Business Tools for the Real Estate Fast Lane

Three practitioners reveal the secrets of their mobile success. Learn how they’ve taken their show on the road.

August 1, 1999

Whether scheduling appointments from their cars, creating a full-color flyer at a new client’s kitchen table, or catching up on E-mail at home, salespeople need tools that keep them productive wherever they are.

REALTOR® Magazine recently ventured into that fast lane where real estate and mobility converge--and caught up with three practitioners who are adept at taking their show on the road. Buckle up. These road warriors mean business.


Roland Wilhelm, salesperson and director of information services
Podley Caughey & Doan, REALTORS®, Pasadena, Calif.

Besides the ubiquitous cell phone and laptop (fully equipped to access the MLS, Internet, and his E-mail), Roland Wilhelm says he’d be lost without two other essential pieces of equipment:

  • Pocketalk, also called the Portable Answering Machine (Motorola, 888/226–6987;; $49.95 + $19.95 a month). This pager, smaller than a pack of cigarettes, receives, stores, and plays voice messages. “Most of the time, someone is simply relaying information, and I don’t have to return the call,” says Wilhelm. “With a regular pager, I’d have to at least call in for the message. This has saved me more time than I can say.” At present, the service is available in only a handful of metropolitan areas.
  • Snappy 3.0 Deluxe (Play Inc., 916/851–0800; $139.95). The cigarette pack–size Snappy ( device, which connects your computer to a camera or video recorder, turns frames from a videotape into high-resolution digital photographs that can be stored on your hard drive.

“I don’t have to worry about getting just the right shot of a house anymore,” explains Wilhelm. “I walk around a house inside and outside with a camcorder, then play the tape back on the computer, selecting which frames to use in flyers and on my Web site. It’s another big time-saver, and the speed and efficiency impress sellers.”

Wilhelm says it’s his company’s policy not to divulge sales figures, but he credits his mobility tools for a third of his business. For example, he’s convinced he landed a listing agreement on a $400,000 home because he returned the initial call faster than his competitors--thanks to being able to check messages and make calls from the road.

“Calls returned quickly show respect for the potential sellers and give them an idea of how responsive you’ll be to buyers,” he says.


Debbie Ferrari, salesperson
First Team-San Clemente Real Estate, San Clemente, Calif.

Debbie Ferrari is as high-tech as they come. But it’s not just her cell phone, pager, laptop, or other high-tech gadgets that make her a formidable road warrior. It’s all those plus the accumulation of business, safety, and customer service items she carries in her Mercedes 300 SDL or her family-friendly Ford Aerostar minivan.

“What good is having every technological innovation if the buyers and sellers are uncomfortable?” she asks.

To make sure buyers are content, she carries extras such as spare sunglasses, reading glasses of various magnifications, umbrellas, rain slickers, baseball caps for sunny or rainy days, and tissues. She stocks a portable, 12-volt refrigerator with soft drinks, candy, and sandwiches.

“It may sound overboard,” she says laughingly, “but it helps make house hunting pleasant. Buyers are constantly telling me they’ve never enjoyed it so much. That makes a difference in how many houses we can see in one day. And happy buyers are more inclined to see the good side of a home. Plus, my referrals are through the roof.”

In the front passenger seat, she keeps a travel desk, the AutoExec (Go, 800/373–9635;; $159.95), which also holds files, a spare box of business cards, a stapler, tape, glue, and paper clips.

And because nothing poops a party like a car on the fritz, Ferrari has an emergency roadside kit in the trunk, along with a can of Fix-a-Flat, a fire extinguisher, and a battery-booster pack.


Cathy McGrail, broker-owner
Cathy McGrail Realty, Englewood, Ohio

Cathy McGrail lists easy, fast voice communications with clients and customers as her top priority. She’s out of the office at least half the time and relies on a voice-recognition telephone service called Wildfire (Wildfire Communications,, 781/778–1500; about $110 a month).

Tell the female-voiced Wildfire where you’ll be, and it’ll direct calls to you or accumulate messages and relay them to you at an appointed time. If a call comes in while you’re listening to messages, Wildfire can interrupt and ask whether you want to take it. “When buyers or sellers want to reach me,” McGrail says, “they reach me.”

