By Bridget McCrea
Brian Sears loves his iPad. In fact, this broker/partner at Sears Real Estate in Springfield calls the gadget “one of the best inventions for the real estate business in the last 10 years.” He’s the proud owner of Apple’s first-generation model, a small, thin device that allows him to leave the laptop at the office and stay connected, communicate in real-time, and create and send paperless forms and addendums while on the road.
“It has been a great addition to my technology toolbox,” says Sears, who is careful not to fill that toolbox up with just any new gadget, software or equipment that come along. In fact, he sticks to the old-school methods of real estate like getting face-to-face with prospects and focusing on relationships, and augments those strategies with specific technology tools.
Aside from his iPad, Sears says his most important technology tool is a Blackberry, which allows him to respond immediately to consumer email and phone inquiries and other important communications. Ultimately, however, he says strong relationships are what lead to sales and commissions.
“REALTORS® really need to know that technology isn’t going to make them more successful at this business,” says Sears, last year’s chair of the MAR Technology Committee. “The best ones sift through the options to figure out what will help them in business, and support their business models.”
Sears has done his share of “sifting” over the last few years. An investment in sign riders equipped with text codes – which passersby could access via their mobile phones – didn’t work for him. “I realized that my market here in Western Massachusetts isn’t as plugged in as Boston,” says Sears. “People just didn’t respond to those riders.”
The experience with the text codes has made Sears skeptical about the latest buzzword in REALTOR® circles: QR codes, or two-dimensional bar codes that is decoded at high speed using mobile phone applications. Company signs, brochures and other marketing materials are printed with QR codes that, once deciphered by the consumer, lead him or her to more information about a listing, or a specific company product or service.
“Everyone is talking about QR codes,” says Sears. “I can see an application for them in real estate, but not necessarily in my marketplace. If I put a QR code on a home flyer, I’d say a fraction of one percent of consumers would know what it was, or how to use it.”
Assessing the Situation
As many Massachusetts REALTORS® have already discovered, there seems to be no limit to the number of supposedly “useful” technologies being peddled to agents. The problem is, there is a limit to the number of hours and the amount of money that one can invest in these options before realizing that not all of them meet expectations.
So how do busy real estate agents choose which ones will help them work smarter and faster, and which will gather dust on the shelf? For starters, they should look for technology that is user friendly and scalable, and able to meet the needs of a growing business. Consider only those choices that will either eliminate another task (or, steps that must be taken to get the task done), save time or both.
Finally, agents should seek out products and services that will produce a return on investment (ROI), meaning that the tools will ultimately make the agents more money than they actually cost.
Melvin A. Vieira, Jr., a real estate consultant with RE/MAX Landmark, REALTORS® in Milton, says he does extensive Google research before investing in any new technology. Once he determines the product’s viability (through reviews, usage by other REALTORS®, etc.), Vieira asks the vendor for a free trial, or access to “limited services” so that he can test it out before signing up.
After signing up for the free trial, Vieira closely examines the technology tool’s feasibility for his business, and pays particular attention to the learning curve. “If it’s too labor intensive, I either forget it, or put it on the backburner until Thanksgiving break,” says Vieira, whose recently put the RealtyJuggler™ customer management program through the motions, only to find out that the learning curve was too steep.
“I just didn’t have the time to learn all of the ins and outs of the program,” says Vieira. “I realized that Microsoft Outlook actually works better for me.” Vieira’s assessment process goes beyond the initial purchase period. At the end of every year, he reviews his technology arsenal and figures out which tools have contributed to his business, and which have take up too much of his time and given little in return.
“I look at which pieces of technology have helped me get clients and leads, and then I focus my efforts on those tools,” says Vieira, whose top technology items include an iPhone, RedX FSBO leads service and Dropbox online file sharing and backup. Ultimately, he says sticking to the “K.I.S.S.” principle goes a long way in ensuring that agents don’t overspend or put too much time into technology that doesn’t help them work smarter, better and faster.
“It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by all of the new tools that are at your avail out there,” says Vieira. “The best approach is to stick to the basics and look for technology options that will enhance your success, and not steal too much of your time during the learning period.”
Keeping Up with Technology
When pondering what technology to purchase, and which tools to pass on, Amy Chorew reminds agents about the Best Buy Justin Bieber and Ozzy Osbourne television commercials, where 3G becomes all but obsolete – and replaced by 4G, and then 5G – during the time that the show is filmed. In other words, trying to keep up with technology is impossible, says Chorew, a technology strategist and national speaker in Southington, Conn.
“Many REALTORS® think they have to buy everything and get everything first,” says Chorew. This strategy can leave agents overburdened with useless technology, spending entirely too much time on the learning process, or broke. To avoid falling into these traps, Chorew says agents should closely analyze exactly what they’re buying, and only purchase tools and software that will provide true value to their businesses.
“Then, take the time to learn the technology that you’ve purchased, and maximize its usefulness,” Chorew says. Most REALTORS® can get by with a smart phone, laptop and/or tablet, she adds; and a current website combined with a social media strategy helps them connect with potential clients through sites like Facebook and Twitter. “REALTORS® need a tool that keeps them connected while they’re out in the field, a computer and an online presence,” says Chorew. “Everything else is extra.”
Erica Capobianco is one agent who is confident with her technology strategy, and unfazed by the race to keep up with the latest and greatest tools. This rental manager and sales agent with Foley Realty in Falmouth, bounces all prospective technology investments off her broker first, and says the seasoned advice he provides helps her make the best decisions regarding new tech investments.
“My broker has been in the business for 40 years so he’s got his finger on the pulse of the market when it comes to spending money on technology,” says Capobianco. “He’s seen it all, and knows which tools will work, and which are just time-wasting gimmicks.”
Capobianco has seen good results from free technology tools that require little upfront training. Her Point2 Agent website, for example, allows her to syndicate her Internet presence across 40 different sites, including Craigslist. “I post my listings every week on Craigslist and am seeing great results from that strategy,” says Capobianco. “In fact, I just closed on a very nice deal where I represented both sides of the transaction, since they found me on Craigslist.”
Next up, says Capobianco, will be a Facebook presence – something she’s beginning to experiment with. “I’m not really a professional when it comes to social networking yet,” she says, “but I’m starting to dabble in it to see what kind of returns I get, and determine if sites like Facebook are worth my time.”
Lean on Me
Sears, who is also seeking out new ways to gain exposure online and maximize technology, says his best assessment tools include networking groups like the Young Professionals Network which is associated with his local REALTOR® association through NAR and also MAR has recently launched a state chapter.
“It’s great to be able to connect with like-minded, technology-oriented people who are willing to share information on what works, and what doesn’t work,” says Sears, who also participates in online technology classes through sites like 1000Watt Consulting to stay on top of new IT trends.
“You can network in-person or use an online site like Facebook to connect with one another and figure out whether something is really worth your time and money,” adds Sears. “No matter what the technology, someone in the industry has already tried it, and is willing to share opinions on it.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of great tidbits through those classes; but the networking groups I’ve joined are by far the best sources of technology information and advice,” says Sears. He advises REALTORS® to talk to other agents about their experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – and to try specific pieces of technology before signing on the dotted line or writing a check.