Setting Priorities In A Senior’s Move

Tips For Whittling Down The Options To Find The Perfect Spot

Trying to decide where to live during one’s golden years can be a difficult process. There are many different types of options available and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. When a senior is trying to choose a new place where they will spend their remaining years, it can be helpful to work through their priorities in relation to the new home.

 

Evaluate the reasons for the move and the priorities in a new home

ABC News shares that there are many reasons why seniors consider downsizing in their later years. This type of change may be due to the death of a spouse, financial challenges, or health concerns, or it may be time to retire and free up money to travel. Whenever possible, it is best to work up to a big move like this, as rushing into a relocation can lead to regrets.

Money Sense explains that many older adults are downsizing so they can reduce their expenses or boost their nest eggs, so determine a realistic budget and stick to it. Don’t be distracted by amenities available in a community if the overall cost would cause a financial strain, as this type of stress in one’s later years can be quite detrimental.

Next, do some thinking about how much space is needed. Will you have guests staying over frequently or will you be on your own most of the time? Do you need some unfinished storage space for belongings or will you be able to pare things down sufficiently to transition to a smaller home?

Location and maintenance work are key factors, too

Apartment Guide notes that you will also want to consider whether living in a maintenance-free home is something you want. Seniors often want to let go of any responsibilities regarding snow removal, lawn care, or exterior home repairs, so focusing on maintenance-free living can narrow your options quickly.

Another key priority for many seniors related to the location of the new home. If one needs to have easy access to a specific medical facility, care center, or shopping area, that needs to be factored in during the search. Location also plays a role when a senior depends on extended family for help, wants to be by grandchildren, or hopes to stay near neighbors or friends they have had for years.

Get organized early for a smooth transition

As the search for a new home plays out, start planning for the move itself. Staying organized and starting early are the best ways to ensure a smooth transition for your senior. Keep a notebook containing all of the information related to the move, including an inventory list of what will go to the new home, so that everything is maintained in one spot.

Then, work consistently on purging unwanted or unneeded items. Help your senior decide what will fit in the new place and what can be sold or donated, tackling one small area at a time. Keep similar items together while packing and label or color code all of your boxes to speed up the unpacking on the other end of the move.

Moving in one’s later years is rarely an easy decision. Get organized early on so you can help your senior focus on their best options and keep the move progressing smoothly. Consider factors such as a senior’s financial picture, their reasons for downsizing, and the ideal location of their new place so they can ultimately settle in the perfect spot to enjoy their golden years.

 

Jim Vogel vogel[email protected]

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Millennials Are Waiting to Buy a Home

Young couple looking at a new house

Say what you will about millennials and their commitment issues, but when it comes to real estate, younger Americans aren’t shying away from homeownership because they refuse to stay put and settle down. Rather, millennials aren’t buying homes at the same pace of previous generous because they feel they just can’t afford it. To further understand this phenomenon, NerdWallet did some digging into why millennial’s have slowed down considerably on the home-buying front, and these are the reasons it uncovered.

"poor" option checked off on credit score options

1. Their credit isn’t good enough

Back before the housing bubble burst in the ugliest way possible, it seemed like almost anyone could get approved for a mortgage. Standards have since gotten stricter, however, and these days, a growing number of millennials feel they can’t take the leap into homeownership because their credit scores just aren’t high enough.

Since length of credit history is one of five key components that goes into determining a credit score, it’s natural for millennials to have a clear disadvantage on that point alone. But what many younger would-be homebuyers don’t realize is that while credit requirements have gotten more rigid, folks with lower credit scores have different avenues to explore. While it’s true that an estimated one-third of millennials don’t have a high enough credit score (620) to meet the industry’s minimum standard requirement, FHA loans require a minimum credit score of just 500.

Furthermore, there are ways to build credit quickly to make homeowner a more feasible option sooner rather than later. Paying off a chunk of existing debt, requesting a higher credit limit, and correcting credit report errors can all work to boost a credit score in a relatively short period of time.

Model house on a pile of dollar bills

2. They don’t have enough saved for a down payment

Many prospective homebuyers of all ages assume they’ll need to put 20% of their property’s value down at closing — a target that, according to Fannie Mae and the Federal Reserve, is well out of reach for the majority of millennials. But what many folks don’t realize is that there are ways to get around that 20% requirement. FHA loans, for example, require as little as 3.5% down. And those who qualify for USDA or VA loans can get away with putting no money down at all.

