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As the year reaches its end, now is the perfect time to give an extra token of thanks to the stager who helped you spruce up a bland listing, the photog that literally put your business in its best light with amazing pictures or the ever-reliable handyman that helped a stressed seller with emergency repairs or a fresh coat of paint.

“It’s important to tip those you routinely visit and who provide you with a loyal service,” a national etiquette expert and author Diane Gottsman told U.S. News on Thursday. “While you may not be able to be as generous as in years past, gifting what you can comfortably afford, along with a heartfelt note of gratitude, is always a generous and kind gesture.”

Here’s a quick guide on how to appropriately tip the important players in your real estate ecosystem:

When in doubt, offer 20 percent

In the restaurant industry, a tip equal to at least 20 percent of the meal is an appropriate token of thanks for excellent service. That rule of thumb has extended to other personal services provided by beauticians, barbers, nail technicians, massage therapists and the like, with the expectation that you should tip more for people who work in teams (e.g. giving a large enough tip to thank your manicurist and pedicurist).

CreditSummit CEO Carter Seuthe told RealSimple that a 20 percent tip is an excellent starting point for any service you receive, especially if the worker is representing a larger company.

“You should be tipping 15 to 20 percent based on the quality of service,” he said. “This tip goes specifically to the worker(s) who did the job, whereas the full cost of the contract is split between the organization and the workers.”

If 20 percent stretches you beyond your budget, then, as Seuthe said, you can offer 15 percent — an amount the New York Post said is becoming more common as inflation takes its toll on Americans’ pockets.

“Rising prices have shrunk Americans’ financial margin for error to basically zero. When that happens, people need to cut back expenses to help make ends meet, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by tipping less,” LendingTree chief analyst Matt Schulz told the Post in November. “We all know times are tough, so it may be necessary to budget. Even if we can’t give as much as we sometimes do, it is still important to do something to show your appreciation.”

Consider offering a gift instead of cash to trained professionals

After pouring through article upon article on tipping etiquette, there seems to be a split on the appropriate way to thank trained professionals, such as plumbers, electricians, painters or handypeople. Boston-based etiquette consultant Jodi R.R. Smith told Money.com that it’s potentially offensive to offer handypeople a tip, due to the old (and apparently widely-held) incorrect belief that “tips” is an acronym for “to insure prompt service.”

“That’s like trying to tip a doctor or a teacher,” Smith told the publication in a weekly money etiquette Q&A. “They are well-paid professionals, and a tip could offend them.”

Meanwhile, Gottsman said an appropriate holiday tip for repair professionals or other handypeople is between $20 to $100 per job. If you have someone you use more regularly, such as a professional cleaner or landscaper that keeps your brick-and-mortar location or listings looking top-notch, Gottsman said it’s appropriate to give them a tip worth one week’s pay.

“It should be something more meaningful than just your change,” she told U.S. News. 

If you’re still wary about the prospect of accidentally offending your go-to stager or repair person with a cash tip, then take The Washington Post lifestyle expert Elizabeth Mayhew’s alternative for showing thanks: A well-crafted review and referral.

Electricians and plumbers are highly trained professionals who get paid hourly for their work, so they do not expect tips,” she said. “It’s better to share your positive experience on their business website, with your local business ­bureau or on an online review platform.”

“Tipping is not required or expected [for painters], but if you are especially pleased with your new paint job, you can give each painter $10 to $20, depending on the scope of the work,” she added. “Even better than a tip, however, would be to give the painter a positive review on Yelp, HomeAdvisor or similar websites. And consider providing breakfast (coffee and doughnuts) or a pizza lunch for the crew.”

On the flip side, you may find clients asking, “Can I tip my Realtor?”

For ethical and legal reasons, you should decline to accept cash or cash equivalent tips from clients. If they insist, you can tell them you’ll accept a small gift, a thoughtful review or a referral.

Don’t put mail workers, delivery drivers, installers or sanitation workers in hot water with a tip

Mail workers, delivery drivers and installers are working overtime during the holidays as people take advantage of deals on televisions, sound systems, furniture, appliances and other large-ticket items. Although you may want to show your thanks with a $20 tip per person, which etiquette experts say is an appropriate amount for simple deliveries (harder deliveries, like taking a sofa up multiple levels of stairs warrant more), it could land workers in hot water.

For example, federal law bars USPS workers from accepting cash or cash equivalents as tips, although they can accept gifts worth $20 or less. FedEx also banned cash and cash equivalent tips; however, you can give drivers gifts worth $75 or less. UPS drivers can accept small cash or cash-equivalent tips of $20 or less, and Amazon drivers can also accept small tips.

Also, you may want to think twice before tipping your friendly neighborhood sanitation or municipal service worker — CBS News detailed the story of several New York City sanitation workers who lost their jobs and paid four-figure fines over accepting $10 and $20 tips, respectively.

When it comes to other companies, simply check their tipping policies before the scheduled delivery and/or installation. If cash or cash-equivalent tips are a no-no, then consider setting up a bar cart filled with drinks, snacks, hand warmers and other goodies that would make a driver or installer’s day easier.

“This time of year the question of tipping your service company comes up really often,” Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks said in her site’s tipping guide. “Most people automatically think, I need to pay cash. What they don’t realize is there are lots of other options.”

Don’t forget these people

When you’re thinking about the people who make your business tick, don’t forget about those who may not provide a service directly related to a transaction, such as a photographer or a stager, but still make it easier to do what you do best.

Here’s Gottsman’s 2022 list for other people to gift this holiday:

  • Restaurant delivery drivers: 20 percent of the total bill or $5, whichever is higher
  • Babysitters or nannies: One evening or one week’s pay, respectively
  • Hairstylists: Equivalent to one visit
  • Spa/Nails/Massage: One service or a thoughtful gift or gift card
  • Door attendants: $20 to $100, depending on the level of service provided
  • Landlord or building manager: $50 or more, depending on their level of support
  • Dog walkers: One day or week’s pay
  • Dog groomers: Equivalent to one visit
  • Fitness trainer: Equivalent to one service or a thoughtful gift or gift card
  • Barista: $20
  • Uber and Lyft drivers: 15 percent to 20 percent of a ride.
  • Dry cleaner or tailor: Skip the cash tip and offer a gift.

If all else fails, send a handwritten card!

After a record-breaking 2020 and 2021, many agents’ pockets are less full this year as sales take a tumble. If you find yourself in this position, there’s nothing like a handwritten card to show your appreciation.

If you have bad handwriting, a disability that makes handwriting tons of cards difficult, or are under a time crunch, then check out one of the many platforms — Postable is a personal favorite — that enable you to quickly design and send personalized cards to everyone in your database. Here’s a handful of past Inman articles with inventive card ideas:

Email Marian McPherson

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