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Starbucks Makes Decision That Could Save Real Estate Agents Money

Don’t get too excited, Starbucks isn’t giving away free mochas. They are giving you an opportunity to get Internet access in Starbucks locations for free.Starbucks’ long time partnership with T-Mobile to provide paid Internet hotspots in the company’s stores is coming to an end. Starting in April, AT&T will be replacing T-Mobile as Starbucks’ Internet service provider.

The new AT&T-Starbucks deal provides AT&T DSL subscribers (those with 1.5Mbps packages or higher) with free Wi-Fi Internet access at all company-owned Starbucks locations. This means that your $25.00 a month home DSL connection will provide you with over 17,000 Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country, free of charge.

I see this as real competition for cellular phone based mobile broadband services. My current AT&T mobile broadband subscription is costing nearly $60 a month. That is $720 a year. Ironically, most of the time that I use that connection, I am at or within walking distance of a Starbucks.

Once the transition to AT&T is implemented in my area, I will be cancelling my mobile broadband account and switching from cable Internet access to DSL at home.

With real estate agent budgets so tight right now, this tactic seems like a smart one. Besides, if you aren’t within 2 minutes of a Starbucks, you probably won’t be getting a cell phone signal anyway.

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Get Marketing, Get Real Estate, Get 4Realz

If you are a real estate agent with a passion for technology and great marketing tips you should consider attending one of the upcoming 4Realz Internet Marketing Seminars. (Especially if you live in the SoCal region!) 4Realz featured speakers, Dustin Luther and Jim Marks, promise to share great marketing advice for real estate agents. I have witnessed Dustin in action several times. He has a great way of breaking down complex issues and helping you focus your time and effort in real estate marketing activities that get results! They currently have three seminars scheduled for Southern California (room for only 100 participants at each location).

  • Los Angeles on March 6th
  • San Diego on March 19th
  • Orange County on March 31st

The type of material they plan to cover in the full-day course includes (1) quality website features and design, (2) engaging in existing social networks, (3) building an online community with blogs and (4) tracking and conversion to maximize return-on-investment.

The seminar costs $149 for a full-day course. This includes a light breakfast , full lunch, and 8 solid hours of valuable real estate marketing advice! Click here to register and check it out for yourself!

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Is eSignature Technology Right for Your Real Estate Business?

As a real estate agent you probably have some basic understanding of how digital signature technology can help your real estate business. Maybe you could reduce the risk involved in holding and storing documents, gain time efficiencies by signing documents on the spot or even overcome geographical restrictions. Yet from my experiences many agents are sitting on the sidelines, not ready to jump in. Maybe it’s the result of not understanding how accessible the technology has become. Or is it the issue of legality?

First let’s address the legality of an eSignature. In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed a federal law titled Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) to “facilitate the use of electronic records and signatures in interstate and foreign commerce by ensuring the validity and legal effect of contracts entered into electronically”.

With the ESIGN Act stating clearly that “a transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.” It paved the way for companies to start creating today’s eSignature platforms. Today in real estate eSignatures can be accomplished with various technologies, such as VREO Real Estate Dashboard or DocuSign. However they both deal with the digital signature in different ways and both have distinct advantages.

VREO real estate dashboard is a software application installed to a tablet PC. VREO dashboard allows agents to sign contracts and documents with a stylus pen on the screen—without ever printing a piece of paper. Once you’ve collected the required signatures, simply send to the other party using your dashboards integrated email or fax options. This technology proves to be very convenient for the mobile real estate agent who wants to conduct business anywhere, anytime! Note: An Internet connection is not required to collect signatures.

DocuSign on the other hand is an online solution enabling real estate agents to capture digital signatures via the web. As a result geographical distance between you and the recipient(s) is not an issue. In 2004, DocuSign integrated with Zipforms (Winforms) to provide online signature processing. As a result of the integration, real estate agents can print contracts into a “digital envelope” and then place “Stick-eTabs” wherever a recipient’s signature or initial is needed. This digital envelope is then encrypted and saved to a secure location. Your recipients will receive their invitation by email, and they will need to authenticate and sign the contracts. In the authentication phase the recipient must provide basic identification and pick a signature. Then it’s time for the recipient to review and sign. When complete, each of the parties is notified of the updated contracts.

Where are you with eSignatures in real estate business?

