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Dear America: We Can Do Better

Friday, September 8th, 2017

I envision an America that champions clean water for all. I see, in my mind, legislation passing that prohibits any dangerous substances from being near precious water supplies. Man and beast alike have free access to clean, potable water as a right, not a privilege. Humans, with their dominion over the land, strive to make the environment healthy, and strive to make the habitats of their fellow beings safe, clean, and, above all, habitable. Plans to repair dying infrastructure that poisons the water our children drink would be put into place, and the rivers and oceans and seas would be purged of our toxic garbage. Littering the habitats of other creatures, introducing dangerous materials to their homes, would be a much bigger crime.

I envision an America that isn’t hell-bent on destroying everything but the almighty dollar. Shoes upon the feet of every child, no matter which neighborhood they grew up in, no segregation of education, a free meal with fresh vegetables guaranteed. Look at the world, then look at us. If they can do it, why can’t we?

I envision an America where stomping baby animals to death for pornographic videos isn’t defended as “free speech”. I dream of an America where YouTube videos of animals being tortured or hurt don’t get thousands upon thousands of views. I see kill shelters shut down, and every unwanted pet getting a loving family, because the America I envision places emphasis on adopting animals in need rather than supporting an industry of backyard breeders and puppy mills.

An animal is not a fashion statement. An animal is not a status symbol. An animal is meant to love, and to be loved.

These are my dreams, my hopes, my wishes for my home country, but really all I see are nightmares.

I can never remove the image of an animal being skinned alive for its fur from my mind. I see it, bloody and broken and blinking, conscious and aware, suffering needlessly. I think about whoever wound up purchasing that pelt, wearing its coat on their own body, and I wonder if this selfish individual ever stopped to think that some things are more important, more valuable, more precious than an ill-begotten clothing trend.

I can’t stop shaking whenever I read about new pipelines over sacred grounds, whole cultures dismissed with the simple pass of ink on paper. I imagine the oil spilling onto the soil and reaching, oozing its way to groundwater. Yet again, clean water is ruined in an age in which we constantly fear running out of clean water.

Try as you may, you cannot drink a dollar bill.

It’s hard to be a sensitive person living in this country anymore. America, my beloved, has rapidly become America, my painful heart. I look, as I’m supposed to, as we all should, for the people who try. I look for the people who help. When there’s a natural disaster, we pull together. Donations of food, money, clothing, medicine, and clean water are sent from all corners of the country to whatever ravaged area. Volunteers sift through the rubble to look for lost pets and children. Medical staff comes on-site for triage and immediate care, and doctors and nurses at the nearest hospitals pull double shifts.

My most shameful and pain-filled question for this land that I love and those who live here alongside me is, “Why does there need to be a disaster?”

Why does there need to be a disaster for there to be helpers? Why do whole towns have to be swallowed by earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes in order for us to care about each other? There are isolated communities across rural America desperate for easier access to food and medical care and depressed regions of our greatest and largest cities where the water is poison and children and animals alike go hungry. Where are their helpers?

How bad does it really have to get before our hearts are as open as our wallets when we purchase a new iPad or television set?

I’m an optimist by nature, if you can imagine it. I seek out the very best in the very worst of all of us. I channel my humanism and belief in the autonomy of all sentient life and feel so close to my fellow man and to nature that I gain strength I never knew that I had. I spread my smiles and what I have to give at shelters for animals and people in the hopes that they are touched by some bit of kindness in a world that is so very cruel. At the rabbit shelter, I gain the trust of frightened critters and help to socialize them, help them to feel loved and trustful of human beings that have previously failed them. I volunteer to provide basic care. I participate in rallies and demonstrations for the rights and fair treatment of all. I do my best to live by my virtues and beliefs, to stand by them steadfastly, and, in doing so, my spirit soars, and I feel whole.

I envision an America where the weakest of us are sheltered by the strongest of us. I envision an America in which poor little bunnies have never learned to fear human beings. I long for an America where there are no elderly homeless, or any homeless at all, where the dignities of cleanliness and being fed are not considered to be for a select few rather than all.

I envision an America of peace and bravery, kindness and selflessness, conscious effort and conscious living.

My people, my countrymen, it all begins with a kind heart. It all begins with loving one another and wishing well your fellow creatures. If they can do it, why not us?

How to Plan the Perfect Open House

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Have you ever spent time and energy planning an Open House, just to have less than five people attend? Have you ever had a ton of people show up at your Open House, and been unable to convert a single one of them into a sale or a future client? Are you unsure about why your Open House failed?

