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Real Estate Backup Technology – Part 2

Hopefully, Part 1 of this series really got you thinking about the necessity of data backup. Possibly, you have since registered for Carbonite and now have a backup procedure in place. For those seeking a backup solution that does not rely on a separate company, let’s look at a different solution.

Probably the most popular backup solution of the past couple of years is that of the external hard drive. Through the use of traditional internal hard drives nestled in USB enabled enclosures, these devices provide huge storage capacities with relatively fast data transfer rates. Best of all, the cost per gigabyte of storage is cheap (less than $0.50 in many cases).

What has made external hard drives such great backup devices has very little to do with the hardware, though. It is the bundled software that really makes for the backup solution. Without a backup program, it is up to the operator to transfer files to the hard drive. That can be a tedious task and is never continued with the regularity that it should.

External hard drives with bundled backup software make regular data backups effortless. After a simple installation and configuration process, there is no additional work required by the user. Most programs can be configured to backup the entire computer system or select folders. They are also great for incremental backups. This entails a large initial backup, followed by subsequent small backups that cover only new and modified files.

Here are a few external hard drive products that include bundled software for a complete backup solution:

Western Digital My Book Pro – This product has clearly become the most popular external hard drive recently. There are actually 3 different models of the My Book: Essential, Premium and Pro. The Essential has no backup software included and the Premium relies on a Western Digital-branded program. The Pro version worth the extra expense due to the fact that it is bundled with EMC’s Retrospect Express, an industry leader in backup applications. This device has one very unique feature in that it turns itself on and off automatically with the connected computer system. The My Book Pro can connect using USB 2.0, Firewire 400 and mainly for Mac users, blazing fast Firewire 800.

Seagate FreeAgent Pro – Seagate is a late comer to the external hard drive field. Coincidentally, their first product hit the market shortly after they purchased Maxtor (a pioneer in the external hard drive game). Seagate differentiates itself through storage capacity and connectivity. Seagate offers a 750 GB external drive that uses only one hard drive. While other devices using Hitachi’s new 1TB drive are surely on the way, the 750GB is the largest external drive that doesn’t use a RAID configuration. While I use a RAID configuration on my system, I like simplicity when it comes to my backup solution. As for connectivity, the Seagate offers not only the usual USB 2.0 connection, but also incorporates an eSATA port. An eSATA is the same type of port as those already connecting internal hard drives in newer systems. This connects is the very fastest available, but will require an additional PCI card to be installed for most systems as eSATA ports are very uncommon (well worth the extra effort).

Western Digital My Book World – For those with multiple computers to backup, a drive network enabled drive may be for you. The My Book World is virtually the same drive as the My Book Pro, but with a gigabyte Ethernet port. Plug this into a network port, install the EMC Retrospect Express software on each computer and all of your systems are now covered. As an added bonus, the My Book World allows for remote access to files from any Internet connected computer (hence, the name World). Check out this demo for more information on remote access using the Western Digital My Book World.

When purchasing an external drive, buy the largest capacity that you can afford. Most backup software allows for versions of files to be stored. This is a very valuable feature, but it can create backup data bloat. Get a drive with capacity that is larger than your computer’s current storage capacity to allow yourself room to grow.

One last caveat to using an external drive as a backup solution, you will still need to implement some form of offsite backup to protect against fire and theft. I use an external drive for weekly backups and burn data to DVD on a quarterly basis for offsite storage in a safe deposit box. This does add a bit of extra work 4 times a year, but the added protection is worth it.

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Real Estate Backup Technology – Part 1

I am a fanatic about backing up data. This probably stems from a mishap in college that included a semester project, a floppy disk and an errant piece of sand. Unfortunately, it usually takes a catastrophic loss of data before people get serious about data backup.

The truth of the matter is that data loss happens. It could be a result of hard drive failure, virus, theft, fire, flood and human error. No matter what the source, you need to make sure that you have a backup procedure in place that includes off-site data storage (if your backup is in your house when it catches fire, it will do you no good).

Of the real estate agents that I know, very few have a backup procedure in place. Reasons I hear for not having a backup procedure in place include:

  • “My computer is brand new”
  • “Data loss doesn’t happen that often”
  • “Backing up is too time consuming”
  • And my personal favorite, “I don’t really need anything on my computer anyway”.

