Editor’s note: Real estate agents are depending more and more on mobile technology, enabling them to take and make phone calls on the run, respond to leads while they’re out in the field, pull up home listings data while driving clients around, and more. In this three-part series, we explore a new round of mobile technologies and how they’re being used in real estate. (See Part 1.)
It’s common for real estate professionals to say they are always on the job, and modern communications technologies are a natural fit for this “always on” schedule.
Handheld devices facilitate an instant connection between agents and their clients, and wireless technologies are increasingly being used to introduce agents to prospective clients who they have never met in person.
It’s a sort of handheld “arms race,” with real estate technology companies competing to give real estate agents the best tools to capture the business of consumers within minutes of their first virtual contact – whether the agents are at home, in the office or in the field. Lead delivery, cultivation and management, it seems, is increasingly an air battle.
Most Home Corp., a real estate technology company, last year acquired Executive Wireless Inc., a Seattle-based wireless real estate technology company to bring its technologies to the wireless domain.
Jim Secord, president of Most Home Technologies, a subsidiary of Most Home Corp., said that the acquisition allows the company to integrate its lead management platform with its multiple listing platform via wireless devices, giving agents ready access to a large pool of information.
Secord said that Most Home can send out contact information for a consumer who visited the customer’s real estate Web site, for example, along with MLS information related to properties for which the consumer expressed an interest.
“The Realtor will get a lead – a name, telephone number, maybe an MLS number. We’re able to send that information out, link all of the information to that. The Realtor doesn’t’ have to go to a computer somewhere and look all that up before calling the consumer back,” he said.
Most Home works with its broker customers to qualify leads generated by agent and broker Web sites. Most Home sends out those qualified leads to Realtors. “One of the reasons that wireless is so important for us: Not only is it important to send listing information out to a Realtor in the field so they can respond properly to the consumer – from a broker perspective it’s very important to know that a Realtor has received and responded to that lead. We know speed is of the essence for that Realtor to be able to convert that prospect into a customer.”
The company offers an automated system that allows agents to either accept or pass on leads, and the company follows up with consumers to ensure that they received a contact from an agent, and to check on their satisfaction with the service they received. “We’re working on behalf of the broker,” Secord said. “The broker gets complete statistics on how many leads were sent out. How many were accepted and declined, how long it took someone to respond to a lead.”
There is still a learning curve and an adoption curve for agents who are using advanced wireless technologies devices to cultivate leads, and Secord said that most agents the company works with prefer to receive a simple cell phone call when they receive new leads.
Lisa Gaetz, director of wireless solutions for Most Home Technologies, said the agents are typically using their desktop computers for more advanced tasks. But those agents who do have access to e-mail in the field can have an advantage over other agents because they can research buyer profiles, for example, and immediately narrow down a list of potential properties of interest without the need to conduct this research at the office.
Consumers are driving the need for quick response times and electronic communications, Secord said. “We find more and more consumers out there are demanding that communications be through e-mail. Consumers are demanding faster and faster response times. They expect their Realtor to be online – they certainly expect to get an e-mail back.”
The rate for cellular telephone and wireless data communications packages are dropping, Secord said, and “that is having a huge impact on the uptake. Everything is becoming a lot more cost effective.”
Gaetz said that Realtors are increasingly replacing their cell phones with so-called “convergent” devices that offer advanced functions for data transfer and act more like a personal computer. Palm handheld devices seem most popular among Most Home users, she said, with a smaller population of Blackberry users.
A convenient use for Most Home users is the ability to access MLS data using a wireless device and quickly e-mail that device to a client or prospective client, Secord said. Most Home offers technologies to both MLSs and brokerage companies.
The integration of lead management, property search and wireless technologies is still at an early stage, Secord said. Advances in wireless technologies will bring broadband Internet speeds to handheld devices, he added.
Also, a growing number of real estate consumers will likely use wireless devices and geographic positioning system technologies to search for properties in a given area, Secord said.
Advanced Marketing Services Inc., a real estate technology company, in May 2004 announced the launch of a wireless system called Pathfinder that combines GPS technology with MLS data.
Dimitry Petion, president of Advanced Marketing Services, said the Pathfinder product is most widely used in the Massachusetts market.
The company, which launched in 1993, was among the first in the country to offer an Internet-based multiple listing service software solution, and the company’s first tool was a “talking house” technology that allowed consumers to dial an 800-number and a code to hear detailed information about the property.
“As the marketplace changed, one of the things we observed was the need for agents to remain highly connected to the data,” Petion said.
The company’s technology for wireless devices stemmed from company research on the behavior of top-producing agents, he said. “We wanted to see what made them special, what made them productive. We spent the day with them, seeing how they interacted with customers, seeing what kind of technology they were using, seeing how technology was making their life easier.”
In all, the company profiled about 20 agents who make more than $250,000 a year in take-home pay, he said. “The common thread that we discovered among them: The top-producer agents were highly organized, they had the ability to get information in their hands in an instant, an ability to satisfy the needs of their customers or clients by staying engaged with clients and not losing connection. Their follow-through was better. They were able to answer (questions) instantly.”
The agents typically carried around some vital information, in folders or briefcases or bags, that they could use to maintain connections with clients and client information.
Petion said Pathfinder is designed to bring top-producers’ techniques to the users of hand-held wireless devices. Pathfinder users can access information from customer relationship management systems, access MLS information, generate a comparative market analysis reports for prospective clients, and get interactive, real-time directions to MLS properties using a GPS navigation system.
“By going into the GPS navigation function of Pathfinder I can walk into any community, turn on Pathfinder, and from where I am standing at any instance it will show me everything (in a selected area) that is currently on the market or that current went pending. We’re finding that Realtors who are using the product are extremely excited about that part of the product.”
Pathfinder can also be used to connect with the company’s transaction management platform, Petion said, which allows agents to execute documents from in the field. “The agent can have a complete picture of what is happening in the deal.”
Most of the company’s Pathfinder clients are using Pocket PC devices, though the company supports other handheld devices as well, he said. Real estate professionals are still learning about the available technologies and how to use them, he noted, and the company offers training for agents.
“Agents should remain connected to the office for a lot of different reasons,” Petion said. “We are getting to the point of having a unified device, a unified vision of real estate marketing and real estate data. We believe the (portable digital assistant) platform may eventually become that unified device.”
Several other companies, too, are offering a range of wireless technologies for real estate professionals, such as Pocket Real Estate, Systems Engineering Inc., Ascot Technologies Inc., FBS Data Systems, and Homestore (Top Producer).
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