Technology at every step of the real estate process

Printing press from 1811, photographed in Muni...When choosing a real estate agent, it is important to understand how they use technology to help you buy or sell a home. Technology has transformed and continues to transform the real estate industry, yet amazingly there are many agents in the business who refuse or are slow to embrace it. I recently attended a meeting where a very experienced broker was proud that he did not check his email every day! I also know many agents who still carry pre-printed contracts and a pen around with them to write offers. The best agents are the ones who have learned to harness all of the available technology to make the home buying/selling process more efficient. A more efficient agent makes your real estate transaction smoother, improves communication and ultimately allows the agent to charge lower fees, saving you money.

Let’s take a look at the technology we are using today at findwell to improve real estate transactions.

  1. Searching for homes – Home buyers have a variety of powerful websites at their disposal, such as Estately or Redfin, to find their dream home. As agents, we have access to an agent-only site run by our MLS. While all agents have access, many do not use it to its full potential. We use our Northwest MLS site to manage home searches for all of our clients, send us real-time updates of changed listings, and to search and generate Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) reports for our customers. We also have access to an online database of tax and title information called Realist, so we can quickly look up the deed, mortgage and tax histories for any property in our area.
  2. Advertising homes for sale – If you are selling a home, you want the widest possible marketing exposure for your listing. By entering your home in the Northwest MLS database, your listing will instantly appear on thousands of brokerage websites via a technology called IDX. There are also a wealth of tools available to us that help us gain extra exposure for your listing. We use a listing syndication service called vFlyer that generates a professional, online flyer for your property and automatically sends it to 18 online services such as Zillow, Trulia, Google, Yahoo and Craigslist. We are also able to track web traffic to your listing generated by each of these sites.
  3. Automated agent feedback for our sellers – We utilize an automated feedback system for our sellers. Agents who show your home use the keybox we have placed on your house to gain access. That keybox tracks the name of the agent and time that they accessed the home. We are then able to automatically request feedback from the agent via email, though many times we seek more detailed feedback via phone. The feedback system provides our home sellers with a dashboard to view all showing activity and feedback from other agents and their buyers. Having this sort of feedback available makes it easier to gauge interest in the home, easier to price the home accurately, and also gives you real-time feedback on what may be preventing the home from selling.
  4. Stunning, professional photography – It is amazing just how many listings have poorly lit, poorly composed, or just downright ugly photographs of the home. Many of these are a result of a 15-minute photo session with your agent’s point and shoot camera. With today’s online search websites, there is nothing more important that having a set of high quality photos of your home for potential buyers to browse online. In order to sell your home, you need buyers to visit in person. In order to entice them to visit, you need a beautiful set of photos. We provide professional photos at no additional cost for all of our listings, making sure that each home is captured looking its best. A professional photo shoot will ensure proper lighting and high quality wide-angle shots. They also provide a high-resolution online photo tour of the home for buyers who want to see even more detail.
  5. Tools for working remotely – Our agents are all equipped to maximize their time when touring homes in the field. We outfit our agents with portable GPS devices to make touring homes efficient. We also make sure that each agent has a smartphone that is capable of remotely accessing our MLS database. This remote access to the MLS is key when you stumble upon a property during your tours and would like to know if it is available, how long it has been on the market, price history, and other details. It also lets us instantly check to see if the home is vacant and available for an immediate showing, or if we have to set an appointment and come back later.
  6. Instant accessibility to your agent – In real estate, time is often of the essence to get the property that you want. We strive to make our agents accessible at all times, whether by phone or email. Our agents carry Windows Mobile smartphones which allow instant access to email from our corporate email server. We also utilize the Microsoft Response Point phone system at our office that allows us to quickly transfer calls either to an agent at their desk or to their cell phone if they are out in the field. We also take the simple step of forwarding our phone system on the weekends so that callers on the weekend are not left waiting until Monday to hear back from us.
  7. Agent interaction via social media – We have dove head first into a variety of social media to improve communication with our clients. Our blog is a means to communicate the latest trends and information about our local real estate market and is powered by SQL Server 2008 to ensure the fastest possible performance. We also provide frequent real estate updates via Twitter and Facebook, allowing us to advertise our listings, educational seminars and services.
  8. Instant online access to documents – By its nature, real estate generates lots of paperwork in a short amount of time. We use an online document management system called SureClose to store and retrieve all of our client transaction files. Our agents are able to instantly access all of your offer paperwork and closing files from any computer in the world. We can also give our clients their own logon to access the system from their own computer. We also use Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2008 to run the backend infrastructure at our office. Our agents have instant remote access to all of our corporate computing resources from any web browser in the world.
  9. Scanners and computer-based fax – While faxes may be an old technology, legal and signature requirements make them an unfortunate fact of life for every real estate transaction. We would love to be fully paperless, but for the time being we utilize computer-based fax services. Faxes are sent and received from within our email system, so agents don’t have to consult a printout back at the office. Outside the office, we make sure that our agents all have access to remote scanning and faxing capabilities so that they can process your offer paperwork at anytime and anyplace.
  10. Tracking customer interactions with CRM – We use Microsoft Dynamics CRM to track all of our interactions with customers. This allows us to share customer history with our team of agents, and makes sure that we have access to your detailed history when you contact us in the future.
  11. Real-time web traffic monitoring – We use Clicky to measure the real-time traffic to our websites. By monitoring what information customers are looking for and consuming on our website every day, we can fine tune our web content to make it even more useful for our customers.
  12. The latest software and laptops – We make sure to outfit our agents with the latest and greatest hardware, productivity software and operating systems to maximize their productivity. Currently, all of our agents have Windows Vista-based laptops with Office 2007, and we will certainly be early adopters of Windows 7 and Office 2010.

By its nature, technology evolves more quickly than we can sometimes adopt it, but we strive to keep up to date on the latest trends. By the time you read this, I’m sure that the above list will already have changed as we discover new tools and gadgets. In fact, in writing this article, I discovered a new search tool to add to our blog. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure that our interactions with home buyers and sellers are efficient and that we are accessible via the means that our customers demand. How is your real estate agent using technology?