Great Software and It's Free
Have you avoided downloading free software because you’re worried about viruses? Then check out these free, no-hassle programs.
As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But free software? That’s pretty easy to come by. Of course, if it’s freeware, it must be junkware, right? Wrong. For little more than the price of a download, you can snag an office suite that rivals Microsoft Office; a photo manager that organizes and edits your collection; a utility that turns any document into a PDF; and plenty more. Let’s look at these and other fantastic freebies, all of them guaranteed to improve your productivity without affecting your bottom line. CutePDF
The Portable Document Format, or PDF, is used worldwide for brochures, contracts, property listings and countless other documents. Traditionally, creating your own PDFs required Adobe’s Acrobat software, at a price of around $300. With CutePDF, you can turn almost any document into a PDF, and it won’t cost you a cent.
After installing this small utility (and a special converter, also free), all you do is select the CutePDF driver from the print menu in any program. Presto: When you hit “Print,” your document ends up on your hard drive as a PDF. CutePDF is compatible with all versions of Windows. EssentialPIM
Okay, Microsoft Outlook users, show of hands: How many of you wish your contact management program was a lot easier to use and not so bloated with unnecessary features?
EssentialPIM could be the answer: It manages your contacts, calendar and tasks inside a friendly, uncomplicated interface. It also provides an outliner, a great extra you won’t find in Outlook.
Admittedly, you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version ($39.95) if you want features like PDA synchronization and multiuser access to your data, but EssentialPIM Free is pretty robust on its own—and perhaps the perfect solution for Outlook users seeking a simpler alternative. It’s compatible with all versions of Windows. Google Earth
It’s almost criminal that a program this fun is also so incredibly practical for real estate professionals. Google Earth combines maps and satellite images into a kind of real-world flight simulator, allowing you to “fly” to anyplace on the planet—like, say, a property.
There’s no cooler way to show off a home, neighborhood, town and geographical selling points without actually being there. You can even browse Trulia (a free listing Web site) listings right inside the program—find out more at the Trulia blog (www.truliablog.com/?p=66
). Google Earth is available for Windows and Mac systems. IBM Lotus Symphony
Before you plunk down hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Office, try IBM Lotus Symphony. This impressive suite of applications offers word processing, spreadsheets and presentations on a par with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Speaking of those popular programs, Symphony can import and export most Office file formats, so you don’t have to worry about document compatibility. As an added plus, it can produce any document as a PDF; no need to install CutePDF (unless you want to create PDFs from other applications as well). Symphony requires Windows XP or Vista. Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007
Free? Microsoft software? Really? Sure enough, this surprisingly versatile package costs absolutely nothing. Certainly Microsoft’s goal is to lure users to its $149 Office Accounting Professional 2007 suite, but real estate professionals may find that Express does everything they need: The software can create quotes and invoices, track expenses, manage payrolls (via an integrated payroll service), produce all kinds of reports, list items on eBay and much more. Not a fan of Microsoft products? Try QuickBooks Simple Start 2008 (quickbooks.intuit.com). It tracks income and expenses, creates reports and helps with tax preparation. Both these freebies are for Windows only. Picasa
The more property photos you snap with your digital camera, the more difficult it becomes to keep them all organized. Picasa, another incredible Google freebie, makes it easy to organize even the largest photo libraries. It automatically scans your hard drive for pictures and arranges them by date.
From there, you can move and rename them, create property-specific albums and assign labels for even better organization. The software also provides a wealth of editing tools, allowing you to crop photos, fix the contrast and color, add captions and more. When you’re done, it’s a simple matter to e-mail photos to customers or upload them to various Web services (like Flickr, Snapfish or Google’s own Picasa Web Albums). Picasa requires Windows 2000 or XP. PodProducer
Ever wish you could tell prospective customers about a property instead of just listing it on your site? Ever think your years of real estate experience would translate into a good radio show? Ever try podcasting? A podcast is an audio file, usually in MP3 format, distributed online. Like a blog, it is something anyone can create. And, like a blog, it has the potential to be an extremely effective marketing tool—one that costs next to nothing to produce. All you need is a microphone, a few hours of free time and a program like PodProducer. It’s available for Windows. Rick Broida is a freelance writer and the co-author of “How to Do Everything with Your Palm Powered Device,” 6th edition. Broida does not have any affiliation with the companies mentioned.
The Florida Association of Realtors® and Florida Realtor® magazine do not endorse any products mentioned in this article.