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Kitchen Fires 101

Several of the biggest fire hazards in your home all live in your kitchen. The oven, the stovetop, your toaster… when you think of all of the heat sources your kitchen contains, it’s almost a wonder that it doesn’t burst into flames on the regular. Joking aside, the kitchen is usually a pretty safe place so long as you keep an eye on things. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore fire safety rules when in the kitchen, of course – knowing how to handle a kitchen fire can mean the difference between a scare and a tragedy. Kitchen Fire Safety There are a number of potential causes of kitchen fires. There are the usual fire hazards such as electrical shorts, but you also have kitchen-specific risks such as splashing oil or something falling onto a heating element. Because there are so many potential causes of a kitchen fire, your fire safety measures need to be a bit wider reaching than what you might use for other rooms in your house. A smoke detector is important in the kitchen, as is a fire extinguisher that you can access easily. Make sure you choose the right fire extinguisher, though; opt for an ABC fire extinguisher if possible. These can be used on Class A (trash/wood/paper), Class B (oil and liquids) and Class C (electrical equipment) fires. Establish an area where you can put oven mitts, cookbooks and similar materials far enough away from the stovetop to prevent any of them from falling onto a hot surface. Inspect kitchen appliances regularly for damaged cords or other fire hazards and replace anything that could present a danger. Oven Fires If a fire breaks out in your oven, your first instinct is likely to open the oven and try to put the fire out. That’s one of the worst things that you can do, though; opening the oven provides much-needed air to the fire and can make it significantly worse. Just opening the oven door can cause the fire to explode outward, potentially burning you and spreading to surrounding surfaces. Instead, turn off the oven and leave the door closed. This will limit the availability of oxygen, causing the fire to die down and eventually go out on its own. Keep an eye on the fire, though, since if it doesn’t start dying out or seems to be getting stronger, you’ll likely need to call the fire department to deal with it. Fires on the Stovetop Stovetop fires come in several forms. If something falls onto a hot burner, that can cause a fire. If oil or other flammable liquids get too hot or splash out of a pan, that can also cause a fire. Even letting a pan boil dry can cause a fire. Fortunately, the majority of stovetop fires are preventable by keeping an eye on the stove whenever there’s at least one hot burner. If a fire breaks out on the stovetop, there are a few things that you can do. If it’s a very small fire such as a grease fire in a pan, simply putting a metal lid on the pan may be enough to put the fire out. Slightly larger fires can be doused using baking soda, but do NOT use flour… though you may have heard that flour is okay to use, flour is finely ground dried plant material and is actually very flammable. Your fire extinguisher is also an option, as is calling the fire department before things get too far out of control. Keeping Your Kitchen Safe One key part of fire safety is making sure that your smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other fire safety equipment stays in good working order in case you need them. HomeKeepr can help you find the pros you need for preventative maintenance, fire extinguisher inspections and more essential fire prevention services.

What Do I Need to Know About Mold?

There are few things that homeowners dread more than mold in the house. You’ve likely heard horror stories about people living with mold infestations that made them seriously ill. Is this just hype, or is there a real danger to having mold in your home? More importantly, what can you do if you find mold growing somewhere in the house? What Is Mold? Mold is a broad group of fungi, with thousands of species and subspecies around the world that typically prefer dark and damp habitats. Often fuzzy in appearance (though occasionally slimy or cottony), molds spread across materials and break them down to get the nutrients the mold needs to survive and thrive. Instead of seeds, molds release single-celled spores that in many cases are too small to see with the naked eye; these spores float through the air to land on a variety of surfaces, beginning growth once they find themselves in a suitable habitat. Though molds are made up of a number of individual stalks fibers, a connected clump of mold is considered to be a single living entity. Types of Mold There are several common types of mold that you might see around the house. While some of these may not be inherently dangerous, any mold can trigger reactions in anyone with an allergy or sensitivity. The five most common of these molds are: Aspergillus: One of the most common indoor molds, it often appears green, blue-green or gray but can also appear white or even yellow. Cladosporium: A black or green mold that has an appearance like ground pepper, it commonly grows on smooth surfaces like toilets and painted walls but can also grow in fabrics and rugs. Ulocladium: A black mold that grows in wet areas, especially in cracks and corners; it is most common in homes with water damage and active leaks. Aureobasidium: Varying in color from pink to brown or black, this mold most commonly grows behind wallpaper, on painted surfaces and on wood. Stachybortrys: The infamous “black mold”, it features a slimy dark green or black color and thrives in areas that are damp and maintain high humidity for weeks. Is Mold Actually Dangerous? While many molds are allergens, most will not cause severe reactions unless you have a mold sensitivity or have other health problems that make you more prone to infection. However, some molds (such as black mold) actually are toxic and can make you very sick if you’re around them for too long. Symptoms of a mold allergy or toxic mold exposure can include a chronic cough, skin rashes, fatigue, difficulty focusing and even pain or infection in your sinuses, eyes and ears. Mold Testing and Removal If you suspect that you have mold problems, there are home tests available to help you identify the type of mold in your home. These should only be a first step, however, as they often aren’t enough to definitively show you the scope of your mold problem. Call in an expert to confirm the results of your test or take a scraping of the mold and have it analyzed. Be sure to wear a dust mask or other breathing protection if you aren’t sure what type of mold you’re dealing with until the problem is taken care of. For many mold infestations, getting rid of leaks or other sources of humidity is a great way to slow or even stop mold growth. Mold can cause serious damage over time, however, so you may need professional mold removal and repair services if you can’t get the problem under control early. Is your home in need of some serious mold removal? HomeKeepr can help you find a mold remediator to get the mold out quickly and at a price you can afford. Because we utilize references instead of reviews, you’ll be able to rest assured that the expert you choose can really get the job done.

