Editor’s note: Inman News is profiling a series of tech-savvy agents who are using mobile technologies to bring their office to the field, keep in touch with clients, and push forward the transaction process. Send an e-mail to email@example.com to tell us how you or a real estate colleague excels in tech mobility.
In 2010, after owning what she describes as a "fairly traditional" real estate brokerage in Stockton, Calif., for 15 years, Nicole Truszkowski decided to reinvent herself.
She chose to become a technology and social media diva.
She figured she might as well. The recession had whacked the luxury-home niche that was her specialty at the brokerage she owned, so she decided to relocate to California’s Monterey Coast — her "favorite place in the world" — and affiliate with Sotheby’s International Realty in Carmel.
Sensing a relative dearth of tech-savvy agents who cater to international buyers in her new market, she leapt into Facebook, Twitter, blogging, texting, online lead-management, and an avalanche of apps that she said make her job easier — yet nonetheless absorb hours of her workday.
"I’m doing everything that anyone would tell you to do if you’re starting a business — that this is how it should be done," she said. "I use all my technology and apps to manage it, to work it. But it’s incredibly intensive."
These days, Truszkowski said, "I live and die by mobile technology."
She regards herself as her own lab rat.
In Stockton, "I was very successful as an old-fashioned Realtor, in terms of print ads and other stuff," Truszkowski said. "I had a website but I didn’t maximize it and I didn’t create a strong Internet presence.
"But I had kept up with technology, and I had all that knowledge, so I said, ‘Let’s put it to the test’ " in Carmel, she said. "I consider myself a test study."
One measure of success: Five months after launching her website, EstatesofCarmel.com, it scores high in keyword searches, she said.
"In the short time that I’ve done it, I’ve gotten and generated numerous leads from my website and blogging," she said. "I’ve been working with clients who have come solely from the website, but it will be a better test study of absorption in another 12 months."
Carmel is a luxury second-home market, she said, and seems to encompass two extremes: buyers, many of them coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, who insist on a tech-driven homebuying process. And many sellers who — well, not to be unkind — haven’t a clue.
"The majority of the people who come here (to buy) now are from out of the area," she said. "It’s important that you capture the international market. The people who are buying from another country or another state are pretty tech-savvy, pretty experienced and sophisticated buyers.
"I’ve sold properties here to people I’ve never met in person," she said. "They’ve seen homes through live-streaming virtual tours, through online photography, through my website. Literally, they had never seen the property themselves, though they had a friend, a local person, come to see it, and then they bought it." The entire closing process, she said, was handled virtually.
On the other hand, she said, she finds many sellers in the Carmel area to be older, and are either inexperienced with Web technology or uninterested in it.
"They would never read my blog, so I’m not going to attract those locals with the brand I’m creating," she said. So she still engages in some traditional print marketing and what she calls "good old networking."
"In the case of this (older) community," she said, "the tech stuff isn’t going to work 100 percent."
And that "tech stuff," she said, is time-intensive. Her workday begins, unless she’s booked with clients, with a two-hour perusal of RSS feeds of blogs, Twitter postings, industry news and other content she follows regularly.
"I need to do that for my blogs, for my social media, and stuff that I need to stay current with the market," she said. "It’s a ton of work."
She’s convinced that her blogging must have constant replenishment, so although she writes 10 to 15 posts a month herself, she pays a "ghost blogger" to create 10 a month.
Among her most relied-upon tools for managing her businesses — she also still owns the Stockton brokerage, Professional Realty Inc., 146 miles away — is a cloud-based content management system. She manages her website and WordPress blog through it; more important, perhaps, is how she uses it for contact management with clients.
Whenever someone registers at her website, the system sends her a text and keeps track of what they looked at on her site. She said that contact is invaluable for cultivating new clients.
"Every minute I turn on my cell phone, I know if somebody has been there and what they’re doing — the time, the IP address," she said.
"If it’s a brand-new contact, it’s just going to go into the system," she said. "I don’t ring them back immediately — that would be kind of invasive. I will check in later and leave them a message, thanking them."
Though she has found many uses for her iPad, she’s been slightly disappointed in it in one respect, she said.
"I was so excited when the iPad came out," Truszkowski said. "I thought it would replace my laptop, to a certain extent, but it’s just not the same speed level. If I pull up my website, which is a fairly intricate site, or if I want to do property searches, it’s slow for me."
Nonetheless, it’s good for listing presentations, she said.
"I do all my presentations virtually and I e-mail that in advance to my client," she said. "I put it on my iPad and when we’re at the meeting it’s all there. I can pull up my website and a lot of the Internet stuff that I do — it’s slick and it’s awesome.
"I also use it when I show property," she said. "All the homes that are going to be on tour, I (e-mail) them to myself. The client can look at the pictures as we’re driving."
The iPad also breaks down barriers with those older clients and others who may be technophobic, she said.
"They love it," she said. "It’s very touchy-feely, very easy for them to use. You don’t have to be plugged into anything — you’re in their backyard or at their kitchen table."
But the critical tool, she said, is her phone.
"I’m addicted to my iPhone," she said. "I can conduct my business from my iPhone, I can do pretty much anything. I literally have my computer with my phone."
