area, which is an awesome additional use of space.”

4. Multipurpose areas

In a tiny home, every area has to be flexible in how it is used. A kitchen will not be your kitchen all the time in your tiny home, because it could be your office, dining room and maybe even your closet at any point in the day.

Because each room has to be multipurpose, it’s important to have furniture that reflects these uses. “If you have a table for eating, make that space multifunctional,” says Derin. “Remove the table, and then you’ll have a lounge area. Drop down the table and make it a bed.”

5. Multi-use appliances

Many of us are familiar with the stackable washer and dryer, and maybe some even have experience with combination washer/dryers, but the popularity of tiny homes has given rise to appliance innovation.

“GE and other manufacturers are leaning toward developing smaller appliances for tiny homes, studios and mother-in-law suites,” says Dee. “The idea is that you could have a whole kitchen setup — kitchen sink, range, dishwasher — all built into one set.”

Although these products may not be widely available at every major appliance store, it could be something to look into if you are serious about moving into a tiny home.

All photos courtesy of PAD Tiny Houses. The home shown is the Hikari Box Tiny House, designed by Shelter Wise. Plans for this home are available from PAD Tiny Houses.

Originally published April 1, 2016.

Posted by Jamie Birdwell-Barnson on Zillow

Home Sales Expected to Increase Nicely in 2017

The National Association of Realtors, The Mortgage Bankers’ Association, Freddie Macand Fannie Mae are all projecting that home sales will increase in 2017. Here is a chart showing what each entity is projecting in sales for this year and the next.

As we can see, each is projecting sizable increases in home sales next year. If you have considered selling your house recently, now may be the time to put it on the market.

Posted by The KCM Crew

What You Need to Buy a House: Do You Have It All?

Riverlim/iStock

You’ve been drooling over local listings and saving every penny for a down payment. You’re ready. But before you begin your new home hunt in earnest, it’s helpful to know exactly what you need for a purchase. Do you have it all, or are you missing something that could throw a wrench in your dream of owning a home?

After all, you can’t just slap down a credit card to buy a house, particularly if you need amortgage—your lender will want to check your financial background to size up whether you can afford the place you’re eyeing. That means you’ll have to round up some paperwork as proof.

So here’s a handy checklist of what you’ll need to sail through this process without a hitch.

Tax returns

To ensure you have the income history to buy a house, most lenders will ask for two years’ worth of tax returns, two years of W-2s, or both. This is definitely the case for freelancers and self-employed borrowers, but full-time employees may be asked for all of this paperwork as well. Your lender may even retrieve your tax returns themselves straight from the IRS  (with your written permission, of course), since this cuts down on potential fraud. Still, it’s a good idea to get those documents in order just in case.

Pay stubs

Tax returns won’t be where your proof of income ends. You will also need to rustle up copies of your past two months of pay stubs, according to Martha Witte, vice president of FM Home Loans. If you’re self-employed or freelancing, things get a bit more complicated.

“Most of the time, contract employees receive a 1099 and file a Schedule C on their personal returns. In this instance, we would take a two-year average of the Schedule C income,” Witte says.

Also be prepared to show a projected balance sheet, detailing what you’ve earned this year and what you plan to earn in the coming months.

“It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it should ideally support that you are on track to have consistent income in the current year, when compared to other years,” Witte says.

Financial statements

You will also need to show two months of asset statements—think your checking and savings accounts. This one is a biggie because your lender will use these statements to prove you have enough money available to buy a home and then some.

“You will need liquid funds available for the down payment and to cover closing costs. You will also need reserves after closing, which means you can’t be left with $0 once you buy the home,” Witte says. While the reserve amounts vary, two to four months of reserves is enough for most conventional loans, she says.

Getting a down payment gift?

Finally, if you’re planning on getting a portion of your down payment as a gift (you lucky dog, you), plan on getting some documentation from the gift-givers, like copies of their checking or savings account monthly statements. “We need to also verify the donor’sability to give the gift,” Witte says.

When in doubt, follow this simple rule of thumb from Witte: “Follow the rule of twos,” meaning you’ll need a two-year snapshot of your income and finances.