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New Recent Reader Widget from MyBlogLog

You may have noticed our new “Recent Reader” widget from MyBlogLog. If not, take a look. The design has been updated and now you can access additional information about your readers. When scrolling over a reader avatar a flyout box will appear with reader details. You can then find out more about your visitor by easily clicking through to their MyBlogLog profile and community pages. The new widget is also infused with a quick link for adding visitors to your contacts. In addition, MyBlogLog readers can simply add themselves to the site’s community by selecting the “add” button at the bottom of the widget.Currently, MyBlogLog offers a choice of seven colors and 2 layouts for your widget. You will need to adjust the flyout box based on your blog layout. There are a couple of known glitches:

  1. Iframe Blocks Flyouts: If you’re displaying the widget code in an iframe, set your flyouts value “none”.
  2. Mac Firefox – Flyouts vs Flash: This is a Firefox bug w/ CSS transparency and absolute positioning.

MyBlogLog has plans for those of us who prefer optimum customization and promises we’ll be able to upload our own skins very soon. Also, stay tuned for major changes on your MyBLogLog profile. In the coming weeks, your profile will be getting a facelift and new integrated features….taking your profile from static to dynamic!

Getting Started: To update your “Recent Reader”widget, go to your MyBlogLog community page and click on the “widgets” link under your community description.

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How Neat Are Your Receipts?

You may not have been very organized when it came to your real estate business receipts last year, but there’s a handy technology tool that can change all that for you this year! Neat Receipts is a scanner/software combination that will organize all your receipts, expense reports and other business documents.

After sending your documents through the scanner, the software will automatically catalog the information making manageability a snap. You basically turn your piles of paper into organized digital files. That’s right, from piles to files.

I’ve witnessed the efficiency of this tool first hand. My stepmom takes Neat Receipts with her wherever she goes (like lipgloss), ready at a moment’s notice to scan those “write-offs”! It’s quite amazing to see how effective and organized one person can be. She inspired me to try one on myself…and I haven’t looked back at my piles since!Neat Receipts 3.0 Features:

  • Smart sorting
  • Enhanced PDF functionality
  • Keyword search
  • 2007 tax categories
  • Scans quickly and easily
  • Image viewer

Neat Receipts Version 3.0 retails online for $229.00, or purchase in bulk to save. Click here for pricing. Sorry Mac users, you’ll have to wait until March/April 2008 to get your version.

To learn more, watch this demo.

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Have you been Blogged?

With over 100 million blogs on the Internet, how do you discern which ones make it to your Google Reader. Blogged.com is “better blog” directory and organizer. The authors and editors of Blogged scour the Internet and blog submissions to identify “better blogs” for different content areas and award each a score. Editor reviews are provided by professional editors who evaluate a blog based on the following criteria: Frequency of Updates, Relevance of Content, Site Design, and Writing Style. The closer you are to 10, the better the blog you have. Use keywords to search for blogs and see if your blog made the cut!

MyTechOpinion was contacted by Blogged recently because they had given us an excellent score of 9.7! When searching for “real estate” we are currently the top rated blog. For business, we rank in the top 6 just under Seth Godin and SEO of the Sea. And for technology, we are #7 right under the Google Blog!!!! Thanks Blogged….MyTechOpinion greatly appreciates your opinion!

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Do You Treat Your Car Better Than Your Computer?

Many real estate agents have beautiful cars that get pampered. They are washed weekly. They get an oil change every 3000 miles and the recommended service calls are never missed.

Why do very few real estate agents treat their computers with such loving care?

In my experiences, most real estate agents use and abuse their computer until it crashes or slows to a painful crawl. Using my car analogy, that would be like driving your car, doing nothing more than filling it with gas, until it broke down and needed to be towed.

A computer is no longer a real estate technology nicety, it is a necessity. A real estate agent without a computer is without email, the MLS and marketing pieces. It is time to pamper your computer as you do your car. Bare in mind, you can rent a car to replace yours, but you can’t rent a replacement computer with your programs and data ready to go.

Here are 8 ways to pamper your computer that are equivalent to an oil change, wax job and 20,000 mile tune-up.

