A Realtor’s Guide to Wellness

As a realtor, taking care of your finances is one of the best things you can do for yourself, but don’t forget to take care of your physical and psychological needs. Mental and physical health play critical roles in the success of any business or company. We often forget both physical and emotional health these days, when, in reality, they have a significant influence on other aspects of your life, including your financial health. Here are a few tips on improving realtor wellness.

Physical Wellness

If you want to improve or maintain your physical health, stay active. Be sure to exercise regularly and make it a part of your routine. Whether it’s running, going to the gym, walking, or swimming, find something you enjoy that will keep you physically active. You will feel more efficient and energized when working.

Consider investing in a humidifier to help reduce the transmission of viruses, improve allergies, and maintain healthy skin and hair. Implement a healthy diet and drink plenty of water and fluids.

Mental Health

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with negative news and social media posts. Ensure the news you receive comes from reliable sources, and limit the amount you watch or read to the most important headlines. Keep in contact with friends and loved ones at least once a week, and, if possible, safely get outside each day to exercise and get some fresh air.

Life and Community

Set up social media profiles to communicate with your friends and loved ones. An easy way to keep in touch is to create a schedule that ensures you regularly check-in with friends, family, and workmates. You can also consider volunteering in the community, or simply doing something kind for a stranger.

Facing Challenges

If you’re facing financial difficulties, reach out to your mortgage company or landlord and ask for a deferment. When cash flow is tight, you may not be able to pay your bills on time. Reach out to any creditors, such as auto or student loans, credit card companies, or medical payments, and notify them of a possible delay. Confide in a family member or a close friend when you are facing challenges and seek support.

A well thought out payment policy will help build a strong and trusting relationship with your creditors and other suppliers. If needed, reach out to your utility providers and other merchants you’re paying and request a payment extension or agree on an updated payment plan.

Resources and Benefits

Outstanding payments are one of the biggest challenges people face when going through financial difficulties. Consider researching funds that may be available to you based on your employment status, for example. Your state, county, or local community may also have additional financial resources available to you. Set up Google alerts and visit local government websites to receive notifications as new information is provided.

To avoid incurring heavy interests and fines on late payments, be sure to clear any debts and make a conscious effort to pay all invoices and bills on time. Setting payment reminders through your bank or enrolling in automatic payments should make the process a lot easier.

Next Steps

Tough times can be challenging but try to maintain a positive mindset. Rather than panic, follow the CDC’s guidelines for being prepared, and think of the items you might need to stock up on if you get sick: cleaning supplies, cough drops, herbal tea, etc.

Give your home a thorough cleaning by sanitizing common areas and limiting or eliminating the number of visitors. Since some of your friends or family members may not be able to leave the house, be sure to check in with them. If you need physical or emotional guidance, seek help from a medical professional, and don’t forget to inform those closest to you.

Establish an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund creates a buffer that can help you survive during tough economic times. How do you do this when you’re already on a tight budget? Cut out any unnecessary expenses and put as much as you can directly into your emergency fund. Selling off items you don’t need and saving on your tax refund can also add to your savings.

Create and Work with a Budget

Realtors can easily succumb to the pressure to drive fancy cars, wear expensive clothing, and take clients out to fancy restaurants. These items can be costly and may sink you deeper into debt. To get out of debt, start investing your hard-earned money and diversify your portfolio. Hire a knowledgeable financial planner and try to stick to a budget.

The tips mentioned should significantly improve your chances of maintaining overall realtor wellness. At Alban Inspections, we work with realtors to overcome these challenges and achieve success. Call us today at 800-822-7200 to learn more about our extensive home inspection process.


Closing Gifts Should be Sticky

From the desk of

Arthur S. Lazerow

Chairman, Alban Inspections, Inc.

October 2020

What means Sticky? I was discussing marketing with my second son who owned one of the largest ad agencies on Facebook and merged it into Salesforce.com.  The subject of logo handouts came up and he explained that anything my company’s’ gifts to Realtor, clients or show attendees should be hard goods that the recipient should want to keep forever, thereby keeping the company name, logo and phone number in sight forever.

