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How Video Can Help You Stay in Front of Clients

How Video Can Help You Stay in Front of Clients

Successful real estate professionals know the importance of using all the tools at their disposal. In today’s selling environment, video can be one of those effective tools. Whether you’re new to video technology or a seasoned pro, understanding how it can help your business is the first step to using it to your best advantage. Video communications can be beneficial to your real estate career by helping you:

Connect

When people can see your face and hear your voice, it’s much easier to connect with your message. Whether you’re talking about a listing, offering real estate advice and expertise, or sharing via social media, video communications can be more effective and memorable than other forms. With video, you can express your personality as well as share your expertise.

Sell

Video tours can help you market properties, even when prospective buyers are in different geographic locations. When you have clients who are buying, video can help them narrow down their choices without wasting valuable showing time. With the 3D virtual tour technology available today, videos can help you show the actual layouts and room flow of properties much more effectively and accurately than still photographs can.

Inform

Video can be a great way to share information with clients, colleagues, and the general public. For example, sellers can use videos to show their spaces while you make suggestions for listing preparation. You can send videos of listings to colleagues to spark interest and to share with interested clients, or as a way to follow up after private showings or open houses. If prospective buyers have follow-up questions about properties, you can provide visual information or confirmation instead of written answers. Video tours can be great ways to get the word out about new listings to generate interest.

Distance

When social distancing is required or recommended, video tours can provide an opportunity to keep real estate deals moving forward. Video tours, showings, and even open houses can be conducted virtually. In some cases, home appraisals and home inspections can be completed in full via video.

For the latest in virtual home tour technology, be sure to check out Streem®, a dynamic new video chat tool, and enhanced communication platform being developed and tested by American Home Shield®. Streem enables you to share digital space with clients using one-way video and two-way audio. In addition to virtual home tours, Streem can also aid in remote listing preparation and documentation. With the helpful StreemshotsTM feature, you can highlight, share quick sketches and diagrams, and capture full-resolution photos during chats. For more information about Streem, contact your American Home Shield Representative.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!

5 Tips on How to Successfully Work Remotely

5 Tips on How to Successfully Work Remotely

The events of 2020 prompted more people than ever to find ways to work and study remotely. According to Gallup Panel data from April, sixty-two percent of employed Americans said they worked from home during the Covid-19 crisis, a number that doubled since mid-March of the same year. Whether you’re currently working remotely or plan to do so in the future, here are some suggestions for a successful experience.

1. Stick to a schedule.

Having an agenda each day can help you manage your time and stay on track with projects and deadlines. A schedule can also help provide structure to your day. It’s usually best to design your schedule around the same timeframes that you’d be keeping if you were in an office with your co-workers. Of course, one of the biggest benefits of working remotely is that you won’t have to factor in commuting times.

2. Give yourself space.

With laptops and tablets, it can be tempting to work from the couch, or even from your bed. From productivity and ergonomic standpoint, it’s usually best to designate a specific work area where you can keep the tools, supplies, and resources you need within easy reach. A dedicated office space can also help you corral all your work materials in one place, preventing them from being spread out all over your home. Make your designated workspace as comfortable as possible, with good lighting, a stable work surface, and a chair that provides good back and leg support.

3. Keep quiet.

When you’re on calls and videoconferences, try to minimize any background noise. Even when you’re working remotely, it’s best to maintain a professional atmosphere. You’ll also want to be able to hear and understand your colleagues and customers correctly. Close the door to your workspace to limit noise from pets and other family members, as well as sounds from household appliances, street traffic, and neighbors.

4. Take a break.

If you normally stop mid-morning and take a break at the office, it’s a good idea to keep up that habit. Even if you don’t leave home for lunch, fight the urge to take your meal back to your work station and eat elsewhere to give yourself a change of scenery. If the weather permits, fit in a walk around the block or sit outside during your breaks to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. You’ll likely be more productive when you step away from work and clear your head periodically during the day.

5. Connect with people.

Working in isolation can be intense and lonely. Make time each day to relate with others outside of zoom conferences and work-related communications. Keeping up social connections, even while socially distanced, can be important for your mental and emotional health as well as for your outlook.

Working remotely can have many advantages, including proximity to your family, pets, and your kitchen. You can often dress in a more relaxed fashion and can save on commuting costs. Whether you plan to work remotely permanently or temporarily, finding ways to stay productive and creative can add to your overall job satisfaction.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!