Open Houses are now more important to the real estate agent than ever. A report in 2015 by the National Association of Realtors Home Buyers and Sellers indicated that 48% of home buyers cited the Open House as an important source for most of their information. The reasons for this are obvious, for many it’s the first time that they’re getting to smell, see, and feel the home in person. It’s also a way to see what other people think of the house, which is a powerful push in a person’s perception of a particular home.

I’m Cindy Bishop of Cindy Bishop Worldwide. I pride myself not only on being a successful real estate agent with over 28 years of experience, but a knowledgeable and helpful trainer and coach. I’m committed to making everyone who comes into contact with me succeed, and have compiled the following open house tips for you, both from my own experience, as well as teaching and coaching friends of mine. Use them to succeed, and contact me if you have any questions at all!

Here are the best ways to make your Open House perfect:

1. Pick a unique property, that’s easy to find.

We often don’t have control over which property we’re showing, but when we are able to select a house at which to host an Open House event, we should look for properties with the following:

* A direct route to them with very few turns. Street names are easy, and street signs are visible.

* Properties that are well kept, and visually pleasing from both the inside and outside.

* A home with some kind of “conversation starter”. It has a unique feature, and is not just four walls. It might have an infinity pool, a walk-in closet, or a newly redesigned kitchen.

* Your signage should be larger than life. On the event day, you need something to make the signs stand out even more. Balloons are often used, or you could even try streamers, or pinwheels. Be creative, just try to find something professional, but that catches the light and people’s attention.

2. Have your Open House event at the right time.

* Don’t have your event after dark. Plan your event to end at sunset.

* Consider having a separate open house preview, for neighbors only. And then an open-to-the-public type of event later. Neighbors love this preview event concept, because it makes them feel special, and they love suggesting who should live in their neighborhood. It also allows them to start thinking of friends and family they want nearby, and they become part of your sales force for you, as well as your advertising force for the actual open house.

* If you do have an event only for neighbors, consider taking out a camera and interviewing and recording them talking about the neighborhood. This is something you can add to your website, or social media, or have on repeat loop during your Open House. For example, imagine how powerful it is to have a recorded testimonial from a mother in the area about the school district?

* Don’t pick a date and time where people are not available, for example, the majority of people work Monday through Fridays from 8am-5pm, and may not be free on a Wednesday at 3pm. Additionally, people are usually not free on holiday weekends.

3. Make your Open House event the right vibe, and the more exciting, the better!

* Entertaining music is a possibility, but be careful that it’s not distracting and that you avoid certain genres or language that may be offensive. Music may be seen as a way to cover up noises or mechanical failures in the house. Make sure that you’re sensitive to how the music is being perceived.

* Snacks are a must! Try wine and cheese, or beer and wings. The most important part about the food is that it needs to match what type of neighborhood you are in. Fried chicken and hamburgers probably aren’t appropriate at a million-dollar listing, but champagne and caviar probably aren’t appropriate in a first-time homebuyer situation, either. Just a word of caution; however, if you are serving alcohol, be very careful about who you serve. You may even want to get someone on your team to help you out with this. The last thing you need is for someone to drink at your open house as a minor, or someone to drive off over intoxicated and get into an accident. If in the right kind of setting, having comfort foods is especially welcoming and makes many visitors feel more at home. Careful to avoid foods with bad odors or smells, as you don’t want them attributed to the home.

* Consider leaving a hand-written sign to “Help Yourself” along with a list of ingredients, so that visitors feel like they are able to eat the snacks provided without fear.

* Consider having a slideshow or interactive photo board featuring the home at various times of year. You may want to show the home off in summer months, for example, if it’s currently January and the garden and pool are frozen over.

* Consider making a table, desk, or station with local school information, neighborhood information, etc. The more resources you can provide, the better. You want the guest to stop at this station and pour over the resources, and ask as many questions as possible.

* Make sure to engage each and every visitor so they have are interested, and want to stay longer.

4. Don’t just advertise your Open House, create buzz around it.

* Create an event on social media, and share it with all of your friends and clients, as well as everyone on your e-mail lists. Facebook ads have become an amazing resource for reaching a ton of people in your area that wouldn’t have been in your networks otherwise. And it’s incredibly cost-effective, for what it does. You should filter the Facebook ad to include only people in targeted zip codes. You can also un-invite or exclude people who work for other realtors or competing brokerages.

* Flyer surrounding businesses and schools in the area of the listing. Knock on as many doors as possible.