Invest in Your Renters by Screening Them Well: Top Questions to Ask

If you own a rental property, you know how important it is to have the right tenant. Good renters will take care of the property as though it were their own, leaving it as close to how they moved in as possible. Bad renters, on the other hand, make it obvious that they don’t care, since it’s not actually their house; it can take a significant amount of time and money to get your property back to rentable condition after they move out. Wouldn’t it be great if you could only rent to the first group and avoid the second group entirely? While you may still occasionally get a bad tenant, with a bit of smart screening you can greatly increase your chances of finding good renters every time. This goes beyond the standard screening techniques like a credit check; it’s all about the questions you ask before making your decision. Here are a few of the best questions to ask potential renters to see if they’re the ones you really want to rent to. Why Are You Moving? This is a great question to start with because it gives you an idea of what motivates potential renters. Ideally, you’ll find someone who’s moving for a reason such as work relocation, trying to find a bigger house for their family or trying to find a better neighborhood or school system for their children. Watch out for people who complain about their current landlord or who seem to be trying to escape a negative situation. Would Your Current Landlord Provide a Reference? Talking to a current landlord gives you two important pieces of information: It lets you find out what sort of a tenant the potential renter is, and also tells you that they have been upfront with their landlord about the fact that they’re moving. Someone who wants to keep you from talking to their landlord may have something to hide. Have You Ever Broken a Lease? There are legitimate reasons to break a lease. Reasons such as work relocation and having to move because of unexpected family circumstances shouldn’t weigh against a potential tenant, and asking this up front gives them a chance to open up about any broken leases in their past. If they try to cover it up or cite reasons such as landlord conflicts or problems paying rent, though, then this could be a big red flag. How Long Have You Been with Your Employer? How About the One Before That? This is perhaps even more important than how long they’ve lived in their current home. A long period of employment shows job stability and being a new hire after working for a long period can show ambition and a desire to get ahead. On the flip side, people who have trouble maintaining a job for longer periods could have trouble paying the rent. Who Will Live on the Property? Will There Be Any Pets? When asking these questions, be sure not to lead the answer by saying things like “This property is intended for two people” beforehand. Give potential tenants a chance to answer to help ensure that they do so honestly. If the answer violates a no-pets policy or sounds excessive for the property, you can reveal this afterward to let them know that they’re not right for your property. Will There Be Any Smokers on the Property? An increasing number of rental units are going no smoking, in part because of the difficulty associated with getting smoke stains and smells out of curtains and carpet. While it’s up to you to decide on your smoking policy, if you don’t want smoking in the house then make sure that potential renters know that up front. Will You Consent to a Background Check/Credit Check? Not all landlords use credit and background checks, but it’s always a good idea to ask if potential renters will consent to one. If they have credit history issues or legal problems in their past, it gives them a chance to be upfront about it and provide you with the information you need to make a decision. If they don’t justify why they don’t want the info checked, it may also hint at problems they’re trying to hide. Do You Have Any Questions for Me? Giving potential renters a chance to ask you questions helps you make sure that they know everything they want to know about your property and your policies. If they don’t ask questions, consider how attentive they were during previous questions when you make your decision. If they were just trying to get through the interview process without paying attention, they may not be the renter for you. Get Rental Screening Guidance from a Pro If you’re still worried about who you might rent to, consult with one of the professional property managers on HomeKeepr. Our referral system can help you find a trustworthy property manager, vouched for by people you know. They can help you find the right tenant and bring their years of experience to your property as well.

Smarter Climate For Every Room In The House

Home automation is increasingly common these days as the number of consumer-focused smart devices continues to increase. Though automation covers everything from light controls and security systems to water leak monitors and door locks, one of the most common automation devices is the smart thermostat. These thermostats offer improved climate control and energy savings through programmable adjustments for a range of different scenarios. There is one issue with the early smart thermostats that were introduced, however: most of them only offered a single point of climate control, not taking into account several common heating and cooling scenarios that require a bit more nuanced control. Fortunately, there are other thermostat systems now available that provide smarter climate control options. Why a Multi-Room Approach is Important There are a number of reasons why having a single point of temperature control isn’t always ideal. In some cases, rooms that are farther away from your unit may not get the same degree of air flow,
especially in older systems; if everything is controlled by a single thermostat located near the air intake then the rooms with lower air flow won’t get the air that they need to keep pace with the rest of the house. Similar problems can occur if you have a split system or zoned heating and cooling. It may be a cool 68 in your living room, but rooms that are served by other system components could be staying in the 70s or higher. You Need a Multi-Room Thermostat Regardless of the reason, if your thermostat isn’t able to consistently heat or cool your entire home then it’s not going to be nearly as efficient as you’d like. That’s where a multi-room thermostat system comes in handy. These thermostats have additional sensors that you can mount in other rooms around the house. These sensors take additional temperature readings and broadcast the data back to the thermostat. The thermostat takes this additional data and adjusts the way it heats and cools your home with a focus on maintaining the entire home’s temperature instead of just the room where the thermostat’s located. Because the thermostat has information from all over your house, the amount of warm or cool air
circulated into each room is adjusted based on the home’s actual needs. This gives a greater amount of control over the internal temperature of the house, preventing warm and cool spots. It also ensures that adjustments made when you’re not in certain rooms or when you leave the house are optimized to save you the most money on your heating and cooling costs. Taking Control of your Home Climate There are a number of models of multi-room thermostats that you can choose from. The initial
installation shouldn’t be any more complicated than any other thermostat replacement, as the majority of multi-room units use wireless technology to communicate with the central thermostat. Since you don’t have to directly wire the satellite sensors you have a lot of freedom in where you place them without having to drill holes and run wires through your walls. Once the thermostat is installed and all the sensors are in place, all that’s left is to sync the sensors with the central thermostat. How you do this may differ depending on the make and model of thermostat you choose, but each model should have detailed instructions on how to connect the units together. Once everything’s connected, all that’s left is to sit back and enjoy the controlled climate. Need Another Opinion? While most smart thermostats are designed to be a DIY installation, setting up a multi-room thermostat unit isn’t always easy. Whether it’s a result of confusing installation instructions or you simply don’t have the time to spare, you might find yourself wanting to call in a home automation professional to get the job done. That’s where you’re in luck: HomeKeepr’s recommendations are based on genuine referrals instead of inaccurate reviews, so you can trust that the pro you choose will be the best one for the job. Check it out now and get your new thermostat up and running in no time.

What’s an Attic Exhaust Fan and How Do They Work?

