Ready to rid yourself of all those files and stacks of stuff on your desk? With cloud computing and a new generation of tablet computers, it may not be long before you can say goodbye to all those stacks of paper.

Last week, people eagerly awaited Apple’s announcement about their new tablet computer, the iPad. I had high hopes that the Apple tablet would provide the impetus for the real estate industry to finally go completely paperless. While the iPad has plenty of cool apps plus a beautiful color "reader" for books and newspapers, it appears to fall short as a paperless solution for the real estate industry.

Ready to rid yourself of all those files and stacks of stuff on your desk? With cloud computing and a new generation of tablet computers, it may not be long before you can say goodbye to all those stacks of paper.

Last week, people eagerly awaited Apple’s announcement about their new tablet computer, the iPad. I had high hopes that the Apple tablet would provide the impetus for the real estate industry to finally go completely paperless. While the iPad has plenty of cool apps plus a beautiful color "reader" for books and newspapers, it appears to fall short as a paperless solution for the real estate industry.

Even if the iPad doesn’t meet the bill — going paperless is not a pipe dream. There are a wide variety of great tablet computers that can make that goal a reality.

Thought leaders have toyed with the idea of going paperless for more than 10 years. ("Paperless" means every aspect of the transaction is handled online.) Using paper to track transactions is horribly inefficient.

Transaction coordinators, listing coordinators and agents fill out the seller’s and/or buyer’s name, address and phone number at least 10-20 times in a typical transaction. If you rely solely on paper (which most of the industry still does), there are at least six sets of documents (buyer, seller, agents, brokerage, mortgage, closing agent) copied and distributed as well.

Most agents still rely on phone calls to schedule appointments, and they manually track contingency dates. For agents, this is time better spent on prospecting or working with clients rather than slogging through tedious file management.

As an agent, you won’t be able to eliminate the paper from your business unless your broker is prepared to go 100 percent paperless. Companies that have tried running a paperless system alongside a paper-based system have found it doubles the work and frustrates everyone involved. Even so, the benefits of going paperless far outweigh the challenges.

What does it take to go paperless? Here’s how it works.

1. Logistics
The listing coordinator enters the listing information into the system one time and then the data is automatically "populated" (i.e., inserted) into all the other documents in the transaction. When the agent represents a buyer, data is first populated into the system from the purchase contract.

Transaction-tracking systems allow the coordinator to check off each event as it is completed. The system logs when reports are posted, when buyers and sellers pick up reports, when vendors post their information, etc.

Reports, disclosures and other original documents cannot be unilaterally modified by any of the parties in the transaction. In the rare case where the seller or buyer does not own a computer, agents can print out a copy for the client. Alternatively, the broker can provide the client with one of the devices that accesses Internet information from their television.

2. Signatures
If you own a tablet PC, you can obtain an online signature right on your tablet. In the case where the client is not Web-savvy, agents can print out the document and then fax the signed document back to the office’s online fax. The document is then accessible to be downloaded into the transaction tracking system.

The same is true for vendors. The-computer based fax system can download the vendor’s report directly into the transaction-tracking platform. A slightly different approach is to use a scanner that allows you to store your documents as a PDF file on your computer. You can also obtain digital signatures on traditional laptops and even on mobile devices such as the iPhone using a code — the system is similar to how credit-card purchases work online. …CONTINUED

3. Selecting the best system
If you go the tablet route, choose one with the right software. The most important question is whether your tablet will be compatible with your current multiple listing service. Many agents have reported compatibility problems between Apple computers and their local MLS. Others have also had challenges with Windows 7 or Vista not working properly with MLS input mechanisms. Before buying, thoroughly investigate this issue.

The second issue is: What type of tablet do you want? I purchased a Motion Tablet PC back in 2005. It’s been a great machine that is still going strong today. The tablet is designed to run without the keyboard. This makes it lighter and easier to use on inspections. On the other hand, I can type faster than I can write. That means I’m stuck using a detachable keyboard if I’m out in the field and don’t want to use the handwriting function. I’ve been through four keyboards in the last five years. Also, the CD/DVD drive is not built into the machine. The iPad can be operated with an on-screen keyboard or a detachable keyboard.

Other tablet PC manufacturers have built their machines so that they resemble a typical laptop. You can turn the screen and make it function in much the same way as the Motion tablet does. Most also have the same functionality as a laptop, including a built-in CD/DVD drive. For a review of the various machines, click here.

4. Select the right software
The most important issue is being able to load your purchase contract, listing agreement and other transaction documents onto your machine. Carefully investigate whether this is possible before investing in any type of Tablet PC. VREO is among the companies that offer real estate software.

5. Benefits?
The biggest benefit of going paperless is how much time it saves. One broker said his company requires 93 different steps to close a transaction. Almost every step begins with someone writing the names, addresses and phone numbers of the principals. Eliminating 92 of those steps represents a huge savings of both time and money.

Second, the online system is available 24/7. Parties check in at their convenience rather than playing telephone tag.

Third, tracking 93 different transaction steps using paper is a nightmare. In contrast, when each step is logged on the computer, tracking becomes simple.

Fourth, in terms of risk management, there is a clear record of who completed what tasks and when the tasks were completed.

Fifth, no paper means no lost documents, virtually no storage costs, and a clear digital trail showing all required steps in the transaction were completed prior to closing.

6. Caveats
Daily backup is an absolute must. In addition, storage must be secured at multiple sites in case there is a fire or other disaster. Third, existing open files will have to be converted from paper to digital prior to launching the paperless effort.

Going paperless not only makes sense in terms of time and money. No more paper also translates into less mess and a greener environment.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com and find her on Twitter: @bross.

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