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Gadgets You Can't Live Without

Techno overload? Sales associates share their must-haves. 

What technology do successful sales associates recommend? We spoke with five sales associates who told us that BlackBerrys, smartphones, laptop computers, Tablet PCs, digital cameras, presentation software and big computer power are the tech tools that you should have at your disposal. What did we find? We learned that the average associate uses technology judiciously. What you read here may not be innovative or earth shattering, but it can help you decide what technology to embrace and what to ditch. Here’s a look at these must-have tools:

Portable Power    
Tracy Wisneski couldn’t do business without her laptop computer or her smartphone. The sales associate with Tampa-based Keller Williams Tampa Properties relies on her mobile technology to create and display high-tech listing presentations to potential clients. With just a few clicks, she can use it to search the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) while she’s on the road. And, she can send her customers intriguing listings as soon as she discovers them, no matter how far she is from her office and desktop computer.

Wisneski has her listing presentation loaded onto her laptop, and she brings the laptop to all her prospective client meetings. Her PowerPoint presentation includes samples of the marketing materials she creates for sellers, her bio and price statistics for the area surrounding the seller’s property.    

Wisneski is reminded daily of how important technology is to her career. Recently, a buyer from Utah was looking for a house in Tampa, and Wisneski took her to see several homes on the market. The buyer saw one house that she didn’t like, but instantly fell in love with the community that the house was in.

After dropping off the buyer, Wisneski connected to the MLS with her smartphone and quickly scanned other listings in the area. When she found possible matches, she text messaged them to the buyer. Within hours, the buyer found a house she liked and made an offer, which was accepted. “She was ecstatic,” Wisneski says. “That deal never could have happened before we had this technology.”

The expert weighs in: Stephen Canale (canale.com), technology expert and trainer, says, “For most salespeople, the days of needing a desktop computer are over. Today’s notebooks have more than enough power to run entire businesses, and can also plug into all of the commonly desired accessories such as: monitors, keyboards, printers, scanners, backup drives, etc. As long as you’re running a Pentium III–class machine (or the equivalent AMD K3) and have an “active” display, you can operate as a truly mobile professional.”
 
The BlackBerry
You’ll never catch Cyndi Andrews without her BlackBerry.
   
The sales associate with the Davenport office of Florida Real Moves Realty brings the device with her everywhere. The BlackBerry allows her to pull up listings from the MLS, send and receive e-mail messages, check appointments and, of course, make phone calls, all without being tied to any wires or land lines.   

“It’s like having a little computer in my car,” Andrews says. “ [Central Florida] is a huge geographic area, so I spend a majority of my time in my car. The BlackBerry helps me do business while I’m on the road.”    
Andrews works with several international clients, and must juggle different time zones to serve them. Thanks to her BlackBerry, she can communicate with these clients at hours that are convenient to them.
In fact, recently a client from Ireland sent Andrews an e-mail message requesting information about a condominium he had purchased from her in 2005. He needed the information in less than an hour. Instead of racing back to her office, she pulled over to the side of the road, found the information on her BlackBerry and sent the client a quick e-mail, long before he needed it.

This kind of service, made possible by technology, explains why Andrews’ business is constantly growing. “I can communicate back and forth with my clients so easily with my BlackBerry,” she says.

The expert weighs in: Allen Hainge, founder of the real estate Cyber Stars group of sales associates, says, “Today, cell phones incorporate everything from basic cell phone service to e-mail and the Internet, to productivity tools like cameras (both still and video), calendars, calculators, text messaging and MLS access (the latter of which typically has to be set up with the local MLS).”
 
Working from Anywhere
Doreen Clark doesn’t spend much time in her real estate office. She doesn’t have to. Thanks to wireless technology and her Tablet PC, Clark can transform any space into an office—the park, a restaurant and even her car.

Clark, a sales associate with Amerivest Realty in Naples, relies on a Bluetooth wireless headset to communicate with her clients and customers. She uses her BlackBerry to send and receive e-mail messages on the road, to log onto the Internet and to connect to home listings. She uses her Tablet PC to draw up contracts wherever she is, and then she prints them out with her portable printer.

In May, she met with a customer interested in a property. She brought with her three versions of a contract on her Tablet PC. After making changes to one, she printed it out on her portable printer. She then scanned the signed document into her computer and e-mailed it to the title company, buyer and seller.

