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Technology & You/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/SEPT08/images/techAndYou

Why Not Wi-Fi?

It’s just past noon in downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola Park. Office workers have started to drift down from nearby high-rises. Joggers run circles around the lake. And in the midst of it all sits Alex Sadowski, on a park bench—Cuban sandwich in one hand, iPAQ PDA (personal digital assistant) in the other—busy at work.

This is a typical lunch hour for Sadowski, a sales associate with Stirling Sotheby’s International Realty, who calls himself the “always on” real estate professional. Thanks to his handheld device’s built-in wireless Internet connectivity, which lets him access all the area’s Wi-Fi access points, or “hotspots,” he can send and receive e-mail, access the MLS and browse the Internet from almost anywhere.

Sadowski paid $350 for his iPAQ three years ago. Most wireless carriers, such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon charge a monthly fee for data packages that give the user unlimited Internet connectivity from almost anywhere—even out of range of Wi-Fi hotspots. Sadowski’s iPAQ came equipped with a Wi-Fi radio that lets him get his Internet connectivity for free. “After all these years, it’s still working fine, and I don’t pay for any Internet service when I use it, so I don’t see a reason to replace it,” he says. 

Here are some of the ways that Sadowski makes the most of his Wi-Fi connectivity:

1. Work Almost Anywhere
While the rest of the industry is relatively new to Wi-Fi, Sadowski, who received third place in HP’s 2006 Real Estate Technology contest, was an early adopter. “I bought a special [wireless] card about six years ago,” he says. “It ran real slow at first but now it’s a foolproof way of doing business. You just turn it on, click a button, and it will search for any Wi-Fi [access points] in the area.”

Or, if Sadowski wants to know where the hotspots are before he heads out in the field, he can go online and search any one of several directories that provide “Wi-Fi hotspot finders.”

One such directory, JiWire, lists more than 230,000 verified public hotspots and municipal networks worldwide. To access the free directory, users simply go to www.jiwire.com, click on the  “Wi-Fi Users” tab at the top of the home page and then click on a map to find Wi-Fi access points in their area.

2. Boost Customer Service
It’s a known fact that consumers’ biggest complaint about real estate associates is lack of communication and inaccessibility. “My Wi-Fi access lets me answer questions on the fly,” says Sadowski. “It lets me show my clients that I’m very interested in what they have to say and that I’m listening to them.”
 
3. Access MLS
Wi-Fi is handy for those times when Sadowski finds himself out in the field and needs to access MLS data.  “I might get a call from a client who’s on lunch break and just saw a [for-sale] sign on a house and wants me to check on it,” he says. “Because I’m getting a Wi-Fi signal, I can pull it up on MLS wireless. Then, I can call or e-mail the client and say, ‘It’s listed at this price, and by the way it’s a 3/2 and here’s the square footage, and here’s what they’re paying for taxes.’ It [MLS wireless] is a really neat tool that the Realtor® Association offers for free. You can pull it up instantly and it makes you look like an expert in the area.”

4. Keep Up with E-Mail
“Most people check their e-mails probably four or five times a day; [using my Wi-Fi connection] I check mine in 30-minute intervals,” says Sadowski, adding that this helps him live up to his “always-on” motto. “The reason I [have that motto] is because everybody tells me I’m very quick at responding to their e-mail messages. When you do that people know you’re working hard for them.”

5. Send Property Photos
When Sadowski wants to send property photos, he snaps pictures with his Motorola cell phone and transmits them—via Bluetooth technology—to his iPAQ (which doesn’t have a camera feature). Since the device transmits the documents over a Wi-Fi radio, he doesn’t have to pay for his Internet usage or eat up precious cell minutes/airtime.

6. Hold Out for Free Hotspots
Some places still charge for Wi-Fi access, but with fees of up to $10 per day, Sadowski recommends using free access points. “I can go to Volcano’s [Coffee Bar] because it’s a free service, and I need my caffeine.” He also frequents Panera Bread’s downtown Orlando location—across the street from Lake Eola. “You can walk out of the store and be on the sidewalk and you can still send stuff [wirelessly]. A lot of mom and pop places need a way to compete, so they offer free Wi-Fi,” says Sadowski, adding that he always buys something before tapping into the free Wi-Fi access a business provides as a courtesy to paying customers.

However, coffee shops and restaurants  aren’t the only venues that provide free Wi-Fi access. Hotels typically offer free Wi-Fi to their guests. Several airports offer free 15-minute Wi-Fi access to travelers who are willing to watch a 15-second video advertisement. 

7. Keep it Simple
“Anyone considering using Wi-Fi should just do it,” concludes Sadowski. “You don’t need a big expensive laptop. As nice as they are, you can’t always carry a laptop with you. There’s also the drop factor. I’ve dropped my PDA numerous times but we all know what happens to the hard drive when you drop a laptop. A handheld device is all you need to use Wi-Fi.”

This column is designed to offer examples of how salespeople and brokers are using technology in their offices. 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®.