Consumable closing gifts not sticky, but are terrific.  A cheese platter, bottle of fine wine or fruit basket delivered while your client is moving into the new home will be much appreciated, and probably sweetly remembered, but not sticky.  Develop lasting relationships with clients using sticky closing gifts.

When thinking about all the logo items we have used at Realtor fairs, meetings or other group affairs, my favorites were eyeglass cleaning clothes, pens with an LED at the top end, keychain LED flashlights, and note pads.  Not strictly sticky a 50 page note pad lasts for a good while.  From 1994 until the late 2000s, I taught a 3 hour continuing ed course on home inspections and environmental testing in Realtor offices almost every Tuesday morning.  I loved walking through the bullpen area and seeing the Alban Inspections’ pads on numerous Realtors’ desks.  My other favorite handout was a metal tape measure that we found by the 100s at a dollar store for one dollar.  For sixteen cents each, we had designed and printed a logo sticker for the center area of the tape.  For $1.16, those logo marked tape measures are still in clients’ hands.

How about a sticky home related closing gift?  4Imprint sells a reversible screwdriver for $1.29.  A larger handle reversible screwdriver would be even better.  How about the metal tape measure idea?  That’s another great sticky gift.  Any good logo corporate gift vendor will have numerous items at affordable prices.  Be creative, but be Sticky.



Avoid the trend of waiving home inspections

As a homebuyer near the end of the highly complex process of seeking out, finding and closing on the perfect home, it's understandable if you feel some fatigue, and perhaps some eagerness to get everything over with. This isn't abnormal. It's akin to the last hour of work on a Friday for those with nine-to-five jobs, or how students feel just before summer starts. The papers are signed and the house is virtually yours. Any last steps regarding the property are probably just formalities, right?

"Some buyers are waiving their right to a home inspection before completing sales on new houses."

Sadly, this is not the case. If you haven't already done so, having your soon-to-be new home inspected by an expert from an established home inspection company is without a doubt the last piece in the puzzle of new homeownership. But despite this generally accepted truism, an alarming trend has surfaced in certain segments of the U.S. real estate market of late – numerous buyers waiving the right to a home inspection before the completion of a deal on a house for sale.

Let's look at the disconcerting development and explain in no uncertain terms exactly why an inspection is essential: 

Inspection waivers stemming from buyer desperation 
According to the Tacoma News Tribune, impatience and fierce competition among buyers are the factors motivating a significant amount of hopeful homeowners to eschew the option of having home inspectors conduct surveys of a property for safety issues, damages, general cleanliness – and, if requested, specific tasks such as an energy audit.

For example, if two buyers come to a real estate agent, or directly approach a property owner, with offers that are essentially identical except that one demands a home inspection and one doesn't, the seller or seller's agent is more likely to choose the no-inspection buyer. It speeds up the process by which they earn their revenue. There's nothing unscrupulous about this – it's part of the business – but problems that aren't found before the sale is closed can cause major headaches for buyers down the road.

Real estate agent Karla Wagner confirmed the risks for buyers resulting from a waived home inspection.

"There's just so many things that can go wrong," Wagner told the News Tribune. "What if it's [a problem that costs] $10,000? What if it's whatever, and then you don't have a way out? You don't need to force anything, or be risky, and then end up with a huge problem on your hand and a money pit."

Although the News Tribune piece specifically focuses on the Tacoma, Washington metropolitan area, evidence shows that this trend exists in markets across the country – including Arlington and other areas of Virginia, according to Arlington Now.

Avoid the trend of waiving home inspectionsBuyers shouldn't neglect to receive the professional home inspection to which they're entitled.

Major advantages of undergoing an inspection
The ability to develop leverage in real estate negotiations is one of the most pragmatic benefits a home inspection affords a buyer. If a home inspector finds a structural issue that isn't a deal-breaker but still constitutes a problem – windows in need of replacement, or an attic that's supposed to be insulated but isn't – you can haggle. You're in a position to tell the seller or seller's agent that you'll take the property, but only with a few thousand dollars cut from the listing price. Some sellers might not budge at this, but many are willing to make a deal.

