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5 Gizmos, Gadgets and Tech Tools You Can't Live Without/Users/adamp/Desktop/SolutionsGuide08/images/gizmos

“I used to spend hours making Google Maps and trying to figure out which properties to see first and last,” says Cheryl Wolanin, who says she can’t live without her global positioning system (GPS) navigation tool. Now, the sales associate with ZipRealty Inc. in Tampa Bay, says she just “punches in the addresses, and it does all the work for me. It’s really time-saving and stress-relieving.”

For Emilio Mejia with MJOP Realty in Miami, his “can’t-live- without-tech” is his T-Mobile Dash smartphone. “I had left with a strong prospect to go see properties in Miramar, and I forgot one of the property sheets back at the office. I needed to get in contact with the listing associate. Thank goodness I had my trusty T-Mobile Dash. I was able to get a Wi-Fi signal in the immediate area, go into my MLXchange page and look up the listing associate’s info.”

Everyone has a favorite gadget, a prized piece of technology that’s become inextricably linked to everyday life. For real estate professionals like the two above, it tends to be mobile gear: a phone, GPS receiver, camera or other device that provides on-the-go efficiency.
Let’s take a look at five of these technology essentials: what they’re for, why you need them and how much they’ll cost you.

1. Backup Services
A PC that hasn’t been backed up is a ticking time bomb, waiting for disaster (usually of the virus, spyware or hardware-failure variety) to strike. In the old days, backups required slow, expensive and complicated tape drives. Today, they’re remarkably easy to use, thanks to online services such as Carbonite (www.carbonite.com), Mozy (www.mozy.com) and Xdrive (www.xdrive.com), which offer automated, affordable online backups.

All you do is download and install the software, then set it to create backups at night, or any other time of your choosing, when your computer’s not in use. Presto: Effortless, offsite data preservation.

Prices for these services start at around $4.95 per month for unlimited storage, though you can sometimes get a better deal by prepaying for an entire year. (See the May 2007 issue of Florida Realtor® for a complete guide to making backups.)

2. Digital Cameras
Real estate professionals and cameras go together like mortgages and title companies. Property photos are the lifeblood of your business, but relying on a film camera—even if it’s a high-end model—just wastes time, money and other resources. You need a digital camera, which offers freedom from film, instant review of your snapshots, and easy transfer of pictures to your PC.

Look for a model that offers an e-mail or Web mode, meaning it automatically creates a lower-resolution duplicate of any given photo, one that’s suitable for attaching to an e-mail or posting to a Web site.

How much should you expect to spend on a good digital camera? Less than you might think. Several new models offer solid image quality for under $150, including the Canon Powershot A460, Kodak EasyShare C653 and Nikon Coolpix L10.

3. GPS Systems
When it comes to finding your way from point A to point B (make that property A to property B), nothing beats a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system. These devices provide real-time driving directions, showing your position on a moving map and prompting you when it’s time to turn. Plus, they’re portable, so you can easily move them from one car to another (or even slip them into a pocket or purse if you’re on foot).

The latest crop of GPS devices offers touch-screen menus and dramatically lower prices than last year’s models. The Averatec Voya 320 and Mio C220, for instance, sell for just $199, though that nets you no-frills navigation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the $899 Garmin Nuvi 680 goes beyond mere mapping, linking with your cell phone for hands-free calling and retrieving traffic updates to help you avoid road jams.

4. Modem Cards
You’ve got a fresh batch of property photos to upload, an important blog entry to post or a contract to e-mail. In other words, you need Internet access and you need it now. The problem—you’re nowhere near a Wi-Fi hotspot. The solution? A wireless modem card, which allows the Internet to go where you go. Just slip it into your notebook’s card slot, and presto, you’re online.

It’s the same technology that brings Internet connectivity to your cell phone, but in modem form. All the major cellular providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.) offer modem cards and services, with prices starting at around $50 per month for unlimited access. (Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 for the card itself.)

Best of all, the providers’ newly upgraded networks let you connect at close-to-broadband speeds, a huge improvement over the pokey mobile modems of yesteryear.

5. Smartphones
Most real estate professionals and their cell phones are joined at the hip (often literally). But smart professionals opt for smartphones, which offer countless advantages over their lower-IQ counterparts. For starters, they’re equipped with thumb-style keyboards, which allow you to tap out e-mail and text messages with greater ease. They also tend to have larger screens, which make business documents and Web pages easier to view.
 
Further, smartphones usually offer easy synchronization with your PC, meaning your data resides in two places instead of one. If you’ve ever lost, dropped or forgotten your phone, you know how critical that can be.

When shopping for a smartphone, look for a model with Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) origins, like the Palm Treo P Series (which evolved from Palm PDAs) or something that runs the Windows Mobile operating system (born of Pocket PC PDAs). These generally offer the best contact and calendar management, which is what their predecessors were born to do.

The only downside is price: Most smartphones cost anywhere from $300 to $600, depending on what kind of contract you get, and monthly data plans (which you’ll need for all that e-mail and Web browsing) start at around $50 a month. Of course, once you get accustomed to having such a smart phone on your hip, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without it.

Rick Broida is a Michigan-based 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.