The MetroTex Realtors In Action Committee Does It Again!

Guest blog by Travis-Lee Moore, Nathan Grace Real Estate. 

“A turkey walks into a bowling alley…….but seriously.”

Last month, in November, the MetroTex Realtors in Action Committee hosted the once again wildly successful Turkey Bowl!  The event was themed “Disco Inferno” this year and more than 200 bowlers and cheerleaders - another sold-out crowd - gathered at the Plano Super Bowl for an afternoon of real estate industry bowling good times and competition.  The event and its attendees raised a whopping $8,725.00 that goes to our fantastic partners at the North Texas Food Bank.  Every dollar feeds six people, so in one afternoon we managed to come together to see that more than 52,000 folks were fed.  Strike!

The Turkey Bowl is an annual event that takes place every November.  Bowlers compete for top bragging rights and attendees purchase an overabundance of raffle tickets in hopes of winning iPads and $500 gift cards.

Realtors in Action, Leadership, and Leadership Alumni volunteer at the North Texas Food Bank about once per quarter. We encourage all members to join us, even (or especially) those not currently serving on a committee. Watch our social media pages for upcoming volunteer days. Everyone is welcome. Bring your clients, your kids (ages 10 and older, please), or your entire office. If you’ve got a scout or honor society candidate at home who needs volunteer hours, this is a great place to fulfill some of that requirement. We make a big impact in the few hours we’re there. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it feels great to do something to help end hunger right here at home.

We can do ninety-two!

The North Texas Food Bank, founded in 1982, is a Dallas nonprofit hunger relief organization that distributes donated, purchased and prepared foods through a network of more than 200 Partner Agencies in 13 counties. As a member of Feeding America, NTFB supports the nutritional needs of children, families and seniors through education, advocacy and strategic partnerships.

MetroTex represents more than 18,000 real estate professionals involved in all aspects of the real estate industry.  Established in 1917, MetroTex represents the entire North Texas region as the area’s largest REALTOR association.  MetroTex is an advocate for the real estate industry, the real estate professional and private property rights.  Association Mission Statement - The MetroTex Association of REALTORS, Inc. exists, in conjunction with the Texas Association of REALTORS and the National Association of REALTORS, to serve all members by providing products and services which help members succeed in their business in an ethical and professional manner.

Does my vote count?

-Guest blog by Romeo Arrieta

Every election cycle, people make announcements at meetings saying “remember to vote”, “your vote is your voice,” and so on. I’ve made the same announcement myself for at least a decade. I post it on Facebook and tweet reminders every year. If Dallas had mountains, I’d shout it from their summits if I thought it would help. And yet, two out of every five registered voters in Dallas County simply didn’t vote in this election.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After every election I can find someone who didn’t vote. I can always find someone who simply didn’t value their own opinion enough to cast a ballot. And that voter will almost always ask me, “Does my vote really count?” And I always tell them the same thing.

There is always a race that comes down to a handful of votes.

And I mean that literally. Take the example of MetroTex friend and Texas Association of Realtors member Rodney Anderson. He represents Irving and Grand Prairie in Austin as a state representative for House District 105. Over 47,000 people voted in his race. On election night, Rodney Anderson’s unofficial lead came down to 120 votes. After all of the mail ballots came in, and after a recount, he won by 64 votes. That’s it. Those 64 votes will have a direct impact in the lives of all Texans. Those voters will help determine the future of things like school funding, property tax reform, and infrastructure.

Voting matters. Your vote matters.

This year, if you ask me “Does my vote really count?” I will tell you to ask State Representative Rodney Anderson.

How will the election impact the Dallas economy?

Your clients may have many questions about the impact of the election on the US economy, and the North Texas market in particular. We’ve been speaking with NAR’s Deputy Chief Lobbyist to get a feel for what’s going on in DC and how it will impact us here in Texas. Here are some key ideas for you to help you calm any fears your clients may have about entering the housing market in 2017.

Any changes will take time to implement. For most buyers, the biggest concern is obtaining an affordable mortgage. While the pundits are busy speculating about changes to the CPB, Dodd Frank, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage interest deduction, any change to these laws, codes and institutions will require congressional approval. In other words, nothing is going to change quickly. Remember that potential increases to the federal interest rate have been discussed for a few years and any changes will likely be incremental and cautious. Interest rates will likely rise as the economy has been showing growth for some time now, and current economic indicators don’t show any changes to that path. And Texans have even more reason for reassurance: there are strong indications that several key roles will be filled by Texans who will want to protect our local economies.

REALTORS are working to protect consumers. Our policy focus in 2017 will be concentrated in three main areas. First, congress needs to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires at the end of September. The NFIP provides flood insurance, manages floodplains, and develops maps of flood hazard zones, and its budget relies on congressional approval. As REALTORS, we want to ensure that the program requirements are written with the best interest of homeowners in mind.

Our second major policy focus will be to keep an eye on tax reform. We will be watchful and active in the areas of protecting the mortgage interest deduction and state and local property tax deductions for homeowners. On the commercial side, we want to protect the 1031 exchange to protect business interests.

Our third area of interest is to be proactive in terms of housing finance reform. We want to ensure that if the current system including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are dismantled, then whatever replaces it needs to still include some sort of federal guarantees of the secondary market, and that it retains some profits to cushion against market fluctuations. The strength of the mortgage industry and the ability for consumers to obtain mortgages must be at the forefront of any policies enacted.

You can assure your clients that REALTORS are working hard in Washington, Austin, and right here in Dallas to ensure that their interests are heard by lawmakers. You can find out more at http://www.realtoractioncenter.com

Shh! We spill the beans on Dallas’ best kept secrets

With nearly 700 people moving into the Dallas area every day, it’s no wonder innovation is making itself at home in South Dallas. In-demand amenities like DART rail service, urban trails and opportunities for higher education are already in place or well into development. And a quick tour of the education corridor with Paul Quinn College to the east and the University of North Texas Dallas campus to the west reveals a bright future for an area that has been largely overlooked until relatively recently. To help you get to know the area better, today we’re sharing some of South Dallas’ best kept secrets.

Secret Number One: There’s a lot to do in South Dallas. Even though you’re only minutes away from downtown, you’ll find a great escape at the Texas Horse Park in the heart of the Great Trinity Forest and spectacular family adventures at the nearby Trinity Audubon Center. And the amazing part is that there is still so much more room for development here. UNTD will be opening its first residence hall next fall, and their Student Learning and Success Center will add an amphitheater, event and recreation space, a library, student lounge and fitness center to the rapidly expanding school. Luckily, the brand new UNTD DART stop is just a short walk away. Plus, the Trinity Forest Golf Club will soon be adding a premiere golf facility to the area’s already burgeoning list of attractions. From theaters to trails to nature centers, there’s always something going on down here.