"Some sellers are more willing to accept buyer offers that don't require an inspection, but this shouldn't sway you."

Beyond that, the simple fact of being able to uncover hazards within a home, such as badly wired electrical infrastructure, leaky water pipes and significant structural damage, is ultimately worth more than the price-haggling it allows. It helps ensure your safety and that of your spouse and family, and by extension guarantees peace of mind. 

Remember what to look for
As noted in Reuben Saltzman's real estate blog for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, sellers should know what your inspector – and you, by proxy – want to see. All essential utilities should be activated, and appliances such as the boiler or furnace and hot water heater must be readily accessible so they can be examined. Garages and any crawl spaces should also be open.

Finally, don't forget your contingency form. Typically attached to home purchasing agreements, this document details buyers' rights in this context and constitutes written proof that you can call off buying the house without incident or penalty if the inspection is unsatisfactory.

Finding a compromise
Writing for Arlington Now, real estate agent Eli Tucker pointed out that you can find middle ground between yourself and the seller on this issue. The typical contingency period for a home inspection is seven to 10 days, but if you reduce it to five, you can allay a seller's apprehension while still getting your new home properly inspected.

How does tech support the home buying process?

People are demanding more technology in the home buying process. Mortgage automation provider Ellie Mae recently conducted the 2017 Borrower Insights Survey to gain value industry insight from homeowners and renters. According to the survey, 57 percent of homeowners applied for and finished their mortgage in person, while 28 percent did so through a combination of in-person and online interactions.

An additional 11 percent applied for their mortgage online with no professional, in-person interactions. Other findings from the survey revealed 30 percent of millennials began their mortgage application online and finished with an in-person lender meeting, while 28 percent of Generation X and 20 percent of Baby Boomers did the same. Respondents said they valued speed, security and simplicity during the lending process, which Joe Tyrrell, executive vice president of corporate strategy at Ellie Mae, said providers can achieve by leveraging new technology. 

"There's no question that technology is playing a larger role in the home buying experience," Tyrrell explained. "As we expected, many homeowners are seeking a faster and more streamlined experience. And it's not just a millennial phenomenon; it's homebuyers of all ages and both genders."

Here are three specific ways technology can improve or expand the home buying process:

"Potential buyers can find their realtor completely online."

1. Streamlines process to find trusted realtors 
Before the rise of modern technology, homebuyers relied on yard signs, print advertisements and referrals to partner with a real estate agent. Now, potential buyers can find their realtor completely online. With a few clicks of their mouse they can have instant access to agent reviews, feedback and vital information. These online review sites not only give the power back to the buyers, but let highly skilled realtors stand out from the competition. 

2. Makes finding and comparing mortgages easy
Part of the home buying process is finding and comparing various lending options. When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau developed the Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rule in 2015, the agency designed it to remove some of the confusion surrounding the loan process. This ruling lead to the rise of online comparison tools in an effort to make the mortgage process easier for all homebuyers. For example, the Affordability Calculator from Chase allows buyers to quickly and easily see what kind of home they could afford based on their income, debts and down payment. 

3. Allows buyers to purchase homes from afar
Technology has opened up many new possibilities for potential home buyers who are moving to a new city or state. Most busy professionals don't have ample time to travel to their new city to check out the local real estate, The Washington Post reported. Now, these buyers can set up automated criteria on online real estate listing services to find the exact houses they are looking for. Then, they can set up virtual tours and walkthroughs with real estate agents. Once they have narrowed down their choices, they can either buy sight unseen or make a quick visit to hammer out the details.

5 steps you must take to get ready for an open house

Hosting an open house is a necessary step in the home selling process. Not only do people rarely purchase a home without spending ample time within its walls, but it also allows you to open up your house to wider market of potential buyers. If your home is inviting during this event, your chances of selling your house in a reasonable timeframe skyrocket.

