Tax Deduction Cheat Sheet for Real Estate Agents

&It’s that dreaded time of year….  Tax Season.  As a real estate agent, it can get a little confusing as to what you can and can’t write off as a deduction.  We found this list posted on one of our favorite websites,, and wanted to share.  (If you are ever having a bad day or just need some humor in your life, this is your site!)  Remember, we aren’t tax accountants and you should call your accountant with any questions to this list.  Just think of this as a cheat sheet to at least get you started…

Realtor Tax Tips (2016 Tax Year)


Other Helpful Links:
Tax Topics – Itemized Deductions
Internal Revenue Service

*NOTE, as stated by accountant Fred Podris in the original document: “Please note that there are certain rules that need to be taken into account in order to legally write off some of these expenses.”  Please contact your tax accountant for more information.

Translating Transaction Desk

Transaction desk (1)If you’ve tried to upload documents to your listings in MLS in the past week, you’ve probably noticed a big change.  If you haven’t tried yet, get ready – it is now a completely different process.  The Austin Board of Realtors recently announced the release of an all-inclusive transaction management system called Transaction Desk available for all members.  Realtors in the DFW area have had access to Transaction Desk (labeled Instanet) through NTREIS system since October.

You’re probably thinking:  What exactly is it??  This system not only replaces the way you upload documents to your listings in the MLS, it also allows you to write up contracts and send out for signatures inside the program as well.  Essentially, this could replace the use of ZipForms and Docusign if you desire.

Screenshot 2017-02-08 14.36.25TransactionDesk by Instanet Solutions, is now live in ABOR’s Matrix and NTREIS Matrix for you to use and best of all? It’s FREE.  (If you pay your dues, of course.)

Our education department knows learning a new program can seem like learning a foreign language.  Therefore, our instructors have put together an informative hands-on class that is now available for scheduling in your office.  All you need to do is reach out to your local business development rep or shoot us an email and we’ll get you scheduled!

Also, we’ve put together a few YouTube videos on the most frequently used functions of the program.  Check out our YouTube page here.

Tech Tips For the New Year

Tech TipsAs a continuation of our previous blog, New Year, New Goals – now is the time to reflect on 2016.  While looking back, do you see a lot of things that took your valuable time that shouldn’t have!?  We like to call those time bandits.  To help with these so-called time bandits, we’ve scoured the internet to find out the best technology tips for real estate agents that can save time, effort, and resources to make your lives easier and more efficient.

Maybe you spent a lot of time looking for a template for a listing presentation or creating your own?  Maybe you got pictures taken in the morning and realized it would have looked so much better at twilight?  Ever see a social media post from another realtor and think to yourself, “Wow, they must have paid a graphic designer to make their posts.”  They may have, or they may have used one of our tips below.

Here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks of the trade that you may or may not know about:

  • BoxBrownie – This company could be a total game changer.  Have you ever wanted to stage a home but don’t have the budget or resources?  Or maybe you want to edit something out of a picture but photoshop isn’t your thing.  This company will virtually stage a home for you – it’s amazing AND inexpensive!
  • Promo – Do you want to create a 15-second attention-grabbing marketing video but don’t want to mess with finding a film crew, actors, licensing music, etc?  Yeah, doesn’t sound fun.  Check out Promo – you can search thousands of licensed videos (with actors!), tons of licensed music and create the video yourself – all for less than $100!  They even have monthly plans for less than $50 to make a different video each month.
  • Breakthrough Broker  – A common question we get from our agents is a recommendation on a company that provides templates of all kinds.  Check out this site for templates on letters, listing presentations, buyer presentations, brochures, newsletters, etc.  Best of all?  It’s FREE!
  • Canva – Want to add “Just Listed” to a photograph for social media, or make a custom header for your Facebook page?  You don’t have to pay money to a graphic designer for things like that.  You can do it for FREE with Canva.  You can create anything from social media posts, to event invitations, to brochures, to presentations!  Go check it out, we love it!
  • YouTube Director App – This app makes shooting a personalized video so easy!!  YouTube Director provides shot-by-shot guidance so you can create a high-quality video ad and upload it directly to YouTube from the app.  It really does give you step by step so there is no video editing experience required.  (We offer a great class where we demo this app live – Reality TV – Video Basics for Realtors – Contact your Business Development Rep or look at our Education Calendar to see if we are already offering this class near you and register!)
  • – Is your inbox a mess or filled with thousands of junk emails?  Managing your inbox is crucial to organizing your business.  We are loving this new tool we found and can’t even explain how liberating it feels to have ZERO emails in our inbox!! lets you instantly see a list of all your subscription emails and lets you unsubscribe easily from whatever you don’t want.
  • Live Voice / Riley – Do you have a lead capturing system and struggling to keep up with follow-up with all of them?  (That’s a GREAT problem, by the way!) Check out these two options.  Live Voice and Riley are both automated systems to respond to your leads in real time.  With technology these days, if you don’t respond immediately, that lead is on to the next – am I right?

