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 excel in tech mobility.
Barrett Powell admits, with a curious mix of pride and embarrassment, that yes, he guesses he does spend more time using and tweaking technology than the average real estate agent.
"I’m a hopeless tech nerd and enjoy testing new things," he explains as he reels off a litany of devices and apps he uses on a frequent basis, a list that he points out doesn’t include what he calls the "standard fare" of Skype, GPS apps and QR ("quick response") codes, among others — which most agents probably haven’t even sampled.
Powell comes by this interest naturally, having spent a career in computer and software sales for Hewlett-Packard, IBM and other companies before entering real estate in Pittsboro, N.C., about 10 years ago.
He still maintains a side business as a consultant to software companies, and he’s a beta tester for Microsoft and Google.
But on a typical day, he’s out there selling houses for Coldwell Banker Advantage — aided regularly by software applications he may have created himself and such tech goodies as his HTC EVO Android-based smart phone, which he said allows him to do "whatever I need."
Take, for instance, his dealings with a couple in upstate New York who are looking for a home in North Carolina. Powell uses a Bambuser app for the EVO to show them the houses in real time.
"He will pick a couple of houses that he’s interested in and I’ll go with my camera and broadcast it live to my website, and he and his wife will log in," Powell said.
"Then I can actually be on the phone with him, talking with him, while I’m broadcasting," he said. "It’s kind of like Skype (the Internet telephony service). The neat thing is, because of the camera, you can do a live walkthrough. They love it because they can see whether that’s the right house for them."
He estimates he’s done a couple dozen such live "showings" to clients offsite.
Powell uses the same technology when he holds open houses. He announces the open house on Twitter, Facebook and Trulia, with a link to his website. Then, at the open house, every half hour he’ll do a walkthrough that’s viewable through his site, where potential buyers can chat live with him about the house.
Though he can’t attribute any sales directly to the technique, he said he has become a buyer’s agent for clients who have watched the open houses and then sought him out.
Paper, he said, is becoming an infrequent presence in his professional life.
"I can’t find a reason to print today," Powell said. "I can pull up any document on my iPad.
"For instance, I recently listed a house and I used my iPad to have the client sign the contracts," he said. "I’m going to do a video that shows how to do this." (At his YouTube channel, wbarrettpowell, he has created a number of real estate tech how-to videos — in addition to a small video library on Wake Forest University football.)
In his increasingly paperless world, Powell uses RealFast2Go to create North Carolina-specific real estate documents; Noterize helps him present the documents and enables clients to sign them via iPad; he stores the documents temporarily on the cloud via Dropbox.
To keep it all straight, he said, he uses SugarCRM, an open-source customer-management system he has customized for his real estate business via a handful of software apps for property data, travel planning, and various other needs.
For help with sales of raw land, he has melded MAPWindowGIS, a free geographic information system that locates parcels by their legal identification numbers, with DNR Garmin, another free app for satellite navigation. He calls it "GIS to GPS."
"Sometimes you can be driving down the road and it’s hard to tell where the property really is, because there are no clear markings," Powell said. "I can walk land and show the client the property lines, within three feet."
Although he uses social-networking sites, Powell said he "probably doesn’t use them the right way," in terms of promoting his real estate business, because he mostly posts on them about personal interests such as technology or aviation.
He does post to Twitter (as barrettp) and blogs occasionally at wbarrettpowell.wordpress.com, NewsGeni.us, and elsewhere.
But he’s truly devoted to the various "check-in" sites that have proliferated.
"If I’m in a new little shop or a new eatery, I check in and I might add a blurb about the venue," he said. "A client located me through my office location, which I had added to all my location check-in technologies. They were visiting Pittsboro and searched for real estate, and I came up.
"They looked at my comments and photo of my location, and found me and started working with me," he said.
"I know, too many," he reflected, acknowledging a touch of embarrassment at his involvement with these sites. "But, hey, I have a better chance of being ‘mayor,’ " or the most frequent check-in visitor to a given site or sites.
The tech list goes on and on. He has no particular preference for text-messaging vs. e-mail in his real estate communications — it’s whatever the client prefers, he said.
"Sometimes we rely too much on technology — funny, me saying that," Powell said. "There’s nothing more important than a phone call. Pick up the phone.
"All the other texting and direct messages on Twitter, I do a lot of that. But those are add-on communications, not a replacement."
Barrett Powell’s Mobile Tech Checklist
Powell shared his list of mobile go-to tools and commented on his use of those tools:
- RealFast2Go — North Carolina real estate forms: PDF contract is saved to Dropbox folder and automatically shared with iPad.
- Dropbox — Cloud-based temporary document storage used to wirelessly share files among computers.
- MAPWindowGIS — Used to view and select GIS parcel data.
- DNRGarmin — Used to upload parcel data to Garmin GPS (puts lot lines and data on GPS for walking property).
- SugarCRM — Open-source customer relationship management system for managing leads and clients.
- RealCRM — Real estate customization to SugarCRM.
- Property Module — Property data and photos with import option from ListHub (no re-entering of property data from multiple listing service).
- Travel Planner — Integrates with Google Maps to automate showing travel route and directions to each property.
- WP Lead — Lead capture from WordPress site.
- Realty Contacts — Buyers, sellers, tenants, landlords.
- KnowledgeTree — Open-source contract and document management (Virtual File Room), integrated with SugarCRM; links leads, buyers, sellers, and tenants with their contract documents (searchable).
- LoopNet — Map-based commercial property search and data.
- Foreclosures — Massachusetts-based foreclosed-property search that shows buyers or sellers where nearest foreclosed properties are.
- Zillow.com — Map-based property listings. This is probably the best executed real-estate iPad app.
- MightyMeeting — PowerPoint listing presentation app for iPad. It lets you conduct presentations and /or share presentations with remote clients.
- Noterize — Used to present contracts to clients and have them sign them on the iPad.
GPS-equipped units, used to download GIS property data for meetings with clients:
- Garmin 60CSXi — Color GPS, shows contour (elevation) lines better.
- Garmin Rino — I have three of these, same function that have built-in two-way GMRS radios, They’re great for walking property with more than one person — when you talk, your position shows up on the other person’s GPS.
On the HTC EVO, an Android-based smart phone:
- Bambuser — Used to stream live video to website for live, remote home tours and live open houses.
- Knocking — Similar to Bambuser.
- Layar — Virtual reality app that shows lots of promise as overlays get better.
- Droid Scan — Used to photograph documents and convert to PDFs.
- MyCard — Displays a QR (quick response) code of my contact information on my screen; it’s for sharing contact data with iPhone users and others.
- Google Voice — I use a Google Voice-provided phone number as my main number on (real estate) signs.
Source: List and product commentary by Barrett Powell.
"This list doesn’t include all the standard fare of apps most people use, such as Skype, map and GPS apps, and specialty search apps like Where, and QR code-generation apps," Powell said.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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