* Visit neighbors’ homes with nice newsletters or invitations. The nicer the invitation, the higher the chance that they will pop in to see what all of the fuss is about. Some agents even suggest using wedding style invitations.

* Don’t just advertise on one channel. You can try Facebook events, Twitter, your own website, your e-mail list, your newsletter, NextDoor.com, and even Craigslist. Just make sure you follow all of the appropriate advertising and marketing laws as designated by your brokerage and state laws.

5. Logistics, Logistics, Logistics

* Make sure everything is in order so that you look your best, and the house looks it’s best. it should be clean, light bulbs should be new, dust should be gone, air fresheners should be working, the climate should be controlled. I’ve even heard of certain agents baking cookies in advance of the big event so that the house feels and smells extra homey.

* Consider removing clutter, which makes navigating the home difficult. You can also remove or hide offensive art, or anything that might make someone feel uncomfortable. But be careful- make sure the homeowner doesn’t just throw the clutter into closets or cabinets! People care more and more about storage these days, and if it looks like the cabinets and closets are busting at the seams with junk, they’ll automatically assume that the amount of storage space in the house is not sufficient

* Use natural light to your advantage. Make sure all window treatments are open and all curtains are drawn. All light switches should be turned on, regardless of where they are. You don’t want someone afraid to go in the basement, or thinking they aren’t allowed to enter the garage.

* Make sure the home owner is not present. The last thing you need is them having an emotional breakdown because they are going down memory lane, or answering a question incorrectly. People also feel uncomfortable freeing roaming when the person who owns the property is looking over their shoulder.

* With that said, valuables, if left in the home, should be secured. At the very least, you should know what they are and where, and make an inventory of them. I strongly advise you insist that the home owner take them out of the property before the open house, so you’re not held liable for them in case of damage or theft.

* Use your team. If you are alone at an Open House, you may be spread too thin. If you leave for a minute to check that a sign on the corner hasn’t fallen down, you may miss someone who pops in to find no one there. Have one person for signage and the guest book, one person on food and drink detail, and that leaves you free to talk to and engage guests.

* Have a loan agent or lender on hand, in order to answer any potential questions the home buyer may have about the process.

* Make sure you have the necessary paperwork required. You can print out a copy of the MLS but it’s strongly suggested that you make a booklet, flyer, or something more personalized to the property, and to yourself.

* Make sure you know the neighborhood, and have done comparisons of values in the neighborhood. You may lose credibility if someone asks you a question and you’re unfamiliar with this territory, and I’m sure you’d rather look like a pro!

6. Use the Personal Touch

* It’s not enough to have each visitor sign in. You should take detailed notes on your conversation with each person. If you can’t remember this, a helpful suggestion is to hide a notebook or tablet inside a kitchen drawer, and make notes as the day goes by.

* You should remember one thing about each visitor and bring it up at some point during their tour of the home. “Jerry, wouldn’t this be an amazing place to store your golf clubs?”

* Don’t try to sell anyone. They will come to you, and request the information they need, when they need it. This is a time to establish relationships. Your only objective should be to make this home (and yourself) memorable.

7. Follow Up

* Add all visitors to your e-mail list, as well as your newsletter list. AM Open House is a great app and resource to make sure you’re keeping on task with this.

* For those visitors who were seriously interested in the home or in you, handwritten cards should be sent out thanking them for coming, and encouraging their business in the future. Take out that handy notebook you stashed, and make personal notes in each card. They’re more likely to keep it the more personal it is. Above all, make sure your contact information is on each card.

* Some agents even send videos. You could forward on a Facebook live video of the open house, or send a YouTube video of the listing. You could even send some kind of greeting card video for a special way to say “thanks for attending!” BombBomb is a great resource for this type of video.

* Text message is a wonderful way to contact people, and has a 95% open rate. It’s less invasive than a phone call, which people may avoid answering if they don’t know a specific caller. Send a very specific text message with a thank you, the property address, and more information on the property, or a link for more information.

* Send a follow up to the follow up starting with the subject header “I forgot to tell you… ” – You can then point out a feature you neglected to tell them about on the current property, or even point out other properties that you may have listed, if this one fell short for them.

Of course, the best resource for an Open House is a coach, who can suggest strategies unique to your community and clientele. Not only is this more effective, but a coach should follow up with you to make sure that everything went smoothly, and question each step if it doesn’t.

Cindy Bishop is the Managing Director of Cindy Bishop Worldwide, a real estate education company specializing in Business Enhancement and Growth training for the Real Estate Community. Cindy is an active coach specializing in real estate agent business development.