How to Prepare Your Kids to Move

How to Prepare Your Kids to Move

No matter what real estate trends you’re dealing with in your market, moving is always stressful and difficult, but it’s even more overwhelming when you have to prepare kids for the process. Kids usually don’t want to leave their friends and school behind, and they may anticipate missing family members. But it’s important to frame moving as the start of a new adventure, while giving kids space to grieve for the things they’re leaving behind.

Get your kids ready for a move by starting discussions about it as soon as you can. These moving tips will help you get your kids ready for a big change of lifestyle.

Don’t Put Off Telling Your Kids About the Move

If you have an upcoming move, the best thing you can do is let your kids in on it as soon as possible. Telling your kids about the move early on gives them a chance to process their feelings about it and get used to the idea. This is especially important for older kids and teens, who are the most likely to react poorly to a planned move; they are more strongly tied to their social groups and more likely to be looking forward to events and outings, like prom with their friends, that they might miss because of a move.

Kids will tend to react to news of a move with apprehension, so it’s a good idea to talk to them about it often and give them as much information about it as you can. Answer their questions and address their concerns with reassurance. Kids need to know that moving can be a good thing. If possible, take them to the town or neighborhood so they can get an idea of what to expect. If it’s not possible to take kids to their new home in advance, try to find as much information about the new community as you can. Look for pictures of the new town and school, activities they can get involved in or facilities they might enjoy.

Give Your Kids Some Decisions to Make

Kids will feel more confident about an upcoming move if you involve them in the decision-making process. You could take them house hunting with you, or if that’s not practical, show them the online listings for houses you’re considering and ask for their input. Older kids can even help you look for promising listings.

Once you’ve found a new place, give kids some input on getting the new home ready. Maybe they’d like to choose a paint color for their new bedroom or spend some time planning new bedroom layouts with crayons and paper. Getting new furniture? Let kids choose their own bedroom sets or decorative elements. Take the opportunity to start teaching kids about home maintenance or plan some outdoor DIY projects for them to look forward to.

Ease the Transition

Very young children, under five years old, may not understand what moving means. Use stories or books to explain the concept, and explain what’s happening again when you’re packing up. Ease the transition for very young children by trying to keep the same furniture and layout in their new bedrooms and play areas, if not throughout the house.

Older kids can understand the process and will appreciate being given some role in the move. School-aged children may be sad about leaving friends and relatives, or anxious about a new school. Prepare for the move by gathering as much documentation as you can for the new school, including test scores, medical records and curriculum information. School-age children will want to know everything they can about their new school, new teachers and potential new friends, too.

Teens are most likely to struggle with a move, since they are often so closely connected to friends and social groups and are deeply committed to extracurriculars and hobbies. They may resent uprooting their lives, leaving their friends and missing out on upcoming social events. Give teens the chance to express and come to terms with their feelings, while reassuring them that moving is difficult for everyone and helping them plan to maintain their relationships with those they’re leaving behind. Planning a post-move trip to visit old friends and relatives might help, as well as encouraging teens to maintain connections via social media and correspondence.

If a move happens in the middle of a school year, it might be worth letting teens finish out the school term with a close family friend or trusted relative. If your teen is close to finishing school, it may be easiest for everyone if he or she is allowed to graduate with his or her friends before joining the family in the new home for the summer before college.

While moving is often logistically difficult and stressful for adults, it can be exciting for children. Getting your kids ready for a move can give them the foundation they need to thrive in their new home, and buying a home warranty can give you the budget protection you need to focus on helping your kids adjust, instead of worrying about unexpected repairs. American Home Shield® today to find out more about protecting your new home.

8 Ways to Attract New Clients

8 Ways to Attract New Clients

For real estate professionals, building business usually means attracting new clients. With long hours and busy days, it can be difficult for agents to find the time and energy target prospects and market to them. If you feel like you’ve plateaued recently in your prospecting efforts, here are some ideas that may help:

1) Include testimonials in your promotional materials.

Testimonials are a highly effective marketing technique, especially in service-oriented businesses. Ask former clients if they’d be willing to write a few sentences describing the service you provided to them, and then ask for permission to publish their statements and their names on your website, social media accounts, and printed materials. These testimonials could tip the scale in your favor when prospective clients read them.

2) Target your advertising.

