2009 Technology Checklist

It's time to start making a list and checking it twice to make sure you're up to date for the year ahead!

January 1, 2009

Is your real estate office ready for 2009?

Technology is so interwoven into the real estate business that keeping up with new product introductions and services is necessary to stay competitive and efficient. In 2007, 65 percent of sales agents and associate brokers spent anywhere between $251-$2,000 on technology for real estate purposes, according to the 2008 REALTOR® Technology Report, conducted annually by the Center for REALTOR® Technology.

Here’s an overview of key products and solutions to help you make those dollars stretch in 2009.

The 4 Essentials

Many real estate pros are finding they can’t live without these four essentials: a mobile phone, computer, digital camera, and navigation solution. New products are constantly being introduced, but there's good news for bargain shoppers: You can find great deals across the board on these products as vendors work to move product in a sluggish market.

1. Phones

The smartphone is the smart choice for most real estate professionals, giving you a portable office in the palm of your hands. NAR's 2008 technology survey found 42 percent of real estate pros already are using some form of Web-enabled phone. Notable introductions like the latest iPhone and Blackberry Bold have garnered the kind of publicity and visibility that helps legitimize the smartphone for more people.

Phones are evolving in other ways to become the one indispensable device for all your mobile needs. The 5-Megapixel Kodak/Motorola Motozine ZN5 was unveiled in June as a mobile imaging device good enough to replace a digital still camera. More models are on their way.

2. Computers

For most real estate pros, a laptop makes sense as a primary computer. You have many choices, even under $1,000: Dell’s Vostro line-up, Hewlett Packard’s “balanced mobility” laptops; and Lenovo’s Thinkpad SL series.

Another notable trend is the increased selection of ultra-compact mobile computers. For some, this might be the ideal compromise between a smartphone and laptop, delivering basic functionality and mobile Web access in a truly portable package. Examples include the Lenovo IdeaPad S-10, Dell Inspiron Mini-9, HP 2133 Mini-Note, or Asus Eee PC 900.

3. Cameras

The one area where camera phones continue to lag behind digital-still cameras is lens optics. Wide-angle capabilities can be especially important for real estate photography, and the selection of wide-angle cameras continues to grow.

Nikon’s Coolpix P80  launched this year is one good example: It has an 18X zoom for highlighting features and a wide angle setting for getting the whole room in the picture. Newer wide-angle models include Canon’s PowerShot SX 10 and the Olympus SP-565 Ultra Zoom.  

4. Navigation

This year’s technology survey found that more than a third of real estate practitioners—34 percent—now rely on GPS navigation for help getting around. The technology is evolving in two directions: hardware and service.

On the one hand, you have hardware systems like Sony’s Nav-U line, TomTom’s car navigation systems or the Gamin nuvi 880. But you'll likely see more GPS capabilities becoming a function built into other hardware, or provided as a service, rather than requiring a dedicated device. For example, services like Verizon’s VZNavigator, AT&T Navigator, Sprint Navigation, and Telenav offer point to point directions on your cell phone.

Tech Trends for 2009

So what technology is gaining traction and will likely only get bigger in 2009? Here are four tech toys—you’ll undoubtedly already recognize—that will help you stay ahead of the curve with the latest advances.

1. More mapping mashups. Just a few years ago, a map to listings on a Web site seemed innovative. Now it’s routine, and map mashups have emerged as the next standard.

According to the 2008 REALTOR® Technology Report, 69 percent of real estate pros say they incorporate some form of map on their Web sites. Seventy-one percent of them have map-based searches, and 63 percent combine that map with other information about the area. Project the concept forward and property or neighborhood “wikis”— interactive compendiums of information and images about that home or neighborhood provided by the site host as well as visitors—seem the likely next step.

2. Virtual tours grow up. Virtual tours will remain a focal point. The trend is to make them much more informative and involving. Video gives visitors a better sense of the property, but this is a complement to (rather than replacement for) the photo tour, which is still essential. Interactive floor and room plans let buyers explore the space and imagine how they might use it.

3. Social networking becomes mainstream for real estate. One key challenge all real estate professionals still face online is connecting with consumers. In response, practitioners have become much more active in exploring and experimenting with social networking sites.  NAR's technology survey found a full third of respondents are now involved in some aspect of social networking.

They’re using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to get before potential clients, LinkedIn, and ActiveRain to network with peers, and other forums on sites like Trulia and Zillow and personal blogs to demonstrate their market expertise.

Social networking may well be critical to establishing relationships with younger consumers who already use these sites and are tomorrow’s mainstream property owners. But so far there seems to be more promise than practical business impact for many real estate pros.

4. Not text messaging? You will be soon. Another trend already changing communications with some clients is text messaging. Texting has become a preferred mode of correspondence with many, especially the younger set, and will be as standard as e-mail in the years ahead. It seems more likely to gain ground as a communications mode once a professional relationship is established. Up to that point, e-mail or a phone call will likely remain more popular points of initial contact. 

So now that you're armed with knowledge on the latest products, it's time to make a New Year's resolution: Stay current on tech trends and learn how to master the tools that you buy. After all, a product is only effective if you really know how to use it!