A big part of overcoming that 20% hump therefore boils down to education. In a 2015 Fannie Mae survey, 73% of millennials had no clue about the aforementioned lower down payment options, but a little research might help more young Americans overcome this particular barrier. Of course, putting more money down at closing means paying less in mortgage costs overall, but those who are really intent on owning should know that they may have other options, especially if their credit is strong.

Paycheck

3. They don’t earn enough to cover their monthly mortgage costs

Americans aged 25 to 34 earn an average income of just over $35,000 a year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And at first glance, that may not seem like enough to swing a monthly mortgage payment, especially when you consider the peripheral costs of homeownership, like property taxes, insurance, and maintenance. In addition, Trulia reports that there are fewer starter homes on the market these days than in previous years, which means millennials with limited income have even fewer options for finding affordable properties.

But when NerdWallet ran some numbers, it found that in most regions of the country, millennials do earn enough to afford the monthly mortgage payment for a median starter home. Also, taking on that sort of mortgage payment wouldn’t push their debt levels into dangerous territory. And because interest rates are at an all-time low, now is actually a good time for millennials to lock in their home loans, while they’re still reasonably affordable.

While those housing costs might seem daunting on a modest salary, younger Americans who are serious about owning should create a budget and map out their monthly expenses to see what taking on a mortgage might actually look like in practice. Those who are willing to sacrifice in other spending categories, like leisure and restaurant meals, may come to find that they can manage those payments after all.

Debt sign

4. They have too much existing debt

One final reason why millennials are delaying homeownership boils down to existing debt. And it’s a valid concern, especially given the extent to which student debt levels have climbed year after year. Student Loan Hero reports that the average college grad aged 20 to 30 makes a $351 monthly loan payment. Meanwhile, ValuePenguin estimates that the average borrower under 35 has $5,808 in outstanding credit card debt.

Interestingly enough, data shows that college grads have a greater likelihood of buying homes — especially since they typically have higher earning potential than those without a degree. But given that the average Class of 2016 graduate came away with over $37,000 in loans, it’s certainly reasonable that millennials might choose to delay homeownership until they’re able to get their debt levels under control.

Though millennials have several good motives for holding off on homeownership, these reasons, as NerdWallet puts it, may be more a matter of perception than reality. While it’s true that younger Americans have their share of hurdles to overcome, those who are really intent on becoming homeowners have more options than they probably realize. And the sooner they act on those opportunities, the less money they’ll end up throwing away on rent.


Maurie Backman is personal finance writer who’s passionate about educating others. Her goal is to make financial topics interesting (because they often aren’t) and believes that a healthy dose of sarcasm never hurt anyone. In her somewhat limited spare time, she enjoys playing in nature, watching hockey, and curling up with a good book.

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Tips To Sell Your Home Faster

Ever wonder why some homes sell in a day and others linger for months?
We’ve got tips from the experts to get your place off the market, stat.

 

1. GET A NEW HUE FOR YOUR FRONT DOOR.

A fresh coat of paint for your front door sets the tone of a well kept, updated place. I like a line of paint by Benjamin Moore called Grand Entrance (it comes in 11 colors), which was designed specifically for the front door. I always choose a color that makes a bit of a statement, yet complements the home’s existing exterior color.

First, prep the door by cleaning it and give it a light sanding to smooth out any old paint lines. Use a good brush to apply the paint.

2. UPDATE YOUR KITCHEN … A LITTLE.

Buying new cabinetry is expensive, and full custom cabinetry can take months to complete. But you can update your existing cabinets by painting them white. I also suggest painting the island cabinetry gray ( Benjamin Moore’s Kendall Grey), which will contrast nicely with the white.

The most luxurious homes have Calacatta gold marble kitchen countertops, but if you’re updating for a sale,  consider swapping out old granite with less expensive marble that has a similar look. “Carrera marble is one of my favorites for a more reasonable cost,” she says.

3. CHANGE YOUR BEDDING.

The focal point of any master bedroom is the bed, and the bedding has to look magazine-worthy, like something you’d want to jump right into. People buy homes because they fall in love with them, so make that master bedroom an emotional statement with an irresistible bed. A duvet cover set will allow you to slipcover your existing comforter and a few of your pillows.

