IT Empowers Real Estate Professionals
Las Vegas firm relies on tech to start and build business.
In today’s competitive marketplace, real estate offices nationwide are jockeying for position with buyers and sellers alike. Fortunately, technology can help agents differentiate themselves from the competition.
The Web, tablet PCs and digital cameras are just some of the tools allowing agents to better serve clients while building their business. Without the latest benefits that technology can offer, it’s nearly impossible to stay ahead of the game.
Ian Palast, a realtor for Keller Williams Realty, Las Vegas Summerlin, knows that all too well. He gets IT. As one of the top five real estate companies in the nation, Keller Williams has a distinct following.
Because each office is independently owned and operated, it’s up to the brokers and agents to determine specific technology infrastructure and components. And without in-house tech support, that can prove a daunting task — even for someone with a technology background.
New Office Setup
Palast worked in the dot-com industry from 1999 to 2001 and was fortunate enough to grow up with computers. “I understand quite a bit,” says Palast. His main experience came with family-run ComputerLand franchises in the Chicago area in the 1980s.
After working as a sole real estate agent, Palast opened his own office in the summer of 2007. His first order of business was recruiting his team: a realtor, listing agent, buyer’s agent, an inside sales-lead coordinator and marketing assistant, a full-time team manager and transaction coordinator as well as three support staff.
Secondly, he needed to get them up and running with the latest tablet PCs, desktop PCs, software, flat-screen monitors as well as a secure LAN. Palast chose to forego the corporate WAN and decided to network his team independently.
Putting the right tools in place meant offering staffers a competitive advantage. One caveat, however — he had to be budget-conscious.
Realtors often write contracts by hand. One advantage of using tablet PCs is that agents can have clients sign electronic documents on the spot, which can then be submitted and filed immediately. It’s a big cost savings and environmental savings.
Palast chose to use the software solution used by the corporate office for managing contracts and other documents. SureClose is a document imaging software that offers paperless filing and online document management.
Once all the signatures are obtained, agents e-mail all the information to the office manager. It is then stored for accurate record keeping with help from the document-imaging software.
“We wanted to be up to speed and the tablet PC was the easiest way to make that happen,” Palast says. “We got tablet PCs for agents to use in the field and we wanted some other, more up-to-date, desktop PCs in the office as well as new flat-screen monitors.”
Along with Fujitsu tablet PCs and HP desktop PCs, no real-estate office would be complete without a high-end color printer. To meet printing needs, the firm leased a Xerox 6360DN 42-ppm (pages per minute) color-laser printer.
“The most important thing for any real-estate team is a color printer. We cannot live without it,” Palast says. “People do not want to see or look at photos of homes that are not in color. It was a big part of our desire to move forward.”
In addition to computers and printers, a large display was installed for customers to view properties in large format. For this, the ViewSonic N3752w 37" LCD HDTV fit the bill.
“It’s great when you are able to bring up pictures of properties on a large-format screen,” he adds. “Customers love it. It makes us stand out as being Top-Tier agents.”
Staying up to date with technology is key to being on top in almost any business, but the “almost always on” nature of real estate makes it essential.
“Real estate is a seven-day-a-week, 12-hourday job,” Palast says. “Unless you physically or mentally have a way to block off a day or some time during the day, you don’t get a break. You have to have technology that works all the time, without interruption.”
Previous attempts to use the corporate WAN did not offer the firm optimal advantage and continuous availability. “Without in-house IT support, the WAN offered constant challenges and there were always issues with it,” Palast reports.
“Once we took over an office, we spent the money to have a static IP address and our own WAN,” he says. “We implemented our own network that only we could access. That way we’re not sharing our color printer or any of the headaches of a larger office.”
- COMPANY: Keller Williams
- LOCATION: Las Vegas
- BUSINESS: Real Estate
- SIZE: A top five Real Estate office in the U.S.
- IT Project:New Office Setup, Network Access, Communication, Security, Disaster Recovery
- PRODUCTS: Fujitsu tablet PCs, HP desktop PCs, Xerox 6360DN 42-ppm, ViewSonic N3752w 37-inch LCD HDTV, SureClose
- SOLUTION: Mobility and PC Configuration
- RESULTS: The solution and the hardware that CDW recommended has worked flawlessly. The security solutions have delivered peace of mind.
High-Tech Realtor’s Tool Kit
BlackBerry Devices: Offers agents e-mail, mobile telephone, text messaging, Internet faxing, Web browsing and other wireless information services.
Digital Camera: Ideal for taking pictures of properties for posting to the Web or using in printed material.
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) HDTV (High-Definition Television): Works inside the office allowing agents to bring up pictures of properties on a large-format screen.
PDA (Personal Digital Assistant): Serves as an organizer and electronic notepad.
Smartphone: Offers phone, e-mail, Web browsing and much more. Allows agents the ability to view MLS listings wherever they are, which means they don’t have to get back to an office to see if a property is available.
Tablet PC: Allows agents to access documents onsite and gain necessary signatures to proceed with offers. Tablet PCs also reduce the amount of paper often generated by multiple offers and mortgage documents.
Web site: Offers customers an opportunity to view current listings with up-to-date details. Provides the power of virtual tours to let buyers tour properties from their computers. Enables Web log (blog) publishing, which can position the firm as an expert in a city, subdivision or other area.
As for network security and disaster recovery, the firm has the basics in place. “We have data stored behind a firewall,” Palast says. “We’ve got redundant backup systems in place. And while there’s no encryption method in use yet, files are password-protected at the document level, which keeps client information secure.”
The firm also boasts two large gigabyte-size drives. One is used as a shared drive on the network and the other, in a different office location, is used to back up everything on the network on a nightly basis.
“That’s our security and backup solution — a double external-storage device,” Palast says. “Fortunately, we haven’t had to use the backup for disaster recovery.” Overall, the technology put in place and immediate access to data has made agents much more efficient. “It’s good to know right away if a property is vacant before you take someone to show it,” he says.
“You have all the different information about the property at your fingertips,” he adds. “We didn’t have that 15 or 20 years ago. And now you can even get access to MLS [Multiple Listing Service] on your PDA [Portable Digital Assistant].”
In addition, his team uses the eKEY satellite enabled device, which allows agents to open lock boxes with a smartphone. “I can even search the MLS on my phone if I have to,” he adds.
While this technology helps agents juggle more clients, the key benefit is peace of mind. “We didn’t always have a backup system in place. By having invested in technology and having the redundant systems, I don’t have to think about it or worry that we’ll lose valuable data.”