Tech Makeover Lessons

March 1, 2002

Are you getting a solid return on your technology purchases? Do you long to do more but can’t find the time?

Many people buy technology with the best intentions but never learn how to maximize its potential. Experts say little things can make the difference between becoming a tech-savvy pro and being a frustrated half-user.

As an experiment, over the past two years, REALTOR® Magazine gave four practitioners all the latest real estate technology tools and one-on-one training to learn how to use them. (To read the original makeovers, see the March 2000 and March 2001 issues.) The salespeople were outfitted with a laptop, digital camera, portable color printer, palmtop, and contact management software.

With a year or two under their belts, they say the technology pays off—but only if you successfully identify the right tools and commit to continuous learning. Their experiences and the advice of one of our makeover mentors can help you make more of your technology investments.

Take it from Saul Klein, president of InternetCrusade as well as a trainer, speaker, and real estate technology consultant: One of the worst mistakes real estate professionals make when trying to get a leg up on technology is feeling intimidated. “They let the perceived complexity scare them so much that they hesitate to do things that don’t take much effort.”

Like anything, he says, the task is manageable if you take one step at a time. Spend15 minutes a day on any hardware, he says, and within 30 days you’ll have it down.

Of course, even 15 minutes is hard to spare. But, Klein says, if technology is a priority, you’ll fit it in: “When you say, ‘I don’t have the time,’ that’s an excuse.”

He compares investing time in technology to investing money in advertising: The benefits increase over time and with consistency. “Because progress isn’t always visible, you may feel your efforts are being wasted, but you can’t stop before you see the fruits of your labor.”

Once you commit the time and money to incorporate technology into your business, crow about it, says Klein. If you use virtual tours to display your listings, promote it in your marketing materials, at listing presentations—everywhere you can. “It’s a little thing that can make a big difference.”

Read on for more tips from Klein on how to get the most from your e-mail and Web site, hardware, software, and training investment.

E-mail and Web sites

The first thing to consider is obtaining your own domain name—for example, www.saulklein.com—even if you don’t yet have a Web site.

Then, obtain a permanent e-mail address that incorporates your domain name (Saul@saulklein.com). The domain and e-mail address cost less than $100 per year from many places on the Web, including NAR.InternetCrusade.com. And you can take it with you if you change Internet service providers.

When you’re evaluating ISPs, choose a domain host that gives you freedom to create third-level domains to market your services. For example: openhouses.saulklein.com or 10mainstreet.saulklein.com.

Strongly consider buying a multiyear license (up to 10 years) for your domain name, so no one else can claim it and jeopardize the marketing investment you’ve made.

Finally, pay a Web developer to set up your site. Leaving the programming to a pro allows you to focus on ensuring the site offers valuable content that attracts visitors. There are many sources for quality content. For example, you could

  • Buy a subscription to an online news service.
  • Link to resources at your company Web site.

Take advantage of new broker reciprocity rules. The new rules, known formally as NAR’s Internet Data Exchange policy, require REALTOR® MLSs to give participating members access to a downloadable database of listings to post at their Web site. You can learn more about IDX through the InternetCrusade at brokerreciprocity.internetcrusade.com or through NAR at REALTOR.org (click on Law & Policy, then on MLS Policies & Procedures). Call your local association to find out about local availability.

To reinforce your Internet presence, print your e-mail and Web address on everything: business cards, stationery, flyers, for-sale signs, sign riders, and any premiums you give out.

Hardware

A digital camera is one of the most useful pieces of hardware in a real estate professional’s tool kit. There are all the typical uses, such as creating flyers and taking photos for your Web site—but there are other ways to use your digital camera. For example, start a digital database of homes in your market. Photos take up space, but memory is cheap.

With a CD burner you can store hundreds of high-resolution photos on a single CD-ROM. Use the photos during listing presentations, to illustrate comps, or on custom mailings.

Don’t be discouraged if your equipment is a few years old. A three-year-old 1 megapixel camera is still very good—and much better than not using one at all.

If you haven’t purchased a laptop, consider doing so. This is a mobile industry, and it’s difficult to maintain two computers—one at work and one at home. Having your computer with you all the time makes it easier for you to stay connected. And being responsive makes you very valuable to consumers. If you find you’re not using your laptop much, because you prefer a large monitor and keyboard, get a docking station.

If you have a PDA, synchronize it with contact information from your main computer. Use it to access your addresses and phone numbers, e-mail, and calendar. Soon, you’ll want to get rid of your paper date book altogether—but make sure you have a system for regularly backing up you files (see page 42).

In addition, you may already have the ability to access MLS data with your Palm. To find out, call your MLS.

Software

Very few people master a software program, and it’s not really necessary. Learn only what you know you’ll use. On the other hand, before you buy a new software program, make sure you’re taking advantage of the software you have. Some real estate–specific applications are so powerful that most people never maximize them.

