Category Archives: Real Estate Technology

Are You Addicted to Your Phone?

If you’re tied to your phone all day and night, try these strategies for untethering yourself—even for a little while.

Close-up of a businesswoman sending a text while driving to work

Maria Azuaje admits that she can’t be without her phone. “I tried to turn it off at 8 p.m., but I have never been able to. I’m addicted, completely,” says Azuaje, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group in Miami.

If you take your phone to bed with you, can’t manage not to peek at it even when you’re with a client, and use it to scan social media whenever you have a minute of downtime, you’re probably addicted to your phone. But what if it starts to affect your business—or your life? Here are some tips to keep your addiction in check:

Shut it down during one activity each day.

Pick a time when you do something routine—eat dinner with family, play with your kids, or take a relaxing bath—and turn your phone off during it. After spending some uninterrupted time focusing on an activity, you might feel refreshed. If you’re really serious about ungluing yourself from your phone, pick a time each night to turn it off until morning. You’ll probably get better sleep.

Turn off the vibrate function.

You probably put your phone on silent when you’re with a client, but you might leave it on vibrate mode. Even when it vibrates, you instinctually reach for your phone, and you don’t want that distraction when you’re conducting business and it sends the wrong message to the person you’re meeting with. Turn the vibrate mode off, put it on silent, and put your phone away when a client needs your full attention.

Disable notifications.

Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other app you have on your phone, you could get a new notification of activity every minute. Turn notifications off on your phone so you don’t feel compelled to keep up with every alert.

Create a social media hour.

Set aside an hour each day to focus solely on your social media channels. Even if it’s just to scroll through feeds on your phone for fun, put a time limit on it.

Hire an administrative assistant.

Let this person be the first point of contact for new clients so you’re not constantly fielding phone calls. You can also forward calls from your cell to your assistant during times when you need to minimize distraction. This approach provides callers with immediate attention without interrupting you.

Credit to John N. Frank

John N. Frank is former managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

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SEO Tips for Your Property Management Website

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As you begin to build your professional property management website a key component of your new online marketing strategy is making your website easy to find on the Internet. To do this, you need to effectively position your brand in search engine results like Google; this strategy is referred to as SEO, Search Engine Optimization, and is as important as creating your website.

Imagine all the effort you spent inputting content to make your website look beautiful and attract the right renters, only to have it all go to waste because people can’t easily find you online. The good news is, there are simple and effective ways to boost your visibility online in search results, while simultaneously improving related marketing efforts with social media and rental advertising.

This article provides guidelines as a starting point to begin your SEO for your property management website. SEO requires constant monitoring to ensure your website stays visible in search results, as long as you take simple steps regularly you should not have a problem maintaining your position online. It takes a little more work up front and will continue paying off into the future of your business.

To fully understand the point of your SEO needs, effort and results, let’s set up a relatable scenario.

Imagine you own a rental business in Portland, OR. You want renters in Portland to find your website when they enter this search term into Google “available rentals in Portland, Or” or “property managers in Portland”.

When an online searcher attaches a specific city or location to a search query the page that pops up on the search engine ranking page is called the Local Search Results.

Goal: Get listed for Portland, OR local search engine results.

Optimize Information on Your Business’ Website

Your website’s content contains the most important information for letting Google know your relevancy to the search query.

Here are things to do optimize your website content:

  • Domain name: Create a domain name that reflects your business type and location.  Example: choicepropertymanagementportland.com
    • For more information about domains and to register a free domain name go to this article from Rentec Direct : Free Domains and Website Hosting for Property Managers
  • When you design your website, add keywords to each page that identify your business, its services and its location.
  • Include your business’ name, address and phone number to each webpage, not just your homepage and contact page.
  • Beyond highlighting your rental business, include information about your local area as well to your website copy. This will associate your business with the nearby vicinity and more importantly give your post entail renters valuable information about the community they may choose to live. For example, note what section of town you have rentals in and what parks, restaurants, and area attractions are nearby. Not only will this added info help improve your website copy for new renters, it will also boost your search visibility as a local business.

Improve Your Business Listings on Local Websites

One of the best ways to boost local SEO is to ensure the availability and consistency of your business’ listing information across third-party sources. Google and other search engines constantly scan these sites to develop a stronger understanding of your business and location.

If your business isn’t listed or the information is incomplete or inaccurate, you risk diminishing the value of how your business is ranked on search engine results.