Keeping your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter can be expensive. Add in the cost of regular maintenance to your heating and air systems and it’s no wonder that many homeowners look for other ways to keep things cool. One increasingly popular option is the attic exhaust fan. These fans help you to circulate air through the attic eliminating the buildup of heat that attics often experience which can make your whole house seem hotter. How do these fans work, though? Do they really save you money? Perhaps most importantly, how can you get an attic fan of your own to get rid of all of that heat your house is holding? Let’s take a look at these questions and see if an attic fan is right for you. What Is an Attic Exhaust Fan? As the name suggests, an attic exhaust fan is an electric fan that blows the hot air inside the attic out into the great outdoors. While many of these fans are wired into the electrical system of the house, some are solar powered so that they don’t add to your electrical usage. As the fans blow hot air out of the attic, cooler air from outside is pulled in from vents to keep the overall attic temperature lower. This air cycling also helps prevent mold and mildew that can result from moist air becoming trapped in the attic – something that’s useful both during the summer and in other parts of the year as well. How Do Attic Fans Work? Many attic fans are connected to a thermostat, allowing them to turn on and off when the temperature in the attic passes a set temperature. Unless the fan is installed under an eave, the outer portion of the fan generally has vent panels that open and close automatically as well based on airflow through the fan body. This allows the fan to blow without hinderance while ensuring that the fan is covered to prevent rain and pests from getting into the attic. Another important part of the attic fan system is the series vents that allow air from outside to enter the attic. These vents are installed in the soffit and gable around your roof, allowing air to flow through the vents and into the attic space when the fan is active. Since the attic builds up heat, the air outside is typically much cooler than the air in the attic, even during the summer. This cycling of air lets cooler outdoor air enter the attic, keeping the attic space at a much more respectable temperature, so it won’t heat up the ceilings and other air in the house. Installing Your Own Fan Installing an attic exhaust fan is often seen as a DIY job, with homeowners making the appropriate cuts and installing the various components themselves. Since you’ll need to cut through portions of the wall or roof to install the fan, it’s definitely a project that you’ll want to double-check all of your measurements on before you dive into the work. Ensure that you schedule the job for a day when there isn’t any rain or temperature extremes in the forecast and follow all installation instructions exactly to prevent leaks or other damage. Once your fan is installed, it’s important to check your insulation and try to locate any air leaks from within the main house itself. A well-insulated attic gives you a greater amount of temperature control, though you’ll want to make sure that you didn’t accidentally cover up your intake vents or else air won’t be able to flow from outside. Likewise, track down any cold air leaks from within the house to prevent the fan from pulling air-conditioned air up into the attic; if you don’t prevent this, your AC unit will have to work even harder as it cools more air to replace what’s being drawn up into the attic space. Need Help with Your Attic Fan Installation? Whether you’re not comfortable with the idea of installing your own attic fan or you just ran into some trouble along the way, HomeKeepr can help you find the professionals you need to get the job done right. Because our pros are suggested based on recommendations instead of rankings, you’ll know that you’ve got an experienced professional who can help you get your fan installed in no time.

What Do You Know About Airflow? Choosing Air Filters 101

Air filtration is an important part of your home’s ventilation system. Without an air filter in place, dust and other airborne particles would be distributed throughout your ductwork. This could aggravate allergies, build up on your vents to reduce airflow and possibly even create bigger problems over time. This doesn’t mean that you can just grab any air filter and slap it in place, of course. Choosing the right air filter for your home is important if you want to get the most life out of your heating and cooling system. Stop for a moment and think about your HVAC system; do you really know what sort of air filter you need to keep things running in top condition? If you don’t, here’s what you need to know. Where Is My Air Filter? The first thing that you need to know about your air filter is exactly where in your house it’s located. This may seem kind of obvious, but some air filters are difficult to find. While the most common air filter location is behind a grate on one of the walls, some of these grates are in odd locations or are designed to somewhat blend in with the look of the surrounding wall. Filters may also be placed in the air handler unit (AHU) or rooftop unit (RTU). Buildings with split ventilation systems may even have multiple intakes that each have their own air filter. Depending on how your system is designed, it may take a bit of hunting to locate your filter. Choosing an Air Filter Once you’ve located your filter, it’s important that you choose the right one for your needs. Part of this involves finding the right size filter; different HVAC units are designed for different filters, and if you get one that doesn’t fit then you’re going to have trouble getting it (or keeping it) in place. Measure the dimensions of the area where the filter is mounted or look at the old filter and find the dimensions listed on it. Choosing an air filter is about more than just finding the right size, however; one other big consideration is the MERV rating (which stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.) The MERV is a number that tells how good of a filter you’re buying. A low MERV of around 6 provides you with 35 to 50 percent efficiency at capturing large particles like dust, mold and pet dander. A MERV of 8 increases this to over 70 percent efficiency, capturing those particles as well as slightly smaller particles like pollen and dust mites. A MERV of 11 captures large particles with a greater than 85 percent efficiency, as well as medium particles like those found in auto exhaust with 65 to 80 percent efficiency. You can even go higher than that, with a MERV of 13 capturing large and medium particles with over 90 percent efficiency and small particles like smoke, bacteria and even odors with up to 75 percent efficiency. There are other options available as well, such as HEPA filters (which you might hear referred to as high-efficiency particulate arrestance filters or high-efficiency particular air filters) that have an even higher standard of particle removal. HEPA filters must remove either 99.95 percent (in Europe) or 99.97 percent (in the United States) of all particles of size “small” or larger. Depending on the filter, this translates to a MERV value of around 17 to 20. Air Filter Maintenance There’s more to keeping your system running well than just installing a filter, of course. Most air filters should be changed monthly, though some may have different recommended use periods that should be listed on the packaging. Periodic cleaning of grates and vents may also be required to keep the filters clean and the system running efficiently. Failing to change your filters can reduce airflow and system efficiency, and over time, it can even reduce the life of your unit. Need Some Help? If you’re worried that you can’t find your filters or that you won’t be able to pick the filter that best meets your needs, we’ve got your back. HomeKeepr can help you find the HVAC pro who’ll keep your system running in top shape and ensure that you have the filters that best meet your needs.