Instead of taking a blanket approach to marketing your services, think about the segment of real estate clients you want to attract, and then narrow your efforts to avenues that would reach those demographics. For example, you might want to send mailings to certain zip codes or place door hangers in specific neighborhoods. If you specialize in relocations, contact companies in your area that transfer personnel into the area.

3) Personalize your social media.

More than most avenues, your social media accounts enable you to let your personality shine through, which can attract people to you. In addition to advertising listings, use your social media pages to post recent pictures, share videos, and to give a glimpse into what you do as an agent and who you are as a person. Interacting with other accounts can help increase your online profile and express your individuality as well.

4) Ask for referrals.

​​​​​​​It may not occur to people that your business can benefit from referrals, so don’t be afraid to let them know. Tell former clients, friends, and family that you’d appreciate them sharing your name and experience with others, especially those who are actively looking for real estate assistance. Supply them with business cards and other printed marketing materials to pass along. Periodically share on your social media accounts that you welcome referrals and include information about how you can be contacted. When someone does refer a client to you, don’t forget to thank them promptly with a phone call, card, or small gift to let them know that you’re grateful for their trust and their effort.

5) Be social.

​​​​​​​Networking doesn’t just happen at industry events. In fact, you can meet new clients at just about any social occasion. Accept invitations, attend events, be active in your community, and volunteer for charity work. While you’re participating, talk to people about what you do, work your experience and knowledge into the conversation, and share your contact information.

6) Be an excellent communicator.

Check all your message portals frequently, and return calls, texts, emails, and direct messages as soon as possible. You don’t want to miss a message from a prospective new client, and you want to make a good first impression by getting back to them promptly.

7) Ask for the business.

​​​​​​​When you hear that someone is about to sell their house, wants to find another, or maybe just wants to look around at real estate and kick some tires, don’t be afraid to offer your services. A personal phone call or visit from you at an opportune time may be all it takes to land a new client.

8) Go the extra mile for your clients.

​​​​​​​Satisfied clients will be more likely to tell others about you and the service you provide. One way to provide personal service and to let clients know that you care about them even after deals close is to add an American Home Shield® Home Warranty to every transaction. American Home Shield offers valuable protection for home buyers and sellers alike for many of a home’s most critical home system components and appliances, as well as a reliable resource to call for help with covered malfunctions. When clients feel that you care enough about them to go the extra mile, they may be more willing to refer you and to return in the future as repeat customers.

As important as it is to attract new clients your business, don’t forget to stay in touch with previous clients, too. In addition to being a great source of referrals to you, building long-term relationships with people can be one of the biggest joys of having a real estate career.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!

10 Tips for Avoiding Germs While in the Field

10 Tips for Avoiding Germs While in the Field

When you’re out and about showing homes, meeting clients, and networking with colleagues, you may be exposed to harmful germs that could possibly lead to illness. As a busy real estate professional, unplanned time away from work can cause disruptions for you, your clients, and your transactions. While you can’t avoid every single germ, it’s important to take prudent steps to protect yourself and to give yourself the best shot at remaining healthy and productive. Here are some practical tips to that can help keep certain types of germs at bay:

1. Wash Your Hands

Wash hands often and well with soap and warm or cold running water, then rinse and dry them. When you don’t have access to running water and soap, substitute with hand sanitizer. Remember to clean under your fingernails and around rings and jewelry, which can harbor germs.

2. Social Distancing

Avoid standing or sitting too close to people, leaving at least six feet of space on either side of you. Remember to do this even when standing in lines or sitting in waiting rooms.

3. Wipe Down Surfaces

Frequently wipe down surfaces such as your phone, keyboards, door knobs, desk and counter surfaces, and car door and faucet handles.

4. Avoid Touching Public Items When Possible

When in public spaces, such as restrooms or elevators, avoid directly touching things like door knobs, handles, hand rails, and buttons. Instead, use a disposable wipe, paper towel, or operate the items with your clothed elbow if you can.

5. Avoid Touching Your Face

Avoid touching your face as much as possible. When you must, wash your hands first.

6. Don’t Share Personal Items

Don’t share food, beverages, straws, cosmetics, dishes, or towels with others.

7. Stay Up to Date on Vaccinations

Make sure to get an annual flu shot, and check with your medical provider to see if you’re up to date on other important vaccinations.

8. Use Technology for Interactions

Meet clients at showings instead of driving them in the same vehicle to avoid close contact. When possible, use FaceTime or Zoom to connect and communicate.