Posted by Angela Colley on realtor.com

8 DIY Projects That (Surprise!) Require Permits

Your insurance company won’t be on your side if something goes awry with your renovation and you don’t have a permit.

You might roll your eyes at having to get a permit before doing a DIY project around the house, but permits serve a purpose.

Permit requirements are just ways for the city to nickel-and-dime you to death, right? Is your city invading your privacy by caring whether you want to replace your overhead light fixture with a ceiling fan?

Before you get too worked up, realize that cities have their reasons for requiring permits. “Obtaining a permit means that someone knowledgeable will review your plans and help spot mistakes before you begin the work,” says Rick Goldstein, an architect and co-owner of MOSAIC Group in Atlanta, GA. If you make improvements without a permit, you might receive a big, fat denial letter from your insurance company when something goes wrong and you want to cash in.

You know the phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know”? Well, that’s the way it is with permits. That ceiling fan might be too heavy to hang from a box designed for a simple light fixture, especially when it’s going full blast and vibrating. You don’t want the fan falling on you while you sleep!

You might know some projects that require a permit, but you might be surprised by these eight DIY projects that typically require a permit too.

1. Installing a gas stove

Many people are making the switch from an electric to a gas stove. Depending on where you live, gas could be much cheaper, and if you’re a foodie, food just tastes better cooked over fire. But if installed incorrectly and the gas leaks, it could be extremely harmful. Get a permit and make sure someone is checking behind you to catch any mistakes.

2. Replacing windows or doors

If you think this project seems pretty straightforward, think again. For windows, you need a permit to ensure emergency egress requirements are met in case first responders need to get in. If windows and doors aren’t properly installed, water could get into the house. No one wants a side of mold with their renovations.

3. Building a deck

When dreams of outdoor living beckon, first call the permit office. If your deck isn’t structurally sound, or if you used untreated lumber that decays, your deck could collapse, and that could really interfere with your meditation mantra. And don’t even try to guess how to meet building codes for railings. Be safe and get that permit.

4. Putting up a fence

“Building a fence requires a survey and a permit,” Goldstein says. The reason for this is usually to ensure you aren’t violating city ordinances by building a fence too high in your residential subdivision or choosing one with barbed wire in the middle of the city. If you build a fence without a permit, you might receive a stop-work order.

5. Installing a storm shelter or safe room

If you want protection from tornadoes (and hurricanes), you might consider installing a shelter. But unless you design and construct this room to FEMA specs, you might not be so safe after all. A huge benefit of a prebuilding permit is that you can register it. “If there is a tornado in your area, first responders will know who has storm shelters and where they need to look for you in case you get trapped inside,” says Blake Lee of F5 Storm Shelters in Tulsa, OK.

6. Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom

Picking out the perfect granite for your countertops and finding just the right fixtures and cabinetry aren’t the only things on your checklist. If you neglect to get a permit for major remodeling work, you might not be able to easily sell your home in the future.

“If an inspector catches this kind of thing, or if a bank wants to make sure it’s covered against all liability and demands to see the permit before funding a mortgage, this can potentially be a major time and money sink to rectify,” says Kimberly Wingfield, a Philadelphia, PA, real estate agent and DIY fanatic.

7. Installing new electrical wiring

Your house in the historic district simply isn’t wired for all your gadgets — but an amateur electrical wiring job could cause a fire. This project definitely needs a permit.

8. Replacing a gas water heater

Surely you can replace your old water heater without a permit, right? Nope. Although many DIY enthusiasts do it all the time, if it’s done wrong, a fire or flood could ensue, or if gas escapes …kaboom. These risks leave a huge potential for serious injury. A permit also means that an inspector looks over your completed job to ensure it was done properly. This is a huge confidence boost in the knowledge that your work is up to code — and minimizes the potential for home-sale complications down the road.

– See more at: https://www.trulia.com/blog/8-diy-projects-that-surprise-require-permits/#sthash.WALE0aVT.dpuf

5 Organizing Secrets Only the Pros Know

Dorothy the Organizer spills the beans on how home organization professionals clean up your mess.