To make your bed look irresistibly cozy, create layers by adding another comforter folded at the end of the bed, plenty of pillows, and a few accent pillows. If you don’t have a headboard, or if your headboard isn’t a statement maker, a few Euro-size pillows (26×25) will fill the gap. And Joseph says you should never be able to see under a bed or to see sheets hanging down, so if needed, use a bed-skirt and proper bed-styling on days your broker takes photos or shows the house.

4. LIST YOUR HOME ON THE RIGHT DAY.

Homes listed on Thursdays sell faster and for more money than homes listed on other days of the week, according to a 2015 study by Redfin. Redfin’s study shows homes listed on a Thursday have a 22 percent chance of selling above list price (compared to the 17.5 percent chance they have when listed on a Sunday).

5. DO THE DISHES DAILY.

You never know when your broker might call you about scheduling a last-minute showing, so you need to be prepared.  The beds should always be made and the dishes should never be left in the sink.

6. HAVE AN OPEN HOUSE IMMEDIATELY.

If you’re willing to have an open house, do it within the first week: The Redfin study found that holding an open house during the first week that the home is listed will help your home sell for 2 percent more than what it would sell for if you held your open house later. It will also help you sell your home within 90 days.

7. HIRE A PHOTOGRAPHER.

Your home will sell up to three weeks faster if your pictures are amazing, and you’ll get $3400 more for it, according to Redfin.

8. TAKE COMMUNITY PICTURES.

Your photographer should take a minimum of 25 pictures, and some should include the community. For example, if your home is near a park make sure the photographer includes a picture. If it’s near a popular shopping mall, include a photo of the mall.

9. PRICE THE HOME CORRECTLY FROM THE START.

Your house will get five times more visits the first day it hits the market than it does a week later, which means everything has to be perfect the first day. Testing the waters with a higher price and planning on a price drop later could scare away prospective buyers.

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How Will Millennials Get Into the Housing Market?

Don’t be surprised if the housing market gets tighter next year. The country’s largest generation — millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 — are expected to enter the market for homes in big numbers.

In a recent survey at the National Association of Realtors’ Realtor.com website, 61% of millennials surveyed said that they plan to go house shopping next year. Millennials account for more than 75 million Americans and they represent the largest generation in the country, now outnumbering baby boomers by about half a million.

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Only about a third of millennials have reached the prime home-buying age of 31, so if they begin entering the housing market next year, they could become the driving force for home sales for the next decade or longer.

But they do face some hurdles. Among these is existing debt, more than likely student loan debt. Another is stagnant wages. A third is stricter loan underwriting standards. And, fourth, home prices keep rising.

A new study from Fitch Ratings calculates that someone repaying student loans on a monthly payment of $203 qualifies for a loan amount $45,000 lower than a person with no student loan debt. A monthly payment of $400 reduces mortgage loan capacity by about $89,000.

Because home ownership has historically been the single best wealth creator for most Americans and an important driver of U.S. consumer spending, the longer a person delays buying a house the more significant the foregone home-equity creation. Yet home ownership rates for Americans under 35 has dropped from around 44% in 2004 to 34% this year, the largest decline among all U.S. age groups.

About 42 million Americans face student loan debt totaling nearly $1.3 trillion, an average of more than $30,000 per person, and, according to Fitch, “rising monthly repayment requirements are eating into prospective home buyers’ cash flows.”

Wages have not kept pace with the increase in student loan debt. Fitch notes:

Nominal wages for recent university graduates rose by 13% between 2007 and 2015, but average student loan balances for all borrowers surged 60% and national rental prices increased 22% over the same time period.

Loan underwriting standards have tightened to the point that first-time buyers now need a credit score of about 745 in order to qualify for a mortgage. In 2000, a credit score of around 715 was needed.

Fitch is not particularly upbeat about the home-buying situation facing millennials. The firm sees student debt as an enormous albatross for recent and future college graduates. Potential home buyers will struggle to repay their student debts because wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up with college costs, and that will force recent graduates to rent for longer before considering a home purchase and that, in turn, will leave the millennial generation out of the housing-based wealth economy.

The survey we mentioned at the beginning of this story noted that 61% of millennials plan to look for a house next year. The same survey also revealed that 73% of all respondents who are considering buying a house have been considering it for less than three months. Will they get discouraged the further along they get?

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Realtor Marketing SEO

SEO_image_2SEO for Realtors is a hot topic in Realtor Marketing circles. I spend a lot of time talking to Realtors who are totally confused about what Realtor SEO is today and how they can get their website to the top of the rankings on Google. This post is long, but worth reading in its entirety if you are going to be spending time marketing your website with SEO.