Reclaim Your Time Through Time Blocking

By Geoff Woods All of us have the best of intentions when it comes to managing our time, but then life gets in the way. As we direct our attention to one task, texts, emails, calls, and social media notifications begin pouring in. Soon, we find ourselves in a cycle of respond, start, stop, respond.
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Staging Tip: Remove the Window Screens Prior to a Photo Shoot

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine Besides a good window cleaning, there’s another way to boost your curb appeal and get those windows shining: Remove the screens. Home stagers love this trick, and it’s taken straight from the film industry. Remove the outside screens on your windows in the front of your home prior to your home being photographed, or prior to an open house. Your windows will look shiny and clean. After all, a window screen can make a window appear filmy and dark. But whatever you do, don’t throw away those screens! Keep them in the garage, and don’t forget to reinstall them later. The new homeowners will most certainly still want those. Photo by Rellion Homes – Browse exterior home ideas Photo by Dennison and Dampier Interior Design – More exterior home ideas Photo by Winn Wittman Architecture A.I.A. – Browse exterior home ideas
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5 Steps to Creating the Perfect Outdoor Living Room

Submitted by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) Photo credit: OPEI 1. Declutter & Clean
The first step to sprucing up the outdoor living room is to clear dirt and clutter from the space. Store lawn equipment, children’s toys, and pet play things in a shed or garage. Give the entire area a good scrub down, sweeping away dust and debris so you’re left with a fresh, clean canvas. 2. Invite the Outdoors In
Blending interior and outdoor living spaces helps the exterior area feel like an extension of the home, not an afterthought. Ensure blinds and curtains are open to the family yard, highlighting the outdoor oasis. Make certain the indoor and outdoor décor complement one another and use similar colors, materials, and styles both inside and out. It’ll help better connect the two spaces. 3. Create Cozy Sitting Areas
Create easy traffic flow throughout the outdoor living room, while offering a number of places for people to sit–at a table, around a fire pit, or in a cozy chair configuration. Also, offer some shade by using umbrellas or outdoor curtains to minimize sun glare and maximize visions of enjoyment in the outdoor living room. 4. Soften the Outdoor Space Introduce a few soft design features into the outdoor area to create an inviting atmosphere. Rugs, throw pillows, and upholstered patio furniture are a few ways to accomplish that “cozy” feel. Ensure these items look fresh and clean and are not worn or dated. It’s relatively inexpensive to swap out new pillows and rugs. Create outdoor ambiance by hanging string lighting, introducing a fire pit in the center of a patio, setting up a zen-like water feature, or adding candles, small plants and freshly-cut flowers to tabletops. 5. Use Living Landscapes
Nothing says “welcome home” quite like a beautiful living landscape, complete with flowering shrubs, trees, flowers, and other vegetation. Freshen up the family yard by weeding, mulching, and planting flowerbeds and pots with colorful flowers and verdant plants. Vases of flowers can also help bring life—as well as a pop of color–to outdoor tablescapes.
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KonMari Your Contacts - An Epic Approach to Organizing Your Database

By Lalaina Rabary Any successful real estate agent will tell you that having a high-functioning database is key. But like clothes in a closet, contacts can pile up over time, leaving you with a disorganized and dysfunctional database. If your database is in dire need of a makeover, tidying expert Marie Kondo offers inspiration and practical advice for tidying up. Her Netflix special, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and two best-selling books lay out the principles of her decluttering process, the KonMari Method™.  Here’s how to make it work for you.
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How to Prep a Yard for Spring Buying: 5 Tips

Photo Courtesy: OPEI By Kris Kiser, President & CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) As the spring selling season kicks into high gear, real estate and staging professionals can help their clients enhance their listings by creating an outdoor space that is attractive to buyers. The family yard not only can expand living space, it also reconnects families and pets with nature and provides a natural setting to reduce stress, improve memory, boost mood, among many other benefits. Here are five points to consider: 1. Understand potential buyers’ lifestyle needs.
Determine how a potential buyer might use the yard, then plant accordingly. Does the yard need more shade for hot summer days? Is it lacking a grassy area for kids and pets to play? 2. Know the climate zone.
Help your clients select climate-appropriate plants that will thrive with minimal input. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map indicates which grasses, shrubs, and trees are most likely to succeed in a specific location. 3. Plant for pets.
More families are including pets in their lives so consider animal’s needs when planting. Hardy grass withstands pet traffic. Soft, yet sturdy, foliage is a good choice for heavily-trafficked areas. See which plants are dangerous to pets by downloading the ASPCA’s list of poisonous plants. Photo Courtesy: OPEI 4. Attract pollinators & wildlife.
The home habitat is also vital for pollinators (bees, butterflies, and birds) and other wildlife that rely on backyard plants for food and shelter. Planting climate-appropriate, pollen-rich flowers will help nourish pollinators, while creating a vibrant outdoor scene buyers will appreciate. 5. Stage the outdoors. Showcase how the space will be used, including setting outdoor tables, having a barbecue grill set up, and other touches that show people can “live” in the space.     ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kris Kiser is the president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) and the OPEI Education and Research Foundation. OPEI is an international trade association representing 100 small engine, utility vehicle and outdoor power equipment manufacturers, and suppliers. OPEI is managing partner of GIE+EXPO, the industry’s annual international trade show and exposition. Prior to joining OPEI, Kiser, also an attorney, served for 14 years in senior management at two major, Washington, D.C. trade associations representing the automobile manufacturing and forest products industries. He was vice president of state and international affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and vice president of governmental affairs for the American Forest & Paper Association. Learn more about OPEI: OPEI.org  
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Home on the Road