New Year, New Goals

new-year-new-goalsIt’s the beginning of January and you are probably reflecting on 2016 analyzing what worked, what didn’t work and how you want to change in this brand-new year. This is the time of year when it traditionally makes sense to set new goals. You feel as if you have a clean slate, you are refreshed from some down time, and the future is looking bright. If you were ever able to get motivated to make some changes, it would be at the beginning of the year.

So why do most fail to change their results? Because they don’t understand that unless you change your thoughts, then the results will never change.

Thoughts lead to choices, choices lead to actions, and actions lead to results.

Unless you change your thoughts, the actions will remain the same, therefore creating the same results. Focus on changing your thoughts and watch how the results show up. Focus on your internal vocabulary, do you use “try” a lot? (i.e. “I’m going to try to follow up more with my SOI this year.” or “I’m going to try to squeeze in more educational classes this year to better my understanding of X.”)  How about implementing more positive ways of thinking?  “I will do those things, I will time block to better myself, etc.” Write down your goals instead of just thinking them. Write them on sticky notes around your computer screen, on your bulletin board or wherever your workspace may be.  Remember, the 3% of people who write down their goals are more likely to reach those goals than the 97% who don’t.

Our Education Team offers a great class, Strategies for Growing Your Business.  In this class, we reflect on what you did last year that did or did not work, we collaborate on new ideas to implement, we discuss things that took away your time that may not have been necessary and most important, we talk about committing to time blocking for activities that you intend to do but never seem to get to.  We also go over setting up or changing your business plan and budgeting options.  Contact your Business Development Rep if you are interested in booking this class or look at our Education Calendar to see if we are already offering this class near you and register!  If you are working on your goals and just need an organized way of jotting them down –  CLICK HERE

It seems very fitting to end with one of the ITC Education team’s favorite quotes:

“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

Cheers to a very prosperous 2017 and as always, Independence Title is here to help in any way we can.



What to Know When Selling a Smart Home


Smart home technology is becoming more and more popular among homeowners.  In fact, per a recent survey by HGTV, forty-six percent of consumers want their current or next home to have smart home technology.  These gadgets are beginning to reshape how homes operate, and they are influencing our industry such as staging homes, holding open houses, setting sales prices, etc.  With products, such as locks, light bulbs, security systems, appliances and thermostats able to be controlled via smartphone or tablet, an estimated 100 million households worldwide had some type of smart home device by the end of 2015.  Per a German telecommunications company, that number is expected to grow to 300 million over the next decade!

You may ask, what exactly IS a smart home??  “Smart Home” is the term commonly used to define a residence that has appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio & video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely by a time schedule, from any room in the home, as well as remotely from any location in the world by phone or internet. 1

Now more than ever, real estate agents need to be up to speed with the latest products and trends to stay ahead of the curve.  As we mention in our CE class, Selling to Millennials, the Gen Y generation seeks out smart home technology specifically when buying a home.  Representing a millennial Buyer?  Education on this technology is key.  Listing a home with smart home technology?  It is a good idea to label these gadgets with a short blurb on what they do to educate a potential Buyer that may not realize they are there.  Make sure you sit with the Seller and have extensive knowledge of the smart home features so you can show them off in open houses and showings!  (Remember, over 46% of homebuyers are looking to have smart technology in their next home.)

