· When I bought my first RE/MAX franchise, I was surprised at the lack of technology available for the modern real-estate office. And what was available seemed to be outdated and expensive.
For example, I went looking for something better than Microsoft Outlook to use as a real-estate CRM system. What I found were tools that hadn’t changed much since they were introduced years earlier and whose sales models were not very agent and firm friendly.
I knew I needed something that was based on industry standards; just in case the vendor went out of business I’d still have access to my prospect and client database. I knew it had to be web based so agents could have access from laterally anywhere. It needed to be server based so the client data did not get lost when an agents laptop crashed and to provide easier and more secure backups. It needed to be flexible so new processes and features could be added easily and quickly. Social Networking is a good example of a technology that needed to be added to whatever CRM system I chose.
In the end, no commercial system worked. It was then I turned to the world of public domain software. Public domain software is free software that companies make available to the open community. Most of these companies also sell commercial versions of these programs, but if you’re fairly tech savvy or have some basic computer support at your office there is no reason not to take advantage of free software.
So what did I choose? I selected the community edition of SugarCRM. SugarCRM has been around for many years and has a large corporate and government sector following as clients and users. I ended up making some minor modifications to make it more real-estate friendly. I added a Social Networking component that allows agents to access all their real-estate social networks on one tab as well as post to them and write their blogs. It also has a connection to the online document management system I created using another public domain program called KnowledgeTree. We keep all our documents and contracts in this system instead of having to keep paper copies in file cabinet somewhere.
Below is a list of "free" applications that can be used for some very good real-estate problem solving:
SugarCRM – web based Customer Relationship Management system for keeping contact information, launching campaigns, providing a sign-up and sign-in feature for your real-estate websites, and many more needed capabilities. www.sugarcrm.com.
KnowledgeTree DMS – web based Document Management System for storing documents and contracts. Uses a familiar folder style interface to let agents store documents. Provides an automated OCR feature that indexes stored documents as well as what is called metadata which aids in searching and retrieving documents and contracts later. www.knowledgetree.com.
ProcessMaker – is a very interesting type of application commonly referred to as Workflow. With ProcessMaker you could for instance design a New Client process that would automatically step an agent, a new sales agent for instance, through the New Client process while providing all the company and state regulated document and process requirements, including contracts at the appropriate times in the process. The system would then notify the Manager to check the contracts or documents for completeness and correctness before they moved on to the next step in the process. This little application is also web based and could really aid in quality level of service and in sales agent oversight. www.processmaker.com.
MapWindow GIS – use this free application to download GIS data in ESRI Shapefile format from your local government. Now you can find and select parcels of land you have listed and save them to a separate Shapefile to upload to a handheld GPS. www.mapwindow.com.
DNRGarmin – use this free application from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to upload your saved Shapefile from MapWindow to your handheld Garmin GPS system so you can now walk land. Link To DNRGarmin.
These are just a few of the many free public domain applications available with real-estate uses. Contact me for a demo login to see any of these applications in action and the real-estate templates I have created for them. You can also visit the website where I feature these and other applications as well as the blog and twitter post. www.RealEstateWebExpert.com.
Another real challenge we as agents and firm owners run into is managing the ever increasing load of paperwork we have to keep and maintain for many years. Most of us have physical File Rooms with rows of filing cabinets full of client contracts and documents. The cost of maintaining these physical rooms is actually staggering, especially given the market today.
Two years ago I went looking for a document management solution that would meet the requirements for real-estate while remaining simple to use and more importantly cost effective. Once again I turned to the Open Source (free) community and found an application called KnowledgeTree. It proved to be simple to setup for real-estate and yet very powerful.
The link below will take you to a short video demo on YouTube:
· A few months ago I stumbled upon this new technology out of the Microsoft Live Labs called Photosynth. Now I have had photo stitching software technology before to do my own virtual tours. Anyone remember the now defunct PixMaker from PixAround?
But Microsoft is on to something here. I mean the technology is too easy to use and it creates some very interesting results from just a few photos. Check out one of my properties I just shot at this link:
Basically all I did was go out and walk a big circle around the house shooting a photo every few feet. But instead of just shooting in a perfect line, I just threw the photos together, sometimes walking up and taking a closer photo of the rock work or the wrap around porches. The system figured out how to place the photo in my "synth" so that it flowed in with the other photos. The resulting 3-D effect once you have gone completely around the house in the tour is really stunning.