A History of Realtor SEO

If you are paying attention to the Realtors who have top Google rankings in your marketplace, you probably notice one or two have all the top listings. Whenever I find this, I can guess a couple of things that will make a difference for you now.

First off, they have older sites that have been around for a while. Google thinks domain age (how long your URL has been in existence) is a good indicator of quality content.

Secondly, they probably got those rankings sometime in the past when there was less competition. For example, I rank in Google because I have been writing  since 2011 and because my content is old.

If you are going to try and knock off those old sites and take their top spots, just know that you are going to have to do more work to beat them than they will have to do to stay there.

The good news. I have to say that many of the “old dog” sites that have those rankings are now taking them for granted. They are not working as aggressively to keep their rankings as they did in the past to get them. This leaves the door open for an aggressive Realtor (like you) to step in and start taking them away.

To dos.

1. Check your competition’s domain age. I like using Webconfs.com for this.

2. One thing that you can do to make Google more confident in the longevity of your site is to register it for 5 years or more (paying for your domain name or URL for 5 years). The cost is minimal (about $60) but the benefits are HUGE. By paying for it for 5 years or more, you are signaling to Google that you will not be just a flash in the pan.

Paid Listings and The Aggregators

In what I have talked about so far, I am specifically talking about your local competition. But if you pull up a Google search for something like “Fayetteville Real Estate” you will see that there are some heavy hitters competing for that term.

The first three on the top and the ones down the side are paid listings done through Google Adwords. Now, it may be worth your while to pay for these, but that is a post for another day.

The next ones are Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia and finally there is one little independent site, Townsend Real Estate.

SEO For Realtors Broad Google Search

As an independent agent or broker, I am sure you would like it if those spots weren’t all taken up by the “Big Dogs”, but they are. Those sites like Zillow, Trulia and Homes.com are called aggregators because they combine the data from all of the different MLSs and put it in one place.

And it is kind of okay that they are there. If someone is searching for Fayetteville Real Estate, they are probably REALLY early in a home search and will probably not settle on an agent for a while. Plus, there is no use belly-aching about it, that is just the way Google works.

Additionally, if there are no ads at all, that is probably not a keyword that converts well for getting buyers or sellers. People who are spending money want to know for a fact that their hard earned dollars will return them revenue. At least early on, if there are no paid keywords ignore that term for now.

To dos.

Check out your “actual” competition like Townsend rather than focusing on the big aggregator sites like Realtor.com and Zillow.

Checking Out The Competition

So next you will want to see what kind of site your competition has.

Rank In The World

My first stop is always Alexa.com. Put the domain name in there and hit submit.

WOW! According to the Alexa search, this site is not actually all that popular (4,638,250, having just lost 2,206,222 places). This means that a Realtor in Fayetteville would have a chance!

Alexa Search For Realtors

Domain Age

Now let’s look at Webconfs.com and see how old the site is…OVER 17 YEARS old. So Jimmy Townsend was a smart cookie back in the 1990’s and established himself as a player with his site. He DESERVES that ranking for how long he has had it. (not to say we would try to pick him off!)

Domain Age - SEO For Realtors

Incoming Links 

Google uses an algorithm (a computer program) to rank websites and one of the key things that they think is important are the number of sites that link to a website.

With that in mind, we have to find out how many incoming links your competitors website has. For this I like to use a tool from Moz, https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/.

MOZ Backlink Checker - SEO Realtors

For such a high ranking site I am surprised that they have so few incoming links! That is good news for anyone trying to compete for this keyword!

Site’s Number of Pages

Now we want to know how big the website is. This will help us to know how many pages we might need to be able to compete with the current top ranking site. To do this we will go to Google.com and type in site:domainname.com. This is what it looks like:

Checking Number of Indexed Pages - Realtor SEO

Once I do the search I get a result that looks like this:

Fayetteville Real Estate Search - SEO Realtors

Holy cow they have a lot of pages! Not to get too technical, but the site is made in ASP which is an older programming language (many sites are now made in PHP which is what WordPress is built in). Even so that is a lot pages! I would not try to compete directly with Jimmy on that top ranking term right off the bat.

Site Keywords

Now we want to find out what Google thinks his site is about. To do this we need to use the Keyword Planner Tool in Google Adwords.

Note: it can be a little scary to log into Adwords for the first time, I think you need to add a credit card, but if you don’t set up any campaigns it doesn’t cost anything.

