In the world of technology, real estate agents and brokers must always be curious and ready to learn. In this interview with Alyssa Hellman, I had the chance to talk to her about how technology fits into her business, what apps she relies on, and how technology helps her provide value to her real estate clients.
Q: Alyssa, tell us about yourself.
A: I started my career with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in 2010. Even as a large company, what attracted me to the firm was the community approach that it took to the business. I always say, “I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel, but I do intend to redesign the process.” This approach has led to my success along with the amazing group of mentors and industry professionals that I have surrounded myself with.
In October 2013, I was named sales manager of the Arlington office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.
Q: What apps are you playing around with right now?
A: The following:
- Pocket: I use this to help curate content for my site, blog and clients. There are so many sources for content these days, and trying to read articles as they happen just isn’t realistic. Pocket helps me organize the important stories that I know I want to follow up on. Not all of them are for sharing — some just help spark an idea for a blog. Others I use as a segway to reach out to clients. Sharing content before, during and after a transaction is a really meaningful way for me to interact with my client base.
- Videolicious: a cool video tool for quick, clean videos. I have toyed with this and don’t do nearly as much video as I should, but Videolicious provides a really easy platform to create great-quality videos.
- Sitegeist: This is one that I got from Jeff Lobb at Agent Reboot Boston. This app pulls data based on your location. It is not necessarily one that I use personally, but it is one that I refer my clients to use. The app will pull housing, demographic and even environment data. It is a great way to provide quick data to someone exploring different areas. I’m all about providing value to my clients, and this is a great way to give them insight into a neighborhood.
- Circle: This app is similar to Sitegeist, but it is user-populated. So users post articles, stories, etc., based on a location. The app allows users to filter information based on various categories. This has a much further reach than, say, a Facebook post. I’m intrigued by this app.
- CO Everywhere: You can draw locations (i.e., radius around your home, work, school, etc.). It also lets you follow popular locations such as a concert venue, stadium location, etc., worldwide. From there, the app pulls data from users in conversations as well as local businesses. Sort of like Yelp! but fewer reviews and more tips by locals. In a time where everyone is connected, people are sharing content and information with each other in ways they never have before. I love the idea of interacting with your community via an app.
Q: Finding technology that you actually use and that works for you is so important. What are the things that keep you running/organized?
A: Without a doubt, the best technology is what you use. It just has to work for you. Technology is simply a tool to enhance your business and your interactions. It cannot replace them, so if you are able to conduct business with your technology, you don’t need to adopt the next big thing. Here are the tools I use:
- Contactually: I use Contactually as my CRM. There are other great providers, but Contactually is what works best for me. It ranks my performance in terms of contacting my sphere. This isn’t only my clients — I go as far as to put my family in there to make sure my parents get regular calls and emails (sorry, mom and dad). Life gets busy — not just transactions — so this helps me ensure that I am being the person I want to be, not just the agent. Overall, I love how easy Contactually makes it to connect with my circles.
- Google Drive: I use Google Drive for all of my file storage. Not only do I have it integrated into my desktop screen on my MacBook Pro, but I also have it on my iPad and iPhone. If anyone needs anything from a photo to a contract to a settlement statement, I can have it to them from any of those devices within seconds. It also allows me to easily integrate others with my documents either to view or edit. This allows my clients to pull documents without asking me, should they choose to do so. That sort of transparency and access is extremely valuable to clients.
- Evernote: I love my Evernote. I use it for everything from showing notes to talking points. Most importantly though, I use it to save my checklists for my clients. The moment I start working with clients, there are so many things to tackle. Add in a few more clients and it is a lot to manage. Having a list where I can track their progress is valuable to me. I didn’t want to automate this process because no transaction is the same. I simply use these checklists as guidelines that I then input in my calendar. Again, on my phone, which syncs to my computer and iPad so I know where any client stands, at any time, from anywhere.
- Doorsteps: a fantastic platform that I use with homebuyers. Doorsteps provides a hands-on way for homebuyers to educate themselves, with me, about the homebuying process. It uses high-quality sources for unbiased information, and presents it in a consumable way that allows clients to make sense of it and refer back to through their journey. Use of this tool allows me to get to know my clients beyond bedrooms and bathrooms and actually learn about their life, their comfort zone, their wants vs. needs, their motivations, and so much more.
Q: I love your passion for providing and proving your value to your clients early on. Can you talk more about that?
A: People are more willing to have conversations with each other rather than be marketed to by a business. This personal aspect is something that resonates with me. I get to know my clients on a personal level, and they get to know me beyond just what I do for a living.
They know, likely before we have every seen a house together, that I’m a local expert. I frequent the shops, restaurants, etc., in the places where I work. I don’t just know what is happening in the communities where I work, I’m part of what is happening in those communities. I love working with clients for their real estate needs, but my value goes beyond that. I’m a local expert and I get that not only from the places I frequent, but the places I hear about from others. In my opinion, that is what community has evolved into.
