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Paperless Real Estate Technology

Today over at Inman Jessica Swesey and Bradley Inman talk about Paperless real estate and where we are today. As you know we have a long way to go. Take a peak if you are interested.

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Zipform Desktop Is Now Vista Compatible

The wait is over for users of Zipform Desktop (a.k.a. Winforms Desktop). The program is now Vista compatible. For real estate agents who use Windows Vista computers, go to this site to download the 5MB Zipform Desktop Version 1.9 Upgrade.

For those real estate agents in California, the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) website currently has version 1.8 of their Winforms branded Zipform Desktop available. For a fresh install on a Vista computer, download and install the version 1.8 from the C.A.R. site and then download and install the patch mentioned above.

Real estate professionals using Zipform Online will still need to be patient. That product‘s Vista upgrade is still in the works. See our previous article on the Zipform Online Vista work-around.

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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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Winforms meets Microsoft Vista

Today’s savvy Real Estate agents use Winforms (or Zipforms) to manage their real estate forms. However if you’ve just upgraded to Microsoft Vista you may have a few challenges getting it installed. Loren Nason over at the Future of Real Estate Technology just posted an article entitled “How to use Winforms with Microsoft Vista”. In the article Loren talks about the recommended steps to getting your Winforms (or Zipforms) application installed on your PC. Strangely enough Winforms has recommend a theme change. I’m not sure but maybe the compatibility issue is with the new Aero feature in Microsoft Vista? Loren did note that he didn’t have to do this for the desktop version. If you’ve had experience please leave your comments.
To see Winform’s official communication, click here.
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Hosted Exchange Email for Your Real Estate Business

These days, it is difficult to find a real estate agent that works on only one computer or who doesn’t work with an assistant or in a team. For those of you who fit that description, you have probably found that you have outgrown the standard configuration of Outlook. Your contacts, calendar and tasks are on only one computer. Other computers that you use don’t have that information and you are unable to share that information with teammates or an assistant. The good news is that it is now easy to overcome these limitations.

Outlook Exchange is a server based version of Outlook. All contacts, calendar events tasks and emails are stored on a server. The user then configures their standard Outlook software to communicate with that server. This means that you can have the exact same Outlook data on multiple computers with no additional effort.

For times that you need to access your Outlook data when away from your computer, you can access your server’s Outlook Web Access (OWA) page from any Internet capable computer. OWA gives you full access to your data with most of the functionality of the Outlook program. This can be a real savior when on vacation. I accessed my OWA page from a coffee shop in Italy and was able to respond to an urgent client email.

For real estate agents working in a team or with an assistant, Outlook Exchange adds collaborative features that you will wonder how you ever lived without. Share contacts and calendars with teammates. Invite teammates to appointments and have the time blocked off on their calendar. Store Microsoft Office files in public folders so that everyone can find them (think marketing materials).

Other value-added functionality includes auto-reply capabilities for times that you are out of town or in conferences, and the ability to sync your Outlook data with any Windows Mobile 5.0 or 6.0 smartphone (see my posting on smartphone options for real estate agents).

Up until recently, only large corporations could afford the high cost of Outlook Exchange implementation. This has changed due to the numerous Outlook Exchange hosting services that have popped up. My personal favorite is a company called 1and1.com. They offer Outlook Exchange hosting for $6.99 a month per user. What really differentiates 1and1.com from the competition is the storage place that they offer. Most Outlook Exchange hosting services offer a miniscule 100 MB per user. 1and1.com offers 1 GB of storage per user (10 times the space).

1and1.com offers free domain names and Outlook software with your subscription. Most real estate agents that I have set-up on this service have their domain name tied to their website hosted on a different server. There is an easy solution to this. You can have your emails automatically forwarded from your website host to your 1and1.com account. You then configure your 1and1.com account to send emails with your email address as the “from” address.

Give this service a try. 1and1.com offers a 90 day money back guarantee, so there is no risk. Once you experience the added functionality, you will appreciate Outlook much more and will never go back to a standard POP3 Outlook configuration again.

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Real Estate Agents: Windows Vista Isn’t a Good View for You, Yet.

The wait is finally over. Microsoft has finally released its replacement for the aging Windows XP operating system. You may be wondering if you should go out and purchase a new computer running this highly publicized new operating system or purchase an upgrade. My advice to you is keep waiting.

There are 2 main reasons to NOT purchase Vista at this time. The first is related to hardware compatibility. Every component of a computer needs software, called drivers, to work properly and these drivers are operating system specific. Not all hardware has stable drivers available for Vista as of yet. In fact, Reggie Nicolay (my fellow blogger) and I are ready to purchase new home machines running Vista (we are keeping Windows XP on all of our business machines), but the manufacturer is having driver issues so we are waiting as well.

The second reason to NOT purchase Vista at this time has to do with software compatibility. While main stream software companies seem to be reasonably prepared for Vista, it is going to take weeks, if not months, for real estate and lending software companies to update their products for Vista. In my area, 2 invaluable programs (Winforms and our MLS) are not Vista compatible. Without those tools, an agent couldn’t do business.

If you are in the market for a new computer…

Hold off if you can. If you are in a situation where you need a new computer, purchase one with Windows XP installed and get an “Express Upgrade” coupon for Vista. Many computer manufacturers are still offering XP on machines and there are still many machines in stock at your local big-box store with XP loaded.

The Express Upgrade coupon is available for any computer purchased since October. Those coupons can be redeemed for a free upgrade copy of Vista (usually with a $10 shipping charge). The catch is that they must be redeemed by March 31st of this year. So if you bought a computer in that timeframe, dig out that coupon, send it in and then hold on to the Vista upgrade disc until the dust settles.

If you are considering upgrading…

What’s the rush? From what I have read, there aren’t many features that are going to enhance your real estate business, but the time you waste dealing with incompatibilities will definitely take away from your productivity.

Only consider an upgrade to Vista if the computer is relatively new (look for a Windows Vista Capable sticker on the machine) or if you got an Express Upgrade coupon with your machine. Even then you need to do your homework before you move forward with the installation. Contact the manufacturer of the machine to determine if compatible drivers are available and how to get them. That isn’t too difficult and those types of problems should be solved soon. You will also need to identify all of the programs that you rely on and determine if they are Vista compatible. This can usually be found out by visiting the software manufacturer’s website.

The lure of a new operating system can be tempting, especially for those of us with an affinity towards technology, but we can’t lose site of our objectives. If you are a real estate agent, your objective is to sell houses, not invest hours to overcome technical issues. Keep life simple and let others be the guinea pigs for Vista.