Adwords Keyword Planner Tool SEO Realtors

Ohhh another interesting little nugget here, they are really ranking most highly for charlotte keywords terms and not so much for Fayetteville.

Site Research With Long Tail Pro

I KNOW, this much research seems like it could take a long time. There are many paid sites out there that will give you some or all of this at once but what I don’t like is that they are subscriptions that cost money each month. What I do like is Long Tail Pro, which is a program that you can buy outright and use as much as you like without costing more money!

Long Tail Pro Competition

This one tool will help you check out your competition MUCH more easily giving you the site age and number of links all in one place (it does even more that we will talk about later!)

> Check outLong Tail Pro now!

 

Beating A High Ranking Site

Before I go on to talk about what keywords to target yourself, let’s talk in general about how to beat a high ranking Realtor website that is already established in your marketplace.

1. All the little boats method.

My first suggestion is to have LOTS of little keywords that you rank for that add up to a bigger keyword you would like to target. So instead of trying to rank for Minneapolis real estate, you write posts to rank for:

  • Best Minneapolis Schools | Minneapolis Real Estate
  • Top 10 Luxury Neighborhoods In Minneapolis | Minneapolis Real Estate
  • Types of Homes For Sale In Minneapolis | Minneapolis Real Estate

There is no way you can write just one blog post that will beat the incumbent site. Instead you need to have an accumulation of posts that lets Google know what your website is about and then use those to “help all the little boats rise at once”.

It is by having lots of pages about a specific topic that you will start to rank in Google for your target keywords.

2. Write Hero Blog Posts

I know that there information out that saying that you can have 300-500 words in your posts, but you need to have at least a few that are big giant posts with lots of words relevant to the keyword you are trying to rank for.

For example, I am trying to increase my ranking for Realtor Marketing AND SEO for Realtors in this post. I have LOTS of great content that will show Google that this post is a good one to show people searching for this keyword.

Now, on thing to know right off the bat is that I don’t do SEO for Realtors. I am not available for hire that way so my goal for this post is:

1. To get more traffic to my website
2. To increase my rankings for my big keyword Realtor Marketing
3. To capture Realtor email addresses with my popup box so I can sell them things that I do want them to buy

This page will wind up being over 2,000 words of content related to those two keywords and while I am not “stuffing” it (using them over and over again), just by the length and the quality of content it will have.

Picking Keywords To Target

You will want to check the top two or three competing sites for each keyword that you are targeting. But how do you know what are good keywords to check out?

Are You A Listing Agent or a Buyers Agent?

I know, I know, you are both and you can help anyone with all their real estate needs. But when you are working on your SEO you need to think strategically and figure out whether you are going to target keywords that will attract buyers or sellers.

For example, here are Buyer keywords:

Homes for sale in Tampa | Tampa Real Estate
Top Seattle Neighborhoods | Seattle Real Estate
Where are the best schools in New York City | New York Real Estate

Here are seller keywords:

Selling Your San Diego Home | San Diego Realtors
How To Get Top Dollar For Your Home | Denver Realtors
Top Realtor In Tacoma | Tacoma Real Estate

Think about it, that old saying is true, Buyers buy houses, Sellers buy marketing. A home buyer is looking for homes for sale keywords and a seller is looking Realtors to help them sell their home fast and for the most money.

And yes it is “realtors” not “realtor”. When your pipes are leaking and you need a plumber you look for “plumbers” to help you fix it, not just one specific “plumber”. If you did have a specific plumber in mind you would search for his business name rather than doing the broader search.

Realtor versus realtors search - Adwords

This happens in almost every market. While I do remember one years ago that was opposite, it was the only one ever!

So here is an interesting thing….only 170 searches per month for New York Realtors (I am looking this up in the Adwords Keyword Planner Tool). This is a GREAT example of what you need to do succeed in Realtor Keyword Marketing! I was really perplexed about this until I thought, well damn, NYC is HUGE, I bet they search more so by their boroughs.

Manhattan Realtors Adwords Search

Hmmm still not enough, let’s dig a little deeper.

Chelsea Keyword Planner Tool

Okay, that was bummer, but this is how keyword research goes. Just by-the-by, here is the suggested search terms that Google is giving us for that search term. I am super surprised that the number of searches for New York City real estate terms is so low. If you were an agent in NYC you would have to try to rank well for a wide range of terms to get any traction at all!