Here are a few of the most common smart home gadgets you may see:

Amazon Echo or Google Home – These devices are smart speakers that respond to your voice commands to play music and control your smart home gadgets.  With all the different gadgets out there, it can be a lot to manage.  These systems let you connect everything to one hub for control.

Nest Thermostat –  This thermostat not only lets you control your central heat & air via an app on your smartphone, it’s a learning thermostat as well.  It “learns” your behavior with your heat and air and creates a schedule for you.  **On a side note for our Austin, Texas readers, in case you missed it, check out this article detailing a new city regulation requiring smart thermostats in all NEW houses and apartments built in Austin.

Skybell Doorbell – Skybell is a smart video doorbell that allows you to see, hear, and speak to the visitor at your door whether you’re at home, at work, or on the go via an app on your smartphone.

Serena Remote Control Shades – This is just one of many brands of remote control shades letting you control your shades to add convenience and help save on energy via an app on your smartphone.

Nest Protect Smoke Alarm – From features like self-testing, night lighting and voice alerts, the Nest Protect smoke alarm is a very advance smoke alarm system.  You are able to “hush” it directly from your phone and it also tells you what’s wrong as a pop up on your smartphone.

With all this being said, typically one of the biggest concerns regarding any type of technology to any consumer is privacy & security, which is completely understandable.  If you come across a Seller that is concerned about privacy when selling their home equipped with smart home technology, refer to this nifty checklist the Online Trust Alliance and the National Association of REALTORS® recently teamed up to create.  It’s a “smart home checklist,” providing consumers with information to increase the security and privacy of their smart home at resale.

FYI:  The Center for REALTOR® Technology has set up a lab at NAR headquarters in Chicago to explore the latest in smart home technology innovations. Read more at CRT’s Bits and Bytes blog.

Top 10 Google Chrome Extensions


One of our favorite groups on Facebook is Tech Support for Real Estate.  This group allows you to post technical questions concerning the real estate industry letting others chime in on a solution or with their opinion.  Lately, a common question has been “What Chrome extensions can you not live without?”

ConfusedWhat is a Chrome extension you may ask?
Extensions are small software programs that
can modify and enhance the functionality
of the Chrome Browser and Gmail.

If you are a Chrome (& Gmail) user and haven’t surfed around on the Chrome Web Store, do it! Although… there are so many options, it can be a little overwhelming. Because of that, the Independence Title Education Team has decided to put together a list of our own Chrome extensions that we think you can’t live without.  Most of them have to do with real estate, others are just because it makes life easier.  Between open houses, following up with your client database and focusing on your marketing efforts (not to mention your personal life), it’s no surprise that your time is stretched thin.  Why not utilize a few of these?

  1.  DocuSign
    We love showing our Realtors this one!  No more saving the PDF to your computer, going to DocuSign and uploading the document.  You can send documents for signature directly from Gmail, Google Drive, and the Chrome browser.  (Download Here)
  2. Buffer
    No more copy/paste to social media!  Click the Buffer button on any website to quickly tweet or add as a Facebook or LinkedIn update. You can even schedule your future tweets and Facebook updates easier than ever before with Buffer. With each update posted, it will also give you analytics about clicks, retweets, mentions, shares, likes and more.  (Download Here)
  3. Wunderlist
    Love to-do lists or maybe you have sticky notes all over your desk? Whether you’re sharing a grocery list with a loved one, working on a project, or planning a vacation, Wunderlist makes it easy to share your lists and collaborate with everyone in your life. Wunderlist instantly syncs between your phone, tablet and computer, so you can access your lists from anywhere.  (Download Here)
  4. Grammarly
    Grammarly makes sure everything you type is easy to read, effective, and mistake-free. Adding Grammarly to Chrome means that your spelling and grammar will be vetted on Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and nearly everywhere else you write on the web.  (Download Here)
  5. Folio
    Folio helps busy real estate agents organize and manage their transactions right from their email inbox. When you connect Folio to your email inbox, Folio analyzes your inbox for keywords and phrases that identify that an email thread is about a transaction. It then automatically categorizes the emails, files, and contacts related to each transaction.  (Download Here)
  6. Wisestamp
    Want your latest tweet or maybe your latest post to show on your email signature “live?”  WiseStamp enables you to share your social profiles and promote information you care about in every email you send.  (Download Here)
  7. MixMax
    Ever wanted to track an email to see if it gets opened?  Or maybe hit “snooze” on an email so you don’t forget to respond later?  This extension is a must in the real estate business!  It allows you to reach out more effectively to prospects, clients, and customers with these essential features:  track opens, clicks, and downloads, schedule meetings and plan events, write faster with templates, snooze and set reminders, send later, embed polls and surveys and much more!  (Download Here)
  8. Boomerang
    Maybe you don’t want all the bells and whistles of MixMax and just want to be able to schedule emails to send at a later time?  Boomerang allows you to schedule messages to be sent or returned at a later date. Write a message now, send it whenever, even if you’re not online. Track messages to make sure you hear back, and schedule reminders right inside Gmail.  (Download Here)
  9. Honey
    Alright, so this one isn’t exactly real estate related but we can’t help but share.  Have you ever shopped online and know you have a coupon somewhere but can’t find it?  Click on the Honey button during checkout and Honey will automatically apply known coupon codes to your shopping cart!  It’s basically free money!  (Download Here)
  10. Awesome Screenshot
    Want to send a screenshot but all of what you want to send isn’t shown on the screen?  Or maybe you want to send a screenshot but want to blur out certain things or add text or shapes?  Awesome Screenshot allows you to capture all or part of any web page, add annotations, comments, blur sensitive info, and share with one-click uploads.  (Download Here)

