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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.