NYC Realtor Keyword Terms

Next you want to look at how many competing site there are with the EXACT term you pick to use. Go to Google and do a search for that term with quotation marks around it.

Manhattan Real Estate Google Search

Okay, there are 448,000 results. That is kind of high for a new or small site to try to rank for out of the gate. That said, most searches look more like this.. (let’s head back to Fayetteville and see what is going on there!

Fayetteville Realtors Keyword Search

Okay, that is much more doable to try to rank for! You could knock off a bunch of your competition for this search with a nice meaty post that has the keyword in the title and lots of content.

A Little Bit Easier (or a lot)

Now you can do this over and over again to try and search for keywords with high monthly searches and lower competition, or you could use my friend Long Tail Pro that does all that preliminary searching for you!

Longtail Pro Keyword Tool Checker

So with this I see that just using “Fayetteville” and not “Fayetteville NC” would be a waste (who knew there were so darn many Fayettevilles in the country). Additionally it suggested some neat terms to think about like “Real Estate Companies”.

But wait there is more! You can click any of those ideas and immediately see data about the competing sites!

Long Tail Pro Competing Sites

Check outLong Tail Pro now!

 

Alright, I think that is enough to really get you started on your way to doing your SEO for Realtors! But I know that doing this kind of research can be funny if you don’t have a real system to use. With that in mind I made you a worksheet that you can use to check out each keyword and pick some potential candidates to target with blog blog posts or web pages.

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Start an Online Business without Breaking the Bank

start-an-online-business1-1024x682

But here’s the thing: Instead of jumping on the bandwagon to start an online business, make sure you do your homework first. Most people launch a product and market it later. Big mistake!

You want to do the opposite – study the market first, launch next. How? Since it’s going to be an online business, start looking at online forums, comment sections of your competitor sites and what people are searching in Google (using Google Keyword Tool).

Once you pass stage one successfully, you can think about launching a website/product/service. That’s where the real magic happens.

Here’s what comes next:

  • Writing content
  • Starting a blog
  • Having a presence on social media
  • Establishing an expert status for yourself
  • Email marketing
  • Outsourcing tasks you don’t have the time or inclination for
  • Following influencers closely
  • Launching a product or paid service

The list is unending.

It’s easy to get burned out in the sea of tasks and strategies when starting an online business. Thankfully, there are tools available to help you get off the hamster wheel and launch a successful online business.

The best part? You don’t have to spend a fortune on these tools. Here are eight tools to start an online business without breaking the bank: 

1. Hostt

An online business needs a website domain name and space to “host it”. Hosting is an ongoing expense for your business and it usually incurs a monthly cost with an option to pay it upfront on a yearly basis.

And that’s where Hostt.com is revolutionizing the hosting world. What I love about Hostt is that it offers free hosting for all your websites. They also have a 24/7 tech support and a cpanel that makes website management quick and painless.

There is no catch – no ads. The hosting is 100% free. They only ask you to have one domain name with them (which costs $13.95 a year).

2. WordPress/Shopify

Once your website is set up and hosted, you’re ready to install a CMS or a platform on which your web pages and content will sit.

WordPress, originally a blogging platform, is the most popular solution in existence today. Most top bloggers use and recommend WordPress. The best part? It’s free to use.

Once you have your website hosted (see #1 above), your hosting company’s cpanel should let you install WordPress using the “1-click install” functionality.

WordPress is great for any type of website; but, if you want to create mainly an e-commerce store (in other words, an online store with a checkout shopping cart), you have better options out there.

Although WordPress is pretty flexible and a full-blown CMS now, it was originally built for blogging, not for e-commerce purposes. If you predict having a large product catalog and lots of e-commerce relevant features, try a service such as Shopify.

Most e-commerce experts will advise you against WordPress for an online store. Shopify is highly customizable, robust and affordable for a professional shopping cart. There are other alternatives available in the marker too, so make sure you do your research before launching a web-store.

3. BuzzSumo

Once you have a platform ready, you need content. And not just any content but good, solid content one that your readers find educative, interesting and engaging.

BuzzSumo is a neat little tool that analyzes what works for your readers. It helps you find content and topics that will do best for your type of audience.

Just open their webpage and enter your main keywords in the top search bar. You can also add a domain name to see what’s working well for them.

BuzzSumo returns a list of articles with the number of shares (so you know what is popular and can get ideas from those topics for your own website).

Super-helpful from SEO perspective also. So go on, give it a try!