To understand how to take photos for Photosynth, go here:
Like I said, I am truly amazed at how this technology works. And Microsoft is making it free. In fact you get 20GB of space to use for your "synths". The technology works equally well shooting inside of the property. You just stand in a corner and shoot while sweeping the camera from one of the opposite corners to the next. Then you can stand in the middle of the wall and do the same for additional perspectives.
So give it try. You have nothing to lose except more exposure for your listings.
Have you and/or your agents go to http://download.live.com/messenger to download Windows Live Messenger. Then go to Windows LIve at http://login.live.com and get an ID you plan to share with anyone that takes floor duty. Only one person should be logged in at a time with that ID, the agent on duty, though you can have more than one actually signed.
Now once you sign in on the web to your ID, you will see on the left the ability to create Web HTML that will allow you embed a Windows Live Messenger window on a webpage. You copy that code. Then log in to your website setup and add a page. You can call the page whatever you want but I find something like "Instant Chat" a good idea. Then in the blank paragraph area of that page select any "HTML" check box so the input converts from plain text to html input and you "paste" the code you copied earlier into that section.
Now go to your "Menu" tool and add a menu item that links to the page you just created. You can add the menu item wherever in your menu you see fit. I placed mine in the "Contact Us" menu area.
Now have your agent on duty login to the ID you created earlier, the ID you share with your agents to use when they are on floor duty, and now when anyone clicks on your "Instant Chat" menu item they will see a Windows Live Messenger windows on your website with the ID you chose listed at the top and an indicator of "Online" or "Offline" depending on whether or not the agent on duty is signed in. If signed in, the web visitor can now initiate a chat session with the agent on duty. There is also a mobile version of Windows Live Messenger so agents can even monitor and chat with website visitors from their mobile phones. How cool is that!
We have been using this since it went into beta about 2 years ago and we actually get a few chat request per week off our website to inquire about properties.
In these tough times, it sometimes seems the only ones making money in Real-Estate are the ones selling products to Realtors. After looking for many months for a cost effective alternative to Microsoft Outlook for handling my firms customers and leads, I stumbled upon an Open Source (free version) of SugarCRM.
The application runs on Windows or Linux as either a standalone, networked server, or as a web server over the internet.
Follow the link below to view a short demo on YouTube.
Isn’t technology great? With just the click of my mouse, I have posted this message to all my blogs and social networks at once. We are talking about my WordPress blog, Twitter, My Typepad Blog, Facebook, literally dozens of sites that I use to blog and contribute and socialize on for technology. I no longer have to log in to each one of these accounts and write. Heck, I’m even able to post videos to all my video sites, photos to my photo sites, and it all happens via e-mail.
To do this, I can use a couple of methods. One that requires a little more setup is to use the “Post via E-Mail” feature most blog and social sites offer today. Once you sign-up for the service, say Xanga.com for instance, you have the option of posting via e-mail using a special e-mail address that is provided you by the site. I simply take all these e-mail addresses and post them into the “To” on my e-mail or create a distribution list with all those address. I can then send my e-mail and it updates to all my sites.
Another way is to use a aggregate service like the one I use called Posterous. It can be located at Posterous.com. Once you sign-up for the service, which is free by the way, you simply follow the instructions for setting up your blog and sites. Again, it can take a little time to setup, but once your done you can then post to all the sites you setup in the system by sending an e-mail to posterous.com. There are some minor limitations and not all sites work. For instance, I have two WordPress blogs, one that is hosted on my hosting company’s server and one that is free and hosted by WordPress.com. The hosted blog that is hosted on my own site works fine, as it allows for XML remote posting which is used by Posterous. My other WordPress account is one of the free accounts hosted on WordPress.com. It does not offer XML remote posting. To post to that account I use the “Post via E-Mail” option under the My Blog section. So to post to all of them, I simply e-mail to my Posterous account and e-mail my WordPress.com e-mail account.
If you have any questions on how to setup, drop me an e-mail.
Technology is what this blog is all about. More specifically technology that can be used in the real-estate and associated industries. As a practicing Realtor, and my long term stints with companies like HP and IBM, I have been able to gain an in depth understanding of technology and the web. I hope to use this blog to transfer some of that knowledge on to you. Please feel free to contact me with questions or if there is a subject matter you would like assistance with.
I look forward to hearing from you and sharing ideas and tech tips.