paintbrush1December 2017 — Getting your home into prime showing shape is essential to helping it sell in the shortest amount of time for the best possible price. But while a professional home stager can work wonders, it just might not be in your budget. Don’t despair - here are some great ways to inexpensively stage your home all on your own:

Get rid of the the excess. The first thing every home stager will do is get rid of the clutter. And that is something anyone can do on your own without spending a dime. Get some boxes and storage bins and start removing whatever you can, including: framed photos; anything hanging on the fridge or anywhere else; knick knacks; most books (save a few nice ones for staging); trophies and awards; kitchen gadgets; personal effects, such as glasses, keys, jewelry, etc. The golden rule? You can’t remove too much.

smartphoneNovember 2017 — From virtual tools to tangible gadgets, there are some things every real estate professional should have on hand at all times. Learn which ones can help carry you to success, from a vibrant online presence and abundant, accessible internet file storage to the right mobile apps and more.

New technology has made it easier than ever for real estate professionals to help keep up with the latest industry trends, schedule and track meetings, connect with clients instantly and resolve customer service issues swiftly—and that's just a sampling of the offerings available to make business less of a chore.

On the Road:
Think about all the time you spend in your car, driving back and forth from showings to open houses to client meetings. In fact, you probably spend so little time in your office that being prepared for any and all business dealings while you're on the road is a smart move. Here are the latest tools that will serve you well and make every on-the-go minute count:

Maximize voicemail, minimize effort with Slydial. Need to get in touch with a client, but only have a couple of minutes before your next appointment? Simply dial 267-SLYDIAL. After the prompt, dial your client's phone number and you'll be sent directly to their voicemail.

loanNovember 2017 — Appraisal disappointing? You have options, according to the Appraisal Institute.

"Homebuyers and sellers should first understand what an appraisal is and how it's used," says Jim Amorin, president and acting CEO of the Appraisal Institute. "Real estate appraisals for mortgage finance applications are prepared for the bank or financial institution so they can better understand the collateral risk in making the loan. This can be confusing, because homebuyers typically pay for the appraisal and receive a copy of it."

In some cases, the appraisal may not match the contract price—but just because an appraisal comes in below (or above) the listing or contract price doesn't mean it's flawed, Amorin says. The agreed-upon contract price may be above market value, for example. In those situations, the buyer and seller often renegotiate the contract at more favorable or balanced terms.

Homebuyers should ask their lender for the qualifications of the appraiser, including whether they are designated by a professional association like the Appraisal Institute, says Amorin. A qualified and competent appraiser knows how to conduct a thorough market analysis and make appropriate adjustments.

peopleNovember 2017 — Dogs - It's no secret that us millennials love our dogs. In a recent industry survey, research showed that millennials are now more likely to buy a home because they want a place for their dogs to run around rather than because of the birth of a child. In the top five list, more space for a dog fell at No. 3, with 33 percent of respondents answering such. The birth of a child was the fifth reason, with just 19 percent of respondents answering that way.

Millennials are factoring their pet's needs when looking to buy a home. Top things we're looking out for are homeowners associations that would restrict certain breeds and proximity to dog parks, as well as access to doggie daycare options.

Only more living space, 66 percent, and the opportunity to build equity, 36 percent, were noted by more millennials as reasons they bought their first home.

The industry survey also revealed that among millennials who have never purchased a home, 42 percent say that their dog—or the desire to have one—is a key factor in their desire to buy a home in the future.

social mediaOctober 2017 — Agents are forever in need of new methods to generate more business and close more deals. The rise of digital marketing has created a big splash, and for good reason. It's incredibly powerful and should not be overlooked. Why, and how, should agents be using Facebook to boost their business? With over 2 billion active users, the power of Facebook's audience is undeniable.

Approximately 30 percent of Facebook users are between the ages of 25 and 34, making it the largest age demographic on the social network. Thirty-four percent of homebuyers are under the age of 36, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Those two trends go hand-in-hand and should be dictating real estate agents' marketing efforts.

Agents need to be experimenting with Facebook advertising in order to meet client expectations and remain competitive. It's easy to get left behind in today's fast-moving market. Agents should be improving and scaling their marketing efforts to keep up with competitors and maintain a positive reputation.

pumpkinOctober 2017 — As the days shorten and autumn arrives, it's time to start considering holiday gift items, or even a couple of household goodies you might just want to keep for yourself.

Take, for example, the remotely controllable slow cooker from WeMo, which lets you check on your meal in progress without actually having to be in the kitchen. Quickly and easily adjust your device's temperature and cook time via the WeMo smartphone app, or just turn it on or off completely while you're away. Plus, its six-quart oval stoneware cooking chamber is removable and dishwasher-safe.