Getting ready for an open house these days is a lot more than tidying up and pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven. Not only are there more houses on the market these days, but home buyers are becoming smarter about the various tricks sellers use to draw them in. To increase your chances of finding buyers at or above your listed price, consult your real estate agent and use these tips to get ready for your open house:

"Hire a professional cleaning service."

1. Clean (or hire a professional cleaner)
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a seller is to show off a messy, dirty home, according to Bankrate. Throwing a successful open house should involve more than just picking up toys and sweeping the floor. You need to conduct a thorough, deep clean of your home. If you're not the most talented cleaner, hire a professional cleaning service to come in the day before to make things look spotless for potential buyers.

2. Get rid of the clutter
You might love all your knickknacks and personal items, but your visitors at your open house will not. After all, how can they envision themselves living in the home if they are constantly bumping into unnecessary furniture pieces or seeing rows and rows of family photos? There is nothing inherently wrong with a comfy, cluttered home, but this is not the image you want to project to homebuyers. Consider de-cluttering and putting certain accessories and furniture into storage for a little while, Realtor.com suggested.

3. Don't forget about the exterior
You might not be a gardener, but this doesn't mean your landscape shouldn't look well-groomed. Buyers likely won't make it through the front door, if they are first greeted with peeling paint, overgrown flower beds, an unmowed lawn and other unappealing elements. Hire a landscaper to spruce up your home's exterior and consider investing in nice patio furniture for your front porch. This way, your home is as inviting from the outside as it is on the inside.

"Consider bringing in a professional home inspector."

4. Spread the word on social media
Yard signs and real estate advertisements are still solid ways to market your open house, but they shouldn't be your only choices. With the rise in modern technology, you have plenty of social media platforms and innovative online tools at your disposal to spread the word that your home is for sale. U.S. News & Word Report wrote that social media advertising for open house is a dynamic approach that may draw in many more potential buyers. Even if your friends are looking to purchase a home, they may know or reach someone who is hoping to buy.

5. Conduct a home inspection
When you have plenty of eager homebuyers at your open house, you don't want them to notice your leaky plumbing, inconsistent air conditioning or drafty windows. This occurrence could be even worse if potential buyers ask your realtor about an electrical wiring or siding problem they didn't realize you had. To avoid this embarrassment, consider bringing in a professional home inspector to go through your house and point out any potential issues. This way, you know what issues you face, and your realtor can answer your buyers' questions honesty and comprehensively. 

When should you put your home on the market?

When is the ideal time to put your house on the market? If you're thinking late spring, around May 1 to 15, you would be correct, according to new analysis from Zillow. The real estate expert reported that homes across the country, on average, sell nine days faster and for 1 percent higher than the average listing during this timeframe. For most of America, home sellers who listed in April or May were the most successful.

Late spring is ideal for sellers
The research found that weather patterns and regions of the country impacted the ideal selling time. Sellers in warmer areas of the U.S., such as California or Florida, have more flexibility than those in Massachusetts or Colorado. In Baltimore, Maryland, for example, the ideal selling timeframe is April 1 through 15. These homes sell 21.5 days faster during this time at 0.9 percent above the average premium. The report also found the idea day of the week to list Maryland homes is on a Saturday.

"In Maryland, the ideal selling timeframe is April 1 through 15."

"With 3 percent fewer homes on the market than last year, 2017 is shaping up to be another competitive buying season," Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell explained in a company press release. "Many home buyers who started looking for homes in the early spring will still be searching for their dream home months later. By May, some buyers may be anxious to get settled into a new home— and will be more willing to pay a premium to close the deal."

What do these home buyers want?
According to the 2016 Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends, typical buyers spend just over four months shopping for a home. When broken down by generation, millennials — who represent 42 percent of homebuyers — shop for four months, while Baby Boomers —16 percent of the home buying population—spend 18 percent more time than millennials. 