9. Take Common Sense Measures

To avoid food poisoning when you’re eating at restaurants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests taking common sense measures like checking health inspection scores and food safety training certificates, watching for safe food handling practices, ordering properly cooked food, and avoiding food that’s served lukewarm.

10. Take Care of Yourself

Take care of yourself. Give your immune system every advantage by eating a balanced diet, getting adequate rest, exercising, staying hydrated, and avoiding stress. Talk to your doctor to see if you should be on a vitamin regimen.

If you feel like you’re getting sick, stay home and isolate yourself from others as much as you can. While you might not be able to protect yourself at this point, you can protect others and help prevent the spread of some illnesses.  Even if it’s a false alarm, it’s best to err on the side of caution. With online access and remote office capabilities, you may even be able to stay in contact with your clients and get some work done when you’re feeling better.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!

How to Buy a House When You Have Student Loans

How to Buy a House When You Have Student Loans

If you went to college in the U.S., chances are you have student loans. One in five American adults, or 44.7 million people, has student loan debt. And while most Americans with student loan debt are young, many are older — the number of people over 60 carrying student loan debt has doubled in the past decade. Some will be paying off student loan debt for their entire lives.

But just because you have student loans doesn’t mean you can never buy a home. Even large student loan debts don’t have to preclude homeownership, as long as you’re comfortable carrying two long-term debts at the same time. You need to plan carefully for a home purchase, but that’s true of every first-time buyer looking for a home, even those without student loan debt.

Prepare for the Costs of Homeownership

When homeowners have buyer’s remorse about a home purchase, it’s usually because they didn’t prepare themselves adequately for the realities of homeownership and its hidden costs. The costs of homeownership don’t end with your down payment and mortgage payment. They also include the cost of homeowners insurance, property taxes and homeowners association (HOA) fees.

If you have a small down payment, you’ll have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is an additional fee tacked on to your monthly mortgage payment. Get pre-approved for a loan so you can get some idea of how much you can afford and what your average closing costs will be. You’ll also have to pay for home maintenance and repairs, which can total thousands of extra dollars in a bad year, or no extra dollars in a very good year.

By preparing yourself to face these costs, you can mitigate their impact on your life. You can choose a home in an area with low property taxes or without an HOA. You can learn about the things that tend to drive up homeowners insurance, like wood-burning furnaces or pools, so you can avoid homes with those features. Educate yourself on current real estate trends in your market and what to look for when buying a house, so you can find a property that needs minimal or no work to make it move-in ready. And you can buy a home warranty to offset the out-of-pocket costs of home maintenance and repairs.

Clean Up Your Credit Score

You’ll be more likely to get a home loan and get a better interest rate if you have a good credit score. You should aim for a score above 680. Credit scores above 740 get the best rates.

To improve your credit score, pay your bills on time. Paying your bills in full and on time is one of the biggest factors of a healthy credit score, because it shows lenders that you can be trusted to make your payments. Keep your credit utilization ratio, or the ratio of credit account balances to total credit usage, below 30 percent. To help with this, keep old credit accounts open — doing so can improve your credit utilization ratio. Plus, the older the age of your open credit accounts, the longer your credit history, and the higher your credit score.

You should also try to use different types of credit. While using credit cards wisely can improve your credit score, showing a mix of installment loans and revolving credit accounts on your history shows your ability to juggle different types of credit.

Bring Down Your Debt-to-Income Ratio

Lenders will look at your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which shows what percentage of your monthly income goes to debt repayment, when deciding whether to give you a mortgage. Ideally, your monthly debt payments should be lower than 36 percent of your total income, and your total housing expenses should be less than 28 percent of your income. However, some lenders and loan programs are more flexible when it comes to DTI.

To improve your DTI, you can consolidate your student loans to get a lower monthly payment. If you have credit card debt, try paying it off or consolidating it with a lower-interest personal loan. If you have federal student loans, try applying for an income-based repayment plan to lower your monthly payments. You can also try improving your DTI by raising your income, either by asking for a raise or taking on a second job or side gig.

Get Down Payment Assistance

The biggest challenge most prospective home buyers face is getting together the down payment. While you can use money gifted from a relative towards your down payment, your lender will require a gift letter to verify that the money is, in fact, a gift rather than a loan, and that the giver is someone you’re closely related to. Lenders will examine your financial history closely and will require an explanation of any large, out-of-payroll amounts counting towards your down payment.