4. MailChimp

But you can’t just stop after creating juicy content. The next step in line is to promote your content and one of the best ways to do it is email marketing.

Mailchimp is an email newsletter service that is used by more than 7 million people. You can get started with their “free forever” plan if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers and send less than 12,000 emails per month (which is very likely when you’re starting out).

To get add-ons such as autoresponders and delivery by time zones, you can upgrade for as little as $10 per month. I’ve been using MailChimp for years now for my own websites and that of my clients, and have no regrets.

5. Buffer

Apart from promoting content and educating your readers via email, you can also use social media to share and push your new posts out there.

Buffer is a nice little tool to schedule all your posts across different social media. The clean and easy to use interface is one of the reasons it’s so popular. What I personally love is their “Suggestions” tab on the dashboard.

Buffer scours the web for best posts on other websites that you can instantly use to share with your own followers. When I’m low on the shareable content reserve, this feature is super-handy – all I have to do is read the suggested article and (if I like it) click the link to share or schedule it for my own channels.

6. ClickMeeting

If you are in a freelance/service-provider business model like I am, you have a constant need to communicate with your clients or collaborate with your team all over the world.

ClickMeeting is a platform to meet and record audio and video conferencing with your clients (for up to 25 participants). It’s perfect for briefing and presentation purposes. You can also brand all your meetings and impress your clients like a pro. Plus, they have a translation service if you’re exploring international markets.

They also offer a sister-product called ClickWebinar to conduct virtual trainings (for up to 1,000 participants) and webinars with your audience.

7. FancyHands

Let’s face it – despite all the tools in the world, you will still need external help. That’s where services such as FancyHands come into picture.

FancyHands brings you a team of virtual assistants who can do a lot of things at less than $1 a day, if you’re using their basic plan that costs $29.99/mo.

Here are some services for which people have requested in the past (as per the company’s website):

 My co-worker is in the hospital after a bad car accident. Can you call the gift shop there and ask them if they sell fun things to do to pass the time that they could send in a gift basket type of thing to him? Crossword puzzles, trashy magazines, stuff like that. I’d like to spend about $50. If they don’t do that sort of thing, please find a place that can.

Please make a lunch reservation at Barolo under my name for Friday at 1pm and call Jennifer Wilson’s office and let her know that the meeting is confirmed. Please add it to my schedule as well.

Please fill me in on the top 5 trending topics on Twitter today, both worldwide and locally in Los Angeles.

A fun way to get your time back, right?

8. Xoom

I saved the best for last – getting paid. Xoom is a perfect alternative to Paypal. Where Paypal is notorious for charging hefty transaction fees (try this calculator to find how much you’re being charged), Xoom charges a flat fee of $4.99 for up to $2,999.

With their 24/7 customer support and faster money transfers, Xoom is one of the easiest ways to send money.

Your Turn

Are you starting an online business? Which one of the above tools is your favorite? Would you like to add more? Tells us your thoughts in the comments below.

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Worthwhile renovations to increase the value of your home

Home renovations are a headache and they can be expensive. If you’re going to undertake them, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Some renovations will add more value to the price of selling your home than others. These are the best recommended renovations to increase the sale value of your home.

Curb Appeal

The inside of your home might be renovated from top to bottom, but if the outside looks unappealing, you might not even get potential buyers in the front door to marvel over (and pay top dollar for) your granite counter tops and sunken whirlpool tub.

Little things do matter and that’s good news for you because little things are cheaper and easier to do. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to improve your home’s value is to get a new front door. This small improvement adds an average of 96.6% of what it cost you to the value of your home, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Is your home looking a bit dingy on the outside? Before you put it on the market, rent a power washer which you can get for about $75 a day. This simple chore can add as much as $10,000 to $15,000 to the value of your home, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Landscaping is an important part of curb appeal. It can add as much as 28% to the home’s value, says NAR. Strategically-planted trees not only beautify your home, but they can help cut energy costs too.

Plants aren’t the only aspect of landscaping. Outdoor lighting is valuable to prospective buyers too, and it’s another one of those things that can save you, or the new owners money. Lighting reduces the risk of break-ins and some homeowner’s insurance policies will give you a discount for installing it.

Beyond Cosmetic

It’s nice to walk into a beautiful home, but there are some renovations that are well worth the money that have nothing to do with aesthetics. Installing central air in a 2,400-square foot home can cost around $10,000, but it can add as much as 10 to 20% to your home’s value, reported Real Simple.

