Facing Advancing Technologies

by Chicago Agent

Are you frightened by new technology? If so, now is the time to step out into the world and face the software and technological advances seemingly offered at every turn. Though you might feel overwhelmed, it is important to be in the know. Many have already begun to utilize these advances and you don’t want to be left in the dust. The strides made in software products equal powerful tools in your Realtor arsenal. By K.K. Snyder

Even those who consider themselves tech savvy can quickly become intimidated by the sheer volume of software programs on the market, especially those branded as the end all and be all in software for the agent. But you don’t have to step blindly into the world of contact management, virtual tourism or marketing. Follow the lead of your peers who’ve already identified the best technology for Realtors, and you will save money, time and your sanity in the process.

While smaller, independent agencies typically hire a tech specialist or learn through trial, error and a lot of money which software programs best suit the needs of their office, larger, national companies take great care to find and offer agents quality programs that make the tasks of a Realtor easier. If they can’t find what they want on the market, they hire someone to create it ­­­— someone like Saul Klein.

A broker for more than 30 years, Klein saw the writing on the wall in the late-1980s and knew that technology would forever change the real estate industry. Today, he’s not only a broker, but also part owner of InternetCrusade, a technology company that specializes in developing software, and has an exclusive contract with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to write and deliver technology certified for Realtors, including the comprehensive e-PRO.

Designed to provide certification for Internet professionalism, the program teaches Realtors how to use online technology for marketing, increase efficiency and provide better customer service. Klein, a nationally recognized speaker and consultant, has spent more than 15,000 hours in the last 16 years delivering a message to real estate professionals, consumers, association staffs and volunteers on technology and its role in the future of the real estate industry.

Klein says today’s real estate professional must relate to the tech-savvy consumer. In addition to his software programs, Klein also teaches Realtors how to tap into the online population. He says currently, there are about 35,000 in the e-PRO community.

“In these communities, contributors can talk about what technology they bought and liked or didn’t like,” says the San Diego-based expert, who also touts the value of Realtor networking. “If a Realtor is interested in integrating certain technology into their business, they can see what others have said about particular products and get a good feel for what will work best for them.”

Among the learning objectives of e-PRO are options and requirements to get connected to the online world, email communication, marketing practices, World Wide Web marketing strategies and practices, as well as creating and maintaining a personal technology plan of action and an Internet marketing plan. The course costs $359 for Realtors and $459 for others.

“There are so many tasks that Realtors need to perform, but often the options are so daunting they don’t know where to start,” says Klein. “But they need to integrate technology into their business because the consumer expects it and generationally, they will expect it even more in the future.”

Klein says the first step to integrating technology is research, noting that Realtors are notoriously poor at the planning process and, often, end up buying software they don’t use, or will use only 10 percent of the application. “But if they’d studied harder they could have found one better suited,” says Klein. “There is a method to the cost efficient integration of technology in the real estate business.”

Realtors should begin with a vision by deciding what they want to accomplish in the industry. Once the vision is in place, the next step is to create a business plan including goals and objectives, and then decide what technology will be useful based on budget and time needed to learn the software.

“Ideally, the best person to ask about a specific technology is not the guy who works at Best Buy, but rather another Realtor using the technology who knows how and why they’re using it in their business,” says Klein, who calls himself an early adapter.

One example Klein routinely shares is the use of Web site templates for Realtors, which is basically a software program that resides on the template provider’s server. Regardless of whether the software is purchased by an individual agent or the agency, the agent needs to take the time to learn to use it to gain the most benefits, rather than throwing some words and photos up on the Web and calling it quits.

Klein says it’s important to remember that purchasing technology is not an emergency situation. “You’ve been without it all this time; there’s no rush. Get the info you need before you buy it or you may end up buying it again.”

Hugo Rodriguez, broker/owner of RE/MAX Signature North, identified what technology works best for him and his agents, from GPS systems to digital cameras. When it came down to selecting software, he went with a number of industry standards, including Top Producer, a popular contact manager/lead generator designed specifically for the real estate industry.

“For someone who has enough listings and referrals, it’s a great program for managing that. I can track referrals and payments, use it for closings and to design flyers,” he says. Rodriguez also likes that the program uses a Palm operating base, so he can sync his PDA several times a day to keep the scheduler feature up to speed with appointments that are made by personnel in his office.

In addition, he uses the program to create impressive comparative market analysis presentations, for which he is well known. Top Producer also helps Rodriguez track income and expenses and determine profit and loss.

“I like it, because my employees can all work out of the same program and have their own Web page and contact management,” he says. “And Top Producer coordinates everything I do for a particular client and keeps it in one place.”

While he routinely uses the program’s database, listing and mailing features, Rodriguez doesn’t utilize Top Producer’s email abilities.
“I’m more into relationship building and prefer to use handwritten notes to my clients,” says the 19-year industry veteran, who is also conscious of cell phone etiquette. “I feel our industry is kind of guilty of rudeness with our cell phones. The majority of us will interrupt whatever we’re doing, even conversations with others, to answer the cell phone or send a message on a PDA.”

Another software Rodriguez swears by is Keep it Simple Software, developed by a local RE/MAX broker/owner. While the program does offer contact management, it’s not at the level of Top Producer. However, the listing management tool is top quality and maintains information on all parties involved, from the buyer and seller to the attorney and lender, he says. The program also allows office staff to schedule appointments for showings and closings.