Clients don’t want to be a part of your production or stats. And for me, they aren’t. They are part of my story, and I become part of theirs. My clients are people and I take my responsibility of helping them seriously. Of course, that means helping them buy and sell their homes, but it is so much more than that. There are agents who have done more business than me and who have listed amazing homes. More power to them. My value starts before we ever visit a home together.
Q: How important is it to be able to work on both ends of the “cloud” spectrum?
A: I love technology. I wake up in the morning and read articles on my phone, tablet or laptop. There are cases where clients are most comfortable sitting down across the table from their agent to discuss the terms of an offer and go through the contract line by line in person. You have to have the ability to float somewhere in the middle of the new-school and old-school methods.
Part of my responsibility as an agent is not only to ensure that my clients’ interests are protected and well-represented, but that they are comfortable with the process. That they understand what they need to and know that I’m there, on their side, before, during and after the transaction. Being able to adapt to someone who wants to e-sign everything or use pen and paper is necessary regardless of the type of buyer you are working with. There is still value in face time, not just FaceTime.
Q: Talk about how your business and technology work together.
A: I have set up my business so that I can operate seamlessly from computer to tablet to smartphone. I can be anywhere in the world and if a client or agent needs a document, I can provide them with that document within minutes. I can get signatures from a client in Europe and the contract to the agent within an hour. This isn’t about speed, though. It is about efficiency. Aligning schedules and getting face time is difficult. Yes, real estate is my day to day, but it isn’t for my clients. They have work, school, family, etc. I want my clients to be able to focus on what they need to and ensure the process runs smoothly.
The real estate industry is a complicated web of processes, contracts, negotiations and regulations. Understanding those and ensuring that my clients are comfortable is part of my process. Because when you’re helping someone buy or sell a home, it’s not just about their home, its about their life. My good friend Michele Serro, founder of Doorsteps, explains the process that way and it is something I have taken with me each step of my career.
Q: You talk a lot about your belief in a better business model that serves the clients in a better way. Can you elaborate a bit?
A: Everyone is searching for a better way, but there are a few industry professionals who I believe are actually dedicated to finding this better way. Much like the use of technology, this better way won’t look the same for everyone, but it will rest on the fundamental principle of humanizing the process. Our industry gets extremely wrapped up in the details and, all too often, forgets the most important part of any real estate transaction: the people. People are what our business is built on, and without taking care of the people, you’re neglecting your business.
My interactions with my clients have nothing to do with when I may or may not close their deal — it has to do with them personally. Authentic personal connection is recession-proof. My clients came to me, so why give them anything less than that? They deserve my time, my attention and the value I can provide them. They are never getting put on a drip campaign. It disrespects their journey and underestimates my value.
I believe in providing clients with usable, high-quality information from the start and following up with them regularly and personally (not a preformatted letter). That is value. That is service. That is human. To have someone reach out to me to help them make potentially the biggest purchase of their life or to sell their home and to put them on an auto-search or a newsletter list is insulting to their journey. That connection before, during and after the transaction is so extremely important, and while many people make that promise, I think far too few deliver on it.
Q: Big thinking — what would you like to see for 2014?
A: I think that mortgage regulations may impact the market moving into 2014, but I genuinely believe that agents being able to educate consumers will alleviate any major impacts. My philosophy remains to operate business as usual. Focus on people. Continue to innovate and evolve. Be both proactive and reactive. Most of all, don’t let the market dictate your service standards. Those should never change. Good business practices translate in any market.
Q: You’re on a panel, “The New School,” at Real Estate Connect next month. What will you be talking about?
A: I think the major changes have been the increase of connectivity and mobility. I would say it is essential to be able to have mobile access to all of your files, content, etc., at all times in order to compete. This will only become more necessary moving forward.
People aren’t waiting to get home to look you up. They’re using their phones and tablets. This also makes it extremely important to be able to not just know your value proposition, but to be able to convey that value in a consumable way to consumers before they have contacted you. What has changed most recently and is continuing to evolve is what I would call this community connectedness. I’ll be discussing strategies to incorporate this into your existing business model.
Q: Speaking of Real Estate Connect: What are you most excited for?
A: A lot of things. The schedule shows some really amazing sessions, but the value of Connect goes far beyond the sessions themselves. I learned so much and built so many relationships with industry professionals, now friends, at past Connects after the sessions were over. I can’t wait to hear what everyone has to say and, of course, to see some of my favorite people in the industry.
Q: Any tips for first-timers attending Connect in January?
A: Walk into it with a truly open mind. Talk to everyone. And most of all, introduce yourself. Connect offers the opportunity to meet industry greats in every way imaginable. Everyone is there to learn and grow, regardless of the level of their career. Invest in the information and opportunities available by coming early, staying late, and listening.
As the social media manager for Inman News, Meg helps manage all things social media for Inman News, Inman Next, Real Estate Connect and Agent Reboot. Meg brings with her a background in graphic design and an avid interest to gear all things social media, technology, apps and productivity to the real estate industry.