Forget fall foliage and Indian corn—add some festive color to any of your home's doorways with a natural or faux berry fall wreath. Many retail and online home stores and garden centers are offering stemmed bittersweet wreaths gleaming with russet red and persimmon, instead of autumn's more understated browns and oranges.

Warning iconSeptember 2017 — There should never be a shortage of safety precautions, especially in the real estate industry. Here are some tips to keep both you and your clients safe.

Protect yourself. It's important to remember that while clients must be treated as such, they are also essentially strangers the first time you meet them. Keep these tips in mind while you're out showing properties or hosting open houses.

1. Before you take a client anywhere, make sure you take down their information and make a copy of their driver's license. Should anything happen, you want to be able to identify who you were out with.

2. When showing properties, always bring up the rear. You want to be aware of your surroundings at all times. This is also a great way to give your buyers some freedom to walk around the home at their leisure.

3. Make sure all lights are on while you are showing a property. Keeping rooms lit is an easy way to maintain visibility in a dangerous situation.

video recorderSeptember 2017 — For those with their toes in real estate's ever-changing technology pool, virtual reality house tours are likely not a new concept. These stimulating virtual tours allow off-scene buyers to view homes from the inside before requesting a listing appointment, which can save REALTORS® valuable time and energy.

No longer do agents need to scramble to show homes that aren't a fit for their buyer—the buyer knows the inside of the home before they actually enter it. With VR on the cutting edge of today's tech tools, these tours allow agents to shine as a competent professional on the forefront of their field; however, with the high price tag attached to most VR tech tools, creating virtual tours for every listing is not a possibility for most real estate professionals.

Real estate technology company InsideMaps hopes to change that by giving every agent the tools to capture their own HDR photos, 360-degree walk-through tours and videos.

smartphoneAugust 2017 — It's not just cat videos the public is going crazy over; it's all videos, including real estate videos. Marki Lemons-Ryhal, REALTOR®, teacher, social media expert and Facebook Live video host, swears by live video. "By the end of 2017, 74 percent of all content viewed online will be in the form of a video," she says.

Lemons-Ryhal doesn't just comment on the video phenomena; she's mastered it. She opened her first real estate company in 2003, and a year later had sold over 60 units and jumped to the top 10 percent of REALTORS® in Chicago, in large part due to her mastery of social media.

In 2009, she was invited to speak at National Association of REALTORS® Conference & Expo and was named Illinois Real Estate Educator of the year in 2010. She currently travels and teaches social media and technology classes for NAR, Chase and Goldman Sachs. She has multiple designations and degrees, including CRB, ABR, ABRM, CRMS, and an MBA from Saint Xavier University.

Her first video, "Crabs in a Bucket," received 19,442 views. By taking out a $20 Facebook Ad to boost the video, she got 1,241 more views, resulting in 23,683 views. Using those Facebook views, she leveraged the interest in her video into radio and television interviews. "Social media works," she says. "I don't teach theory. I practice what I preach. We have come to realize one can receive a 2,100 percent return on their marketing if they implement video."

energy starAugust 2017 — There have been a lot of studies, think pieces and discussions trying to figure out millennials. Business owners were skeptical about hiring millennials a few years ago and now, as this younger generation continues to grow and succeed in life, the housing market seems to be the next millennial-facing industry.

There’s no doubt that millennials have finally entered the housing market. In fact, they currently make up 35 percent of buyers throughout the United States. Approximately 68 percent of all first-time home buyers fall into this age bracket, as well. But what do they want inside their homes?

Let's take a look and see what millennials are looking for when it comes to buying a home:

Separate Laundry Rooms – Say what you will about millennials and their laundry habits, the majority of millennial homebuyers are searching for homes with an additional room just for laundry. Roughly 92 percent of homebuyers want a separate laundry room, coming in as the No. 1 thing millennials are looking for.

downwardsJuly 2017 —Housing demand continues to outstrip supply, with shortages now at their worst in 20 years. Why?

The answer is simple: Homeowners are happy where they are, according to a new survey by realtor.com®. Sixty-three percent of homeowners surveyed say their current house meets their needs, with baby boomer homeowners especially unwilling to move—a problem for succeeding generations, who are missing out on the 33 million condos and single-family houses boomers currently own. An overwhelming 85 percent of boomers surveyed have no plans to list their home for sale in the next year, with 72 percent reporting that their existing house suits their needs. Sixty-five percent of Gen X homeowners and 52 percent of millennial homeowners echoed the same sentiment.

Homeowners overall also see no need to uproot, the survey shows. Sixteen percent are not moving up due to their low mortgage interest rate (and 13 percent due to their low property taxes), 15 percent are remaining in place because they recently bought their home (a reason reported by 27 percent of millennial homeowners), and another 13 percent are staying put to make upgrades.