The report also found that affordability and safety are still the most important factors for potential home buyers. These individuals want their homes to be in a safe neighborhood and the price tag to not range past their set budget. Meanwhile, they prefer usability and square footage in regards to interior features. Other desires home buyers may look for include close proximity to work, schools or shopping, along with being move-in ready. Here are a few strategies to help your home stand out from the pack this spring:

  1. De-clutter and professionally clean your house before inviting over potential buyers.
  2. Tour other model homes to get an idea of what buyers are looking at.
  3. Pay attention to the exterior of your home and boost your curb appeal.
  4. Hire a home inspector to check for problems or issues.

Contact someone from Alban Inspections today if you want to get your home ready to sell this spring season.

Realtors: Here are 4 ways to prepare your clients for home inspections

Buying or selling a home can be nerve-wracking for all parties involved. Yet, when it comes to the home inspection process, your clients' stress levels may go through the roof, no pun intended. As a realtor, you will work with all types of buyers and sellers during the inspection phase. To avoid potentially stress or awkward situations along the way, here are four ideal ways to prepare your clients for their home inspection:

1. Start with an honest conversation 
Before you schedule any home inspection, you must first have an open and honest talk with your clients, according to Zion Realty. In this conversation, you should advise them to prepare themselves to hear that there may be potential deficiencies in their home. You also should urge them to disclose serious problems or issues they may know about. This may include past catastrophes, prior renovation work and various maintenance records, if applicable.  

"Remind your clients that a home inspection is a smart move."

2. Remind them not to take the findings personally
Most homeowners are proud of their residence, which is why you should encourage them not to take any of the home inspector's comments or findings personally. It's never easy to hear that your home has a few unsightly water stains or peeling, cracked window frames. It's even more difficult to hear that you might need to replace your HVAC system or fix faulty electrical wiring in your kitchen.

Sit down with your clients and remind them that a home inspection is a smart move for them, as the American Society of Home Inspections states they "give you the opportunity to make repairs that will put the house in better selling condition." While it might be hard to hear that their beloved house is far from perfect, they'll appreciate the higher market price or easier selling process in the end.

3. Conduct a simple walkthrough beforehand
RIS Media suggests that realtors conduct a short walkthrough with their clients as another great way to prepare them for the inevitable home inspection process. Come prepared with a checklist of interior and exterior items you want to have a look at with the homeowners. This may involve anything from turning on lights to inspecting their ducts to looking at their gutters.

"Approach the topic of repairs in an easy manner."

During the walkthrough, you can gently point out potential issues they might encounter and other smaller problems they might be able to resolve themselves before the inspection. For example, if you point out a leaky faucet, instead of immediately telling them they have to fix it, wait for them to ask you first. Then, this is your chance to approach the topic of repairs in an easy manner by saying something along the lines of, "I probably would if it were my home."   

4. Maintain the peace
Home inspections could get a little tense, especially if the buyers are involved in the process. As the realtor, you are responsible for not only keeping the peace in the moment, but to remind your clients before that the inspector is only doing his or her job. Meanwhile, the buyers may be as equally nervous as your clients because they want to get a good deal on their new home.

Reaffirm to your clients that you realize how important their home is to them, but simultaneously urge them to approach the situation logically and without lots of emotion. If your clients seem to be upset by a comment from a potential buyer or finding from the home inspector, take them aside and remind them why they are selling their home in the first place. Essentially, the main goal with any home inspection process is to ensure that all parties get the best deal during the buying or selling journey. 

Remodel your kitchen and bathroom to maximize value [Video]

What rooms are most important in the eyes of homebuyers? The kitchen and master bathroom, according to Trulia, which means sellers need to spend time renovating them to make sure they look their best.

Remodeling a kitchen can be a massive project to take on, and everyone has their own favorite characteristics. The source suggested gleaning insight from neighboring homes currently for sale—this will help you figure out whether granite or flagstone is the better option.

When it comes to the bathroom, don’t wipe it down to a clean slate. Instead, Trulia recommended shifting your focus to smaller projects, like updating the faucets and even the towel rack. These are small but noteworthy changes that don’t make the space too flashy, but instead provide the bit of modernization buyers are always on the prowl for.