Here are things to do to take control of your local business listings:

  • Important local business listings include Yelp, Facebook, Google Business and Yellowbook.  If your business is already listed and has a profile on these sites, make sure you “claim” the listing and that the business name, address, phone number are posted and accurate. Update all the information and delete any duplicate listings or pages.  You may find you need to contact the site owner in order to take control of the listing.
  • Improve your listing to include photos, hours, contact information, your website address and a business profile of the services you offer.
  • Make sure your listing is attached to relevant categories so it can be properly optimized and correlated with your industry.  For optimized property management listings, include categories and keywords like rentals, real estate, property management and the city or location you service.

Create a link strategy

Links that point towards your website or direct people away to other related content play an important role in your SEO strategy. Relevant links to and from your website establish authenticity and credibility to your website and show search engines how you relate to the location and industry you are trying to rank for. Make sure you only focus on links that are relevant to your industry as to not damage the credibility of your website.

Here are actions to take to ensure a good link strategy:

  • Create a directory of community resources like great nearby restaurants, stores, and community attractions, that you can link out too. This establishes your website as truly local to the community you want to rank for and provides your renters with valuable local information.
  • Talk to local business to see if they will give your tenants a discounts for services that they will promote online and link back to your website.
  • Contact the local Chamber of Commerce and city to be linked to on their websites as a resource for new residents to find housing.
  • Ensure all your vacancy advertisements that are syndicated to rental listing sites include a link back to your website.
  • Find industry related blogs and offer to write a guest post with a link back to your website. (If anyone wants to write for the Rentec Direct Blog, contact Kaycee for the guidelines).

Encourage and Respond to Online Reviews

User reviews build your business’ reputation in the industry, influence buying decisions and also help with SEO. Engaging with your online reviews, whether positive or negative, provide SEO benefits by showing your activity and relevancy online

  • Encourage your renters and owners to leave reviews about their experience with your rental business. The more positive authentic reviews about your business, the better your business will appear in search.
  • If you notice negative reviews are being posted about your management or properties, make sure to respond to them and truly evaluate if you need to change your practices.  If the reviews simply come from a negative, angry renter you should still acknowledge their concerns and try to mediate. If the reviews are justified you should consider doing something about the problem.
  • Review sites include Yelp, Google+, Google My Business, Facebook and others. Let your renters and owners have the option to post on whatever platform they are most comfortable with.  Don’t harass people for reviews, they should always come naturally to prove authenticity.
  • Never post fake reviews.  You will be discovered and you could lose your visibility in search and your credibility in the industry overall.

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Include Social Media in your Online Marketing Plan

Social media is becoming a vital role in modern day marketing.  Since social media is already an online platform, you need to attach your new website to your social media accounts. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram and Pinterest are a great way to be found online and engage with your potential renters and audience.

  • Share property photos, renter tips, discounts, promotions, inspection updates, and community events on your rental business’ social media pages.
  • Develop a social media strategy that involves regular posts and engagement. The more followers and engagement your receive, the higher your pages will appear in search.

As you will see, a lot of SEO requires a big effort up front to design a website with relevant copy and content related to your location and industry. After a website is created, in order to appear high in local search results you need to engage with your residents on review websites and seek available links to and from your website.

SEO is an important part of any business’ marketing strategy. We will continue to provide helpful articles and SEO tips specific for property managers and landlords so your business can stand out online and attract the best renters.

 

Credit to Kaycee

Kaycee manages marketing and media relations for Rentec Direct, bringing a unique perspective to the world of property management and proudly shares industry news, products, and trends within the community.

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Tech Secrets from Rising Real Estate Stars

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Online reviews aren’t just for restaurants; they are equally useful for real estate marketing. They also happen to be Kimberly Sethavanish’s secret weapon.

Sethavanish, a salesperson at Century 21 Alliance in Santa Rosa, Calif., has gained three listings from clients finding her positive reviews on Yelp. After each transaction, Sethavanish asks her clients to share their experience with her services and, for the most part, they are happy to help. And best of all, these highly persuasive online reviews are free.

“If you’re not putting yourself out there, you’re not able to be found. That’s worse than anything else,” says Sethavanish, a member of REALTOR® Magazine’s 2016 class of 30 Under 30.

For this year’s 30 young entrepreneurs, technology and online tools are a way of life in their business, keeping them connected to clients and organized at the office and helping to smooth out any bumps in the road to a successful transaction.

We asked a few of the 30 Under 30 honorees to share the tech tool that keeps them on track. Here’s what we found:

They’re Paperless

In addition to online reviews, Sethavanish is also a fan of DocuSign because it helps cut the response time in her hot seller’s market. “I’ve seen it make or break a sale,” she says. “With DocuSign, you can get your counteroffer in before someone else does.”