She also treasures her new Sony Digital Mavica camera (; 800/686-7669; prices range from $599 to $1,899). “I can get a listing just by opening my laptop, calling up a flyer template, and pasting in a picture of the house I took minutes before,” she says of how she wows prospective sellers. “The point is, I’m out in the community, where I’m supposed to be, where I can make sales.”

Tools for budget-minded and indulgent road warriors

We’ve teamed up with Home Office Computing magazine to help you become a smarter technology shopper. Here are the mobile products and travelers’ services that have impressed HOC’s editors the most this season.

Notebook PC
Budget Buy
WinBook XL 300 TFT Such a deal! A solid AMD-powered (a computer chip made by Intel challenger Advanced Micro Devices Inc.) portable with a bright 12.1-inch screen, 64MB RAM, 2.1GB hard drive, CD-ROM, and built-in modem for $1,399 (

Minor Indulgence
Toshiba Satellite 4080XCDT
Ditch your desktop for this speedster with 366MHz Pentium II power, 64MB RAM, a 6.4GB hard drive, CD-ROM, and 14.1-inch display. $2,800 (

Lightweight Notebook PC
Budget Buy
Sony Vaio 505TS
Although only 2.7 pounds and less than 1 inch thick, this notebook packs in a 300MHz Pentium MMX chip (which speeds audio, video, graphics, and modem operations), 64MB RAM, 4.3GB hard drive, and 56Kbps modem; external CD-ROM is a $300 option. $1,800 (

Minor Indulgence
Gateway Solo 3100LS
Straddles the fence between a slimline and full-sized notebook (5 pounds), but its roomy keyboard, internal DVD-ROM (a new type of CD-ROM that holds a minimum of 4.7GB, enough for a full-length movie), potent Pentium II/333, 64MB RAM, and 6.4GB hard drive make up for its extra ounces. $2,999 (

Handheld PC
Budget Buy
NEC MobilePro 770
At 1.7 pounds, this half-magazine-size PC fits into any briefcase or handbag, yet has a nearly full-sized keyboard, 56Kbps modem, VGA port, and twice the memory of most Windows CE palmtops. $799 (

Minor Indulgence
Sharp Mobilon TriPad
A bit bulky for a Windows CE machine (3.2 pounds) but irresistible for the funky flip screen that pivots to offer notebook (typing), tablet (handwriting recognition), and easel (presentation) modes. $999 (

PDA / Pocket Organizer
Budget Buy
3Com PalmPilot Professional
A new, lower price boosts this older but still unbeatably convenient pocket pal. $199 (

Minor Indulgence
3Com Palm V
This is the lightest (4 ounces) and most statusy of the Palm family, with a sharper screen and sleek brushed aluminum case. $449 (

Cell Phone
Budget Buy
Sprint PCS Free & Clear
Pay $70 a month and get 10 hours of free local or long-distance calling (more for 25 cents per minute); a capable Qualcomm QCP-1920 phone is $100 (

Minor Indulgence
AT&T Digital OneRate
A monthly bill of $150 gets you a whopping 23.3 hours of local or nationwide calling (more for 25 cents per minute). The 6-ounce Nokia 6160 phone shuttles smoothly between analog and digital service. $199 (

Cool Online Tool
Budget Buy
Free E-mail services are breeding like bunnies. MagicalDesk embodies the next generation—free mail and Web-based scheduling and file sharing for virtual work groups (

Minor Indulgence
Sharp TelMail
Hold up this 9-ounce palmtop gadget with screen and keyboard to any phone, and it sends and receives E-mail messages via a series of beepy audio signals; no modem cord or data jack required. $150 plus $10/month for PocketMail E-mail service that stores and sends TelMail messages and provides an 800 number for you to use anywhere (

Eric Grevstad is editor in chief of Home Office Computing, the technology resource that reaches more than 500,000 home-based businesspeople each month. It covers everything from home office furnishings and tax and time management to computers, communications, Internet product reviews, and buyer’s guides. HOC is available on newsstands or by annual subscription for $19.97 (800/288-7812).

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