Secret Number Two: You can invest in the success of South Dallas. The success of the Bishop Arts District and Trinity Groves speak volumes for what can be accomplished south of the Trinity River, and local leaders are working hard to encourage the everyone in Dallas to work together to expand the bounty of the Dallas economy to the entire community. Area officials are working hard to bring in a variety of mixed use developments and single family housing opportunities. There are already a lot of projects in the works, and the City of Dallas is actively seeking more investment. To make it all happen, there are investment funds created just to give the public a chance to invest in the development themselves. Impact Dallas Capital is a not-for-profit organization that creates investment funds specifically designed to bring capital to South Dallas while creating potential for significant returns. If you’re interested, visit http://impactdallascapital.com/ to find out more.

Here’s the biggest secret of them all: the rolling hills of South Dallas hold a lot of human potential, too. If you’re a small business owner, entrepreneur, or just looking for a great employee, the public and private colleges that dot the landscape are a great place to start your search. The students here are attracted by innovative programs designed with their success in mind. UNTD has a special focus on programming for veterans and non-traditional students. Paul Quinn College, already garnering national attention for its rebirth as a premier small college and its innovative urban farm program, actively seeks businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in their students through their Work Program. You can find a talented intern for your business by contacting the Office of Personal and Career Development at OPCD@pqc.edu or invest in the success of students at UNTD by joining the UNT Dallas Foundation at http://www.untdallas.edu/ua/giving.

As your local professional association, we want all of our participants to know what’s going on in the community. We believe that by knowing the issues and successes of all of the parts in our city, you will be better able to serve your clients. We also believe when you choose to take that knowledge a step further and become active in the community yourself, you can harness the power of that community for your own development. A recent tour of the Education Corridor, presented by the MetroTex Southern Regional Advisory Council and sponsored by NAR, provided our members a first-hand look at South Dallas. Participants were able to meet the presidents of UNTD and Paul Quinn College as well as Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Erik Wilson, and other city officials working to bring South Dallas to its full potential. We hope that by spreading the good news about South Dallas, you’ll be able to benefit from what we learned. And if you missed the tour, we strongly encourage you to go have a look for yourself.

Come to South Dallas for its beauty and opportunity. Stay in South Dallas for its community.

 

Old school marketing ideas that still work

We’re continuing our series about building your business for next year. Recent blogs have covered email marketing strategies, lead generation, networking, and rebranding. The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to have an effective marketing campaign. There are some favorite marketing techniques that can still be effective today, and some are pretty low cost or free. Incorporate your favorites into a comprehensive campaign for maximum impact.

Become a Columnist. Showcase your local knowledge by writing a regular column for a local paper, social media group, online news site or blog, or local magazine. There are a lot of outlets that are looking for content. Make sure the one you pick is local to your market area. Keep in mind that your column shouldn’t be a sales piece. Instead, write about what’s trending in the market and sprinkle in articles about what’s going on in your town. Industry articles could be about new design trends, tips for sellers, or general market conditions. When thinking about local happenings, write a review of a new restaurant or a column about a local citizen who is doing something interesting (think about local artists, a local team that won a competition, or a community service project that a local elementary school is conducting). Always include information about how the reader can participate.

Host Free Seminars. It doesn’t have to cost much to offer useful information to a lot of people. If you hold a series of seminars on a regular basis, you can establish yourself as a local expert. You might be able to secure a municipal community room (check your town’s website) or ask a lender or title company to borrow a meeting room. In your seminar, have one or two basic branded handouts that outline your main points. Topics might include things like the how to manage credit, the steps to buying or selling a home, staging tips, top design trends, or home maintenance. Ask your friends in related industries to present from time to time as well. Lenders, inspectors, appraisers can have added insight and can take the pressure off if you’re running low on ideas. If you’ve got a visual presentation or a friend with a good camera, you can double up on the utility of your seminar by turning it into a webinar or shareable video. Remember to use this opportunity to collect email addresses for your database.

Advertise IRL. Online ads can be easy to slip into a small marketing budget, but if you’re willing to invest a little more into your business you’ll find that traditional advertising still works and can be affordable. Local papers and magazines are a good place to start, but you can also consider more creative options like asking at local businesses if you can sponsor them. For instance, print your logo and slogan on coffee cups or paper placemats for a local coffee shop, or advertise on golf carts at a local course. Make sure to measure the effectiveness of each effort by creating a unique website or landing page for each campaign and measure the traffic. 

Use newsletters. There are two ways to use newsletters: advertise in someone else’s or send out your own. Advertise in local newsletters for civic groups, neighborhoods, schools and other groups that reflect your brand strategy. You can often advertise in both print and online versions. If you have your own newsletter, advertise listings with striking photos, and local content. Remember that this isn’t just a copy of the online listing. Here you have much more leeway to use as much copy as you like, so add details. Make sure to include hyperlinks to your landing page.

Keep watching this column for more tips on building your business in 2017. We’ll look at leveraging social media and online content, and great ways to stay connected with your leads. 

How personal marketing now will bring you success in 2017

We’ve been talking a lot lately about building your business up in 2017. Recent blogs have covered email marketing strategies, lead generation, and rebranding. Today we’re going to look at networking and personalized marketing strategies. These are the most time-intensive activities you are likely to do, but they also are most likely to create greater dividends for your business. All of these tips are touches; they demonstrate that you care about your community and your client base beyond your paycheck.

Invest in your community. When you are active in your community, you’ll get more top-of-mind referrals. You can do this by sponsoring local events. Remember that you don’t have to create or run the event to help. For instance, if your town has a medical waste drop off day, offer to promote the event by printing and distributing door hangers in neighborhoods or posters in local businesses. If your local chamber of commerce or Rotary Club is holding a luncheon or banquet, sponsor the centerpieces and then donate them after the event to a local retirement home or hospice (and be sure to announce this at the event so people don’t walk away with them). Look for ways to give back first.

Volunteer. Get involved with a local charity or community group. Volunteer frequently and whole-heartedly. You’ll feel great knowing that you are helping a worthy cause and you will engage with people on a deeper level than if you were only marketing to them. You are your brand, and doing good in the community will encourage people to recommend you to others. Take it one step further and offer to host, sponsor or help advertise or promote a fundraiser with your charity.

Attend Professional Events. Don’t be intimidated by other agents or view them as competition. Remember, chances are that you will be conducting deals with them at some point in the future, or if they’re not in your market area, you might be able to create referral sources. Transactions with agents you already know can be a whole lot easier to manage when the lines of communication are already open. Plus, you can pre-market your listings to a receptive audience. If there aren’t enough professional groups in your market area, create your own and invite other real estate professionals and members of affiliated industries to join.