Traditionally, you’d need a down payment of 20 percent, but that’s no longer the case. FHA loans require a down payment of only 3.5 percent, although you’ll have to carry PMI if you have a smaller down payment. If you want to buy in a rural area, you can get a USDA loan with no down payment. Veterans and active military members may also qualify for down payment assistance, and some states offer down payment assistance to low-income residents or single parents. With down payment assistance from a government program, you don’t need a substantial savings account or help from relatives to swing a house down payment.

Student loan debt might seem to preclude homeownership, but the truth is that you don’t have to let it keep you from realizing your dreams. With careful budgeting, almost anyone can afford a home of their own. Once you’ve got the keys in hand, protect your budget with a home warranty from American Home Shield®.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!

What First-Time Homeowners Need to Know About Filing Taxes

What First-Time Homeowners Need to Know About Filing Taxes

If you bought a home for the first time in 2019, you probably have questions about filing your taxes. Learn more about filing taxes for the first time as a homeowner.

Buying your first home is a big deal. It’s perhaps the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, and it can bring independence, privacy, self-reliance and stability, as well as setting you on the path towards financial security, freedom and flexibility.

If you bought your first home in 2019, you’ll be filing taxes as a homeowner for the first time this April. You may have heard that first-time homeowners can get a big tax break. Well, we have some bad news and some good news regarding that.

Bad news first: The homeowner tax credit for first-time home buyers is a rule that no longer exists. You can only take advantage of it if you purchased your first home on or before September 30, 2010.

But the good news is that there are still tax advantages to homeownership. The added good news is that you don’t necessarily have to be a first-time homeowner to take advantage of them. You can continue to benefit from homeowner tax advantages for the entire length of time you own your home and even after you sell it. These tax tips for new homeowners will show you how.

You Can Deduct Mortgage Interest and PMI

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), you can deduct any interest you paid on your mortgage, as long as you borrowed $750,000 or less. This includes mortgage interest you paid as part of closing costs. If you bought your home on or before December 15, 2017, you’re grandfathered in under the old limit of $1 million, so you can deduct loan interest on mortgages up to that amount. You can take this deduction every year you’re paying on your mortgage, and for subsequent home purchases as long as your loan amount is below the threshold. You can also deduct the interest you paid on a home equity loan up to $100,000, as long as you use that money to improve your home.

If you borrowed for your home with a downpayment of less than 20 percent, you probably have private mortgage insurance, or PMI. You can deduct PMI payments as long as your adjusted gross income is less than $100,000 if you’re married or $50,000 if you’re single.

You Can Deduct State and Local Taxes

You can deduct your state and local taxes, or SALT, from your federal taxes, up to a limit of $10,000 under the TCJA. If you pay your taxes through an escrow account, you’ll see that amount on your Form 1098. If you pay local taxes directly to your municipality, make sure to keep a record of your payments so you can deduct those from your taxes, too.

A caveat: you have to itemize in order to deduct SALT payments, PMI payments and mortgage interest. SALT deductions, and mortgage interest deductions, too, might benefit you at tax time if you live in an expensive, high-tax area. Otherwise, you may be better off taking the standard deduction, especially if you’re married. If you’re single, on the other hand, your mortgage interest, PMI and SALT might easily exceed your standard deduction.

Do You Qualify for a Homeowner Exemption?

In many states, some homeowners qualify for a homeowner exemption or homestead exemption, which can lower your property tax bill, usually by lowering the assessed value of your home.

Who qualifies? Well, that really depends on your local laws. Typically, these things are decided on the state, county or municipal level, and requirements can vary widely. Commonly, homeowner exemptions are given to the elderly, the disabled and veterans, but some jurisdictions give them out to homeowners below a certain income threshold or homeowners who make specific improvements to their property, such as planting a rain garden or a coconut tree. Typically, you do have to use the home as your primary residence in order to qualify.

Some Energy-Efficient Upgrades Still Bring Tax Benefits

You can’t get tax breaks for most energy-efficient home upgrades anymore, but you can still get them for solar panels through 2021. If you had solar panels installed in 2017 through the end of 2019, you can get back 30 percent of your costs in the form of a tax credit. If you install panels in 2020, you can get back 26 percent of the cost, and if you install them in 2021, you can get back 22 percent of the cost.

Home Office Deductions May Be Available, Too

Whether you work from home full-time or just have a side hustle, you may be able to take a business use of home deduction. You can deduct $5 per square foot for up to 300 square feet of office space for a total deduction of up to $1,500. However, you should make sure that your home office is exclusively used for business purposes, and check with a tax professional to make sure you’re meeting the strict guidelines required to qualify for this deduction.

