If you have ever downloaded a song online, played on online game with friends, or posted a video on YouTube.com, you have probably already fallen in love with cloud computing. Adding cloud-computing tools to your real estate arsenal is one of the best ways to save time and money in 2012.

You may have heard someone who is geekier than you reference the "cloud." If you’re like most agents, you are probably already using cloud computing without even knowing it.

Cloud computing can best be described as having your information available via online servers rather than stored on your personal computer or phone or your office’s servers. The result is that you can reach your data from any computer or smartphone where you can access an Internet connection.

1. Your first brush with cloud love
Here are some of the most common ways that most people first fall in love with the cloud. Have you ever posted any pictures on the Kodak or Flickr sites that you shared with others? Do you listen to music on Pandora? Do you have a Gmail account? If so, you were using a cloud-based solution.

2. Love the cloud when your computer crashes or you lose your phone
A time you will truly appreciate cloud computing will be when your computer catches a virus, the hard drive crashes, or you lose your mobile phone. Cloud computing makes retrieving your phone and your computer data possible, provided you have backed your information up via the cloud.

While having a backup system in the same location as your computer can be smart, the challenge is that if there is a fire, a flood, or even just a nasty power surge, you could lose both devices. This means all of your data could be wiped out, as well as your backup.

In contrast, cloud backup solutions such as SOS Online Backup, Carbonite, IDrive, MozyHome, or Apple’s iCloud, among others, allow you to store your backups offsite. While it’s smart to back up to an external drive in case there is a problem with the cloud provider’s service, the cloud solutions allow you to rest easier about being able to restore your data if your hard drive gets wiped out by a virus or when some other disaster strikes.

3. Synch your files
You can synch important files with applications such as Evernote or Dropbox or Google Docs, which allow you to take notes on your phone or other device and then synch automatically to your other devices. 

4. Dump all that paperwork
The real estate industry is slowly slogging towards becoming paperless. There are numerous cloud-based solutions that can help you make the transition. The great thing about going paperless is that you can access exactly what you need from your smart phone or computer. For example, you can use zipForm e-documents to provide all of your transaction-related documents online, and then DocuSign to collect your clients’ signatures.

5. Do a deal anywhere, any place
To illustrate the power of cloud computing, imagine that you have sellers who are on vacation in Hawaii when an offer finally comes in on their house. The buyers are relocating and dashed off an offer before they caught their flight home. The buyers’ agent brings you the paper offer. Both the buyers and the sellers have smartphones.

An agent who wasn’t accustomed to working in a paperless environment would be stuck trying to fax the offer to the sellers, provided the sellers could locate a fax machine to receive it. Sending it priority mail could get it there overnight, but it would exceedingly expensive.

Now compare this to how an agent who uses cloud computing would handle the situation. First, the agent could either scan the document, or better yet take a picture of it using an app on his or her smartphone, saving the document as a PDF.

Next, the agent sends her sellers an email with a PDF of the offer attached. They review the offer and determine how they would like to counter. The agent uses a zipForm to write the counteroffer. Her sellers sign the documents using an e-signature technology from DocuSign.

This process takes less than 20 minutes, which includes figuring out what they would like to offer on the property.

The agent then sends a copy of the signed PDF of the counteroffer to the buyers’ smartphone, as well as to the buyers’ agent. The buyers are in the air but are on a flight that is equipped with Internet access. They sign the offer at 39,000 feet using the handwriting function on their tablet computer.

6. Multiple offers
Where cloud computing can give you a tremendous edge is on multiple offers. One agent described how she brought one of three offers on a for-sale property. When the sellers issued a counteroffer, she walked out to her car, scanned the counteroffer with her smartphone, and sent the counteroffer as a PDF attachment via email.

Her buyer signed it and she had her signed counteroffer back to the sellers in about 10 minutes. The other agents were still driving back to their office to fax the offer to their clients. Needless to say, the quicker agent got the deal.

If you are like most agents, you are already using cloud computing. There’s no better time than now to expand your use of this important tool in your business.

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