  1. Plug every piece of technology into a quality surge protector. Notice how I used the word “quality”. Surge protectors are rated to handle different levels of power surges. These levels are measured in joules. The higher the number of joules, the better protected you are. I have seen power supplies, motherboards and processors get fried because a cheap surge protector succumbed to a powerful burst of power.Bonus Points: Purchase a battery backup with a built-in surge protector. This will protect your system from power failures that can corrupt your Windows installation. My desktop computer has been protected for several years using an APC battery backup devise.
  2. Install a security suite, keep the definitions up-to-date and run system scans weekly. It doesn’t matter whether you like Norton, McAfee, Panda or any the other security programs, just make sure you have one. I recommend a security suite instead of just an anti-virus program. The threats out there require the extra protection.Just having the software installed isn’t good enough. New viruses, Trojans and worms hit the Internet everyday. You need to make sure that your security suite is downloading new definitions as they become available. This usually isn’t an issue until the subscription expires. You will know when this happens as daily reminders to renew your subscription will pop-up in your face. When this happens, renew your subscription or upgrade your software immediately.Lastly, your security program is going want to scan your computer completely on a weekly basis. Make sure that happens. That scan could identify and remove a dormant threat waiting to strike.
  3. Run Windows Updates. There is something like 40 million lines of code in the Microsoft Windows operating systems. Anything that complex is going to have flaws and holes in it. To compensate for this, Microsoft continuously works to improve on the performance and security of Windows through patches and service packs.These patches and service packs are made available through Windows Update. Your computer will most likely download these updates automatically. When ready to install, a yellow shield icon will appear in the lower right corner of the screen. Click to install these.You can also get to Windows Update from a link in the Start Menu.

    Bonus Points: Go to Windows Update and click on the Microsoft Update link. The Microsoft Update system combines the Windows Updates with other Microsoft software updates. This means that your Office suite will get patches and fixes as they are released.

  4. Install software and hardware updates. In my last article, Windows Vista for Real Estate Agents: Part II, I provided a list of websites for the major computer manufacturers’ download pages. You should become familiar with the page for your computer’s manufacturer. As hardware and software updates come available, install them.Several manufacturers have gone a step further by placing software on your computer that notifies you of updates and patches. A prime example of this is the Dell Support program.Software also needs to be kept current. As flaws are identified, program manufacturers will release updates to correct the issues. Many programs will periodically check for updates and notify you when they are available. Other programs require you to select an update option from a menu or you will need to go to the manufacturer’s website to look for updates.
  5. Clean your computer. Sounds obvious, but this chore seldom is done. This doesn’t mean just wiping the monitor and keyboard down. You need to open the case and clean out the dust that accumulates thanks to the computer’s intake fans.The best way to do this is unplug everything and take the case outside (it is going to get messy). Open the case and vacuum out the bottom of the case (be careful to not touch any parts with the vacuum).Next, take a can of compressed air (available at any computer or office supply store) and blow out dust from the different components. DO NOT blow directly on any fans. It can be fun to watch the fan spin from this, but that is a quick way to damage the fan.

    When dust accumulates, it acts as an insulator, making your computer run hotter. The dust can also clog fans making them stop. An overheated computer can lock up or crash.

  6. Place your computer in a well ventilated place that is off of the floor. Heat, dust and static electricity are the enemy of your computer, you need to place your computer in a location that is as void of these elements as possible.Computer running in closed cabinets can quickly overheat. Floors collect dust and carpets generate static electricity. If your computer must be placed on the floor, use something to prop it up a couple of inches. Many computer stores carry inexpensive stands to serve this purpose.
  7. Use System Tools to give your computer a tune-up. Windows comes equipped with tools to boost system performance. Here are 3 that I use regularly and links to directions on using them.Disk Cleanup: Temporary files and other junk can accumulate on your system. This system flushes it all.Disk Defrag: When files are added to your computer, they aren’t placed in an orderly fashion. Windows will break up the data into chunks that fit the gaps on your hard drive. This makes it a chore for Windows to locate each piece when you want to use the files. Disk Defrag organizes your hard drive in a most logical, efficient fashion.

    ScanDisk: This system tool scans your hard drive for problems caused by hard disk failure, improper shut-downs, viruses and other issues.

  8. Remove unused programs. Look into your computer’s Add/Remove Programs menu (located in the Control Panel). If you see programs that you don’t use and you have identified that they aren’t critical programs for aspects of your hardware or other software, remove them.Many computers ship with “bloatware”. This is software that companies pay to have put onto new computers. Many of these are trial or free versions of paid software. If you don’t plan on using those programs, get rid of them.You might find other programs that were vital to you in the past, but worthless now. One example I see a lot is software for an old Palm device that has since been retired, but the Palm Hotsync Manager is still active.

This computer maintenance checklist is simple to complete and should be manageable for any real estate agent. There are going to be times when you need to call in a professional. I doubt you fix your own car (that is what a mechanic is for). My next article will cover options for onsite, offsite and remote computer repair.