“Instead of agents playing phone tag all the time, we have a central place for scheduling appointments at the office,” he says, noting that the program also sends requests to agents for feedback by email, helping them stay in touch with clients.

Virtual Tours Studio is Rodriguez’s choice for online tours, a program he refers to as “user friendly.” A simple drop in to an existing Web site, the program features 360 degree virtual tours, animated talking pictures and voice over capabilities. He also says it is essential for ramping up Web sites.

Similar technology is taken seriously at Century 21 Real Estate, says CEO Tom Kunz, highlighting a lead router program available to all of the company’s 147,000 agents. Primarily for Internet leads, the program can receive emails regarding a particular property from a consumer, and convert those emails to phone calls directly to agents, notifying them of the interest and enabling them to respond immediately.

The program tracks all aspects of the lead, from response time to where the lead was generated and the effectiveness of the responding agent in working with the leads. Having just begun integration of the software last year, Century 21 now makes it available in about 40 percent of its offices, says Kunz.

Another asset for Century 21 agents is the company’s online learning system used to train new agents and provide continuing education for existing clients. “We were dealing with on-site training, which is very expensive. The time of agents gets tricky, and we have to return for training frequently when new agents come onboard,” he says.

The program is set up like a classroom, but agents can use Internet access to take the class virtually. Online participants can do anything they would do from a seat in a classroom, including raising their hands to ask a question and applauding a speaker.

The learning system has proven to be a valuable tool for Century 21, and agents are able to “attend” at their leisure hundreds of programs on a number of topics such as how to prepare a Power Point or take a digital picture.

In addition, Century 21 has developed broker and agent financial tools to help create business plans that can be updated annually and show the cyclical nature of the business. The tools demonstrate when sales are up or down and when listings are high or falling, says Kunz, who came to Century 21 in 1981, when the company first started looking at putting computer systems in their offices. For the past six consecutive years, Century 21 has made Training magazine’s list of top 100 online companies.

With all of these useful devices on the market, what is holding you back from implementing the software and technology you need to compete in today’s industry? Don’t know where to begin? Below are a number of products designed specifically for use in the real estate industry that are already being used by your peers.

eNeighborhoods specializes in compiling, organizing and distributing the most complete neighborhood information available via Internet, Intranet, network and stand-alone companies. The company’s flagship product, eNeighborhoods ProSuite, lets users create neighborhood reports, buyer tours and CMAs that compare facts about the schools and neighborhood demographics surrounding each property, along with physical property characteristics. Available through their Web site, the ProSuite requires a one-time membership fee of $199 and a monthly fee of $49.95.

The Company Corp.
Offering services ranging from choosing a name for your company to walking you through LLC formation, The Company Corp. is an incorporation service provider. While the prices for individual business starter products and packages vary (starting at $75), the site offers some helpful and free information on starting a new business. All products can be ordered online.

A leading provider of personal marketing and business development solutions for more than 50,000 real estate professionals nationwide, ProspectsPLUS! is a complete end-to-end provider. The software, $624 online, creates timely results-producing marketing systems and campaigns, supports nationwide data acquisition and offers professional in-house printing, laminating and fulfillment services.

This software contacts showing agents on behalf of sellers or listing agents to collect the feedback necessary to more effectively communicate buyer reaction to their homes. The service offers two options: an online automated email system where showing agents are contacted to provide online feedback or a voice option that utilizes Feedbackcentral representatives to contact showing agents by telephone to gather information on showings. Individual memberships are available via Internet for $9.95 per month or purchase an office membership for $29 per month.

InWare offers solutions to help real estate professionals create CD presentations that make clients sit up and take notice. Realtors can set themselves apart from competitors through this software that transforms a standard CD into a lively piece of marketing collateral, complete with Flash animation and tabbed organization customized for each client. Templates allow users to easily change the look and feel of the final CD without any of the development costs. This hosted solution is available via Internet for $99 per month.

Showing Beacon
The Showing Beacon is a wireless device with a button that the showing agent pushes as they leave the residence, sending a text or voice message immediately to the seller’s mobile phone or PDA, alerting him/her that the showing is finished and he/she can return home. The product is available online for $34.95 with a listing plan for $20 or annual plan for $50.

Using information gathered by their production team, NeuStep processes and renders the information to produce a virtual walk through that can be used for marketing a property. The company can also encapsulate the images on CD format to be used offline and reproduced. The virtual walk throughs can also be used on the MLSNI, Realtor.com and other pertinent sites. The company offers a turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours and prices start at $149 per walk through.

Compass Internet Systems, Inc.
Offering a suite of products to aid real estate professionals in selling and listing more properties via the Internet, Compass provides online marketing assistance through three major products, including a search engine placement product, a Web reporter tool and a product to optimize the system that enables searchers on the Web to find your site. Prices vary, but for $240 per month, an agent can have Compass manage two search phrases with an extra charge of $50 per additional phrase. On average, clients have two to four phrases managed by the company. The fee also includes a monthly coaching call to analyze data.

Saul Klein
[email protected]

Tom Kunz
Century 21 Real Estate
[email protected]

Hugo Rodriguez
RE/MAX Signature North
[email protected]

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