3 Great Resources for Real Estate Agents

Occasionally in our online travels we find resources for real estate agents that turn out to be extremely handy. Here are three that I’ve found to be both useful and usable (because if we don’t actually end up using a tool it doesn’t matter how great it is, right?)

Teux Deux Online Planner

I’ve tried planners and more planners, online and off. When I first got into real estate over 16 years ago I used the wire binder At-a-Glance schedulers (and yet could somehow still, magically, remember an appointment scheduled five weeks prior even if it wasn’t written down).  No longer. 🙂 Since then it seems like every online planner I’ve tried was just not that user-friendly – either complicated with features I didn’t need, or just not the kind of thing I ended up using consistently, for whatever reason. Enter the Teux Deux planner, which is surprisingly simple, yet very effective – and I’ve been using it pretty much daily for around two years.


There’s a 30-day free trial, which is what I tried out after I first saw it, so I’ll let you check it out for yourself rather than go into a long spiel about it. Suffice to say it’s very user-friendly, and at $3 per month for a “skeptic” and $24 per year for a “believer”, I don’t think these guys are trying to gouge anybody.  (There’s an app for the iPhone, and since I switched to Android I’ve been using the web-based version on my phone.)


123notaryI found this free nationwide notary-finding service when I needed a courtesy signing at a client’s place of work and escrow’s regular mobile notaries were all booked up. It became handy again when some clients needed to sign while vacationing in another state and escrow couldn’t find any notaries nearby.  If you use it, just check first with your escrow service to make sure that the notary you choose is acceptable to them based on whatever standards or regulations that escrow may have. For the record, the one we’ve used twice via that service is not “123Notary.com Certified” and she has done a good job.

Pablo Image Creator

You know those images that everyone shares on Facebook and Twitter – the ones that have a cool photo along with a heading and a caption that make some kind of galvanizing statement, and that subsequently get shared about 12 million times? (Regardless of whether the statement is true or not, but that’s another blog post. Actually, that’s a book. But I digress.)


Anyway, the free Pablo Image Creator from the folks at Buffer lets you easily create your own image-message combinations that are correctly sized for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (These are, of course, different sizes. 🙂 ) You can choose from over 600,000 free images, use different fonts, and try out various image filter styles. For real estate agents, this could be a quick and easy way to spruce up a blog post or website page, or to make a social media post stand out with a clear message.

I haven’t signed up for Buffer yet but it’s on my list in the next two weeks – it’s a service similar to Hootsuite, which lets you simultaneously post to multiple social media accounts. Hootsuite put me off when it looked like I had to enable access to all of my Contacts recently just to make a settings change, and I love Buffer’s “transparency” section where they basically tell you exactly where the money goes, and even mistakes that they’ve made. (To be clear, the Pablo Image Creator is their free tool that you can use without signing up for anything.)

A New Look For Our Real Estate Email Newsletters in 2015

Here at Tools For Real Estate it has been a few years since we rolled out a redesign of our email newsletters, so I’m excited to tell you about the improvements for 2015.  Our goal is always to stay current with the needs of your readers while keeping a clean, beautiful email newsletter format.  With so many people now reading email on smartphones and tablets, it was time to make sure we were using the best in responsive, mobile-friendly e-newsletter design, and we took the opportunity to make the overall format more appealing on all devices.

Here’s an example of the OLD version on a smartphone:

old email newsletter design


Here’s a screenshot of the NEW header section as seen on smartphones:

new email newsletter design on smartphone


And just below the header section in the NEW version:

new design for sub-heading of real estate email newsletter on smartphone


The main article sections are also much more mobile-friendly with the new design.

Here’s an example of the OLD version on a smartphone:

Old email newsletter article shown on smartphone


And here’s what an article section looks like on a smartphone in the NEW version:

New article section of real estate e-newsletter

A Few Other Things

We’ve also spruced up the overall look for a cleaner, more modern design.  If you look through the real estate email newsletter samples on our website you’ll notice that there are fewer calls to action, but the ones that are there are more noticeable than before. (The goal is to be effective, not overwhelming.)  The end result is a real estate email newsletter that’s professional and friendly without being “salesy”.

And, of course, our new email newsletter design still looks great on regular desktop and laptop displays:

Real estate e-newsletters shown on pc and laptop display

If you’re not one of our clients yet you can visit our website to learn more about how our real estate email newsletter service works, or head over to our sign-up page to take a satisfaction-guaranteed trial.