Stay in touch with your base. Regularly host an event for your friends, current and past clients and their families. It’s a fun and casual way to organically grow your network and show your gratitude to the people in your life. Events can be simple. Think happy hour. They can be seasonal. Create a mini pumpkin patch at a park and let the kids pick out their own tiny pumpkin. They can be potluck. Start a dinner club and have everyone bring something to pass. They can be unique and locally focused. Find an artisan shop near you – a chocolatier, bakery, or coffee roaster for example, and host a tasting event. They can be trendy. Hire a food truck. They don’t have to be expensive events, but they should be scheduled on a predictable and regular basis. Have a friend from an affiliated industry help you plan events if you don’t want to do it alone.

Say thank you. Send a handwritten note to anyone who gives you a referral or closes a deal with you. In fact, send handwritten notes to everyone in your sphere on a regular basis. Thank them for being active in the community, or compliment them on a job well done. When your referral client sends you a referral, go back two steps and thank the person that sent you the original client in the first place. Don’t ask for anything in return, simply show gratitude.

Ask for referrals. When clients are referred to you, they come to you with a certain level of implicit trust in the relationship before you ever show them a house. Referrals also come with responsibility. If someone refers a friend to you, they want that friend to be treated well. Be responsive and communicate with them regularly. Treat them well and demonstrate to both the new client and the old that you are honored to have earned that business. Be sure to thank the people that refer you business and make it clear to new clients that referrals are the life-blood of your business. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How am I doing?” and “Can you think of a friend, family member or co-worker who could use my help?”

Remember your business relies on people. When you’re good to the people around you, others will return the favor. It’s not always easy to stay in touch with others when we get busy, but doing so really is a fundamental key to success in real estate. We all get busy, so even if you have to block time off in your calendar and force yourself away from your desk, do it. Your efforts will be appreciated by others. And the potential upside is infinite.

Rebrand today for a successful 2017

Marketing your business well takes effort. Make the most of your time and market dollars. You can put a new spin on old school techniques and get creative with new technologies to get the word out. The rest is all about networking and following up on your efforts. Keep your pipeline flowing through the winter doldrums and get ready for an active spring by building these efforts into your business today.

Find Your Niche. Your niche doesn’t need to be based solely on geographical areas. Think about the people you’ve worked with in the past. Is there a common thread among your favorite clients that really allowed you to connect with them? Target the demographic where you’re most likely to find success and gain referrals. It could be that you work best with pet owners, or have a great relationship with a particular immigrant community. Maybe you work really well with young families. Your marketing and networking efforts should focus on connecting with that target.

Create a Slogan. When done well, a great slogan sums up your business in a short, memorable phrase. Avoid smarmy puns and aim instead for a sincere, reassuring tone. Great slogans will create an emotional connection. Keep your slogan short for maximum impact. Think about your niche and how your slogan can reflect that. Some examples we’ve seen online include luxury brand Kerwin & Associates’ Exceptional Properties. Exceptional Clients and Podley Properties’ Your Next Chapter Starts Here. Both are simple and direct and convey a certain message about the client. Kerwin & Associates slogan gives them an air of exclusivity. Podley Properties convey that they are able guides through the transition that a move brings. What feeling do you want to convey about your brand?

Update your value proposition. Write a short statement about yourself and your company that highlights your unique strengths and qualifications. Underscore how they benefit your clients and your community. Be prepared to use your value proposition when you meet someone new and in your marketing materials.

Write your Bio. With your target audience, slogan and value proposition in mind, write a short bio that emphasizes your professional qualifications and your values. Clients should get a sense of your personality, experiences, and interests. Use this in your presentations and on the “About Me” page of your website.

Get a professional headshot. Unless you’ve had a headshot taken in the past couple of years, it’s time to update your photo. No selfies, please! You are your brand and you want people to respect you as a professional. Hire a photographer who can give your photo proper lighting, positioning, and in several formats and sizes for reproduction. A good photographer can show you how to optimize your headshot for social media, websites and print materials.

Create a marketing plan. Now that you’ve defined your target market and your brand identity, it’s time to develop a strategy to make it all come together. What strategies can you incorporate to underscore your brand this year? Dream up a big, audacious goal and take small steps every day toward achieving that dream. For instance, break up your marketing strategies into time-specific increments: what can you accomplish annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily? Taking the time to plan out the year will help you prioritize.

Now you’ve got a good foundation for creating a successful marketing campaign. Watch for our upcoming blogs where we’ll discuss how to implement your new brand through altruism, networking, social media campaigns, and advertising.

How to Pick the Best Home Warranty For Your Client

Guest Blog by Joshua Lopez, Landmark Home Warranty

As a buyer’s agent, you’re responsible for a lot in a real estate transaction to make sure everything goes smoothly. One of those things can be picking out a home warranty. But – how do you know which home warranty plan is the best for your client? After all, picking a good home warranty plan reflects well on you and can result in future business from the homeowner – or referrals. Unfortunately, there’s not a “one size fits all” home warranty plan that works for every home and homeowner, either. Use these tips to pick the best home warranty for each unique homeowner and house.

1. Determine What Coverage the Home Needs

To begin, look at what type of coverage the home needs from a home warranty. It might be easy to say, “Well, I want my buyers to have coverage on everything!” But unfortunately, you’d be hard-pressed to find a home warranty that covers every part of a home’s systems and appliances. Otherwise, their yearly premiums would be sky-high. Instead, pick the home warranty based on what your clients’ needs are. You can determine what your clients need coverage on from a home warranty by asking these three questions:

1. Are there systems or appliance that are well maintained, but nearing the end of their lifespans?

2. Are these systems and appliances expensive to repair or replace?

3. Are these systems and appliances integral to the comfort of the home?

Systems and appliances that meet these requirements should go on the list of what you want covered in your client’s new home. These are the “problem areas” and what they’ll probably need help repairing or replacing in the upcoming years of home ownership. Once you have a list of the systems and appliances that need coverage, begin looking at the home warranty companies that provide coverage on these items.

It’s important to note that using the home inspection report as a guide to what may need to be covered by a home warranty is a good start. However, a majority of home warranties do not cover systems and appliances that show they have problems in the home inspection report. You can use the home inspection as a jumping off point, but if you want those items to be covered by a home warranty, you’ll need to give the home warranty proof that they were repaired before the date the warranty begins coverage on the home. 

2. How Experienced Is Your Buyer?

Next, consider how experienced your buyer is with home repairs. A home warranty not only provides cost savings, but it also provides a guarantee for a qualified professional to do the repairs and replacements.

