Technology

Think inside the Box

Business content management can make your real estate office better

Editor’s note: This week, Inman is launching a brand-new daily series of articles focused specifically on evaluating the technology you use in your real estate business.

Have suggestions for products that you’d like to see reviewed by our expert? Email him at craig@inman.com.

The pitch

By the end of this quarter, Apple will sell more than 21 million iPads. Tablet PC sales will surpass 57 million units this year. Last year in the United States alone, smartphone sales were valued at more than $40 billion. Yes, with a “b.”

So it’s probably time we admit it: Via laptop or smart watch, hotel Wi-Fi or smartphone, we are perpetually connected and forever Web-enabled. This especially applies to real estate agents.

That said, with so many critical communications and vital transaction information being received and replicated throughout this proverbial device stew, how well are we controlling the veracity of our information? Is that offer to purchase and contract that you just looked at the latest version? Did you delete that email?

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Box_ssPropertyPhotos

Document management is a compelling issue for today’s real estate agents. If you’re not thinking about it, you probably should be. These thoughts led me over to Box.com, a business content management tool that helps users store, collaborate and track access to important forms and information.

The sale

I’m not a fan of scanning. Never have I been able to understand the inherently redundant process of using a computer to create a document, then using a printer to materialize it, scribbling all over it with ink and then scanning it back into the computer, only to send it to five different people for more printing, inking and scanning.

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Yet this baffling form of document editing and data transportation remains far too prevalent in real estate.

Brokerages are stacked with cabinets and folders that hoard multiple versions of transaction documents, their addenda, handwritten notes about important phone calls … and even (yes) printed emails. All of these can be created and collapsed into a single Box file for each transaction.

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Save copies of a buyer’s mortgage approval letters, listing agreements, walk-through videos (viewable directly in Box), inspection reports and financial records in a secure, password-protected Box file.

With document management tools like Box, documents can be collaborated upon within a single interface, from any device. You can quickly invite your team members to offer insight on a listing presentation — or share with clients, via a secure folder, the pro forma on their investment property.

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If someone downloads a document to edit it, it is noted in the folder and file history, as it is when the new version is uploaded — by user, time, and date. Previous versions can also be viewed. No more wondering which one is the most recent.

When all comments are settled, a final, clean version can be produced one time for signatures, either electronic or digital. Box can house DocuSign forms, too, so executing fully electronic transactions is a snap.

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Instead of sending an email about a transaction, create a Box Note within that deal’s file. Parties to the transaction will be notified of its creation and can respond directly within Box. Thus, all pertinent input is automatically embedded into its native context.

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Because of access rules you can place on each file, even down to the amount of time a file can be viewed, it’s simple to track who has viewed what and when — no more email chains asking, “Have you seen the counteroffer yet?” Naturally, these features enable you to adhere to standard transaction privacy measures, as well.

Box looks great on desktop browsers, but it’s also very friendly to mobile devices, as any software in the ECM (Enterprise Content Management) space should be. And since it’s fundamentally smarter business to maintain a single, secure source for all transaction data, that bias makes Box a great fit for multidevice users.

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We tend to forget that with every device version of our inbox we view, we increase the risk of jeopardizing business intelligence. Like a database, the more times a human is meddling with it, the greater the risk of ineffectiveness. (Now can you see how the office “IT guy” earned his surly, outlier reputation?)

Ultimately, given today’s heavily digitized transaction cycle, every byte of information about a deal, from texts to voice mails, is pertinent data — especially if legal issues ever come into play. It’s more critical than ever that we condense and compartmentalize transaction information.

The close

Box is quite affordable, only $15 per user, per month. Personal accounts are free if you want to trial it that way. The starter level  — which is pretty robust — gets you out the door for $5 per user, per month.

I know that you’re probably familiar with the concept of online document management. However, if you’re not familiar with Box, then you’re not aware of how far the concept has come.

Have you used this product? What did you think? Leave a comment and let us know!

Do you have a product for our tech expert to review? Email Craig Rowe.