We professional organizers have many secret tools and tips. They’re what make us very successful.

When our clients pay close attention and ask us questions, they obtain the magical key to unlock their clutter dilemma.

Many people who opt not to work with a professional set out with the best of intentions. They dive into a project after seeing an idea in a magazine or on Pinterest. They run to the store for organizing products they haven’t completely considered. Suddenly, they find themselves at home opening their latest purchase and realizing this new gimmick isn’t going to solve their organizing problem, either!

Does this sound familiar? Now you can avoid these clutter curve balls with five organizing secrets only the pros know.

Create the vision before you organize

How many times have you said to yourself “I’m going to organize my closet,” only to be left frustrated by the experience before you are halfway through?

The solution here is to create your vision first, then organize. Visioning is a bit like planning. It’s when you take the time to think things through before you begin doing the work.

Plan what you want the space to be before you start. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Using the example of visioning for a closet, spend that time asking yourself some questions:

  • How do I want to use this space in my closet?
  • Will I store just this season’s clothes here, or just those that fit me currently? Or will I use half for clothing and half for memorabilia storage?
  • How’s the lighting?
  • Do I need a step stool to reach the shelves?
  • Do I want to keep my hamper in the closet or move it to the bathroom?

Take the time to write down your vision first and then — here’s the secret bonus — get someone to help you.

Having someone assist you is a secret the pros know well. Human behavior studies have shown that when two people (rather than one) are working on a project it gets done faster — not just because of the extra pair of hands, but because of the synergy between the two people. There’s a flash of motivation that bounces off one person onto the other that gets us through these projects much more quickly.

Play hooky

No, not the skipping-work kind.

Professional organizers know that getting organized doesn’t necessarily mean having custom shelves built to clear the over-cluttered corners. We look for practical solutions with an aesthetic flair first. It’s not necessary to answer the organizing dilemma with an expensive or time-consuming project.

My secret tip? I happen to love using hooks as my first line of defense. Here are a few places hooks come in handy, and common items they can hold:

  • Bathrooms: blow dryers and curling irons
  • Kitchens: brooms, aprons, and towels
  • Bedrooms: large hooks for backpacks and purses, small hooks for necklaces or belts
  • Home office: cords, headsets, and chargers

Use really simple math

It’s called the “subtraction method.” You’ve heard of dividing your stuff into keep, sell, and giveaway bins, but when the clutter seems overwhelming, I favor an easier approach with just one master box, which is what I call the “somewhere else” bin.

With your intention set toward subtracting items from a particular room (rather than having to dust them and organize them again), start with one spot — say, the dining room table — and remove items that don’t belong there, placing them into your bin.

The pros use this secret strategy to help reduce both the clutter and overall overwhelm. It’s a great way to begin organizing a certain area, and you can return to the box later when you’re ready to deliver items back to their proper locations.

Create “drop zones”

Every member of your household should have his or her own drop zone. For example, you can set up a table right inside the garage as your son’s drop zone. When you pull into the garage, he’ll know to go directly to the table and drop off his football uniform and backpack before entering the house.

A drop zone is a secret tip we use to allow each family member to have a place where they manage the intense number of incoming items into the house without the stuff being strewn from backseat to bedroom.

Drop zones keep clutter from migrating all over the house. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

In this case, the dirty football uniform is already in the garage near the washer and dryer, and, when he’s ready, your son can come out to the garage and triage his backpack: Pull out the empty food containers from lunch, water bottles from practice, homework to take to his room, and field trip signature forms to give to you.

Do this for yourself for your own briefcase and gym bag, too.

Shut down the distractions

One of the biggest reasons why my clients don’t trust themselves to get organized is because of the distractions they face. As a professional organizer, I can uphold the secrets to getting organized for my clients when they cannot do it for themselves.