If your homeowner is an avid DIY repairer who likes to get their hands dirty and is extremely experienced, they might want something that covers the bigger systems in the home that they don’t have enough experience to repair. If your homeowner is a brand new homeowner, you’ll probably want a home warranty that covers a lot more of the smaller repairs and replacements within a home. You may want to include some add-ons to the basic home warranty plans to help cover new home buyers. Some home warranties have things like roof repair coverage or extreme pipe-leak repair that may be attractive to first-time buyers.

3. Read Through the Contract Thoroughly

After determining what your buyer needs coverage on and how much they need, it’s time to start comparing home warranty contracts. Make sure to read through the contracts with your buyer to help them understand the basics of a home warranty. Teach them that a home warranty has two main parts: the yearly premium and the service call fee that they must pay to the contractor who comes out to their home for diagnosis. Most home warranties allow you to look at a sample contract for your state or region that outlines what they cover, exclude, and limits. For your convenience, we’ve outlined their basic descriptions below:

Covered: This is what items the home warranty will repair or replace if they fall in line with the overall coverage of the home warranty contract. (This means, for example, a home warranty may cover an oven and it will be listed in the covered items section of the contract, but they’ll only cover the oven if it has failed from normal wear and tear, not because someone has purposely damaged the oven because they want a brand new one.)

Excluded: This section explains what is not covered under the contract. This may be smaller parts of a system that are less than the service call fee, so a waste of your buyer’s money, or systems or appliances that are obscure.

Limits: Home warranty companies do limits two ways. Some home warranties have an overall limit on contracts, meaning they’ll cover any repair or replacement in their contract up to a certain monetary amount, and after that, the home warranty is useless and the homeowner has to pay all repairs and replacements out of pocket.

Other companies just have limits on certain parts of their home warranties, meaning that they’ll pay up to a certain dollar amount for a repair or replacement on that item, and then the homeowner will have to pay the rest out of pocket.  Beware: most home warranties that are low in price have lower limits, making your buyer pay more out of pocket for repairs.

After reading and comparing the coverage from each home warranty, pick the one that has the best coverage for your buyer based on what they need coverage on, your buyer’s homeownership experience level, and what the contract states.

What are you doing today to fill your pipeline for tomorrow?

We get it. In this market, you get busy with the contracts you are closing today and don’t have a lot of time to work on lead generation. But you know that keeping your income steady is dependent on always adding to your pipeline. Here are some tips to make filling your pipeline a habitual part of your everyday business practices.

Get some facetime. Remember that meeting people in person generates more business. Get out into your farming area and meet people. Find ways you can help them that may have nothing to do with your real estate business. When you’re speaking with local business owners, explain that you love to give and get referrals. Then ask them about their business goals and needs. Think about who you know that can meet those needs and make an introduction. If you lead with a giving hand, you’ll be able to build a foundation for future referrals from them. Reach out to your sphere and reconnect in person with each one in a planned and routine basis (monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually depending on how often they provide referrals).

Hold open houses. Yes, even in today’s market an open house can be a great way to add to your pipeline. Make sure people sign in when they enter and offer to send them up-to-date list of available homes as they become available. Set up fishbowls around the property for prize drawings. Create a guide for buyers in your area and provide a link for them to download it at their convenience. Make sure you have an email capture on the site for them to download the guide (include things like local or neighborhood amenities, packing tips, and referrals for local services).

Believe in the hype. In the week before the listing goes live, put out a coming soon sign and brochures. Hold an Open House on the first day the property becomes Active.

Get creative. Stick with me on this one. If you have a unique property that is proving difficult to market, or if you have one coming up in a particularly stellar location, get permission from the sellers to rent the space for an event. Services like EventUp allow you to list properties available for rent for a single event or a short term. Think weddings, corporate events, community groups, or trendy pop-up shops. Short term rentals are in demand and you’ll fill the property with potential buyers and people who may be able to refer someone to you. You can choose an event that will fit your target market, and generate some income for the sellers. If the property is vacant, choose an event planner that will stage the space beautifully. Your focus during the event is to make sure every person attending that event gets information and a takeaway about the property.

Follow up! The most important part of networking and lead generation is regularly following up with their leads. Use a customer relationship management (CRM) software to help you. There are dozens out there. Make sure the one you choose is designed for real estate and doesn’t break the bank. Realty Juggler, Contactually, Market Leader and Top Producer are popular products. Pick the one that feels most comfortable to you and make sure you use it every day.

What are your favorite ways to generate leads for your business? What have you tried that has bombed?

Email marketing done right

If you want to maintain a steady flow in your transaction pipeline, you need a strong email strategy. Use effective email tools to stay top of mind and gain referrals and earn repeat business. Follow our strategies to improve your drip campaign and watch your business grow.

Build your database. Of course you’ll market to your sphere, your past clients and people you know. Don’t be afraid to collect email addresses everywhere you go. Have an opt-in feature on your website and ask at open houses. Collect addresses while you network and don’t be afraid to ask in conversation. The larger your database, the more likely your audience will either be in the market or know someone who is.

Be strategic. Make sure your email content is relevant and personal. Offer useful tips or reminders in a conversational tone. Be consistent and predictable with your timing. Monday mornings are big catch up days for people, so try emailing at off times, like afternoons midweek.

Get to the point. Try to avoid sounding like clickbait in your subject line. Avoid “Top 5 AMAZING Secrets to Homeownership” in favor of “Fall Home Maintenance Tips.” Be direct in your email, too. You don’t need a lot of fluffy language to get your message across and still be useful. Try to use emotional storytelling to create a particularly compelling message. This works well to promote charitable events you are sponsoring or supporting.

Be personal. Make sure that little touches, like adding the recipient’s name or subdivision are included. Make them feel like the message is something you wanted to share with them specifically.

Have fun. A touch of humor every now and then keeps the tone conversational. For instance, use a fun animated to add some personality to your message. You can find a variety of existing GIFs or make your own at giphy.com. Or include a short video announcing a local event, new business, or even a market report.

Be Reachable. Make sure your email signature block includes your full name, all phone numbers, email and web addresses and links.

Be shareable. Just like your webpage, you should have links to your social media accounts in your signature block or at the top of the message. If you need help, there are free online templates using these features.

Be grateful. Use autoresponders to send out thank you notes and confirmations. Thank clients for contacting you and assure them that you will respond quickly to their message. If they are responding to a specific event RSVP request, send a confirmation that they are on the guest list.

Spend a little time setting up your email drip campaign and you’ll keep your pipeline flowing at a predictable pace!

Are your clients in line with local and federal Non-Discrimination policies?

