Editor’s note: The following is a guest perspective.
By Barrett Powell
My top 10 tech wish list for real estate agents in 2012:
1. MLS data becomes common
The National Association of Realtors finally gets their act together to form a new committee to look at developing a common multiple listing service data model (not RPR) and a common data-sharing model (think XML feed). More importantly: We, the members, would own these new data models for sharing our data how we see fit, instead of being held hostage by our local multiple listing service or a vendor contracted by our national committee.
2. In a word: ubiquitous
Finally, every online real estate site will be accessible via any browser and on any device. This may sound like something that already exists, but believe it or not there are still MLS systems in parts of the country (mine) using vendors that insist on developing for one and only one browser (Internet Explorer). So forget about using that new iPad or Android tablet.
Now there are people like me, who have thrown a challenge to find a way to get it to work (I do have TriangleMLS running on my iPad 2). But for the rank and file, forget it.
I think 2012 is finally the year the MLS vendors get their act together and upgrade these "Cold War" holdouts.
3. Social that matters
In 2012, we finally learn from what works and what doesn’t and figure out it’s OK not to be on every social network that’s out there. I think a few will begin rising to the top for Realtors. Who are the winners?
I really like what Google is doing with its Google Plus network. Circles is a natural extension of how we view our lives today; we have personal and we have business; we have first-time buyers and we have existing clients; we have investors and we have luxury buyers.
Circles make it easy to keep them safe, sound and separate.
4. Finally, we are open for business
I think 2012 will be the year open-source technologies finally make it big in real estate. What is open source, you ask? According to Wikipedia, "The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials."
The key here is it is made available free of charge. So the program and usage have no paid license agreement like Microsoft or Apple products do, or real estate applications developed on top of their technologies.
For years I have been talking and writing about the use of open-source technologies in real estate. Did you know WordPress, the widely used real estate blogging platform, is open source? And like WordPress, there are thousands of open-source technologies available for download, use, and as a hosted online solution for many of the needs we have in real estate.
Think of a problem or something you want to improve about a process or how you want to do business. Take going paperless … yep, there’s an app for that — for free.
5. Job- specific or task-specific devices
Ok, so we know mobile is big and the iPad is everyone’s "style" item to have … but why? I had a Realtor approach me recently and say, "I’m thinking about buying an iPad. Do you think I should?" My first answer was a question: "What do you plan to do with the iPad?"
So many Realtors have gone out and purchased iPads without a single idea how they plan to use it. We even had managers for a large firm in my area announce they were giving an iPad 2 to every one of their agents. Great! Then what? When I ask most agents in my area what they planned on doing with their new iPad, their response was always, "Check my email … oh, and access the MLS." (Important note: Some MLSs aren’t accessible via iPad.)
Job-specific or task-specific devices are split into one or more of three categories:
1. Data and information creation.
2. Data and information access and update or change.
3. Data consumption.
Laptops and desktop computers can be all three. Mobile phones, netbooks, and tablets are mostly Nos. 2 and 3, with tablets primarily being consumption devices.
Yes, you can add a keyboard to a tablet, and yes, you can create information on them. But think about the tasks we as Realtors do: contract creation, presentation creation, media creation. You’re really more comfortable and better off using your laptop to create these.
That leaves your tablet free to present information to your clients (data consumption) and obtain digital signatures (access and update).
6. Look, Ma, no hands!
We are likely to see more stringent rules regarding using your mobile while driving. Likewise, technologies like Siri on the iPhone and Iris (Siri spelled in reverse) on the Android will continue to improve in 2012 to the point we may not need to touch our mobile devices to use them.
Already, on the three such technologies I am currently testing I am able to pretty much accomplish every task that would normally require a fat finger shuffle on the obscure on-screen keyboard.
In fact, I actually tested and successfully completed a post to my blog from start to finish by simply speaking to my HTC EVO 3D mobile. And this is likely to only get better in 2012.
7. Customer relationship management (CRM) finally comes to real estate
While the rest of the modern U.S. business sector has benefited from using a real CRM solution, the real estate industry has been content to simply focus on lead generation. We spend millions per year on lead generation and lead management technologies, only to shove the end result into some obscure part of our non-backed-up laptop, or worse, a file folder.
In 2012, that all changes. We finally see real CRM vendors paying attention to the real estate industry and we see forward-thinking firms embracing CRM as a way to enhance their level of service and use the newfound information as competitive advantage.
