Guest blogger Tina Merritt is a Realtor® and Real Estate Trainer in Virginia and recipient of NAR’s Realtor Technology Spotlight Award.

save moneyWith the advances in real estate technology over the past decade, there are so many affordable tools out there.  But, are you getting your money’s worth?  Are you throwing your hard earned dollars toward programs or applications that aren’t necessary or are outdated?  Here are some tips to make sure you are maximizing your technology investment.

First, make a list of all your real estate technology expenses.  Put the list into 2 columns or sections:  those that are recurring and those that are one time expenses.  Then, make a real estate technology “wish list” of tools you would like to have in the future.

1.  Look at your recurring expense list. Are any of the items on this list monthly/quarterly expenses that could be reduced by switching to yearly plans?  Most companies offer a significant discount if you pay yearly (such as Docusign and Classified Flyer Ads).

2.  Your website. When agent websites were the new “big thing”, many real estate agents (including myself) jumped on the bandwagon and signed up for a templated website with a high monthly fee and minimal SEO.  Now that blogs are meshing with websites, it’s really not necessary to have just a website.  Take a look at your traffic statistics and lead generation from your website and consider redirecting the URL to your blog or another site where you have with better traffic and less expense.

3.  Your landline phone. Do you need a landline?  If you said “yes, because I have a fax machine”, your answer is incorrect.  You can use an internet fax service for as little as $7/month.  By ditching the fax machine, you also will save money on paper and ink.  Sign up for Skype and make unlimited free calls to other Skype users and inexpensively speak to non-Skype users.  If you cannot bear to give up Ma Bell, at least look at your bill and ditch the call waiting, call forwarding and other must-haves from 1985.

4.  Your mobile phone. How much are you spending on your service each month?  Take a look at your last 6 bills and examine where your money is really going.  Cell phone carriers regularly change the prices of their plans due in part to market conditions.  Keep an eye on advertised rates and/or use a free service like Bill Shrink to see if you can get a lower rate. Most carriers won’t adjust your rate even though they lower their prices; you have to call or visit in person and ask.  Are you using all of your minutes?  Most people don’t.  It’s generally cheaper to go to a lesser minute plan and pay for the overage if you go over your minutes once or twice.  Want to save even more money?  See if your mobile device is compatible with Skype Mobile and make your calls using wi-fi access.  Oh…and don’t EVER use 411 from your mobile phone as it usually costs at least $1/call.  Use a free 411 service like Google’s 1-800-GOOG-411 instead.

5.  Are you paying each year to renew your anti-virus program? Consider switching to a free anti-virus program such as Avast.  The free anti-virus programs may be missing some of the bells and whistles of your existing program (like a spam filter or firewall); however, most Windows computers now have a built-in firewall and most email programs include a spam filter.  Also, check with your Brokerage as some offer free anti-virus software to their agents.

6.  Use Google. Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Task Manager, Google Alerts, Google Analytics, Google Reader, Google Voice, Google Wave, Google Realtime, Google Desktop, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Website Optimizer….I could go on and on!  Better yet, Google has a site dedicated to their tools for real estate professionals!  Take the time to learn how to use these free tools and see how many applications you currently pay for which can be replaced by the Google counterparts.

7.  Never, ever, impulse-buy technology. Remember that wish-list you made in the beginning of this post?  Stick to it and budget for it.  Take the time to research each item on your list, figure out which features are and are not important to you, and what would be considered a good price.  Set up alerts on sites such as Amazon, Cheapcheapcheap and NewEgg so you get an email and/or text message when the item you look for is offered at a great price.  Look for open-box or reconditioned technology items; most come with the same manufacturer’s warranty as the new products.  Have a birthday, anniversary, holiday coming up?  Don’t be shy!  Tell gift-givers what you want or share an online wish-list like the one offered by Amazon.

8.  Ask for help. Rather than sit on hold with tech support (and, in some cases, pay for it), throw your question or problem out on Twitter.  When the screen on my Kindle went out, I found a Kindle forum online and, by chatting with other Kindle users, found out my screen was cracked and how to get it replaced.  Rather then spend hours creating a Facebook Business Page yourself, offer the neighborhood computer kid a gift card to Game Stop if he can create it for you.  Is there something you are really good at (like sewing, cooking, auto mechanics or home repair)?  Try bartering your services for technology help.  Craigslist has a separate category just for this purpose.  Is your computer limping and you don’t know why? Give your computer-whiz son-in-law remote access to your computer using a service like GotomyPC to see if he can get you running smoothly again.

9.  Don’t send out refrigerator magnet calendars this year. When was the last time you went to YOUR refrigerator to find a date on the calendar?  Try something different that people will use instead of toss out.  How about emailing your former clients and asking them if they would like to be notified of real estate activity in their neighborhood once per quarter?  Or sending out USB drives with your logo imprinted on them?

10.  Make a conscious effort to not drive your car unless absolutely necessary. Think about this for a minute.  What are your automobile expenses?  Gas, insurance, maintenance, car payment, the time you spend in traffic…it all adds up.  Before jumping in your car to deliver a contract or meet a client or attend a class, determine whether or not the task at hand can be completed using technology.  Instead of driving across town in rush hour traffic to get a client’s initials on a contract, why not Skype them and have them initial using Docusign?  Instead of having everyone on your team drive to a specific location for a 9am meeting, use GoToMeeting.  Instead of driving to your Board office to attend a class on the latest MLS upgrade, check to see if an online tutorial is offered.

What are some of your tips for saving money with technology?

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