Guest blog by David Sparling, Diversity and Housing Initiatives Chair

"Every American deserves to live with dignity, regardless of who they love or who they are. HUD is committed to fighting unjust discrimination and to expanding housing opportunity for all. We believe there are no second-class citizens. And I will do every single thing that I can to make sure that everyone is protected."
- HUD Secretary Julián Castro

While the NAR Code of Ethics clearly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, local and federal housing policies are often unknown or unclear to the public. Protect your clients and make sure they understand current non-discrimination policies wherever they are in the Metroplex.

Working towards ending housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is part of HUD’s ongoing mission to give every person and family access to a safe, secure and affordable home. Though the Fair Housing Act does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases, HUD’s position is very clear: one may not discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

HUD believes the Fair Housing Act offers protection for people who do not conform to gender stereotypes. For example, a landlord may not discriminate against an individual because he believes the person acts in a manner that does not conform to his notion of how a person of a particular sex should act. In addition, HUD uses the Gender Identity Rule to further require that transgender persons and other persons who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth be given equal access to programs, benefits, services, and accommodations in accordance with their gender identity.

On the local level, Dallas, Fort Worth and Plano also have specific non-discrimination ordinances offering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents protection against discrimination in housing and other environments.

Rules your clients should know:

It is prohibited for any landlord or housing provider who receives HUD or FHA funds to discriminate against a tenant on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

It is prohibited for a lender to deny an FHA-insured mortgage to any qualified applicant based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

It is illegal to deny housing because of someone's HIV/AIDS status under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is prohibited for homeless facilities to segregate or isolate transgender individuals solely based on their gender identity who are homeless and seeking shelter.

If you believe your clients have experienced (or are about to experience) housing discrimination, you may contact HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for help at (800) 669-9777. You may also file a housing discrimination complaint online.

Additionally you may contact your local HUD office for assistance with alleged violations of HUD’s Equal Access Rule and other program regulations.

How would TPP impact Texas?

Are you down with TPP? While the Trans-Pacific Partnership has gained attention by becoming a talking point for presidential candidates, it’s sometimes hard to know what impact such an agreement would have here in North Texas. But it’s important that we try. The economy in North Texas is quickly becoming one with an international focus. And, with the real estate market so dependent on the local economy, it’s important for Realtors to understand the pros and cons of TPP and its potential impact on Texans. Learn about TPP and make your voice heard in November.

Whether or not you support increasing free trade, there is no disputing that the countries involved in TPP are already important to Texas’s exporters. The Department of Commerce notes that last year Texas exported nearly $140 billion in goods to Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam alone. In fact, 55 percent of Texas exports went to TPP countries, from nearly 20,000 companies. Most of these companies were small to medium sized businesses. These businesses would no doubt benefit from the elimination of foreign import taxes. The elimination of these taxes would reduce the cost to their buyers– by an estimated 25 to 59 percent in many cases.

Economists and business leaders point to these cost savings as having the potential for creating more jobs and faster, more economical trade. They also believe that the elimination of restrictions on trade could have big beneficial impacts on agriculture and in the service industry.

The controversy over TPP begins with a lot of unanswered questions. Because governments are eager to create more open trade, they are negotiating most of the partnership details out of the public eye. Activists opposed to eliminating trade barriers are concerned that a variety of protections currently in place will be eliminated. For instance, it is unknown whether the TPP will include labor standards based on current international conventions or how such standards will be enforced. Similar standards in place to protect the environment and public interest policies might also be impacted. Further, activists want assurances that access to affordable generic versions of medications will be protected. Agricultural experts want to know that farm workers are protected and that dumping of crops won’t force family farmers out of business.

Texas businesses stand to benefit greatly if the TPP is passed in some version. With our strong economy ready to do business with the world, it could be a great time to be a Texan. But with so many unanswered questions and concerns, no one can say for sure that this massive trade agreement would be a panacea to struggling global economy, or its greatest folly.

Hear from both sides of the TPP feud. For local interpretations of TPP’s impact on Texas, visit http://trade.gov/fta/tpp/states/texas.asp to see the government’s official stance, pr listen to the Texas Standard interview with Raymond Robertson, a professor of economics and government at the Bush School at Texas A&M. For a more general explanation, listen to What is TPP and why are both parties so angry about it? from PRI. Then decide for yourself.

And, don’t forget to vote in November. 

Planning for Success

Laying the foundation for a strong business starts today

We’ve all heard it before. Work smarter, not harder. It’s a challenge to do that when you’re chasing deals that take a lot of effort and produce little reward. You find yourself juggling multiple complex transactions and at the end of the year still struggling to make ends meet. But there’s another way.

Focusing your business on the luxury market will allow you to achieve your business goals and work smarter. This month, MetroTex will teach you how to break into that market, navigate it successfully, and build your business into a stable, self-sustaining real estate enterprise. In October, we’ll be hosting a remarkable two-day training event where you’ll learn all of the ins and outs of attracting and closing the luxury market. You’ll discover the necessary strategies, lingo, and expectations for this discerning market. This intensive training program will give you the tools you need to anticipate, meet, and exceed your client’s needs.

At the end of this vital seminar, you’ll not only be one step closer to achieving the CLHMS designation, but you’ll also gain membership to the Institute of Luxury Home Marketing. This exclusive membership will provide you an entire set of on-demand marketing tools to help you implement all of the strategies you’ve learned in class. You’ll have access to presentation tools to demonstrate your market knowledge to your clients, shareable videos and online content for your clients, and printable marketing collateral materials to give your brand a polished look. But that’s just the start. You’ll also be able to leverage the power of WealthEngine, giving you a comprehensive profile of your clients and prospects, their wealth, spending patterns, lifestyle and more. Through the Institute, you’ll have access to networking opportunities, continuing education, and special members-only discounts for expanded marketing tools.

Past presentations of The Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (CLHMS) program have proven to be invaluable to participants and their businesses. MetroTex is pleased to be able to bring this popular program back to our members. Join us October 27-28 at the MetroTex Grapevine Service Center. For more information or to register, visit http://www.luxuryhomemarketing.com/real-estate-agents/schedule.html.

Please note: 16 elective CRS credits/15 hours MCE credit available. To achieve the CLHMS designation, participants must take the seminar and reach sales performance requirements as outlined in the class.

Fall clean up tips for your yard

Take advantage of what remains of daylight savings time and the blessedly cooler weather this October by giving your yard a thorough fall clean up. You’ll have a better canvas for holiday decorating and give your yard a big head start to looking great next spring. Here are our top tips for giving your home some autumn curb appeal.