Home takes on many meanings and often can shift or grow as a result of life experiences. We recently caught up with realtor.com employee, Vicki Cunningham to get her take on the meaning of home after she checked a few international destinations off her bucket list. She shares why home is about the memories and people that fill it, as well as the biggest lesson she re-learned during her adventures. What does home mean to you? Home, to me, are the places you retreat to — the places you feel comfortable, safe, and at ease. I grew up in Australia and have lived in Canada for 20-plus years, and I’ve always described Australia as home. But I visited India a couple of years ago, and found myself saying “Canada” when people asked me curiously, “What country?” So Australia is home, Canada is home; my house is home. It is a place that feels familiar, where I can relax. Home is a place where I belong, and that belongs to me. You recently traveled throughout Thailand. Why was that a bucket list destination for you? Thailand was part of a trip that satisfied three bucket list items: seeing the Yee Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai; cycling through the Mekong Delta in Vietnam; and visiting my brother in Singapore. My bucket list is long, and the destinations on it share one thing in common: they are all completely different to home. When I travel I want to experience different food, architecture, music, clothing, traditions, languages, animals, scenery — I want to see how people live around the world, taste their food, learn about their customs. Why travel if it’s just like home? I’ve wanted to visit Thailand ever since I saw “The King and I” as a kid. Golden palaces! Beautiful clothes! Years later I saw images of the Yee Peng lantern festival, thousands of paper lanterns floating up into the sky, and knew I had to experience it for myself; like Yul Brynner’s palace, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Finally, stories of the diversity and deliciousness of Thai street food made Thailand a must-go destination. So, I had a lot of things I wanted to experience, but the trip was full of surprises. What made you feel at home despite being thousands of miles away from your home? Feeling at home is a feeling of belonging. I’ve had that feeling in the most foreign and unfamiliar places, and it’s usually the people that make me feel at home. Now that my kids are grown, I typically travel alone, and that seems to encourage locals to reach out to me, especially in non-touristy places. Those are often the memories that stick: the woman who helped me navigate my first street food breakfast in Bangkok, where no one spoke English; the cafe owner who shared her life story and spent the morning chatting with me in Chiang Mai; the old man who washed mud off my bike and legs after a misadventure biking through the only accessible, very muddy pathway in the countryside outside Saigon. All of those people made me feel at home. The highlight of my trip was cycling through the Mekong Delta with a local guide; I saw only a handful of other foreigners in four days. My guide (Tien) taught me so much about life in Vietnam, and introduced me to local food, customs, and people. We became friends, and he showed me a side of Vietnam I would never have seen without him; the language barrier alone would have been a challenge. We spent one night at a home stay, which I highly recommend: you stay in a home-turned-hotel and eat home-cooked food. The family taught me how to make spring rolls, and cook using chopsticks on a wood fire. They were so welcoming, and proud to share their home and their life. On your personal blog, you shared that you were happy to stay in a Bangkok neighborhood that wasn’t necessarily a tourist locale. How did that shape your experience? Bangkok is a modern metropolis, and I somehow managed to find a hotel off the beaten path, in a neighborhood with almost no tourists and very few English-speakers. This became my neighborhood, and I loved participating in daily life, perhaps even more than the grand palaces and temples. The area wasn’t fancy; some would call it run-down. The streets were lined with tiny homes, often with a family-run restaurant or store attached; the sidewalk was full of people selling lottery tickets, produce, flowers, and food. Like every neighborhood in Bangkok, it had a 7-Eleven, an elaborate temple, and several markets. Every morning I would line up for gaa fae yen (iced coffee) at a hole-in-the-wall, eat breakfast from the ever-changing lineup of street food stalls, and browse the market with locals shopping for dinner. For a short time, I got to experience someone else’s idea of home, and I loved it. What was it like to come home after your travels? How did it impact what home means to you? It’s always strange to return to North America after travelling through countries where people have very little, and live so modestly. After weeks with just a backpack, my average house felt enormous and empty, with just me, my son, and a cat. Travel doesn’t change what home means to me, but it does change what I see as necessary.     What take away from your trip is most important to you? I re-learned an old lesson on my most recent trip: embrace opportunity. Talk to the tuk tuk driver and get his advice. Eat the mysterious street food. Explore the back streets. Get off the beaten path and experience life as a local. You never know what you will find, or fall in love with (and it’s often not what you’d expect). I’m naturally shy, and feel awkward when I don’t know the local language. But the best things happen when I get over myself.
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Staged to Sell: A Virtual Transformation

Photo Credit: VHT Studios / Chrissy Barrett The real estate professional: Cris Grayson, broker associate at Baird & Warner in Glen Ellyn, Ill. About the home: The five-bedroom home in Glen Ellyn, Ill., was built in 1975. The home has been meticulously maintained, and the homeowners had recently made some updates to the interior as well. It is listed for $569,900. Grayson wanted to make sure the online presentation of the home would appeal to the widest buyer pool. Grayson’s tips: Don’t skimp on photography. Grayson places a high value on quality photography for her listings. She uses a professional photographer who is trained specifically on taking real estate photos through VHT Studios, a national real estate photography firm. A good real estate photographer will know how to capture a space from the best angles as well as the flow of the home, Grayson says. Show off the possibilities. Grayson also likes to use VHT’s Virtual Redecorate tool, which allows spaces to be virtually changed and staged for photos. Here’s the kitchen “before” and then virtually staged “after.” See how it changes the look of the table area. Photo credit: VHT Studios / Chrissy Barrett Virtually Staged / Photo Credit: VHT Studios – Chrissy Barrett Grayson also used virtual staging to change the look of the home’s family room. In its current state, the family room appears comfortable and cozy, but some buyers may be looking for a lighter, more modern look. Through virtual staging, the wall décor and upholstered furniture was presented in a warmer look in the photographs. Photo Credit: VHT Studios / Chrissy Barrett Virtually Staged / Photo Credit: VHT Studios  – Chrissy Barrett   Re-cast the room’s purpose. In some cases, you may want to change the purpose of the room to appeal to a wider pool of buyers. In the upstairs of the home, Grayson and her VHT photographer Chrissy Barrett used virtual staging to transform a teen room into a young child’s room with a play space. They also presented it another way too as an office and reading or crafts room. Grayson labeled any pictures as “virtually staged” when they appeared online. The virtually staged photos appeared after a photo of the actual room. Photo Credit: VHT Studios / Chrissy Barrett Virtually Staged / Photo Credit: VHT Studios – Chrissy Barrett Virtually Staged / Photo Credit: VHT Studios – Chrissy Barrett The Result? Days after the home was listed with the virtual staging pictures included, Grayson said they received an offer and were in negotiations with an interested buyer. Grayson has found that using virtual staging in her listings doesn’t just show potential buyers the possibilities of a space but also offers buyers a styling guide to use when they move into their new home and make it their own. Have a home you recently staged that you’d like to show off here at Styled Staged & Sold? Submit your staging photos for consideration, along with three to five of your best spruce-up tips. Contact Melissa Dittmann Tracey at mtracey@realtors.org.
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Make your emails POP

