In 2011, Michael Slacktish, president of Century 21 Signature Properties in Dallas, Pa., was vacationing in Aruba, sitting back enjoying the sun and sand, when perversely he decided to check his email.
As could be expected, there was a problem, and it involved a recent transaction: A banker needed to quickly get his hands on the extension of a particular sales contract. Slacktish didn’t even blink. He leaned back, punched a few buttons on his smartphone, and presto, the banker got the needed documents.
Slacktish didn’t have to call back to the office, track down his secretary or one his brokers, and direct that individual to the filing cabinet, back room or basement to locate the necessary file, then have them thumb through it all to find the particular document.
The reason for Slacktish’s rapid response and Aruba-induced serenity was because earlier in the year he had decided to store his company’s documents in "the clouds" — via a remote server accessible anywhere you can get Interent access.
Yes, cloud computing has come to the real estate world, and Slacktish would be the first to tell you: this is the way of the future.
"Most Realtors take their files, put them in a cabinet, then eventually rotate them out to a storage facility, which in our case was a basement," he said. "If you needed something, you would have to go down to the basement and find the document, hoping what you needed never got lost or there was no fire."
"This part of Pennsylvania got hit with serious floods in 2011 and a few Realtors last saw their filing cabinets floating down the Susquehanna River," he said. "You never know."
The incident that spurred Slacktish to turn to cloud storage was much less dramatic.
"One day, I saw a closed file on a desk. I looked closer and saw a certain document — the settlement sheet — was missing. After a quick scan of the office, I noticed the document resting on the fax machine," he recalled. "It was obvious what had happened. An agent gets a call asking if he could fax a document to the accountant. He grabs the file, goes to the fax machine, and gets another phone call. He runs out, forgetting he took the file out."
What Slacktish envisioned was another agent putting the file back in the cabinet, but without the settlement sheet. Suddenly, it would be out of compliance.
"Things happen that easily," he suggests.
The story was so compelling, so I decided to call a company called DocuLex, a Winter Haven, Fla., firm that offers server and cloud document management technology and services, with a recent focus on real estate.
DocuLex was formed 16 years ago as an electronic discovery software firm, mostly used by attorneys to find and collect all documents pertaining to a case. That business was sold in 2007, but a smaller division for document management was kept, nurtured and eventually grew to include cloud-based service.
The term cloud computing seems daunting, but very simply defined it means remote electronic storage. Instead of storing electronic documents on your own or office computer, it is all stored on remote, secure servers somewhere else in the country.
During its recent life as a document management firm, DocuLex expanded by finding verticals. First, the product was marketed to accounting and accounts payable firms, then hospitals and HR departments began using the technology, then property management companies and very recently, real estate firms began asking for it.
Although it was easy for DocuLex to slide over to the real estate industry, it had to make some changes.
"For the most part, real estate brokers want something that is easy to use and cheap," said David Bailey, DocuLex’s president. "Brokers have other things on their mind besides learning computer technology. We provide a cloud solution so brokers don’t have to tinker around with servers or software or contracting with an (information technology) company to keep everything going."
The only hardware needed is a computer that has access to the Internet, and something with scanning capabilities. Any common, multifunction scan/fax/copier will do, but DocuLex recently teamed up with Plustek, a manufacturer of high-performance scanning solutions, to create a package for real estate companies.
This is a cheaper-than-expected solution, because if your firm does enough volume, DocuLex will throw in the Plustek scanner as part of the contract, which was the kind of deal Slacktish was able to negotiate.
After talking with Slacktish and Bailey, this is what I thought was the coolest part of the cloud storing story: Let’s say you recently closed the sale of a house, and that file, which in your state mandates storage for seven years, is now about 6 inches thick.
Electronically, if it is badly filed, that means when you find it on the computer you will have to scroll through endless pages to find the document you need.
However, with the DocuLex process, it’s possible to retrieve documents in various ways — by multiple listing service, broker, house address, purchaser, etc. — which means you can retrieve the page you need very quickly.
"If your real estate firm is on our system," said Bailey, "agents would log on to our website from an office, house or Panera Bread (he used that restaurant chain as an example). They would put in their password, search for the document and, depending where they were, print it, put it on a memory stick, or just email it. Then they are finished and done."
And then you can go back to eating breakfast at Panera Bread, at home, or in the conference room at the office.