Rake. Leaves left on the grass can smother the turf and create dead patches. But leave some leaves in flower beds and gardens to insulate remaining plants from cold weather and provide nutrients as the leaves decompost.

Fertilize. Applying a fall fertilizer helps your lawn recover from summer heat stress and will give your lawn a much healthier start in the spring. A healthy lawn will be better able to withstand insects and next summer’s heat.

A top-down approach. Once the leaves have fallen, clean out your gutters. Check for any leaks or missing brackets and address the issue before winter weather sets in.

Protect your pretty pots: The topsy-turvy rain/freeze cycle in North Texas can turn microscopic fissures in your pots into big cracks. Clean them with equal parts water and vinegar before you move your pots to shelter.

Weed the beds. Weeding now will prevent a lot of extra work in the spring.

Topdressing. A very thin layer (less than 1/8 of an inch) of soil or sand can help your lawn by promoting decomposition of thick thatch build up. It’s not a good time to de-thatch or aerate your lawn – that’s best left for early spring – but if you notice a more than a half inch of thatch on your lawn, a light topdressing will help over the winter months. Also apply topdressing to areas that have bare or trampled spots. If they’re very bare, apply seed.

Take care of outdoor furniture. Rinse off all patio furniture. Rub a fresh coat of teak oil on untreated teak furniture. Check metal furniture for rust spots and sand and repaint where needed. Put away umbrellas and inspect cushions for damage. Lastly, cover items with tarps if furniture will remain outside.

Hire a chimney sweep. Prevent chimney fires caused by debris. Both wood burning and gas fireplaces should have an annual cleaning from a chimney sweep. A chimney sweep can also let you know if the chimney itself shows signs of deterioration. Have your dryer vents cleaned at the same time and save on energy costs as well.

Toss it. Be sure to pick up any fruits, vegetables, and nuts leftover from the growing season. Food left out can attract pests and rodents that you don’t necessarily want hanging around. If you have plants that are dead, dying or diseased, now is a good time to get rid of them, too. When you’re cutting back plants, look for signs of disease or damaging insects and destroy that foliage, too. If you’re removing the whole plant, make sure to get the roots as well. Cut off dead and broken limbs so strong winds won’t create problems for you later. You might also find it useful to trim away branches that are too close to the house. Don’t trim too much now, though. Wait until they’re coming back out of dormancy in the spring.

Plant your April flowers. Early flowering bulbs like tulips, crocus and daffodils like to overwinter in cooler soils. Now is a great time to plant them for the spring.

Take time for your tools. It’s a great time to take care of your yard tools, too. Brush away dirt and debris and then oil the blades to prevent rust. Sharpen cutting tools and oil them as well before storing them for the winter.

The MetroTex Association of REALTORS is comprised of more than 17,000 area professionals in real estate and related industries. For more information about buying, selling or renting a home, visit dfwrealestate.com.

Home Warranties: What to look for and how to advise your clients

In our competitive and busy market, many buyers are no longer asking for home warranties as part of the purchase contract, and homeowners certainly don’t feel the need to offer them. So why, as an agent, should you worry about home warranties? Because your clients will want to know if they should buy one and they’ll turn to you for advice. Be prepared to offer an expert opinion with our tips.

Coverage

Have the client look at the seller’s disclosure, the inspection report, and think about their personal observations. Home warranties repair or replace things that break down from normal wear and tear. Have your clients make a list of things in the home that are well-maintained but nearing the end of their expected lifespan, are expensive to repair or are necessary for quality of life. These are things like hot water heaters, HVAC units, and appliances. These are the things that your client will want to ensure are covered. Have them keep those things in mind when they are reviewing their coverage options. Remember that major structural items, like the roof and foundation are generally covered by home owner’s insurance and not home warranties. Also, if the home is new or has new systems, the manufacturer warranty may offer some initial coverage, initially reducing the need for a really substantial warranty policy

Pricing versus Coverage Limits

Your client will want to consider the cost of the premium of the plan, as well as service call fees. And they will also want to consider the limits of the policy. If they are really concerned about the HVAC unit breaking down in the middle of a heat wave, then they will want to ensure that the policy they choose will cover the cost of a new system if needed. Some policies will limit the amount of coverage available on certain items. They need to consider the value having a policy given the amount required to repair an item unexpectedly versus the cost of the policy, service fees, and whether the limits will cover the replacement costs.

Keep in mind that home warranties won’t cover problems arising from a lack of maintenance or known conditions. For instance, you can’t buy a home warranty policy if your air conditioning is already broken and then expect the warranty to cover that system.

Who is doing the work?

If your clients have preferred contractors, have them ask whether they are contracted with a home warranty company and which ones. When they are reviewing policies, they should ensure that the warranty company only works with contractors who are licensed and bonded in Texas. Your clients should ask about their vetting process and how they handle work that doesn’t meet correct standards.

Why should your clients consider a home warranty?

The average annual cost of a home warranty is several hundred dollars. That can mean conservable savings if something expensive break down. A $400 warranty is well worth the money if you are replacing an $8000 air conditioner. Cost savings aside, a home warranty can offer some peace of mind if your client is doesn’t have cash on hand to handle an expensive repair.

Make sure your clients read online reviews of different warranty companies before they make their final decision. Not all warranty companies are the same.

Home warranties can be a great option for your clients, and you should make sure they understand what is – and isn’t – covered before they buy their policy. If they do opt to buy a policy ask them to tell you what company and policy they chose. You might even ask if you can write their policy number in their file. Because your clients will call to ask you for recommendations for contractors when the oven breaks, or the garage door won’t open. If they’ve bought a warranty, you could save them a lot of money and heartache when you remind them to call their warranty company. Having that policy information on hand will be a great benefit to your clients.

And THAT’S how you become their trusted real estate advisor for life. 

You’ve got ALL the social media accounts. Now what? Tips for making your posts more appealing

You’ve no doubt heard the news. Unless you’re actively posting to social media, you’re irrelevant to the world at large. Maybe that sentiment is a bit extreme, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t harness social media to expand your network. If nothing else, good use of social media can help you connect with your sphere without having to spend a lot of money on blind advertising.

Visual Appeal

Whenever you post, use images to tell a story. If you want to convey what a great place your town is to live, take a few photos at the weekend farmers market, or snap a few colorful shots at the next high school football game. Color guard flags or a super close-up of a marching band uniform are fun examples. Use photos that convey a fun spirit of community. If your farming area has a festival, new fire station, or a great new restaurant, celebrate with pictures. Look for vivid colors or interesting patterns. Be engaging and aware of what’s going on nearby. You’re here to catch people’s attention. Remember to try to keep it relevant to your audience.