Are You Utilizing Zillow’s Video Walk-through Feature?

zillow-1Earlier this year, Zillow released a new feature allowing Realtors to post a “video walk-through” of their listings.  These video walkthroughs are soundless videos that are shot directly from the user’s smart phone via Zillow’s app.  They are capped at two minutes and no less than 10 seconds, so they are designed to be quick and best of all, this feature is offered to ALL agents at no cost.

So why are you telling us about this, you may ask?!  Well, after posting a video, these listings will be promoted at the TOP of search results (for free!)  According to Zillow:  “Listings with video are prominently displayed and receive preferred placement in search results. Buyers with saved searches are notified when a new video is added.”  If you don’t believe it, head over to Zillow and do a search on your favorite zip code.  The top results will have “video walk-through” on them.  Remember this is a new feature, so your zip code may not have any agents doing it yet.

With all of this being said, if you are thinking what we were thinking….  yikes is right!  Holding a shaky phone and walking through a home without the proper lighting, etc. can be a really bad thing!  (That’s why you pay to have a professional take the photos, right?!)  Our suggestion on a quick fix?  As mentioned above, the video has a MINIMUM of 10 seconds.  Order yourself a simple smartphone tripod from Amazon like this one, find out when the sun is in the right spot (whether you are going to showcase an inside shot or just simply a quick pan of the front) and get out there and shoot a 10 second video.  Don’t overthink the two minute video they tell you to do and try to film a bunch of different shots.  Again, that’s why you paid for the professional photos!  Get the 10 second video shot, post the video from the app and your listing will get boosted to the top of the search results!  Don’t fret – your beautiful, professional photos will still be there and the consumer will still be able to click through them to see more of the home.

So we ask you:  Why are you not doing this with your listings?!  Click here to get started.


Shoot the video directly from the app on your smartphone!

*UPDATE 11/3/2016 – Zillow just announced you can now add videos that aren’t shot within the app for a fee.  According to the latest Inman article, for $149, you can upload an outside video, i.e. a professionally done video.  Does that fee sound a little steep?!  Don’t throw in the flag, you can still follow our tips above for FREE!!


Buyer Capture is Here!!


Have you ever driven across town to pick up an earnest money check from your buyer?  If so, put down your car keys… buyer capture is here!!  We are excited to announce that the buyer capture feature with the ZOCCAM mobile app is now available!

You may recall an earlier blog post about the ZOCCAM mobile app which allows the Realtor to send the contract and earnest money to Independence Title via their smart phone?  Just recently released, Realtors now have the ability to invite their Buyers to send earnest money via ZOCCAM! This allows for a safe and compliant delivery option for your buyer. Won’t this be great for your out of town Buyers?!