How to Quickly Add Emojis to Your Email Subject Line There’s a super quick keyboard shortcut that allows you to add your favorite tiny hearts , smiley faces , and balloons to your subject lines (or even inside your email copy).   Try it on your Mac or PC. Just follow the steps in this article.    Step 1: Open your email draft inside your email. Step 2: Place your cursor where you’d like the emoji to appear in your subject line. Step 3: Hit the three buttons of the keyboard shortcut (Control + Command + Space bar) down at once. An emoji window will pop up. Step 4: Click on an emoji to insert it into your subject line.    FOR PC USERS: Step 1: Open your email draft inside your email. Step 2: Place your cursor where you’d like the emoji to appear in your subject line. Step 3: Hit the two buttons of the keyboard shortcut (Windows key + . (period) or Windows key + ; (semicolon)) down at once. An emoji window will pop up. Step 4: Click on an emoji to insert it into your subject line. Should you use emojis in your email subject lines? We wanted to find out. That’s why we recently analyzed 1,000 emails from 100 of today’s top marketers. The result: 6.9% of subject lines included emojis. While that’s a small percentage, using emojis could increase your open rates, according to Mark Asquith, marketing expert and founder of Rebel Base Media. (Asquith was also one of the 100 top marketers whose emails we included in our research.) “A well-placed smiley, timer, or contextual emoji used alongside a well-thought-out subject line will really make your message stand out within someone’s already very busy inbox,” said Asquith, who frequently uses emojis in his own subject lines.     This information was provided by Think with Google and Aweber: https://blog.aweber.com/email-marketing/how-to-quickly-add-emojis-to-your-email-subject-line.htm?utm_source=awemail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=blogdigest&utm_content=blogdigest041119blog1      

Instagram-Worthy Pics and Ga-Ga-Like Amenities to Attract Millennials

By Justin M. Riordan, Spade and Archer Design Agency Surveys show that millennials prioritize home buying over getting married or having kids. They’re eager to buy, as soon as they  get their finances in order. So, how do you appeal to the millennial home buyer? Here are some tips in speaking their language: 1. Make it Instagram Worthy When it comes to reaching a millennial buyer, here’s one simple thing to keep in mind: Is your home Instagram worthy? Seriously, an empty room with a price attached to it is not enough to grab the attention of those 25 to 35 years olds. The space needs to have an awesome interior design through home staging–along with great lighting, photos worthy of being reposted along with copy that makes people think, laugh, and repost.     If you happen to get a millennial to actually visit your listing in person, be sure to have signs prepared that say “Home tour today!” and “1107 Elm Drive is AWESOME!” This way they can hold up the signs, you can take their picture, post it on your Instagram and tag them in it. All of their friends get to see what they are doing, where they are, and perhaps become interested in both your listing and in you as an agent. It’s like building your own little army of social media influencers. Add hysterical descriptions to your listing. Make them laugh. If you raise an emotion with your listing, your audience will be more apt to “Like” and share your listing. Create short videos, by using TikTok or Boomerang, of you or your visitors being goofy in the house. Again, make them laugh, and you’ll gain followers. Include ironically vintage items in your house. That exercise bike that your mom used to workout with when you were a kid is now an Instagram worthy moment. The vintage typewriter with a description of the house typed on the paper already inside is a great #coolhouse moment. Anything you can do to get your house organically in front of more millennials, the better. 2. Amenities That Millennials Will Go Ga-Ga Over Furry Friendly Funmenities: Millennials are having less kids, and they are opting to fill their empty nests instead with dogs and cats. Providing cat doors, fenced dog runs, pet surveillance systems and pet washing stations could be a huge appeal to these perky parents of pets.   Photo by LDa Architecture & Interiors – Search entryway design ideas Photo by Sage Interior Design – More laundry room ideas Super Smart Shelter Stuff Smart homes are all the rage. Millennials were raised in a world of the disposable. They have very little concept of how to fix or repair anything in their home. The more their house can take care of itself the better. Here are some of the best self-caring items we are in love with currently: Keyless entry systems: Opening doors with your smartphone or a memorized code, means you never have to carry a key with you again. When you join the shared economy, you can simply text your entry code to your renter, how easy is that?   Shavonda Gardner   Smart light bulbs: Change the level and temperature of light with a simple voice command or from your smart phone. Take your lighting from “selfie” mode to “Netflix and chill” with a simple code word. kasasmart   Smart home management systems: From Nest to Alexa to Siri, there is some disembodied smart voice that can take care of everything from your temperature to your locks to your lights to your security system.   kasasmart Refrigerators with cameras: It comes down to this–every time you open the door to figure out what you want to eat, you are essentially killing the Earth. If you want to be a better person without actually doing anything, you can now turn on the camera inside your refrigerator and see what’s inside guilt free. Earth saved! Electric vehicle support systems: Speaking of killing the Earth, gas powered vehicles are doing just that too. By providing your millennial home buyers with electric charging ports, wall mounted batteries, and solar cell panels, you can make owning an electric vehicle so much easier. Now, we just need to get past the $80,000 price tag of the car! USB ports in the outlets: This will allow your millennial buyers to charge their devices anywhere in the entire house. Community Conscious Conveniences There is a serious desire for millennials to find ways to meet other people without seeming forced. Skip the media room, millennials don’t watch TV on big screens, they instead use their laptops to download the latest episode of “Game of Thrones” and “Broad City.” Instead, promote outdoor BBQ spaces, community gardens, and high Walk Scores to show your listing is community-minded. Photo by Harrison’s Landscaping – Search landscaping pictures   When it all comes down to it, millennials are going to need the same (vegan) meat and (gluten-free) potatoes everybody else needs: Living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms. The rest? It’s all (dairy free, non-GMO) gravy in getting them attracted to your listing.  
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP is the founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency, a home staging company with locations in Portland and Seattle. He is a thought leader and trendsetter in the real estate industry as well as the energy behind Spade and Archer, creating home staging that is simultaneously aspirational and obtainable. Prior to opening Spade and Archer in 2009, Riordan practiced interior architecture and interior construction for 12 years, bringing a diverse background as well as a bachelor of architecture to the home staging industry. With more than two decades of hands-on project management and design experience, Riordan delivers an unmatched level of precision, expertise and service to his clients. In addition, Riordan is an accomplished and engaging speaker who regularly presents at real estate industry events, sharing his expertise about home staging.
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The Top Energy Efficient Home Trends That Home Buyers Want in 2019