Remember, this is not the time for a hard sales pitch. Keep the “social” in your social media. You want the tone to be engaging, light, and fun. Yes, you can and should market your listings, but don’t make that the only focus of your posts. Your audience will tune out or fade away entirely.

Get Help

If your photography skills aren’t your strong suit, don’t worry. Help is available. There are websites around that will help you improve your images or find good ones to use. Canva is on great example. This free website has simple, user-friendly tools to enhance your graphic design. It’s designed for everyone from technophobes to media pros. While you can use your own images, Canva offers stock photography and templates for both online and print marketing, which is a nice feature to have. You can coordinate the great new look of your social posts with your listing flyers to create a cohesive brand image.

Get Colorful

Speaking of building a cohesive brand image, let’s talk about color. When you’re creating your social media posts, choose a color that reflects your brand. If your signage has a dominant color, make sure to incorporate that somewhere in the image. For instance, you could use the color in a backdrop or as a border. Be consistent with the look and tone for maximum impact.

Learn to love selfies

A recent Georgia Tech study found that on Instagram, photos showing faces get 38% more Likes than photos not showing faces. And since REALTORS are known for sticking our faces on just about anything that won’t move, don’t get shy when it comes to social media posts. You don’t have to be in every picture, but if you’re taking fall pictures at the pumpkin patch, snap a few selfies on the hay bales and encourage your fans to make the most of the season. It’s ok to be human in your marketing. After all, you are your best brand ambassador. Just finished a closing? Try out a custom snapchat filter with your happy new homeowners. Remember, you want to be eye catching and engaging. Plus tagging your clients will encourage them to share with their circles as well. But don’t go overboard. You want to be seen as a working professional, not some goofball with an odd obsession over cat filters.

Get around the algorithms

Facebook has a funny way of sharing your posts using mathematical algorithms and quite possibly sorcery. What works – and what doesn’t – is always changing. Recently, Facebook started counting your words against you. If you place a lot of text over an image, Facebook will share it less than if your image has fewer words. You might find that you can’t boost a post if it’s deemed to have too many words and not enough images. So keep your images simple and try to be mindful of the kinds of things you see in your feed. If you notice you’re not seeing something as often, try to find out why.

But do still use your words

You can post that great photo and create a call to action with the photo description or in the comments. Keep in mind the 5 w’s – who, what, when, where, why (and how). Remember that selfie with your clients? After creating your first call to action with an image, it’s time to focus on the description. Use something like, “Bob and Sue are celebrating their new house. Be sure to congratulate them. And when you want to know more about how to achieve your real estate goals, I’ll be here to help.” Be generous and friendly. The emotions you portray will influence how the viewer feels.

Another way to engage is to be conversational. “Bob and Sue are celebrating buying their first house together. Where did you buy your first house? Tell us about it.”

Consider Video

Video is a pretty popular trend and you don’t need anything more than a phone to pull it off. You can even live stream to boost engagement. A fun way to pull people in is to interview another pro. Have a live sit down with a designer and let people ask questions about paint colors or design trends. Go to the State Fair and preview some of the gadgets and innovations you see. You might even try one of the wackier fried foods. Just make sure to tell people what you’re planning in advance, and invite them to join you. Remember to acknowledge your viewers by name and encourage them to ask questions.

Have a purpose

Don’t be intimidated to use social media in new ways. If you are consistently thoughtful and purposeful in your posts, you will establish your unique brand. Provide useful and fun content and establish yourself as a credible expert on your market area. Engage your sphere where they are, and watch your business flourish.

Update: The Hidden Property Tax, Your Clients, and You

There’s no denying it. Property tax bills are getting larger. As home values rise, the number of dollars coming out of our pockets rises, too. That financial pressure is making home ownership less attractive for some. It’s making it unattainable for others. And it’s beginning to push people to the point of no longer being able to afford their homes.

And we can do something about it. Remember, we are taxpayers. We are voters. We are Realtors. We have a voice. And we have the ability to create change.

Through our public advocacy outreach, we have encouraged local leaders to adopt the effective tax rate which would keep tax bills where they are, instead of allowing them to increase exponentially. MetroTex president Russell Berry has twice testified at Dallas County Commissioners Court hearings on the matter. We also launched an Issues Mobilization campaign to ask the public to contact their commissioners. We’ve written Op/Ed pieces and blogs, we’ve sent out postcards and maintained a strong social media campaign. And we’ve gotten a lot of coverage in the local media about the issue. We have changed the conversation and seen positive results.

Collin and Tarrant Counties are considering just such a move. Denton County has already adopted the effective tax rate for 2016. Some area school districts are joining in the effort by doing the same. Unfortunately, despite our efforts and the support of Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Mike Cantrell, Dallas County voted not to adopt the effective tax rate for 2016, further increasing the tax burden on its citizens.

The Texas State Legislature is taking note. It is very likely that Texas legislators will consider the rising property tax burden on Texans. MetroTex will be there, alongside TAR, and other local REALTOR associations, fighting for homeowners.

You can get involved, too. Here’s how:

  • Contribute your fair share.* When annual dues bills come out in the next week or so, contribute to TREPAC to support this and other important causes that directly impact your business.
  • Visit thehiddenpropertytax.com and encourage your clients, friends and family to watch the video. We want voters to know more about how they are impacted by the hidden property tax, and what they can do about it.
  • Post the links on your social media. Help us raise awareness.
  • Contact your state senator and your state representative. Tell them you want them to stop the increasing tax burden on home owners. Visit http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx to find out who represents you and how to contact them.
  • Make sure you and your clients are registered to vote: http://www.votetexas.gov/.

Help us protect the interests of homeowners across the state. We know we can make a difference. We already have. But our work is not finished.

* Disclaimer:  Information disseminated in the public domain about TREPAC might be considered a solicitation, therefore contributions received from persons that are not members of the Texas Association of REALTORS(s) through this posting will be returned. 

Helping your clients fit into their new neighborhood

One of the best pieces of advice any Realtor can follow is to try to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships in their lives. This means that in everyday life, you take the time to really listen to what people around you are saying. In work life, it means asking meaningful questions and listening and then repeating back what you hear. Joe Stumpf, renowned coach and author uses his “5,6,7” (word doc) method to really get to the root of what it is that his clients truly want. It’s usually nothing to do with the physical properties of a house, and everything to do with family, friends, and community.

Stumpf believes that if you develop the relationship with your clients by helping them see deeper into themselves, they will look to you to make their goals happen. Which you will do when you help them get into that new property.

Once they’re in that great new home, however, you’ll find that those clients still look to you for advice. And a great way to continue to be an advisor to them – their real estate resource for life – is to help them transition into loving their new community. And if your client has just made a long distance move, then that follow up can really make the difference in how they perceive their new community.