Imagine Realtors in a firm having access to all their lead and customer data in one place. This includes not only their contact and address information, but the customer’s social media presence as well.
Other information included is property information, all contracts associated with the lead and client, and sales tracking of your buyer and seller opportunities. For the first time, agents can visually see their "pipeline."
More importantly, companies and firms can see a roll-up of agent pipelines into team or entire company pipelines, so better decision-making can take place on budgets, and forecasting.
For the first time, real estate professionals can finally run their business like many other industries do. You can accurately track the success of marketing campaigns to better spend your time and money and know at any point what is going on, and, best yet, where it is coming from.
Years ago I built a real estate customization of an open source CRM. I made a couple of little videos and uploaded them to YouTube. About 4,000 views later, and after about three calls per week from agents and firms interested in this type of technology, I am convinced that now is the time for CRM.
8. As Kermit the Frog once said (sang, actually), "It’s not easy being green"
We have talked about paperless and digital signatures for some time now. But only a very small percentage of us have gone paperless. Why? Because it isn’t easy being green and going paperless. Sure, we have digital signature apps out there, but what do we do with the contract? And paperless seems to mean nothing more than PDFs stored online.
In 2012, we will finally see the emergence of real paperless platforms that simplify the entire process. We will show up to meet our client with our contracts on our tablet, ready to review, and we will have the client sign on the tablet or remotely via an e-signature solution.
Then the entire set of contracts will be stored in a cloud-based system that scans the contract for information automatically — such as a client’s name, property, any important identifying details — and places in the system with these features now searchable.
9. ‘QR’ and ‘VR’ finally grow up and join forces
QR codes (also known as "quick response" codes, they can be accessed via a smartphone’s camera) have been around for a long time. The advent of mobile phones with cameras that can act as bar code readers has led to renewed interest. But such a small percentage of the potential real estate users know what they are or how to use them.
Likewise, virtual reality (aka VR) has shown a lot of promise, but it, too, suffers from many of the same issues as QR codes. But what if the two technologies are combined?
Technologies like Blippar allow for the use of QR code features without having to have any special bar codes printed or attached. But unlike QR Codes, these new technologies allow for virtual reality features to be superimposed on objects.
Imagine having this type of feature on your realty sign. A buyer in front of your listing simply looks at your sign through his or her smartphone camera, and immediately 3-D options pop up on the sign. The client can navigate the options to select options such as "view photos" or "view videos." The client can also select other options to communicate with you now, or any myriad of options you can imagine.
To see an example of the possibilities, simply download Blippar from your relevant apps marketplace and use it to view a Hunt’s ketchup bottle at your local grocery store. I think you will be amazed.
10. "Beam me up, Scotty"
Like the "communicator" devices in Star Trek, start to think of your mobile device as more than just a communicator. Don’t be limited to use it as a phone or to send email or chat. After all, it has a camera — doesn’t it?
Technologies like Skype, Google Talk and FaceTime are now commonplace on most mobile devices. In 2012, we will see more of these "video call" apps allow for cross-device communications. People like to do business with people they know. What better way to get to know you than by using video-calling with your leads and customers.
But don’t just stop there. How many times have you held an open house but had few, if any, visitors? Why not take the open house to them?
Using technologies like Bambuser or Qik, you can broadcast live from your camera-enabled mobile device to your own website or another site by embedding the video player on your site.
Depending on your mobile device and wireless service available at your open house, it is even possible for your audience to communicate with you while you are broadcasting. My most recent open house that I broadcasted from had more than 23 online viewers during the last session.
I have even used the same technology to view properties with a remote buyer in another part of the country. I have one buyer in upstate New York who will end up purchasing a property he has never been to but seen numerous times via live video.
2012 can be a breakout year. It is time we take back our data and take control of our own destiny. For those agents and firms who choose to stand out and change the way they do business, the technology opportunities will exist to make your lives easier, and to wow your leads and prospects.
Happy New Year!
In addition to his international tech consulting business, Barrett Powell is a practicing broker with Re/Max Preferred Associates, where he is the chief technology officer for the company’s locations in the Triangle area of North Carolina, and the Caribbean. Powell is a member of the board of directors of Tacquire, the region’s commercial real estate exchange, where he advises on technology issues.