One of the hottest new tools at this year’s NAR Trade Show was QR (quick response) codes. These funny little square-shaped boxes filled with squiggly marks may be the next hot thing in real estate or one of the greatest duds ever.

What’s a QR code? According to Mashable, "a quick response (QR) code is a two-dimensional code that can be scanned by smart phone cameras to automatically pull up text, photos, videos, music and URLs. These codes have become mobile-friendly ways to point people in the offline space to online resources."

An even simpler explanation is that a QR code is a barcode in a square box format. QR codes are especially useful for retailers because they provide a way to send coupons to cell phone users. They also communicate other types of information.

How QR codes work

The codes can be read by cameras on smart phones equipped with QR-reader apps. QR codes can carry all kinds of information, displaying text, adding contact information to a mobile device, displaying a Web site or image, etc. Users can generate and print their own QR codes, using free or paid online services.

Where to get QR codes

While there are numerous sources for QR codes, Mashable recommends Kaywa, iCandy or Stickybits. The problem with many QR code providers is that there is no way to track analytics. ICandy is one of the services that provides some analytics.

Mashable suggests QuickMark and Optiscan for the iPhone. On Android, Barcode Scanner is a popular QR code reader.

The pros of working with QR codes

QR codes are probably here to stay in terms of retail business. The real issue is whether they are a practical application for the real estate industry. Here are some of the pros for using QR codes in your business.

1. No more long hyperlinks on print marketing materials
If you use long URLs on your print advertising, the user must take your ad and then manually enter the URL into their cell phone or computer before they can obtain more information. In contrast, if they have a smart phone with a QR reader, they can point at the QR code and it will automatically open the page.

QR codes are also a quick and simple way to share your contact information on a postcard or to share a video link to your listings.

2. QR codes say you are super tech-savvy
At the recent NAR conference, I spoke with several agents who were using QR codes. They found that offering to place a QR on their for-sale signs proved to be a powerful tool for converting listing leads into signed business. On the other hand, when asked if the QR codes had generated any buyers, the answer was an emphatic "No."

3. Use QR codes instead of brochure boxes
If you have a QR code on your for-sale sign, at least in theory, you don’t need a brochure box. Potential buyers can use the QR code to download the brochure or to obtain other pertinent information on the property.

4. Use QR codes to reward potential buyers and sellers at open house
One of the best ways to use a QR code is to provide open house leads with a coupon that saves money on some aspect of their purchase. This could be a discount from a local moving firm, contractor or hardware store. You could also provide them with a coupon for a free cup of coffee from a local coffee shop.

The cons of working with QR codes

1. What’s that thing?
The biggest challenge with QR codes is that they are so new that most people have no idea what they are. Furthermore, even if they do, there’s still a high probability that they don’t have the necessary software to read the QR codes on their smart phone.

2. A poor replacement for a brochure box?
To use a QR code on a for-sale sign, the user must get out of her car, walk up to the sign, and scan the QR code. While people are willing to grab a brochure because they can do so anonymously, some people may be reluctant to use the QR code due to fear about the agent obtaining their contact information.

3. But will they scan?
There are numerous reasons a QR code on a sign might not scan. For example, the sign could be damaged or partially covered in snow or ice. In each case, the code may become unreadable, and hence, would result in you missing the potential lead.

QR codes are definitely here to stay for many types of businesses. It remains to be seen whether they will be widely adapted by the real estate industry or become a quirky fad.

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