By Jonathan Osman
No one would have guessed that REALTORS® would look back on 2009 as “the good ole days,” but as the real estate market continues to find bottom, that’s exactly what some are doing. The reality for 2011 may be that we are all fighting for a smaller piece of the sales pie and remaining in business means implementing low-cost solutions to save money.
That being said, here are a five technology tools that brokers and agents alike should implement to help survive an uncertain 2011.
1. Cloud-based Phone Service
The telephone is still the most important tool of our business but for most brokerages, this can result in a huge monthly expense towards the bottom line. Plus, every agent walks around with a phone attached to their hip so is the expense of a phone system and monthly service even necessary?
Services like RingCentral, Grasshopper, and Phonebooth offer users a plethora of options and features usually reserved for phone systems that cost as much as a BMW 550i for less than the cost of a cell phone bill. Local number – check, 800 number – check, fax-to-email – check. “Find Me” features – check. Best of all, whether you are a solo agent, small company working from home, or a mid-sized firm with 50 agents, you can still have the big-company presence which is could help in recruiting agents to work for you.
Still need a desk phone? Thanks to the recession, many businesses are selling off their existing equipment on eBay for cheap. Search SIP Phone and you will find compatible plug-and-play phones ranging from $39 to $150 or 50 – 75 percent off what they sold for new.
For the solo agent, Google Voice can offer many of the same features as the pay-services but for free. In fact, some agents that only have a cell phone as their primary number use their Google Voice number as their business line (and there’s no mailbox to get full).
2. Certified Refurbished Computers, Printers, Copiers
I have not purchased a new computer since 2001 and no, I am not still using a Tandy. Almost a decade back, I was turned on to purchasing refurbished equipment by a tech guy and I haven’t looked back since. While some may do well with a computer and printer off the shelf from the member’s shopping club, actual business computers (which are lighter, have stronger chassis, and more resilient) are still fairly expensive to purchase new. However buying a name-brand Certified Refurbished computer from Dell, Lenovo, HP, or Apple can save you as much as 30-50 percent when compared to their new counterparts.
Many printer and copier companies have similar programs that offer savings as much as 50-75 percent over new counterparts. Best of all, most manufacturers offer extended warranties for no cost to put aside the fears the consumer is buying an inferior machine.
3. Go Paperless
It’s amazing the amount of paper that is generated in the real estate business. Some of my files are a thick as a Northern Virginia phonebook and it’s genuinely unnecessary. In this golden age of tech, going paperless (not less-paper) will save you money as well as increase your productivity. The savings comes from the cost of storage, savings on toner, paper, and related supplies.
Companies like Docusign and DotLoop offer solutions to help obtain e-signatures from clients on real estate contracts and Dropbox.com offers free to low-cost secure online storage for your files. For software to aid in the creation of PDF files, try Cute PDF Professional or Adobe Acrobat. If you can click, drag, and drop, you can go paperless. Now instead or printing, initialing, and faxing or scanning, you can simply email for authorization and then forward where necessary.
4. Google Apps for Business
Probably one of the best tools you many have never heard of is Google’s Apps for Business which includes a suite of software such like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sites, and more. Designed for teams and small businesses, Google uses your personal website domain to provide you email (with your domain name not gmail.com), personal and group calendars, online document creation and collaboration and more. For most users, it’s absolutely free however you can upgrade for more features if you desire.
I have been completely impressed with how well everything works given that it’s free. The calendar will sync with your smartphone automatically (no need to sync with a cable) and with the click of one button, I can see everyone on my team’s calendar at once. This makes scheduling events extremely easy. Plus, the gmail-powered email is the best web-based email as of now.
For larger teams or a corporate level, the free version gives you the ability to set up a intranet site to post documents, announcements, information, etc for your agents.
5. A Facebook and a Linkedin Account
When most people think of using social media for business, they believe they must have a fan page for their business. While a Fan Page is a great internet billboard, unless you are consistently providing something of value to your fans, don’t expect a huge following.
Instead, start first by connecting with past clients as well as old and current friends. We’re in the people business so get back into relationship with people who can help build your business over the next year and more. Then make sure you take your relationship offline through coffee, tweetups, and social gathers to make something meaningful for both parties.
Facebook and Linkedin are NOT places to mindlessly post your new listings but rather to build relationships. Just as you wouldn’t take a stack of listing flyers to the Chamber of Commerce meeting, you shouldn’t plaster your wall with your latest short sale.
Both services are free but Linkedin offers a membership fee in exchange for the ability to contact users outside of your sphere of influence.
Jonathan Osman is a broker and team leader of the Charlotte House Hunter Group with Keller Williams Realty in Charlotte, N.C. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter or his Web site CharlotteHouseHunter.com.