The Buyer Capture feature allows the Realtor to attach the contract and send a request to the buyer to utilize the ZOCCAM app to capture the check. Once the request is initiated by the Realtor, ZOCCAM sends the buyer a “Z-Code” that is tied to that specific transaction, ensuring secure delivery of the earnest money.


Your buyer’s may ask, “Is this secure?”  The answer:  Yes, it is.  If they’ve ever deposited a check to their bank via a mobile app, they will recognize the software which is completely encrypted.  Contact your local Independence Title business development rep for step by step instructions.

Deposit Earnest Money with your Smartphone!


Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could save valuable time by depositing Earnest Money via your smart phone?  And what if you could attach the contract to be sent along with the check?!  Guess what – YOU CAN!  You can now deliver Earnest Money along with the contract electronically to Independence Title using an app on your smart phone.  We introduce to you the mobile app, ZOCCAM, made specifically for real estate agents.

From a user perspective, the technology is as easy as taking a picture of the earnest money check, and functions similarly to mobile depositing of checks with your bank.  From check image capture to escrow delivery, the message is fully encrypted and doesn’t save your clients personal information anywhere on your device.  The agent is kept informed with email notification of completion.  You simply start with opening the contract within ZOCCAM and follow the onscreen instructions.  What would have taken up half of your day in the car just took you minutes!

Of  course, our Business Development reps are always available to aide in the delivery of Earnest Money.  But, in the event it’s outside of business hours, there is now ZOCCAM to the rescue!  We know it’s not ideal for an agent to race across town to get that check in the right hands, especially on a Friday afternoon in the middle of a traffic nightmare.  Contact your local business development rep to see if it’s available in your area and to receive detailed step by step instructions on using the app.

Top Five Tech Tips for Real Estate Agents



The Education Team of Independence Title frequently attends conferences and webinars to stay up with the latest and greatest in technology in the real estate industry. Using that information, we created a list of “tech tips” that we think are worth your while. Here’s the first 5 for you to check out:

1)  LinkedIn Export

Did you know you can export the email address and job title/company of all of your LinkedIn connections into an excel file for an easy upload into say… your CRM?!  YES!  We were just as shocked and it’s easy to do.  You can simply follow this LINK (you must be logged into LinkedIn) or click on “connections” on your home page in LinkedIn, click on the settings wheel, and then export your connections.  VOILA!


Have you ever tried to book a meeting with someone and end up 15 emails later with no agreement on time/date?  So frustrating, right?  Wouldn’t you love to eliminate the back and forth and just send one email with all of your availability and then they can select the time slot that works for them?  AND wouldn’t it be cool if it auto adds to both of your calendars as soon as they select the time slot?!  CLICK HERE to see this life saver you won’t be able to live without.  Note** This is only available for Gmail users through a google extension for our google calendar.  (We see they are working on compatibility with outlook so stay tuned!)  We can’t help but love the quote on their site:  THE TROUBLE WITH BEING PUNCTUAL IS THAT NOBODY’S THERE TO APPRECIATE IT ” — Franklin P. Jones  🙂

3)  RE Clarity App

Out of town clients?  Use the REclarity App to send specific, personalized zoom and point video messages that communicate as if you were there in person.  You can showcase key features of a home that is tailored to a particular client’s needs such as providing specific instructions or requests to contractors for repairs, property management or staging, follow up with clients and answer questions, share visual status on repair work or construction or report/describe property damage or areas in need of attention.  Click HERE for a video demo.  We think this will definitely make you look like a ROCK STAR to your clients!

4)  Google Alerts

Did you know you can get an email as soon as something hits the internet?  Want to stay on top of anything that is on the web about you?  Or maybe a client?  Maybe you want instant updates about a product you like or to keep up with news stories…  By creating a Google Alert, you can get email notifications any time Google finds new results on a topic that interests you.  No need to keep hitting refresh…  CLICK HERE to get started.

5)  GBoard for iPhone

Last but not least, we all got really excited about this one.  It’s a keyboard add on for your iPhone (we hear it’s coming to Android sooner rather than later so stay tuned!)  Basically its main functionality is to eliminate the frustrating back and forth we all go through when bouncing between apps; no more Google searching, copying the link, jumping back into messages, and then pasting the results.  Watch this quick little video… We’re pretty sure you’ll be racing to download it like we did!