In response to these excuses I say:

  • “Even new hard drives can crash”
  • “Data loss is more frequent than you may think and computer theft is even more frequent”
  • “A good backup procedure should take no effort once set-up”
  • “You have got to be kidding! Your client database and marketing pieces add no value to your real estate business and hence are dispensable?”

In an effort to get every real estate agent who reads Technology for Real Estate to implement a backup procedure, I will be showcasing a different backup solution each week for the next several weeks. The first solution that I will be discussing is Carbonite, an Internet-based backup solution.

Carbonite is a revolutionary backup solution that is cheap, easy to setup and requires no maintenance. Upon registration, the user simply downloads and installs the Carbonite program from http://www.carbonite.com/. That is it!

By default, data folders such as the My Documents folder and Outlook data files are automatically backed up to the Carbonite servers whenever changes are made and an Internet connection is available. Additional files and folders can be added to the backup regiment with a few simple clicks. Colored dots on the folder and file icons provide quick backup status information.

As far as security is concerned, Carbonite encrypts the data before transmission to its servers making the technology a secure backup solution.

For a mere $49.95 a year, Carbonite provides unlimited backup storage capacity. This is one of the most cost-effective and easiest backup solutions available. It provides off-site backup, which safeguards against theft, fire, flood or other natural disaster. Carbonite also safeguards against errant file deletion, allowing you to restore documents that you might have deleted from your computer by accident.

If no-maintenance, cheap and easy data backup seems too good to be true, give Carbonite’s technology a try and see for yourself. Carbonite offers a 15 day risk-free trial that requires no credit card for registration.

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Real Estate Agents Catch the Curve

Real Estate agents, I have a phone for you! Introducing the compact Blackberry Curve (8300). The Curve supports a full QWERTY keyboard, making it an exceptional phone for business and personal use. As with past Blackberry devices, it is strong in email, calendaring, tasks and notes. But now they’ve also added some fun multi-media tools. The new curve features a 2.0 megapixel digital camera with 5x Digital zoom and built-in flash. Not necessarily the technology to take high-quality real estate photos, but it will surely prove to be handy in life. The Curve will also allow you to carry your real estate podcasts, or personal MP3 playlists on a Micro SD card. I picked up the 2 gig version for $49. You’ll also appreciate that Blackberry finally went with a standard size headphone jack. Again perfect for work or play.

Real Estate agents working as part of a team may appreciate the Blackberry Messenger. It facilitates an instant chat-like session with your contacts. The major benefit Messenger provides is not waiting for emails to be sent and received. With Messenger you can also easily attach images and sound files without being technology savvy.

The Curve may also prove useful when you need unexpected access to the Internet…the MLS for example. Simply connect the Blackberry Curve to your computer and it will work as a tethered modem to power your laptop with broadband internet.

Best of all these features are packed into a case 4-inches tall by .6 inches deep.

Take a look at the Blackberry Curve 8300 here.

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Real Estate Agents In Style

For those real estate agents who like to add a bit of “sass” or “edge” to your personal style, you can now apply it to your technical items. Acme Made brings you laptop bags, business totes, iPod wallets, digital camera cases and more, with the design and style that most boring bags lack! Whether you prefer a tote, slim laptop case, or messenger style, Acme Made has created a variety of functional bags made with quality materials. You’ll find they’ve chosen high-impact plastic inserts and forged metal hardware to protect your precious technology. And, of course, the bags look amazing. I can’t tell you how many clients of mine have asked where I obtained my pink polka dot laptop case. Guys…they have plenty of edgy designs that are sure to interest you as well.

Acme Made also takes the guesswork out of “Will my laptop fit?” by providing a sizing chart for all items. Additionally, their customer service is superb if you have any questions that require a timely response before purchasing.

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8 Essentials for the Mobile Real Estate Agent

To be effective, the mobile real estate agent should incorporate many different technology tools into his/her business. But what technology is best? What is really going to make you more efficient in the field? Below I have listed my favorite technologies for mobile Real Estate agents on the go:

Tablet PC **Updated 6/2008**
Real Estate agents will find that Tablet PC’s have many advantages over the traditional laptop. Most notably the ability to reduce the amount of paper you burn through. With a tablet PC, Real Estate agents can sign important documents such as listing and purchase contracts, emails, and notes onscreen in their own handwriting. This often times eliminates the need for printing entirely. Simply email or fax the document directly to the party in question. In regards to brand and model, I like the convertible HP tc4400 (Core Duo) and Lenovo ThinkPad X61. Both models are ultra-lightweight, provide outdoor viewable displays and manage to provide long battery life. They also have strong wireless and Bluetooth capabilities. The X61 is slightly lighter and also comes with Active Rotate which uses an internal accelerometer to dynamically determine the tablet’s angle and adjust the screen position. This may prove useful when handing your PC over to those buyers in your next contract signing.