Before you file taxes as a homeowner for the first time, you need to know what tax credits and deductions you qualify for. Homeownership brings many tax advantages on the federal, state and local levels. It’s just one of the many reasons why owning your own home pays off.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!

What First-Time Homeowners Need to Know About Filing Taxes

What First-Time Homeowners Need to Know About Filing Taxes

If you bought a home for the first time in 2019, you probably have questions about filing your taxes. Learn more about filing taxes for the first time as a homeowner.

Buying your first home is a big deal. It’s perhaps the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, and it can bring independence, privacy, self-reliance and stability, as well as setting you on the path towards financial security, freedom and flexibility.

If you bought your first home in 2019, you’ll be filing taxes as a homeowner for the first time this April. You may have heard that first-time homeowners can get a big tax break. Well, we have some bad news and some good news regarding that.

Bad news first: The homeowner tax credit for first-time home buyers is a rule that no longer exists. You can only take advantage of it if you purchased your first home on or before September 30, 2010.

But the good news is that there are still tax advantages to homeownership. The added good news is that you don’t necessarily have to be a first-time homeowner to take advantage of them. You can continue to benefit from homeowner tax advantages for the entire length of time you own your home and even after you sell it. These tax tips for new homeowners will show you how.

You Can Deduct Mortgage Interest and PMI

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), you can deduct any interest you paid on your mortgage, as long as you borrowed $750,000 or less. This includes mortgage interest you paid as part of closing costs. If you bought your home on or before December 15, 2017, you’re grandfathered in under the old limit of $1 million, so you can deduct loan interest on mortgages up to that amount. You can take this deduction every year you’re paying on your mortgage, and for subsequent home purchases as long as your loan amount is below the threshold. You can also deduct the interest you paid on a home equity loan up to $100,000, as long as you use that money to improve your home.

If you borrowed for your home with a downpayment of less than 20 percent, you probably have private mortgage insurance, or PMI. You can deduct PMI payments as long as your adjusted gross income is less than $100,000 if you’re married or $50,000 if you’re single.

You Can Deduct State and Local Taxes

You can deduct your state and local taxes, or SALT, from your federal taxes, up to a limit of $10,000 under the TCJA. If you pay your taxes through an escrow account, you’ll see that amount on your Form 1098. If you pay local taxes directly to your municipality, make sure to keep a record of your payments so you can deduct those from your taxes, too.

A caveat: you have to itemize in order to deduct SALT payments, PMI payments and mortgage interest. SALT deductions, and mortgage interest deductions, too, might benefit you at tax time if you live in an expensive, high-tax area. Otherwise, you may be better off taking the standard deduction, especially if you’re married. If you’re single, on the other hand, your mortgage interest, PMI and SALT might easily exceed your standard deduction.

Do You Qualify for a Homeowner Exemption?

In many states, some homeowners qualify for a homeowner exemption or homestead exemption, which can lower your property tax bill, usually by lowering the assessed value of your home.

Who qualifies? Well, that really depends on your local laws. Typically, these things are decided on the state, county or municipal level, and requirements can vary widely. Commonly, homeowner exemptions are given to the elderly, the disabled and veterans, but some jurisdictions give them out to homeowners below a certain income threshold or homeowners who make specific improvements to their property, such as planting a rain garden or a coconut tree. Typically, you do have to use the home as your primary residence in order to qualify.

Some Energy-Efficient Upgrades Still Bring Tax Benefits

You can’t get tax breaks for most energy-efficient home upgrades anymore, but you can still get them for solar panels through 2021. If you had solar panels installed in 2017 through the end of 2019, you can get back 30 percent of your costs in the form of a tax credit. If you install panels in 2020, you can get back 26 percent of the cost, and if you install them in 2021, you can get back 22 percent of the cost.

Home Office Deductions May Be Available, Too

Whether you work from home full-time or just have a side hustle, you may be able to take a business use of home deduction. You can deduct $5 per square foot for up to 300 square feet of office space for a total deduction of up to $1,500. However, you should make sure that your home office is exclusively used for business purposes, and check with a tax professional to make sure you’re meeting the strict guidelines required to qualify for this deduction.

Before you file taxes as a homeowner for the first time, you need to know what tax credits and deductions you qualify for. Homeownership brings many tax advantages on the federal, state and local levels. It’s just one of the many reasons why owning your own home pays off.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!