If you can learn to master these distraction devils on your own, you are well on your way to making your organizing projects a super-simple and easy experience. Here are my secrets:

  • Ignore interruptions. When in the midst of an organizing project, ignore the dings and rings that alert you to text or voicemail messages. One exciting text can derail an entire morning reserved for organizing the kitchen cabinets.
  • Avoid diversions. Flipping through a book you meant to read; rereading a poem your daughter wrote for you; trying on a blouse to see if it still fits; researching a vacation destination on the Internet when you come across the brochure — it all sends you down another path. If your intention is to organize, you must stay on task.
  • Dabble with discipline. The biggest complaint that we organizing pros hear from our clients is paper pileup. The reason we seem to have so much paper around is because it’s a reminder that we want to read, write, pay, respond, or sign up for something. Paper (especially lists of things we wanted to do) can really send us into a tail spin. Remember when tackling paper, we are justorganizing it (that is, sorting it) not acting on it. These are two very different actions. Your job is to collect like items together to make paying bills easier, or sitting down to read more peaceful.
  • Eliminate the little pieces. You know, the basket on the counter? The one with some pennies, one bracelet, two blank birthday cards, a charging cord, paper clips, lip balm, cough drops, a gift card, batteries, one pen cap, a small tissue pack, vitamins, a whistle, and Lego pieces? We’ve all got some version of this. When it comes to organizing — especially if you’re looking to make some major progress — remember this mantra: Little pieces = big time waster; big pieces = little time waster. To translate, when you deal with smaller items, it always feels like you do less. If you need to make some real organization headway, try starting with the larger items, such as furniture, suitcases, boxes, and appliances.
  • Outsmart the temptation. We all have a natural inclination to match up the missing sock, reunite the pen cap with its pen, attach the backing to an earring that has none, or dig through the pantry to match the lid to its rightful water bottle. Trying to match up these long lost companions will sabotage your momentum when it comes to organizing. Avoid the temptation to fall into the matchmaking process, and instead toss items into a clear bag and label it with a black marker. Store all the bags together in a “missing parts and pieces” box and move on. They are likely to be reunited down the road.

Posted by DorothyTheOrganizer on Zillow

52 Everyday Safety Tips for Real Estate Agents and Brokers

In the car, at open houses or generally out and about, here are ways to keep yourself safe

It’s agent safety month in the real estate industry — happy September!

We’ve been thinking about agent safety all month, from our special report about how safe agents feel on the job to contributed articles about open-house safety and beyond.

This list is compiled from a variety of resources — the articles on Inman’s real estate agent safety resource page (which we update regularly), assorted sources online and my own experience taking and assisting in a women’s self-defense course.

I hope you find them useful!

In the car

Real estate agents are in their vehicles a lot. Minimize the chances of being caught vulnerable in a breakdown situation by taking these precautions.

  • Keep your gas tank at least half full. When the needle hits the halfway mark, refuel.
  • Follow your car’s guidelines for maintenance; get your oil changed regularly and don’t neglect routine upkeep.
  • Stock your car with jumper cables and everything you might need to change a tire at minimum. Bonus points for a car battery charger and empty gas can.
  • Hide $20 in your glove compartment or sunglass holder in case of an emergency (or simply a forgotten wallet at the pump).
  • Learn how to change a tire. Practice until you feel comfortable doing it yourself. Keep a maintained and inflated spare tire (at least one) in your vehicle at all times. Keep your jack and other tools in good working order.
  • Stash bottled water and nonperishable food items in your car.
  • Keep at least one portable charger in your car — you never know when your car battery might die while your phone is running low. Recharge your portable charger regularly (once a month should do) so you don’t lose your backup.
  • Think about the weather where you live. If the area is prone to blizzards, for example, keep a foldable shovel, blankets and extra coats/boots in your car for possible winter storms. Floods? You’ll want an extra pair of rain boots and an umbrella.
  • Wear your seatbelt every time you drive or ride in a car. Have clients with you? Insist they put theirs on.
  • Studies have shown that your ability to pay attention to the road drops dramatically when you are on the phone. Even if it’s legal in your state or municipality, hang up the cell phone when you have your hands on the wheel and feet on the pedals.
  • Do you have roadside assistance — and do you know what the terms are? Trust me: You won’t regret spending an additional $50 annually when you finally need your car towed and your plan covers 100 miles of towing instead of 5. (Brokerages: Discounts on towing or even complimentary roadside assistance plans could be a lovely extra to offer your agents.)