Beware! Wire Fraud is at an All Time High.

WireFraudSQYou’ve done it!  You took a Buyer from shopping for a house, to a contract on a house, to the closing table and you couldn’t be more ecstatic for them.  Then… in total shock you find out your Buyers have wired thousands of dollars to a thief!  You discover the “I could never be a victim to wire fraud, it’d never happen to me” has actually happened to you!  It’s becoming more and more common in our industry and way more sneaky and sophisticated than you may think.

Unfortunately, we are seeing attempts to divert wires to imposters’ accounts on a weekly basis, leaving the Buyer, Seller, Realtor and Title Company at risk.  More often than not, the fraudster hacks into the Realtor’s email account (yes YOUR email account) or creates a close duplicate email account along with your exact signature, and then posing as the Realtor gives bogus instructions trying to divert the funds of one of the parties involved.  It’s happening and it could very well happen to you!  As a Realtor, the video below is a great tool to send to your Buyers & Sellers warning them of the risk.  NAR’s General Counsel, Katie Johnson, has made this video to help you educate your clients on how to avoid being in a wire fraud scam.

Here at Independence Title, we have put many policies and procedures in place to combat this growing issue.  This document is a great tool to send to clients during the contract process.  We send this out to all parties with a commitment and/or contract.  It is critical that you take the time to educate your Buyers and Sellers and warn them of this risk.

New Additions to Our Education Team!

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 11.24.51 AM

School will soon be out for summer, but Independence Title’s classes are still in session!  We are continuing to grow our education resources and have added two new members to our team,  Sandy Lambright and Kaema Roberson, who bring a wealth of experience to support our clients and staff.

SandyLambright_SQ-0a4d20a7f9d53edf269f6d0f544a22c9Sandy Lambright
has over 16 years of experience in the residential real estate industry along with a degree in information technology.  She has used this expertise assisting some of Austin’s top agents in leveraging real estate technology platforms to grow their business, and more recently traveling the world selling luxury homes.  Originally from East Texas, she’s an experienced blogger with a mastery of social media, and will help keep our team at Independence Title and our clients on the cutting edge.


KaemaRoberson_SQ-ce9efd2d4bda5d6fbe41d7f9331c41d7Kaema Roberson
is an experienced real estate broker from Lubbock, where she led a successful team of Realtors for 10 years. She moved to Austin in 2010 and started on the ground floor in the title business, earning a promotion to escrow officer. Her background as a closer is invaluable to our education team, and enables her to train our staff and educate our clients on the nuts and bolts of how transactions come together.

Both Sandy and Kaema are dedicated instructors who enjoy helping people have “lightbulb moments.”  Independence Title’s Vice President of Education, Marjorie Tinnell, says they are a good match of skills and personality for our vibrant team.

“Our goal at Independence has always been to bring the best resources possible to our clients, and our very best resource is our people.  We are thrilled to have Sandy and Kaema join our team, and use their experience to help our clients find meaningful business solutions,” said Tinnell.

For more information on Independence Title’s education team and classes, visit our Education Page. If you’re interested in finding more customized learning opportunities, talk to your Independence Title Business Development Representative.

Looking for Something to do While Sitting in Traffic?

PodcastHeaderLet’s face it, sitting in traffic isn’t ideal.  Especially when your to-do list is a mile long, you were supposed to be at your appointment 20 minutes ago and every radio station is playing that VERY annoying used car guy commercial.  We get it and can very much relate!  What can you do while you sit in your car bumper to bumper or in-between appointments across town?  Take a look at this list of the Top 40 Real Estate Podcasts courtesy of  While there are thousands of real estate podcasts across the internet, we agree, these are the best and most informative.

Top 40 Podcasts for Real Estate Agents

What exactly is a podcast you ask?  A podcast is basically a digital audio file made available on the Internet and subscribed to and downloaded or streamed online to a computer or mobile device.  According to researcher Richard Berry, podcasting has become a recognized medium for distributing audio content, whether for corporate or personal use.  A podcast is similar to a radio program with key differences: listeners can tune into their favorite shows at their convenience and listen to podcasts directly on any device that can play audio files.  These podcasts are great to listen to while driving, exercising, grocery shopping, etc!