It can also save you energy costs long term, as they are less costly to run than window units and don’t have to be removed and stored after each summer. Plus, central air units don’t obstruct the view of all that beautiful landscaping you did the way that bulky window units do.

Peace of mind goes a long way to making your home attractive to buyers. Having to replace the roof a few years after moving in is not on any buyer’s wish list. Because no one wants to deal with that, a new roof can add a lot of value to your home, between 15 and 40%, says Signature Exteriors, one company that installs them. It can also increase your home’s energy efficiency.

Kitchen is King

Even those people who eat take-out most nights dream of a beautiful kitchen, cozy family dinners around the table or entertaining friends. Extended family are still powerful draws when people look for a home.

Kitchen remodels can return as much as 83% on your payout, according to Investopedia.

Granite counter tops seem to be a deal-maker for many people, so if you have yet to replace your old Formica counters, get on it. Storage space is important too. We buy lots of kitchen gadgets, and even if they’re merely “aspiration,” they need a place to live.

Just repainting the kitchen can make a big difference. If you have spent a lot of time cooking, the walls can be dingy from smoke and grease. You may not notice it any longer, but you can bet a prospective buyer will.

Add a Bathroom

Remember when you were in college and had to share a bathroom with one, maybe more, roommates? So does everyone else and they don’t want to do it when they’re adults who own a home. If your home only has one bathroom, adding another will make a big difference.

Adding or remodeling a bathroom can recoup between 80-plus% of your investment. People want porcelain tiles on the walls and the floors, an upgraded shower stall with multiple shower heads, and lots of counter space, with two sinks if you have room for it all.

Outdoor Space

Much like home-buyers dream of entertaining in a newly-renovated kitchen, they also dream of outdoor entertaining. Adding a deck to your home can provide a return on investment of 73%. A patio, while still desirable, adds less return, between 30-60%, according to Inman.

You might think most buyers would like to do all this outdoor entertaining pool side, but a pool actually adds little value to a home. Pools do require a lot of upkeep and some people don’t want to be bothered. Also, if your home is in a neighborhood that appeals to young families, some would prefer not to have a pool because of the danger it poses to young children.

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Nearing retirement – should you downsize to a smaller home?

As retirement approaches, your lifestyle and priorities begin to change. Chances are the days when you wanted more space– the sizable dream home with the backyard big enough to entertain a growing family – are long gone. Instead, many retirees are looking for convenience, simplicity and accommodations more suited to their needs as “empty nesters.” As you approach this new life stage, take time to assess how your current living arrangements suit your changing lifestyle.

downsizing

Here are five questions to consider as you decide whether downsizing is right for you:

Does your home still have the right feel?

A big house that was perfect for a family may seem overly spacious with just one or two inhabitants. It may be time to consider a change if you find that there are under-used rooms in your home or if you’re ready for a new environment. However, if you are enjoying the freedom more space brings, then your current house may be just the right fit. That might also be the case if your home is a gathering place for extended family and friends.

Is the upkeep sustainable?

In general, a larger house requires more work and regular investment. As you move into retirement, you may want to reduce the stress of cleaning and home projects. If working around the house and yard is something you enjoy, it may make sense to stay put. But, a smaller home will likely be less of a burden, especially if it’s move-in ready.

 

Are you ready to de-clutter?

Moving to a smaller space is a reality check for many people. All of the things you’ve been accumulating and storing for years probably won’t fit in a smaller home if you decide to downsize. That means you need to spend time going through your personal belongings to determine what’s of real value and what can go. This can take time, so it’s a good idea to get started well before it is time to move.

 

Are there cost savings?

In many situations, a larger house can be sold for a price that is higher than the cost of a smaller home. This could result in a smaller (or no) mortgage and potentially some extra money in the bank. But it is not always so simple. There are costs associated with buying, selling and moving into a new place that could impact your retirement savings if you’re not careful. Evaluate how downsizing would affect your budget and review your situation with a financial professional before taking action.

 

Where are you spending your time?

If your retirement dreams include traveling, visiting family or owning a vacation property, you may be away from home more often in retirement than you were in your working years. Having a smaller home that is easier to maintain could make sense in these situations. Alternatively, you may be looking forward to staying put and finally having time to enjoy the home you worked so hard to maintain over the years.

Downsizing doesn’t need to be rushed. Consider your priorities and if you decide to downsize, give yourself plenty of time to do it right.

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