When showing houses or at open houses

Kirby Hamilton / iStock.com

Kirby Hamilton / iStock.com

Part of your job involves spending time with strangers in private spaces — single-family homes. Here’s how to make that less of a dodgy situation.

  • Preview neighborhoods before you list a property there. Check for cell phone reception and get a feel for how close each property is to neighbors. Familiarize yourself with where the police and fire stations are in the area.
  • Park under a light where you can see your car clearly from the door. Do your best to park somewhere you won’t get blocked in (on the curb instead of in a driveway, for example).
  • If you’re planning an open houseor listing a house, it’s not merely good marketing to walk up and down the street and introduce yourself to the neighbors — it’s also a good safety precaution. Invite them to the open house. (Depending on whether you feel OK about the neighbor, you can also point out your car and tell them to come find you at the listing if it’s ever in their way.)
  • Work in teams whenever possible. More than one person keeping an eye on things means fewer opportunities for something untoward to happen. If one of you doesn’t feel right about someone you’ve met, have a signal worked out and a plan for how to gracefully extract yourself from the situation or otherwise ensure your safety.
  • Charge your phone fully before you get to the open house or listing.
  • Know your way around the house before you are there alone with a stranger. At the very least, check the floor plan — you will want to know in which rooms you might be most easily trapped and where your potential escape routes could be.
  • Pay special attention when walking around a vacant homefor the first time (which should always be done in the daylight). Look for signs that someone might have broken into the house: open doors or windows, wood pallets or boxes or even step stools outside the house that might have been used to grant access, extension cords leading from doors or windows to outside or a neighbor’s house. If you see any of those things outside, don’t enter; call the police instead.
  • Look for graffiti on walls, trash in corners, food in the kitchen and other signals that someone might be living in a vacant listing. If you think a vacant listing might be occupied by someone who shouldn’t be there, your first priority is to get yourself to safety and then call the police and inform them.
  • Protect your clients by compiling a checklist of things they will want to secure or remove from the house during open houses and showings — examples include jewelry, prescription drugs, financial statements, extra sets of keys, mail and other items that could compromise their identity security or financial security, or that might be easy to pocket. Arrive at the open house early enough to walk through it with listing clients and help them flag and put away any items of value they might have missed.
  • Turn on the lights and open the curtains while you’re walking through the house with clients — this will showcase the house in its best light, anyway!
  • Hang bells on outside doors of the listing when you’re sitting in an open house so that you can hear people entering and exiting the property.
  • When you’re killing time at an open house, do it in a room that has good reception and where you have the most escape routes.
  • Definitely bring your mobile device — think twice about bringing the laptop and purse to an open house or showing. Those are probably better off stashed in the trunk of your car, and you’re probably better off stashing them there before you drive to the open house, not after you arrive.
  • Have open house guests sign in. Offer some kind of giveaway so they’re more likely to give you a valid email address, or a door prize drawing that they can cash in with a code emailed or text-messaged to them.
  • Ask open house guests to see business cards and even photo IDs (consider giving away a case of beer or a few bottles of wine for the door prize if you feel like you need an excuse or a reason to ask). Snap a photo of them so you have a record of who was in the house and approximately when, just in case you need it.
  • Prospects should always walk in front of you — women faced with a “ladies first” insistence can fall back on demurring that the client should really walk through the home and experience it without someone in front of him or her.
  • Don’t walk into rooms with no escape routes (examples include walk-in closets, laundry rooms, basements, attics and many bathrooms). Point them out and allow clients to walk through them independently.

When meeting clients for the first time

Another reality of your life: You will meet with strangers who want to work with you. How do you do that in a way that isn’t flirting with disaster?