Why You Should Create a New Year’s Resolution List

Why You Should Create a New Year’s Resolution List

Here it comes. The question that everyone gets asked at least a zillion times toward the end of each year. “So, what are your New Year’s resolutions?” If you’re reluctant to make a New Year’s resolution list (or even reluctant to answer the question), maybe you should reconsider. Resolutions can be healthy, productive ways to make positive changes in your life. Here are some reasons you should join in on the tradition:

Goals are good.

Resolutions are purposeful goals that you set for yourself. When you set goals, you take stock of where you currently are and where you’d like to be. This process can be helpful in shaping the future that you’d like to have. If you look at resolutions as short-term goals, it may be easier to set them.

Resolutions help keep you focused.

Our work and personal lives are full of distractions that can sometimes take our attention away from our goals. Resolutions can help us set priorities and stay on target.

Resolutions are motivating.

It’s easy to think about making changes, but it’s harder to put them in motion. Committing to a resolution can help you follow through. Sharing your resolutions with others can help keep you accountable, which can also be motivating.

Resolutions help get you out of your comfort zone.

Sometimes it takes a gentle nudge, or even a firm shove, to get us out of our comfortable spaces. New Year’s resolutions encourage you to pursue opportunities and reach accomplishments that you might not have reached otherwise.

Resolutions are fun.

Too often, we look at New Year’s resolutions as being difficult to accomplish, but who says resolutions can’t be enjoyable? For example, instead of resolving to lose weight or get organized, maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to spend more time with friends or to travel more often. Do yourself a favor and select a resolution that you actually want to accomplish and will relish doing.

Resolutions can be business-oriented.

The goals you set don’t have to be personal. You can set specific business-related resolutions and objectives, such as to gain more listings, to network more, or to pursue career development activities.

A good resolution to make is to add a home warranty to every transaction in 2020. American Home Shield® home warranties cover the repair or replacement of important appliances and system components that break down over time, offering your clients important budget protection and reassurance. American Home Shield offers a variety of plans and coverage options to fit your clients’ needs. Your AHS® Account Executive can tell you more about the plans and about the effective real estate marketing tools available to you.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield®, visit their blog!

Ways to Make the Winter Selling Season Bearable

Ways to Make the Winter Selling Season Bearable

The winter season can be challenging for real estate professionals. In many areas of the country, listings, and lookers may be fewer. If you live in a cold-weather climate, just getting around town can be difficult or unpleasant when temperatures drop and snow and sleet roll in. Here are some ways to make the best of the winter real estate season.

Prepare your car for inclement weather.

Make sure your tires are in good shape, have sufficient tread, and are properly inflated. Keep plenty of gas in your tank. Put together an emergency kit for your car with a flashlight, blanket, gloves, jumper cables, and tow strap. If it snows frequently where you live, also include a windshield brush, scraper, and a small shovel. The National Weather Service offers these winter weather driving tips.

Dress for the elements.

The best way to stay warm and comfortable in cold weather is to dress in layers. Make sure the layer closest to your skin is a breathable fabric and add accessories like a scarf, gloves, and a hat for extra warmth. Keep a water-resistant jacket or coat in the car, as well as several umbrellas to use yourself and to share with clients when unexpected rain and snow showers pop up.

Take a thermos of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or apple cider with you in the mornings.

Being able to warm up with a hot drink between showings and appointments can give you a needed boost and help you save money at coffee shops.

Take advantage of slower business to help advance your career.

Take continuing education classes, seek a certification you’ve been wanting, or sign up for a class at a local college.

Make sure to eat healthy foods and find ways to exercise.

If walking or running outdoors isn’t pleasant where you live, join a gym or use exercise equipment at home.

Use this time to rest and recharge with a change of scenery and possibly a warmer climate.

Slow winter months are the perfect time to schedule a vacation.

If you find that your days aren’t as tightly scheduled with client appointments, take advantage of the time to network.

Meet colleagues and suppliers for lunch or coffee to exchange ideas, share experiences, and build relationships.

Even if the winter season means fewer listings in your market, it’s still important to help properties stand out in the market and appeal to potential buyers. An American Home Shield® Home Warranty offers your clients industry-leading coverage at special Real Estate Edition prices. Contact your AHS® Account Executive today to find out more.

For more helpful tips from our partners at American Home Shield, check out their blog!