Truszkowski is a creature of apps. Ask her about her favorites, and the list rolls on and on. (See the accompanying list, below.)
She uses the Evernote app as a way to share information, which is particularly useful with her support staff and vendors spread literally across the country, she said. It’s synched with her phone, laptop, iPad and three desktops, she said.
"In my Evernote file, I have a file for my ghost bloggers — I put in content and they know what I want used. I have an assistant in another city, and everything she does is in her file," she said.
She manages social media contacts with an app by Gist, a company that has been purchased by BlackBerry parent Research In Motion (RIM). "It stores records of each contact for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and RSS feeds," she said.
The AroundMe app identifies nearby services and amenities — banks, hospitals, etc. — that clients might ask about during showings, and Truszkowski said she finds it particularly helpful if she’s in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
The TitleNow app allows users to download property profiles, transfer histories, and comparable-sales reports.
And SnagIt is "a new one I’m trying right now," she said. "It’s a screen capture you can incorporate into your blogs."
Though she does relatively little hard-copy traditional marketing, she’s found that one old standby has retained favor.
"I do a really nice, magnetic calendar because people have told me they love it," she said. "It has my contact information on it. Who would think that, when there’s a calendar on our iPhone?"
Among the tools Nicole Truszkowski said she uses regularly:
Apps (list provided by Nicole Truszkowski):
eKey: Allows iPhone to open and close real estate lock boxes, read lockbox activity, and track inventory of lockboxes.
ChicagoAgent-CA: Chicago Title app for calculating buyer, seller and lending fees; comparing rent vs. buy costs, PITI ratios, and lending formulas; also available on laptop and iPad.
TitleNow: Download property profiles, transfer histories, comparable sales reports (also on iPad, laptop).
Property I.D.: Order natural-hazard disclosure reports; also on iPad and laptop.
Dragon: Dictate a message and send it out as text or e-mail; on iPad and iPhone.
mSecure: Store e-mail account information, combinations, birthdays, bank accounts, and credit-card information in one location; on iPad and in iTunes.
Realtor.com app: See all nearby homes for sale, open houses, rentals; it maps directions to properties and shows photos; (on iPad and iPhone).
Zillow app: Lists homes for sale on a map; iPhone, iPad.
Trulia app: Lists homes for sale, open houses, rentals and sold properties; iPad and iPhone.
Evernote: Cloud-based app for storing notes, photos and voice messages. "This application syncs with my iPhone, iPad, laptop and three desktop computers," Truszkowski said. "Via Evernote, I can share selected files with my support team."
Dropbox: Cloud-based app for storing files, PDF documents, photos; syncs with her iPad, iPhone, laptop, and three desktop computers.
LinkedIn app: Keeps contacts for Truszkowski’s 615-person professional network; laptop, desktop, iPhone and iPad.
Facebook app: For updating her personal Facebook profile, EstatesofCarmel fan page, and following social networks and staying current on the fan pages she follows; for iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop.
Twitter app: For managing her EstatesofCarmel Twitter page; iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop.
WordPress app: Post directly to her website; iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop.
Gist: For managing social media contacts, it tracks/ranks social media activity of all contacts in her database; iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop.
Google Earth: Previews a property when clients have questions about an area she’s unfamiliar with; iPhone, iPad, desktop, laptop.
AroundMe: Answers questions about proximity of businesses and services; iPhone, iPad.
YouTube app: Preview video and virtual tours of homes; iPhone, iPad, desktop, laptop.
iPhone camera: For quick photos and videos to post to a blog, Facebook and Twitter.
Flickr: Web-based program for photo management and sharing; iPhone, laptop, iPad.
Google Voice: All phone lines ring to one phone.
Google Apps: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk, Google Reader, Google Maps, etc.
Genius Scan: Scan documents and convert to PDFs.
Bump: Share contact info with multiple iPhones.
Laptop software apps, tech tools and resources (list provided by Nicole Truszkowski):
BOSS: A contact-rating management system for back-office management of her website, through 1ParkPlace, an Internet marketing services provider. It tracks all individuals and clients that register at her website and text-messages her when they’ve registered and each time they’re live on the site. The program ranks each visitor and lists hottest leads likely to convert to buyers or sellers. BOSS has a campaign-management system to stay in contact with Internet leads; it works like Google Analytics to track where all the activity is coming from to her website.
Cirrus Home Search, powered by 1Park Place: the home-search engine Truszkowski uses for her website.
IDX Central: Truszkowski’s website design team and provider of technical support for social media.
Top Producer 8i: Contact-management system, e-mail and listing presentations.
zipForms: Software program for real estate documents; can be e-mailed to clients and can collect electronic signatures; documents can be saved in Dropbox and Evernote.
GoToMeeting: Conduct meetings and presentations remotely.
Skype: Free phone and instant-message system over the Internet; laptop and iPhone.
Mozilla’s Firefox search engine for laptop.
HootSuite: Post/blog to all social media sites in one location.
SureClose: Web-based escrow data-management system to track and store documents.
ToolkitCMA: Web-based designed software program to create listing presentations with detailed comparative market analyses.
Scrib: Web-based program for importing documents for public and private use; documents can be embedded and shared on Twitter, Facebook or WordPress sites.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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