  • Find out as much information about your prospective client as you can before meeting. Verify their identity — ask for their full name, contact information and a photo of their driver’s license and use a program likeVerify Photo IDto, well, verify it.
  • Don’t ever meet a client alone for the first time. The Realtor Safe Harbor appcan help you find a meeting place if you aren’t sure where to go.
  • Vet clients on social mediaand Google before you meet them for the first time. If they aren’t on social media at all but have told you they have a job that indicates they should be, that’s one red flag. Keep your eyes open for posts that indicate unstable personalities, and do your best to ensure that what you find on social media and the rest of the internet about your client doesn’t contradict what your client has told you.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, or the client is being extra pushy, that’s a hint to be extra careful. All-cash offers that are contingent on you dropping everything to show a property? That might be a scenario where you want to absolutely insist on bringing a buddy or two with you.

On the internet/in marketing materials

Alexey Boldin / Shutterstock.com

You need to market your business — but there is such a thing as too much information. Here’s how to keep your personal identity separate from your public one online:

  • Use a separate email address for home and work.
  • Get mail for work? Have it sent to your brokerage office or to a P.O. Box.
  • Consider separate lines for home and work. This might not be realistic, but a service like Google Voice can route calls from a Google Voice number to your “main” line.
  • What can you discover about yourself using Google, FacebookTwitter,Instagramor other places where your digital presence might be public? Open an “incognito” tab or sign in to a public computer and do some recon on yourself. Plug any holes that reveal more than you are comfortable sharing.
  • Is your birthday listed on your social media profiles? Some companies use birthdays to confirm identity — so you could be handing a scammer the keys to your account. Consider making that information private.
  • Don’t wear expensive jewelry in your marketing photos, and if you feel compelled to post something like that on social media, make sure it’s only visible to a select few friends.
  • Don’t pose in front of your car or your personal residence.
  • If you’ll be away from your home for an extended period of time — for a vacation or a baseball game at a city an hour or two away, for example — wait until you get back home to post about how awesome it was.

Protecting your clients

  • Always obey the speed limit and all traffic laws when you are driving clients in your car; your ability to show concern for their safety will reflect well on you professionally. (Better yet, have them get to the property or meeting place on their own.)
  • Alert your clients about possible money-wiring scamswell before the time comes to work with earnest money, down payments or closing costs. Give them clear and explicit instructions about how to get their money safely from point A to point B, and continue repeating those instructions throughout the process.

In general

Is there more you can do to keep yourself or your employees safe? Always!

  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel quite right about a client or situation, don’t hesitate to get yourself out immediately. You might not understand in the moment what behavior or turn of phrase triggered that gut feeling, but you’ll never be sorry you heeded it.
  • Consider taking a self-defense course. Many police departments offer courses geared toward women specifically and for affordable rates. Brokerages, consider hosting these at least once a year for your agents. A good program will include both practical ways to keep yourself safe (like all the suggestions above) as well as hands-on training for breaking holds so you feel confident that you will know what to do if that moment arises.
  • People who want your information will go to great lengths to get it. Know under what circumstances your doctor, dentist or even your vet might give out your contact or home address information. All of those service providers will likely be happy to give that information only under the circumstances you delineate.
  • Let people know where you are going! Put appointments or meetings on your Google calendar with names and contact information and make it public to your brokerage office, or use an app to alert a network of friends that you’re heading out. Don’t ever venture out, to meet anyone or attend to something by yourself, for work or pleasure, without telling at least two people (preferably more) where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Document and report any safety concerns to the appropriate authority — whether that’s your broker or the police.
  • Wear clothes that you can move around in.
  • Don’t walk around with your nose in your phone or juggling a bunch of items. Walk with purpose and look alert.
  • The more physically fit you are, the better able to deal with a dangerous circumstance you will be. You want your body in good enough shape to handle the adrenaline rush and then run away effectively, so train accordingly, whatever that means for you.
  • Put a decent passcode lock on your smartphone, and if you have an iPhone, make sure Find My iPhone is enabled so you can remotely wipe your device if the need arises.

Considering carrying a weapon to keep you safe? By all means — but please make sure you are comprehensively trained in its use, and do not reveal it to anyone unless you are prepared to use it on them. If you hesitate, your attacker could take the weapon away from you, turning a very bad situation into an even worse one.

Posted by Amber Taufen on Inman