NAR Tech Survey Highlights Missed Opportunities

Gaps in practitioners’ tech usage point out great ways to bolster your competitiveness.

June 1, 2004

The detailed findings of the recently released REALTORS® and Technology: The 2004 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Technology Impact Survey Report serve up practical insights on ways real estate professionals can invest in technology to improve service and boost productivity. The results also highlight some missed opportunities and emerging technologies more practitioners could embrace as components of a tech strategy.

The Personal Computer

Nearly all respondents to the survey (97 percent) say they use a PC in their work. Surprisingly, though, just over half (52 percent) say they own or use a notebook PC in this highly mobile profession.

The prevailing wisdom on all tech tools is that if you’ve had your equipment for more than two years, it’s probably worth the expense of upgrading to a new model. For the 32 percent of respondents who’ve had their computers two or more years, and the 16 percent who already plan to buy a new PC within the year, a notebook might make the most sense as their next computer.

Notebook prices have fallen as performance and screen quality have improved, and the expanding network of Wi-Fi hot spots for wireless networking and Internet connections make notebooks an attractive solution for all computer users. If it’s a notebook’s compact keyboard and layout that have steered you to desktop systems, you can always plug in a full-size keyboard into your notebook’s USB port for more comfortable typing.

With a notebook, you’ll enjoy greater mobility than a desktop and convenient access to the Web, wherever Wi-Fi is available. The notebook’s large screen size also makes it easy for practitioners to view Web pages from the field.

The PDA

  • According to the survey, only 6 percent of Web-enabled phone users and 7 percent of PDA owners use their handhelds for Web access. It could be that the screen is simply too small for comfortable browsing.
  • As far as handheld equipment goes, almost half of survey respondents (48 percent) indicate they plan to replace their mobile phone in the coming year. Another 22 percent of PDA users also are considering trading in their unit for something new.

If you’re in the market for a mobile handheld solution this year, the wise choice may be to purchase some form of multifunction device, possibly even a smartphone, which typically include built-in cameras, multimedia messaging [MMS], and have PDA operating systems, such as Palm and PocketPC.

Look for equipment that allows you to do more while carrying less. Most PDA owners carry their handhelds for basic functions: storing contact records (cited by 96 percent); maintaining a calendar or schedule (82 percent); and recording notes (55 percent). These are now core features of any multifunction phone or PDA communicator.

E-mail and Instant Messaging

You’ll want more than voice calling in your mobile communications options.

Today’s practitioners can be considered heavy users of e-mail: Nearly all of the survey respondents (99 percent) report using e-mail to conduct at least some of their communication with clients, while 47 percent of respondents say they rely on it for more than 25 percent of their communications with clients now. Not nearly as popular yet, but certainly an option you can expect to use in the future, is instant messaging or text messaging. Among survey respondents, 19 percent report they’ve used instant messaging (on the computer), while 21 percent have used instant text messaging (on cell phones).

The popularity of instant messaging and text messaging—a faster alternative to e-mail and phone conversations—can only grow. In highly competitive markets, especially, you want all communications channels open to you.

Another feature to consider in your next mobile phone is a digital camera. Later this year, the first camera phones with 1-megapixel image sensors will appear, making them more than a novelty. In Japan, camera phones already are available with 2- and 3-megapixel sensors. This coming wave of camera phones should offer a practical solution for basic imaging needs and give you one less piece of equipment to carry.

GPS

There’s another technology that early adopters have already demonstrated has applications for real estate: the global positioning system (GPS). When combined with mapping software, GPS hardware continually pinpoints your location to provide turn-by-turn directions to one destination or a series of locations. No more maps to unfold or atlases to pore over; the directions are concise, accurate, and instantly available.

Only 7 percent of survey respondents had experience with GPS. Among these GPS users, 41 percent indicated they are extremely satisfied with the technology; another 35 percent say they are somewhat satisfied. The telling statistic may be why owners purchased a GPS: 77 percent report they use the technology to save time.

Historically, any solution that has delivered on that promise, from computer to digital camera, moved into the mainstream as a real estate tool. GPS seems to carry that appeal. And although it’s primarily a navigation aid today, it has the potential uses for approximating boundaries or estimating acreage.

Web Presence

The survey also underscored some missed opportunities on the Web.

  • Although previous studies have estimated as many as 70 percent of today’s homebuyers look online first in their search for a home, only half of real estate practitioners currently maintain their own Web page or site, according to the survey. Another 21 percent plan to have a Web presence “in the future.” That still leaves 30 percent who seem content to let Web traffic pass them by.
  • Surprisingly low is the share of those with a Web presence who incorporate virtual tours into their Web listings—only 21 percent. The survey findings didn’t explore why more aren’t employing this effective marketing tool. It may be the perceived amount of work involved in building and managing tours, server-level issues, or that some direct visitors to tours at other Web sites, such as a corporate site.

If you’re one of the 80 percent who don’t offer tours, adding them is a great way to get more from your Web investment. They demonstrate your professionalism and can help streamline the property search. Most important: Consumers love them.

These are just a few of the areas where technology isn’t being fully employed or efficiently used by practitioners. Read the report highlights. Order your own copy of the full report by calling 800/874-6500. The cost is $35 for members and $75 for non-members.

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