Article Submitted by Fixr.com As the cost of energy continues to rise, many home buyers today are looking for homes that are going to be easier and less expensive to run long term. I’ts important to know the trends to look for, whether you’re helping a seller update their home prior to selling or you want to keep an eye out for the perfect property for a buyer. Not only would following these trends allow you to better advise sellers, it also can help you ecuate buyers on to what to look for. Each year, the home remodeling site Fixr polls industry experts and leaders in their field to help determine some of the top trends in the home improvement industry through their Energy Efficient Home Design Trends report. Here are some of the most relevant findings to help you maximize your clients’ potential when buying or selling a home. Energy Star Dryers One key trend to watch for in properties is an Energy Star rated dryer. Of all the various appliances with the Energy Star label, experts felt that the dryer made the biggest change in energy usage when switching to a more efficient model. This is due in part to the fact that dryers use nearly as much electricity as central air conditioning. Home shoppers today are focusing more on the laundry room, as well as where it’s located and what it contains more so than they ever have before. An energy efficient dryer can have a big impact on monthly energy budgets.  Heat Pumps When it comes to heating a home, the heat pump is the most recommended method of heating for providing consistent heat and energy savings. Heat pumps work by exchanging outside air for inside air. It extracts the heat energy from the air outside–even in cold weather–and transfers it indoors. An electric heat pump is 50 percent more efficient that other forms of heating. It’s also the most frequently installed energy efficient heating system in homes today. Day Lighting for the Kitchen and Living Room While experts agree that the best way to save money on electric bills without reducing the amount of usage is to use LED lights, there are still important things to consider when looking at a home for sale.   Day lighting is an important component of reducing electricity. This has to do with how much natural light a room gets. The kitchen and living room are two spaces that use the most electricity. As such, it makes sense that home buyers may want to opt for homes that have sufficient natural light in these areas either through windows or skylights.   Tankless Water Heaters While the heat pump is the most popular way to heat a home, a tankless water heater is the most popular method of heating water. Tankless heaters are installed inside the walls of a home, and heat the water as it’s being used. This is in contrast to a heater that is constantly maintaining the temperature of any gallons of water at a time. Households that use this method of heating water can expect to save $100 a year on their energy bills. Heat pumps and tankless heaters are both popular, but hybrid heat pump hot water heaters tend not to perform as well universally. Tankless heaters can be installed in more places, and perform better in cold-weather climates in general. Low Flow Fixtures in Full Bathrooms  Households use a lot of water each day when they aren’t using low flow fixtures to try to restrict this usage. Experts felt the place that made the biggest difference when installing these items is in full bathrooms. This makes sense, as the full bathroom will include a tub and shower, as well as a sink and toilet. Installing low flow fixtures in full bathrooms can help reduce the load on the water supply. Solar Panels  If home buyers are looking at homes with renewable energy sources, experts say that solar panels are by far the most popular method. Renewable energy is increasing everywhere, with millennial homeowners leading the biggest push into this sector. Experts also reported that millennials were the most likely to invest in cleaner energy sources, with Gen X taking second place. Saving Energy Means Saving Money and the Environment   Homeowners and home buyers today are motivated to make energy-efficient changes in their homes due to the potential to save money as well as energy. More people generally aware of a need to protect the environment so it makes sense that protection coming from within the home ranks second place. Homeowners and home buyers that want to maximize their potential in both these areas should seriously consider paying attention to these and other important trends in energy savings. While individually each of these factors may not save much, added together, they can have a significant impact on both the homeowner’s wallet, and their overall comfort inside the home. Help your clients by pointing out these trends ,and how they can make them work to get better results for everyone involved. To learn about the cost of household remodeling projects, visit the Cost Guides.
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Staging Tips for the Coffee Table Top

By Karen Post, guest contributor In today’s competitive marketplace, if a listing is going to stand out, and say “tour me” it needs to do more than show rooms. It needs to project a lifestyle for potential buyers. To achieve this dream home result, you must think beyond furnishings and decor. You’ve got to think “sell theater” and create scenes that reaffirm the home’s quality and unique character. As a home stager and designer, I’ve discovered that all coffee tables are fabulous opportunities to emotionally connect with home buyers. Why? Prospects will often sit down to chat about the property with the real estate professional, or they will wait for the rest of their family to show up. Either way, their eyes are all looking at that coffee table. Here are some tips and looks to improve your coffee table effect. Photo Credit: Karen Post, Home Frosting at homefrosting.com Here’s a transitional look using three risers with gray, brass, navy accents, candles, and a pop of color in flowers. Photo Credit: Karen Post, Home Frosting at homefrosting.com Rustic and natural items are still very on-trend. This tabletop includes books to help lighten up the area, as well as was layered metal vases and finished off with a bed of green balls.   Photo Credit: Karen Post, Home Frosting at homefrosting.com An artisan grouping mixes floral with turquoise wish beads along with some distressed elements, books, and coasters. Photo Credit: Karen Post, Home Frosting at homefrosting.com Black and white is always a crisp statement. Here, we mixed silver and gold with geometric items. Some of my favorite tips for staging a coffee table: Keep it simple and in sync with the home’s style. Rule of thumb: No more than three to seven elements on your tabletop. Compliment the story of the home’s staging. Scattering sales materials from real estate professionals or any vendor here will cheapen the impression. Market softly. Place beautiful books in one area. Top off the pile with your firm’s magazine or create a custom book wrap. The wrap cover can tout your brand mark, the back can include a brief story with successes or testimonials. Or, add an elegant dish with branded candy or place tastefully branded coasters with your vignette. Don’t block the view. Yes, scale is important, but oversized, distracting accessories can make it difficult to see the outdoors, the water view, or even a TV. That won’t win you any home points. Add some life. Fresh flowers are a nice touch for open houses. For extended periods, there are great looking faux plants and florals that don’t look cheesy. These can add a nice pop of color too. Tidy up the table. When you’re doing a pre-showing walk through to open windows, turn on lights, etc., don’t forget to tidy up the coffee tables too. If you had the home professionally staged, mimic exactly how the pros left it.   ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Post is president of Home Frosting, a Tampa-based home staging and design firm. She has bought, rented, and sold numerous properties and has been creating memorable environments for over three decades. Post began her career in visual merchandising and has worked with top luxury retailers, fashion, and hospitality brands. She later evolved into an international branding expert. Post is also a published business author and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, FOX News, and The New York Times. She is also a regular guest on nationally syndicated daytime TV, where she shares home décor ideas and trends.  
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Tax Deductions and Homeownership