Now, I’m not saying you need to turn up to all of their kids’ baseball games, or have them over to Sunday dinner every week. What you can do is to offer advice from time to time, via a blog, email, or personal note. These little touches will go so much further than any marketing campaign you can dream up, and are much more cost-effective.

Author Melody Warnick recently released a great read called, This is Where You Belong – the art and science of loving the place you live. On its own, it would make a great closing gift for your relocation buyers and sellers. But you can also use some of her ideas as a springboard for providing tips to your clients. For instance, Warnick suggests a two minute exercise to help you focus on the positive. Simply write down, “I love {my new neighborhood} because…” and then write down some positives.

Another great way to get your client invested in the community is to help them feel at home is by getting involved. Volunteer at a local organization, like a community food bank, animal shelter, library or school and ask your clients to join you. A few might join you and those that do will leave feeling inspired to do more. And someone who is focused on giving to the community will inevitably begin to feel more invested, more rooted. If your clients are scattered over a large area, you can help them find community groups that are involved in their hobbies.

Getting out and about on foot will make the area more familiar, too. If the community hosts outdoor performances in the summer, like Shakespeare in the Park or a summer concert series, jot down a few “did you know about these interesting dates” personal notes and mail to your clients. You can also email links to local bike and nature trails. Or join a national movement and invite your clients to participate in something fun like the Audubon Christmas Bird Count or an annual butterfly count.

Help your clients, past and present, discover more about themselves and their community and you offer them greater value than just the initial transaction. You become their trusted advisor, and one they will be happy to refer to their friends, family and coworkers. You develop more meaningful relationships and greater job satisfaction for yourself, too.

Wellness Month Preview

Hey Members! It’s time to get fit, get active, and stay healthy and well. Why wait for New Year’s Day to resolve to do better for yourself? Wellness Month is this October and we’d love for you to join us.

Here’s a complete list of our Wellness Month activities:

Tuesdays in October join us for our annual lunch and learn series. Our favorite fitness trainer Morris Brosette is back for three exclusive sessions. Bring your brown bag and get ready to take control of your health.

  • October 4: Four Links to Total Health and Fitness Success - Learn how Lifestyle, Recovery, Nutrition, and Fitness must all be strong in order to truly achieve your health and fitness goals and maintain those goals long term.
  • October 11: The Power of Play - Skip the workout! Get out there and play. Learn how going out and literally playing as you did when you were a child could possibly be one of the best things you can do for your health and fitness goals.
  • October 18: Anything You Ever Wanted to Know - Here is your chance - ask anything about health and fitness. Mo will answer all of your questions on health, nutrition, fitness, lifestyle and more.

Register for one, two, or all three classes at mymetrotex.org and don’t forget to bring your lunch and your questions!

October 14: Carter Blood Care Blood Drive - Sign up here for a timeslot to donate blood.

October 15: Susan G Komen Race for the Cure - Join the MetroTex team for our annual fun and uplifting 5K. Breakfast and parking provided. Click here to sign up today!

October 20: REALTOR Safety Class - Our very popular REALTOR® Safety Course is back! Limit risk and increase safety for yourself and your clients. Learn how to assess potential risks and develop safety protocols for client meetings, open houses, showings, online interactions, and other business activities. Implement strategies for data security, including protecting personal and electronic information.  Get easy-to-remember strategies for responding to threats and attacks and when facing potentially dangerous situations. 3 hours CE credit. Register here.

Mammograms - If you are in need of a mammogram or cervical cancer screening and don’t have income or insurance to cover it, the Texas Department of State Health Services provides resources to free and low-cost providers. Please visit dshs.texas.gov/bcccs/ for more information. In addition, the Moncrief Cancer Institute, an affiliate of UT Southwestern, has a mobile screening unit. You can make an appointment here: https://www.moncrief.com/content/breast-cancer-screening.

Colonoscopies – There are numerous resources for low and no-cost colon cancer screening and colonoscopies. To find one near you, visit texascancer.info/access/accesstocare.html. Or make an appointment with the Montcrief Cancer Institute at https://www.moncrief.com/content/colon-cancer-screening.

Get fit, stay safe, help someone in need and get your screenings done. October is a great time to take care of yourself and your community! 

Protect your business! What you need to know now about ransomware

There is a tremendous advantage to having a paperless, mobile office. You can work from anywhere, any time, and can act quickly to keep your deals alive. It also makes your business a victim of cybercrime. Ransomware is rapidly becoming a common – and profitable – tool for criminals. Most frequently it comes in the form of an infected email or a malicious web site disguised as something entirely different. If your computer becomes infected with ransomware, the program will encrypt critical files or your entire hard drive. You’ll find yourself locked out of your system, losing access to photos, contracts, and client contacts. Once the encryption is in place, you’ll get a message that you need to pay if you want to access your files again, and most often payments must be made in Bitcoin.

If you fall victim to ransomware, deciding whether to pay the criminals for the unlock key is a tough decision. After all, the more victims that pay, the more common this crime becomes. On the other hand, if your business depends on having access to those files, you might not have much choice. There is no guarantee that the cybercriminals will actually release your files, or that the decryption process will work on your computer. And there’s a good chance that you have other malware or viruses on your computer in addition to the ransomware. You should certainly report the crime to the police before you do anything. If you do manage to get your computer unlocked, it’s vital that you make sure it’s clean from viruses and malware before you start using it again.

You can protect yourself and your clients by regularly backing up your files. Use an online service to back them up for the best protection, or back up files on external drives that are then disconnected from your system. You can restore your files to a wiped computer if necessary. Remember to test your backups to make sure they work before an issue arises. Make sure that you routinely update your malware and anti-virus protection software. And if your computer is asking for a system update, don’t put it off. System updates will often offer some protection against the latest malware codes. Using a cloud-based server for the majority of your business files will offer you protection as well. You’ll be able to access your files from another device even if your primary device becomes locked.

Protect yourself from malware attacks in the first place by using an abundance of caution when opening email. Don’t open suspicious emails or click on links that come from unknown sources. Email hackers will often make it look like the email comes from a known source, like your friends or your bank. If the email seems a little off, or if it’s confusing, don’t click on a link in it. Call the sender or go directly to their website and connect with their customer service to verify the information in the email first.

Learn more about protecting your business, your identity, and your health during the annual MetroTex Wellness Month in October. Sign up for the MetroTex REALTOR Safety Training Course here, and join us throughout the month for more great events. We’ll lunch and learn with our favorite personal trainer, join the Race for the Cure, and donate at the Carter Blood Care drive. Stay safe, stay well and do good with MetroTex!