This gave the title company the opportunity to get started quickly. The customer had three weeks to get a jumbo loan and close the purchase. Every day Clark could shave off the process, thanks to technology, was important, she says.

“I was able to get everyone on the same page in minutes,” she says. “That’s better than running around or delivering things by snail mail. In 48 hours, I received documentation back from the title company. We were a week ahead, and we started the process less than 48 hours earlier.”   

The biggest surprise to Clark? Not all sales associates are as connected. “I’m amazed that not all [sales associates] rely on this technology,” she says. “I’m amazed, but I’m also thrilled to death. It gives me a competitive advantage.”

The expert weighs in: Rolf Anderson, CRS, a national technology speaker, writes in the Hewlett-Packard Real Estate Center (www.hp.com/sbso/solutions/real): “With your Tablet PC you can easily navigate your e-mail program with the digital pen and write in your own handwriting. The ‘thank-you note’ takes on a new digital facelift. And, every time I send an e-mail in my own handwriting, it makes such an impression on the recipient. Impressive. Try that with a regular Notebook PC.”

Making Digital Art
Barb Malz is a real estate professional and a photographer. Her photos have appeared in local magazines and newspapers.

For Malz, a sales associate with RE/MAX Realty One in Inverness, few pieces of technology are as important as her Cannon Rebel digital camera and Microsoft Publisher presentation software. By using these two pieces of technology skillfully, Malz sets herself apart from other sales associates trying to nab listings.

“It’s hard to think about going back to days past where you had to develop film and use those big MLS books. It’s so much easier now,” she says.

Good photos are essential to getting a house sold. By snapping her photos with her digital camera and then uploading them to the MLS, Malz makes sure that customers see her listings in their best light possible. And she makes sure her photos do justice to her properties. Out-of-focus shots? Bad angles? Poor lighting? You won’t see any of that with her listings.

Malz also uses Microsoft Publisher, in conjunction with her digital camera, to create professional marketing materials. She takes samples with her on listing presentations, so her potential clients can see how good she can make their homes look.

“It makes such a difference in listing presentations,” Malz says. “The clients really like seeing what I can do to promote their homes. Having really good photos that people can look at online makes a big difference when you’re trying to sell a house.”

The expert weighs in: Hainge says, “[A digital camera] is my favorite method [of marketing]. You can get good resolution (get a camera with at least 640x480 resolution), and get the ‘Wow!’ effect when you use it in front of buyers or sellers. It’s a tremendous listing and selling tool. My favorite at the moment? The Polaroid PDC 800: pcm card storage, high resolution, LCD viewfinder, and the ability to record a small sound file to each picture you take.”

Finding His Way
Todd Thompson hasn’t gotten lost in more than half a year. And, he thanks his new global positioning system (GPS) for that.

Slightly more than six months ago, Thompson bought a Magellan 300 GPS. Now he simply tells his GPS where he wants to go, and the system provides him with accurate directions. Should Thompson miss a turn, his Magellan 300 automatically figures a new route for him.

Thompson, an investment associate with the Orlando office of Real Net USA of Central Florida, considers his purchase money well-spent, especially since he paid just $250 for his GPS on eBay.

If he spells a street name wrong, the GPS will help him find the right address. If he doesn’t know an exact address, Thompson can punch in intersections or points of interest to find his appointment location. The machine also stores up to 50 previously inputted addresses.

“Mapquest printouts are so messy and cumbersome,” he says. “I always had to print out each comp address I was using to formulate my CMA. It wasted time and money.”

Thompson’s GPS has even made him money. Recently, he was out in the field and needed to look at an investment property that a competitor was already heading toward. Using his GPS, Thompson was able to input the property’s address, find a short cut and reach the property within minutes, before his competition arrived. Thompson made an offer on the property immediately, he says and gave thanks for his GPS, which he estimates paid for itself 10 times over that day.

“I’m surprised that more people don’t rely on GPS,” Thompson says. “The ones [who] don’t [own a GPS] don’t understand the true advantage it gives you”

The expert weighs in: Randy Eagar, technology trainer and founder of Computer Camp (www.computercamp.net) says, “I think Todd’s very wise in buying a stand-alone GPS rather than buying it built into the car. For a new car, it’s a $3,000 option. While that’s nice, what Todd has done is better because you can save.

Other than being able to find houses quickly, I see the biggest benefit to having a GPS is the buyers’ reaction. It’s one impressive tool.”

Dan Rafter is a Chicago-based freelance writer.