Real Estate has gone the way of technology. What Realtor can function nowadays without their smart phone or iPad? Do you even remember the days before GPS? (I do. And I apologize to everyone who rode in my car.)

But there is one thing that the apps of today cannot replace: your brain. Which begs the question: Are you using your brain while you work, or are you running on autopilot? Are you engaged in your business? It matters.

Take a real estate tour, for example. Every area has one. Whether organized through your local MLS or through your brokerage, a tour of new listings has long been the bread and butter of a Realtor’s life. 

Attendance has tapered off in many cities, however, as Realtors turn to virtual tours and Google Earth in lieu of actually driving across town to view a property. Realtors who are touring listings are often lured in by drawings, Starbucks coupons, free meals, and lottery scratcher tickets, among other things. Sad, huh? But oh so true.

If this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time to re-engage your brain.

Next time a tour comes around, get on board. Block out a few hours of the day, grab a notebook and a pen (or your trusty tablet of choice), and plug at least five addresses into your GPS. Ready? Okay!

You are going to compare and contrast these five listings using data that only you and your brain can gather by being on site. No computer can do this, I promise. Well, okay, maybe a Japanese robot can. But not many people have those. So you’re stuck doing this by yourself, buddy.

Exterior comps:

1. Coming and going: Pictures simply don’t do driveways or available street parking, justice. Steep grades and impossible approaches should be noted. I laugh every time I think about this one house’s driveway — so steep that a Prius got wedged between the approach and the street. A tow truck had to come pull the Prius out, busted bumpers and all! I really wish I’d taken a picture.

2. Curb appeal:Anything can look good with the right camera lens. Anything. Don’t be the one left saying, "Gee, it looked so much better online," to your prospective buyer.

3. Property condition: Without seeing the home in person, you cannot gauge whether the siding is cracked and peeling or the yard has been left to fend for itself. It’s happened to me more than once: a home I sold years ago comes back on the market and I notice that the same pictures I took when it was new, are being recycled on the MLS listing now. Sorry, it may be the same address, but it is certainly not the same property.

Interior comps:

1. Updates and fixin’s: What’s the first thing you do when you make a hole in the wall? Fix it, you say? That’s nice, but other people hang a picture up or take the listing photo from another angle. What about updates? My favorite "update" seen in a home: a stand-alone tub plumbed into a bedroom. Just sittin’ there. In the corner. Oh, yeah — with a toilet.

2. Floor plan: You don’t have to be an interior designer to understand whether a floor plan "flows." Converted garages, framed-in porches, and partially renovated 1970 ranches can either work or wither. Thoughtful designs are easy. They’re graceful and don’t yell for attention. Bad floor plans make you want to cry, and sometimes leave you lost in a basement conversion locked out of the main house.

3. Amenities: There are amenities, and then there are un-amenities. I’ll give you an example: the MLS listing says, "HOT TUB!" Maybe you think this is a good thing. But there’s a big difference between an in-ground salt water spa in the backyard, and a plastic tub in the master bathroom sans fans and vents. Just sayin’.

Once you’ve completed your five-home comparison report, pat yourself on the back. You’ve put five more homes in your impressive brain inventory! Now you can say goodbye to business card drawings forever. The time you invest in active and purposeful touring will pay off in dividends bigger than $5 Starbucks cards and a few scratchers. You might even earn enough to buy a robot.

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