In addition, most computers come loaded with e-mail, Web browser, word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet applications. For many people, Outlook (part of the Microsoft Office package) is the only contact manager they need. If you only need e-mail and a contact manager, you can download a free version, Outlook Express, at www.microsoft.com/windows/oe/.

Finally, get more from your software by learning to use simple time-saving features, such as

  • Automated signatures at the bottom of all your e-mails. You can even create multiple signatures with useful links for different audiences.
  • The “Save As” function, which allows you to save a Word document in html format for your Web site.
  • Screen captures of your Web site to include in your listing presentations. The Print Screen button on your keyboard sends an imageof the screen to the clipboard, allowing you to paste the image into a document or presentation.

Training

Feeling overwhelmed with all you need to learn? Remember that you needn’t tackle everything at once. Start with features you can handle, and work your way up to more complicated programs. If you need more advice on how to get started, talk with people in your office, at your board, or in an online community, such as Realtalk (www.realtytimes.com)—anywhere you can find people who’ve been there. Consider programs such as NAR’s e-PRO® certification (www.epronar.com), an online course that focuses on e-mail marketing and creating an Internet presence.

Finally, if you’re not committed to learning how to use a piece of hardware or software, don’t buy it. Seeing the unopened box on your shelf will discourage you in your quest for a personal technology makeover.

2001: MAKEOVER NO. 1

Barb Solyst, sales associate
Counselor Realty Inc., Wayzata, Minn.
barb@barbsolyst.com
www.barbsolyst.com
Years in business: 24
Sales volume increase since makeover: 19 percent

Solyst had trouble admitting she needed technology. Now she takes pleasure in making her own flyers by importing digital photos into Top Producer templates. “It’s faster and more professional,” she says,“ and it allows me to express myself.”

Favorite tech tricks: “I can use Top Producer to categorize prospects. That allows me to target groups, such as employees of a certain company, townhouse buyers, or past clients of retirement age. My Palm is great for taking notes and for storing details like my printer’s ink cartridge number.”

Brainstorm: “Playing phone tag makes you look less efficient than sending an e-mail that says, ‘These are the five things we’re going to do this week.’ E-mail also allows me to report more often, which protects me when things go wrong.”

2001: MAKEOVER NO. 2

Andre Tabacco,broker-manager
RE/MAX Beach Cities
Marina Del Rey, Calif.; lareos@msn.com
Years in business: 11
Sales volume increase since makeover: 14 percent

Tabacco said upfront that his biggest challenge would be finding the time to implement technology solutions. He didn’t know how right he’d be. He’d planned to have his assistant spearhead the process, but she quit. So did her replacement. Still, this one-man show, the father of a toddler, has come a long way.

Favorite new tool: “The Palm has been awesome. It’s my mobile database. Names, numbers, and information are no longer written
on scraps of paper. They all go to one place and can be retrieved with the touch of a button.”

Tech caveat: “Technology is like plastic surgery for some people. It’s addictive, and there’s no limit to what you can spend. So you need to make sure you maximize the efficiency of your expenditure.”

2000: MAKEOVER NO. 1

Susan Sanders, sales associate
Iowa Realty, West Des Moines, Iowa
susan@susansanders.com
Years in business: 5
Sales volume increase since makeover: 28 percent

After appearing in REALTOR® Magazine, Sanders got e-mails from real estate salespeople around the country. Some offered technology tips, some wanted her opinion on the products she received, some sent referrals. One was from a woman who wanted the domain susansanders.com, which Sanders had reserved because of the makeover.

Biggest change: “Having access to my MLS data on the go. My board implemented a system that lets me download MLS data and a current roster of MLS members to my Palm. It’s wonderful to have that information when buyers ask you about a property or even at a dinner party when someone mentions a new listing.”

Advice for tech novices: “Before you buy something, talk to users. There’s a disparity in user friendliness among competing products.”

2000: MAKEOVER NO. 2

Gracinda Maier, sales associate
Prudential California Realty, Del Mar, Calif.
gracinda@gracinda.com;
gracinda.com
Years in business: 19
Sales volume increase since makeover: Not available

Maier says knowing her limits has allowed her to use technology without adding to her workload. When she wants to do something beyond her abilities—upgrade software or set up a new computer, for example—she pays someone to do it. “There’s no sense in my spending five hours to figure it out. I’m just a user.”

Attitude adjustment:“I didn’t think I needed technology. But my clients are very sophisticated, and I’m finding that I need it just to survive in this business. As an industry, we couldn’t have continued the way we did things before—with books and photocopies.”

Favorite tech trick: “Now when I get a listing I take the photos myself and send them straight to the MLS and realtor.com. I could wait for the MLS to take the photo, but this way I make new listings available to buyers the same day.”

Sara Geimer is the manager of REALTOR® Magazine's Good Neighbor Awards and a former senior editor with the magazine.

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