VREO Real Estate Dashboard
Real Estate Dashboard is a critical component to truly going paperless. Sure there are tools such as Microsoft Journal that can be used, but they fail when it comes to security. With VREO Real Estate Dashboard, the Real Estate agent must use a password, and all files are created in a proprietary file format. Signatures are then flattened onto their corresponding document, and then allowed to be sent via integrated email or fax technology. Read our previous post here.

TransactionPoint
TransactionPoint is the ultimate piece of Real Estate technology for automating the entire real estate transaction from listing a property to closing the deal. TransactionPoint is integrated with ZipForms for easy form creation. TransactionPoint will also store other transaction related documents for easy retrieval. You may also benefit from reduced liability for E&O (Errors and Omissions) insurance, as TransactionPoint saves a permanent record of emails and other communication in the communication log

Digital Camera with Wide Angle Lens **Updated 6/2008**
homes they sell. So why use a marginal camera for those photos that help sell the home? Real Estate agents should look for a quality digital camera. I recommend the incredibly light Canon Rebel XTi with wide-angle lens. The camera takes great high-quality photos. The Rebel boasts a huge amount of features, but presents them in a very easy to understand interface. Works with PictBridge compatible printers such as the i80 referenced below.

SmartPhone **Updated 6/2008**
With the Blackberry, Treo or Windows Mobile device Real Estate agents can streamline their business greatly by taking advantage of wireless MLS capabilities, free business and local search tools, mobile calendar & email, calculators, etc. Personally I’m a fan of the Blackberry Curve 8310. Mainly because of overall size, full QWERTY keyboard and outstanding email capabilities. The 8310 also includes GPS capabilities and 2 mega-pixel camera with flash. If you’re looking for a 3G network…you’ve still got a few more months for the Blackberry Bold.  Needless to say Treo and Windows Devices are also very popular. I really believe you should hold each of the phones before you purchase.

3G Wireless Access
Real Estate agents spend a great deal of time accessing online information via MLS, CMA utilities, buyers tours, email, door-to-door directions, fax to email solutions and more. So why wait until you get back to the office. Real Estate Agents who embrace this technology will uncover many time benefits. Read our article here for items to consider when selecting a service.

Mobile GPS **Updated 6/2008**
As the mobile real estate professional you need to know where you are going 100% of the time. That’s why a mobile GPS utility may prove useful. I recommend the Garmin Nuvi 880. With this unit you’ll surely get from point A to point B, but you may also save time with its integrated traffic tuner capabilities. You can even keep both hands on the steering wheel with the Hands-free feature for Bluetooth phones, and text-to-speech control.

Mobile Printer **Updated 6/2008**
This piece of real estate technology will surely impress real estate agent’s on-the-go that require a printer for photos and more. I recommend the Canon PIXMA ip100, as it comes with the ability to print high-resolution at up to 9600 x 2400. Speeds are around 20 pages per minute b/w and 14 color. You may want to connect using the IrDA port from your tablet pc…at a range of up to 10 feet. Even print directly from your PictBridge compatible digital camera. The Canon ip100 can also accommodate a car adaptor for power or take advantage of the portable kit which includes rechargeable Li-On battery and holder.

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Is an Apple Smart Real Estate Technology?

Last year’s introduction of the first Intel powered Apple computer added a new option for the real estate professional in the way of computer choices. Now that Apple computers are running on the same processors as the Windows-based computers, an Apple can actually run the Windows operating system and in turn, Windows software. This brings up the question, “Is an Apple computer a smart choice for the real estate professional?”

I have given this question quite a bit of thought. Apple certainly builds a quality product and their pricing has become more competitive with comparable Windows PCs, but does running Windows on Apple hardware or within the Apple operating system make sense? In my opinion, the answer is yes to a very small percent of real estate agents and no to the majority.

If you are an Apple enthusiast who happens to be a real estate agent, this new technology is a blessing. You are familiar with the Apple operating system already. You only need Windows for those programs that don’t have an Apple compatible counterpart (as is the case with most real estate specific applications). Since the Apple environment is where you feel most comfortable, an Apple computer running either Apple Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop is a smart real estate technology choice.