At the end of 2017, the United States underwent the largest tax law overhaul in more than 30 years. The new law, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), is effective from 2018 - 2025 and makes several changes to oft-used tax deductions. If you own a home or are in the process of buying or selling, here are the key points you need to know.
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How I Staged It: The Master Suite

The master suite is a place where relaxation should be paramount. A calming color scheme and carefully staged space can do exactly that. Staging and real estate professionals submitted some of their favorite staging photos and tips for our new slideshow, How I Staged It: The Makings of a Master Retreat. Check out these stylishly staged master bedrooms >>> View more How I Staged It: The Fireplace   Want to have your photos featured? We’re looking for staging insights and photos for making over the entryway and dining room. Submit your pictures to mtracey@realtors.org.  
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International Women’s Day 2019 at realtor.com®

Our offices recently came together for International Women’s Day, a global day of reflection with origins dating back to the early 1900s, to celebrate our employees. As part of our day’s events we hosted  a dynamic panel conversation about this year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter. Our panelists included Iris Fujiura Bombelyn, an angel investor and retired rocket scientist, Caitlin Hatzenbuhler, a wellness champion and marketing professional, René Shimada Siegel, a marketing CEO and public relations professor, and Suzanne Zinn Mueller, realtor.com Senior Vice President of Industry Relations. Our Head of Employer Brand, Sarah Staley, moderated the discussion, which explored the diverse experiences of our inspirational panel. Hatzenbuhler described her life as a “carefully crafted tower of blocks” instead of a scale that’s perfectly even. “I have to look at my tower of blocks and sometimes one of my blocks is a little bit to the side and of course that’s going to make my tower lean and wiggle a little a bit, so I have to bump that block back in line. This has really helped me change my perspective of what it means to balance and manage it all.” In considering her own path to success, Bombelyn shared the importance of risk-taking. Although it can elicit a fear of failure, she believes that failure is something that should be embraced as a stepping stone to achieving one’s goals. As well, through her career, risk-taking has been a necessary component to advance female representation in STEM-related fields. Fostering one’s professional and personal networks was another factor the panelists attributed to their success. Siegel explained that connecting others is a mutually beneficial exchange and that in so doing, it is something that is deeply rewarding for her. She  mentioned that mentoring is her way of paying it forward and investing in the future. Mueller urged attendees to not be afraid to ask questions and to never stop learning. She advised that advocating for yourself, being present, and reminding yourself of the purpose of what you are doing goes a long way and makes room for further growth. From our headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., to our seven other offices, our employees shared what the day meant to them. In an effort to pay it forward, our employees are contributing to a company-wide drive benefiting Dress for Success, a global organization that has provided clothing and career guidance to more than one million women since 1997. One of those women is our very own Michelé Bailey, an employee on our Customer Care team who serves as a desktop technician. After meeting with a Dress for Success consultant in preparation for a career move and an interview with realtor.com, Bailey received interview-ready attire. Once hired, Dress for Success invited her to return and provided additional clothing items for her new career. As a realtor.com employee now for five years, Bailey recalled, “It was such a relief not to worry where I was going to find the money to buy new clothes as I was paying off my student loans.” Bailey’s story is one we’re proud to be a part of and highlights the very real opportunity each one of us has to impact each other’s lives. Bailey making her Dress for Success donationBailey with Vancouver colleagues celebrating International Women’s DayRegardless of gender, profession, ethnicity, or age, the day underscored the multi-dimensional journey all of us share as we navigate professional and personal endeavors. Although International Women’s Day comes only once a year, it is a reminder that we all have a chance and responsibility on a daily basis to make a more inclusive, diverse, and balanced workplace.
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Exhaust to Fuel: How Keller Williams Is Transforming Data into a Competitive Edge

There is an almost unimaginable amount of data generated every second. Stop for a minute and think about the number of online interactions you’ve had over the past 24 hours, for example. Did you go to the doctor? Information was exchanged electronically. Did you make a purchase on Amazon? Another exchange of information about your preferences and behaviors. Did your clients sign the contract? Congratulations are in order, and, you and your clients just participated in another exchange of information between multiple parties.
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Story Branding 2019-2020

Have you ever had one of those moments, where something just hits you in the face multiple times in a short period of time?   Well, it started with my team leader Manda Price sharing a book with me, Building A Story Brand by Donald Miller.   From there it has been crazy with the request I have received from my clients, Realtor Friends, and other community entrepreneurs, about the top marketing strategies for 2019 and 2020.   If you have not noticed the Story feature FB & Instagram offers, well then you are missing out on some great opportunities on branding. Did you know that You Tube has created a beta for their version of Story Feature? You have to have 10k followers in order to use this feature right now but it will be coming soon to everyone. Also, Twitter has jumped on board with this idea and created their version of Story posts.    So, I have experienced a serious trend that is taking over and I want to share with you all what I have learned and know about leveraging these features, marketing in real estate, and building an audience that will stick with you and keep your audience engaged with your posts on social media.    Call me today 910.233.2442 to find out when my next class on how to leverage these social media features in your real estate business!