Working for your success in real estate!

Let Zig Ziglar Help You Achieve Your Goals in 2013

Have you set your real estate business goals for 2013?  Whether you already have or they’re still in the works, I highly recommend taking a few moments to watch this video of Zig Ziglar explaining how to set goals in a way that helps you successfully achieve them.  I’ve seen it a few times before, but I always find his advice really insightful – it falls into the category of things that intuitively make sense when you hear them but that are quite easy to forget when you’re bouncing around in the day-to-day world.

Some great Zig Ziglar quotes from the video:

“The basic problem is not lack of time, it’s lack of direction.”

“Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.”

“Logic will not change an emotion, but action will.”

And from J.C. Penney:

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history.  But give me a man without a goal, and I’ll give you a stock clerk.”

Click the link above to watch the video on Youtube (be sure to start with Part 1).

Is Your Real Estate Blog Breaking Copyright Law?

Please forgive the question.  (And if your first reaction is “Of course not, what is she thinking!” I totally understand.)  However, you would not believe the number of times I’ve seen real estate agents copy and paste entire news articles into their blog posts, mistakenly believing that they’re complying with copyright law by including the source and the author byline.

While this might seem entirely fair (after all, it’s clear that they didn’t actually write it, and the original source is noted), according to the law it is not.  The finer points of what complies with copyright law blend into a grey area, but there are some very clear standards that anyone who uses current material as a research base for their own writing should know about.

Here’s a great summary on copyright law from the legal site Nolo.com.  Halfway down the page you’ll find the five guidelines explaining what constitutes “Fair Use.”

Seeing as I use information from a large number of sources as the basis for an original article in the real estate email newsletter Tools For Real Estate provides each month, I’m very aware of how important it is to treat your research bases carefully.  A good way to track things is to create a Word document that’s just for the topic you’re writing about, and paste into it entire articles along with their associated link.  This helps you by keeping the information consolidated and by keeping the exact wording in front of you, so that you don’t mistakenly parrot the language or lean too much on material from any specific article.  It also serves as proof that anything you wrote was the result of substantial research based on a number of sources.

Typically, by the time I’m done with an article I have a Word document of base material that’s between 20 and 30 pages long.  This would be overkill for a typical blog post because they take much less time to write, but you get the picture.  Keep track of your sources, and learn to know and love the “Fair Use” guidelines.

What Are the Requirements for General Contractors In Your State?

For years when I saw that someone was a bonded General Contractor, I assumed that they had passed a set of construction-related professional standards set by the state  I think many consumers make the same assumption, but did you know that depending on where you live, this could be completely untrue?

In Washington state, for example, there are NO professional expertise-related requirements for someone to register as a General Contractor.  They do have to meet certain business and residency requirements, have liability insurance, and post a bond of $12,000 (as of December 2012), but here’s what the state of Washington says about the professional qualification part:

Links to pdf pamphlet for WA state general contractor application info.

Washington state General Contractor professional requirements as of December 2012.

Requirements vary widely from state to state.  California, for example, requires four years of experience, or some equivalent combination of technical education and work history.

Since being able to recommend trustworthy service providers is a valuable part of what a real estate agent brings to the table, it makes sense to be aware of contractor requirements in your state.  Here’s a link to a Contractor’s License Reference Site – you can click on the map to go to the database with information about contractor requirements in your state.

Why We Love Hostgator for Real Estate Website Hosting

Link to Hostgator for real estate website hosting.I got off the phone with a Hostgator tech support person a few days ago and vowed to write a post reminding real estate agents of why we recommend them for real estate website hosting.

Finding a place to host your real estate website or blog is one of the first things you’re confronted with as a new agent, or at least as soon as you’ve decided to get a serious online presence (for many agents that second part comes later on, but it shouldn’t).   After trying three other web hosting providers, here’s why we recommend Hostgator for real estate agents:

Good uptime and industry leader:  Hostgator has been around since 2002 and has a 99.9% uptime guarantee.

24/7 customer support, including by phone:  The phone support option is huge for real estate agents – I just don’t recommend using a web hosting provider that relies only on email or chat.  I know that might sound funny from someone who runs an online-based marketing service, but even being more techie than the average real estate professional, if one of my sites is down I want to hear the warm breath of an actual mammal on the other end of the phone as soon as possible.