Most real estate agents fall into one of 2 groups. The first group is those who have yet to feel comfortable using computers and only use them as needed. The second group is comprised of agents who have been working in a Windows environment and feel some level of familiarity with the operating system. For those real estate agents in either of these groups, an Apple is not a smart real estate technology choice for you for the following 2 reasons.

The first reason has to do with the learning curve involved in becoming proficient in 2 operating systems. By purchasing an Apple computer for real estate, you are in essence saying that you are going to learn how to work the Apple operating system and the Windows operating system. That is real time commitment that will take away from your main goal of selling houses. Most agents that I work with have a hard enough time with one operating system, much less two.

The second reason has to do with the hardware. Although Apple runs on the same processor as a Windows machine, the other hardware is not the same. The drivers for such things as printers, scanners and video cards may not be completely suitable for Windows running on Apple hardware. This will only add frustration to your computing life and I don’t know of any real estate agents who want more frustration stemming from their computers.

Keep you life as simple as possible. If you don’t have a history with Apple computers, stick to the operating system that real estate applications are written for, Windows. You will be thankful that you did.

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Cingular’s Wireless Connectivity Speeds Finally Catch Up

I have spent quite some time on MyTechOpinion touting wireless Internet connectivity as a valuable real estate technology. The ability to access the MLS, Winforms Online and email from anywhere truly redefines the term “mobile real estate agent”. I just hit one year anniversary of my adding a Cingular wireless connection to my laptop bag. It really has changed the way I do business. While the impact has been good, a recent discovery by a friend has completely changed my opinion of the service.

Up until last week, I have been running on Cingular’s EDGE network. The EDGE network is slow. My download speeds topped out at 150 Kbps. For those unfamiliar with download speeds, imagine a hair above dial-up speeds. This made for a true test of patience and made downloading anything of significant size impossible. While I was well aware that this network was much slower than Sprint and Verizon’s EV-DO networks, Cingular provided better coverage in my area.

The discovery that I mentioned is that of a firmware update and Communication Manager software update that enabled the Sierra Wireless Aircard 860 to access Cingular’s HSDPA, also known as 3G, network. This new network is amazing. I am now up to EV-DO speeds. I am now topping out at 1.5Mbps, which is similar to DSL speeds.

On the HSDPA (3G) network, you’ll browse the web just as if you were in the office or at home. Now that all 3 major cell phone networks can provide DSL-like speeds, add a wireless card to your laptop and see how real estate technology can really catapult your business.

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The New Blackberry 8800: Not Just For Work

The Blackberry 8800 is simply the best device that RIM has ever put out. While Blackberrys have always been the hands down leader in push email technology, they have been lacking the additional functionality that has become commonplace on other smartphones (such as the Treo or Q). The Blackberry 8800 changes all of this.

The Blackberry 8800 is sleek. With its glossy finish and shiny chrome trim, the device seems more like a Motorola Q in my hand than any of my past 3 Blackberrys. The 8800 includes a media player. This turns your Blackberry into a music and video player. The MicroSD card expansion slot can accommodate up to a 2GB memory card (1GB cards are available for less than $20). Voice-dialing has been a standard function on my cell phones for years, but has been absent from the Blackberry line until now. GPS is also added through the integration of the Telenav software package (this is a paid subscription service).

One of the most notable changes, especially to a longtimet Blackberry user, is the omission of the classic Blackberry scroll wheel. This navigation device has been replaced by a trackball located in the center of the phone. This trackball is flanked by the traditional escape button (normally found on the side, below the scroll wheel) and a new menu button. While this is taking me some getting used to, this new way of navigating through the Blackberry’s applications and menus seems to be more intuitive. The Blackberry newbie won’t experience this transition period.

For those familiar with Blackberrys, you may be saying to yourself that all of these features have been available on the Blackberry Pearl for several months. While the Pearl shares all of the great new features and adds a camera, which is sadly absent from the 8800, the lack of a full QWERTY keyboard keeps the Pearl from being a good business solution. Try writing a couple of emails on the “SureType” keyboard and you will agree.

If you are in the market for a smartphone, the Blackberry 8800 is the best business device with personal life functionality that I have come across. It is only available from Cingular at this point. Cingular was also the first to adopt the Blackberry 8700, but Verizon and Sprint finally came along with the 8703, so it probably is just a matter of time for them with the 8800.