from Florida Realtor Magazine, September 2007 | page 12
Footloose and Wire-Free
Wendy Griffis knows what it’s like to work without wires. In fact, this real estate associate with Vanguard Realty Inc., GMAC in Neptune Beach is largely untethered for most of the workday, thanks to her laptop, a wireless Internet connection provided by her broker and her local Starbucks or Panera Bread, and 24/7 access to the local MLS and other online resources.
In real estate since 2000, Griffis sells about $6.5 million in properties annually and has been with her current broker since June 2004. By joining the company, she gained entrance to its 16 “resource centers,” a concept that allows sales associates to drop in, log in and get access to the Internet whenever they choose. (These are physical offices located in and around the Jacksonville area.)
Griffis says she shaped her laptop-and-wireless strategy around that very concept, and hasn’t looked back since. “I’d previously worked out of office space or at home, but when I started here, I went the laptop route,” says Griffis, who opts not to pay for a wireless card (from a company like Sprint or AT&T, for example). “There are enough wireless locations in Jacksonville that I can get on the Internet within 10 minutes of any customer,” she explains.
Most newer laptops come with built-in wireless cards that allow users to use Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, airports and establishments like Starbucks, Panera Bread and even some McDonald’s. Wireless carriers like Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile also offer wireless cards that, for a fee (of about $60 to $80 a month for unlimited access), allow the user to connect to the Internet from just about anywhere, whether or not there’s a Wi-Fi access point nearby. Here are the four top ways Griffis uses her laptop and wireless connection to build her business: 1. Work a Large Farm Area Some sales associates run their business by farming a particular geographic region, but Griffis does most of her business by referral. On a typical day, she may be on a listing appointment in St. Augustine in the morning, and at a closing in Jacksonville a few hours later. “I’m all over town—wherever my customer is,” says Griffis, who visits her company’s resource office centers frequently to download forms, check out the latest MLS data and communicate with clients and customers via e-mail. She can also use the office’s scanners, copiers, fax machines and conference rooms (for client meetings, for example). Using a laptop and the office Internet connection, she’s able to get the job done quickly and get back on the road to her next appointment. (She covers the entire Jacksonville MSA area.)
2. Run the Company from Afar The National Association of Realtors® has reported that consumers are most annoyed by real estate associates who don’t promptly return their calls, e-mails or text messages. But real estate pros deserve a break once in a while too, so when Griffis takes a trip, she’s always able to run her business, even though she isn’t in town. “I bring my laptop with me, and pretty much all hotels have wireless Internet access these days,” says Griffis. Access to some systems requires an Ethernet cable plugged into the back of her laptop, and others can be used in conjunction with her computer’s internal wireless card. “Worst-case scenario,” says Griffis, “I go to Starbucks and pay $9 to log on for a few hours.”
3. Access the Back Office Armed with her laptop and a wireless Internet connection, Griffis can access her brokerage’s password-protected back-office system. Once logged in, she can check the MLS online and pull up all her customer files. “Every time we have a new sale, the information is sent to corporate, which scans it and puts it into the system,” says Griffis, who can also access specific property information for potential buyers. While on vacation recently, she received a call from a buyer who was interested in a property that he’d just driven by. Rather than having to pass the customer on to another sales associate to handle in her absence, Griffis booted up her laptop, logged into the system, pulled up the MLS and was able to connect with the listing agent and provide the necessary information to the buyer. “I can work virtually from anywhere,” she says. 4. Gain Efficiency Few real estate associates have the luxury of being able to “pop into” offices all over their respective regions to access the Internet, meet with customers and print out a few forms. But in today’s age of ultimate mobility, Griffis has gotten to the point where she can’t imagine running her real estate business any other way. Combine that with the Wi-Fi capabilities offered even by restaurants like McDonald’s and Planet Smoothie, and you wind up with a great platform on which to build a virtual real estate business.
According to Griffis, being able to handle the needs of just about any client or customer in a timely manner—even while tanning on the beach in Honolulu—is by far the biggest reward that comes from using a wireless-enabled laptop. “If I get a call from a customer who wants one page of a contract, I can either pull into one of the physical resource center locations, where agents can drop in and work, or access the company’s online system, pull up the page and e-fax it to the customer,” says Griffis, who previously had to handle such requests at the end of the day or on a vacation. “Cell phones are great, but about 50 percent of my client communications happen via e-mail,” says Griffis. “Thanks to my laptop, I can run my company from anywhere.”
This column, designed to offer examples of how salespeople and brokers are using technology in their offices, won first place in the 2006 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association. The column is for general information only. Opinions expressed here don’t necessarily reflect an endorsement of the views by Florida Realtor® magazine or the Florida Association of Realtors® (FAR).