Hostgator has good phone support etiquette:  Twice in the past two weeks I’ve had long calls with support as they investigated an issue (this is not typical, by the way, and one of these issues was due to a mistake on my part).  Both times I noticed that when you’re on hold they check back with you every couple of minutes, without fail.  There must be some kind of timer that notifies them to check in after a set period of time so that you never feel abandoned.

The support techs are helpful and don’t make you feel stupid:  Even though I’m pretty techie and can hold my own with some of the web-spiel, there have been times with other companies when I felt like the support department was sure I was a doofus.  (Numerous studies have concluded that this is not the case, I am happy to report.)  The Hostgator reps have always been polite and dedicated to resolving the issue I was calling about.

Hostgator has reasonable pricing:  This is not the most important criterion, since we all know that cheaper is not always better, but it’s nice that their pricing is very reasonable.

If you have any questions about real estate website hosting, drop us a line or leave a comment below.  And here’s the standard affiliate link disclosure:

Just so you know, the link(s) to any companies on this page may be our affiliate link, meaning we get a small share of any purchase price if you buy from them.  We think of it as a way for people to say “thank you” for our resources and the time we’ve spent with our toes curled into fists of frustration with the wrong providers, but if you prefer to not use our affiliate link you can always Google the company name and go directly to their site.  It’s all good!


For Real Estate Magnets, Try House of Magnets

As you start ramping up your real estate marketing now that 2012 is here, you might want to check out the House of Magnets website for ideas to complement your other projects.  They offer a good selection of magnets in the form of calendars, sport schedules, business card holders, and more – and their prices and order quantities are very reasonable.  Their turnaround time appears to be pretty fast, and you can even have something created with your own custom design if you’re feeling artsy.

I always advise agents to use more than one marketing mode in order to reach all of their clients, and those different tools can build upon each other as well.  Here at Tools For Real Estate we find that the agents using our real estate email newsletter service who have the best email open rates are often the ones who touch base with their clients in other ways as well, whether it’s through an occasional phone call or by supplementing with a gift like the magnets we’re mentioning here.

By the way, we’re not an affiliate of House of Magnets, just a fan based on what we know about them so far.  We’d love to hear your feedback if you end up using them.

Is December Really a Good Time to Market to Home Buyers?

If you’re a real estate agent who sends regular marketing pieces to your past clients, contacts, and/or a farm, you might be surprised to know what your potential future real estate clients are thinking about towards the end of the year.  (I’m talking right now primarily about home buyers, but of course their mindset affects future sellers as well.)

Conventional wisdom has it that in December people are busy with holiday preparations and travel plans, and therefore probably aren’t likely to turn their minds to real estate until well into the New Year.  But check out today’s graph (12/3/11) from Google Trends:

From Dec. 3, 2011. Click image for current search results on Google Trends.

This shows the search activity in North America on Google for specific search terms related to home buying.  As you can see from previous years, there’s always a dramatic jump in activity late in the year, but look at the volume so far this December!  It’s interesting that the term “home buying” hasn’t followed the trend (yet, anyway).

So, should you concentrate on marketing to home buyers late in the year?  In my opinion the answer is “yes,” since ultimately as real estate agents the goal is to provide people with useful information that will help them accomplish what they’re trying to do, and the graph tells us that right now there’s a surge of people thinking about buying homes.  As always, just keep things in perspective, and remember that you’re marketing during a season that is focused on something far more important.

(Either way, the current graph implies that early January would be a great time to go all-out.)

Number-of-Days Calculator on TimeandDate.com

Here’s a handy tool you can use when you’re calculating deadlines in your real estate transactions.  It’s TimeandDate.com’s date calculator, which allows you to enter in a date, then choose a number of days, weeks, or months to add in order to come up with a final date.  Here’s an example of what it looks like:

They also have a tool for determining the number of days between two dates – click here for that calculator, or on the image above for the future date calculator.

(Of course, keep in mind that ultimately you’re responsible for determining timelines correctly, regardless of what the calculator comes up with. :))

MarketWatch Helps You Keep Track of Housing Reports

Do you sometimes lose track of when the various housing and economic reports are coming out?  It’s easy to do, but since newspapers start buzzing as soon as the Case-Shiller housing numbers or new unemployment figures are released, it’s good to know in advance what’s coming up.  That’s where MarketWatch.com’s economic calendar page comes in handy.  It shows you the time and date of  each upcoming economic report release, and provides the previous report’s data for comparison.  For example, coming up this week are the Cash-Shiller home price report for January, pending home sales data, and the unemployment rate for March 2011 – all numbers that are likely to affect the real estate market.