Thanks for watching, tune in next time for more home improvement tips!

US housing market bouncing back [Video]

After 2008, the housing market took multiple blows as homeowners defaulted on loans, residential values dipped drastically and a lack of job creation led to a stagnant sector. Since then, The Wall Street Journal reported that home buying has bounced back.

Roughly 5.5 million homes were sold in May of 2016, the most since February of 2007, according to available data gathered by the National Association of Realtors. Even with the jump in sales, the average home still sells $40,000 less now than it did in 2005.

The low national unemployment rate suggests these trends will continue, making it a competitive market for sellers. Get a step up on the competition and have your home inspected so you can obtain the price valuation you’re looking for.

Thanks for watching, tune in next time for more news.

3 pool cleaning tips for summer

Swimming pools offer sweet salvation from the sticky summer heat. Of course, these sparkling blue saviors require a lot of maintenance, and for good reason. Every year, thousands of Americans contract recreational water illnesses while swimming in contaminated pools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Before organizing your next backyard bash, review these essential pool cleaning strategies:

Deal with debris
Most pool owners find floating debris to be an aesthetic blight and nothing more. Unfortunately, this simply isn't the case, as pool debris contaminates water with harmful bacteria. Fortunately, there's an easy fix to this common problem: skimming.

You've probably got a stock, hand-held pool skimmer that can do a decent job. But if you want to perform a more thorough cleaning, you can always modify your skimmer by stretching a pair of nylon stockings around its baskets, Trulia reported. This will enable you to scoop up smaller particles, including dirt, sand and stray human hair.

After you've collected all the debris you can, be sure to dispose of it far away from your pool – you don't want a sudden gust of wind undoing your work. Additionally, if you find yourself regularly skimming for leaves or other organic bits from nearby shrubbery, consider relocating those plants, This Old House suggested.

Keep your pull clean by regularly skimming it for floating debris.Keep your pull clean by regularly skimming it for floating debris.

Pump and vacuum
Most in-ground pools come equipped with pumping and vacuum systems. The latter are especially effective for cleaning up submerged debris stuck to the pool bottom. To get started, connect your vacuum attachment to its accompanying hose, then submerge both. You want water to pour out of the free end of the hose. Finish up by attaching that end to one of your built-in pull skimmers.

When vacuuming, move across the bottom of the pool using long, parallel strokes. The entire process should take around 30 minutes.

Unlike vacuums, pool pumps do all the work on their own. However, they still require occasional maintenance. You should regularly clean your pump filter and monitor its performance. Even if your pump is up to par, you might consider swapping it for an energy efficient model. Your pool pump can account for as much as half of your total home energy consumption during the warmer months, NBC News reported. If you'd like to improve your home's overall energy efficiency, adopt a pump with less horsepower – a 0.75 horsepower model will work just fine, according to the Department of Energy.  Additionally, switch out your current filter for a larger version that can catch more debris.

If you're weary of making drastic changes to your pool pump setup, you could always install a timer to facilitate more efficient cycling periods. Of course, keeping intakes clean and free of debris will also help, as your pump won't have to work overtime pushing pool water through clogged grates.        

Consider water quality
Getting rid of visible contaminates is only half the battle – you must also address microscopic bacteria. Seemingly clean pools can contain harmful bugs, such as E.coli, or incubate and spread illnesses from sick pool goers. Chlorine is obviously the solution here, as the chemical kills bacteria and puts an end to algae.

Chlorine kills harmful bugs and puts an end to algae.

There are several methods for dispersing chlorine in pool water. However, most people opt for easy-to-use chlorine tablets, which are normally placed in built-in pull skimmer baskets. Once you've added the recommended dose, be sure to test your pool pH levels. Readings from 7.4 to 7.6 are ideal. If you get something out of this range, adjust your water by adding muriatic acid for pH readings above 7.6 or soda ash those under 7.4. Test your water a couple times a week to make sure you're in a good spot and maintaining a healthy aquatic environment. Your swimming companions will thank you.