Several other 30 Under 30s also attest to the benefits of electronic signatures.

Shari Anhorn, CRS, GRI, team member and broker-owner at Brokers 12 Inc. in Minot, N.D., has been using DocuSign, a REALTOR Benefits® Program partner, since 2011, putting her among the first agents in Minot to use electronic signatures.

“This is rural North Dakota, and to be able to have a seller or buyer who is two hours away sign a document from afar is tremendous,” she says. What’s more, many of her clients are military personnel who have to purchase property sight unseen, and DocuSign has eased the process, Anhorn says.

But some 30 Under 30 members are careful not to assume every client knows how to use even the most basic technology.

The market that Diego Espinoza-Martinez, salesperson with Keller Williams Realty-Tulare in Visalia, Calif., serves is largely agricultural and heavily impoverished. While he uses DocuSign with some clients, it’s not always appropriate, he says. Instead, Espinoza-Martinez takes the time to learn his clients’ comfort level with technology and then decides on the appropriate tools for the transaction.

Another tool for going paperless is Genius Scan, available through both the App Store and Google Play. Wade Corbett, CRS, GRI, salesperson with Keller Williams Realty in Raleigh, N.C., is an avid user. “I scan a business card and import it into my database. That way, I don’t have to carry around a bunch of cards,” he says.

Genius Scan can be used to scan forms, receipts, or a multitude of other real estate documents from your smartphone. Save the images as PDFs and email them on the go. You can also export the files to your cloud service of choice, such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

Alexander Parker, also a 2016 30 Under 30 honoree, creates property folders in Dropbox for his clients, where they can share pictures, maps, and other relevant documents. Parker, salesperson with Lord & Stanley Realty in Tallahassee, Fla., is also rarely without his iPad so that he can access files anywhere and look them over with clients in the field.

In San Diego, Sarah Davis, SRES, broker owner of Davis Estates, takes her Surface Pro tablet to every client meeting. “I can take it to a showing and the buyers can sign a purchase order and send it to the listing agent while we’re still in the house,” she says. In California, agents are required to give a copy of the contract to the signer at the time it is signed, so she emails a copy to her clients directly from her tablet.

For software, she uses Microsoft OneDrive for Business, a secure cloud service, for all her transaction files. “It’s safer than email, and if my computer dies, everything is still in the cloud,” Davis says.

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They Work Hard at Staying in Touch

Connie Chung, salesperson with Vanguard Properties in San Francisco, considers herself old-fashioned when it comes to staying in contact with her clients. She prefers dinners and coffee meetings over informal emails. “I can see their facial expressions, hear the tone of their voices, and have them hear mine,” she says.

And when a client needs more attention — when they’ve expressed unhappiness with a property or have an issue that needs to be resolved — Chung says that writing an email is the last thing you should do. “I find it simplifies my life if I pick up the phone, so I can really hear where they are coming from and ask if we can meet for coffee,” she says. “A lot of times, meeting face-to-face takes away any discomfort for both parties.”

On the social media front, she engages with clients and her sphere predominantly through Instagram. “Recently, I was touring a new development. It was great to wear a hard hat and neon vest and post behind-the-scenes photos that a lot of people don’t usually get to see,” she says.

Corbett describes his database as the core of his business, so he uses Brivity, a cloud-based CRM, to stay in touch. “It helps me follow up better and makes me able to utilize my time better,” he says.

Honoree Rebekah Eaton, associate broker with RealtySouth-MB-Crestline in Birmingham, Ala., is always looking for meaningful ways to stay connected to her sphere. So she recently started using BombBomb, a service that helps users produce video greetings that can be shared via email or text. “I take a little time to record a short video saying, ‘Thinking about you.’ And then I send it on. Bam.”

They Prefer to Market in a Meaningful Way

Scott Steadman, a Windermere Real Estate agent in Draper, Utah, uses his real estate blog to tell the story of his clients. “I talk about the family who spent years gathering around the fireplace for birthdays and holidays, and how that room was the place where they felt whole,” Steadman says. “Pairing posts like that with social media always gives my followers a reason to come back to my website for more info.”

Consistency is also key, Steadman says, so he rarely lets more than a few days separate his posts, which cover everything from market trends to before-and-after renovation photos.

Brittany Barsky-Allison, team member with Wydler Brothers in Bethesda, Md., focuses on promoting her business on Facebook in a “fun, organic way.” She creates an advertising campaign for every one of her listings, and she often posts pictures with clients or of homes she’s toured on her personal and business pages. She celebrates each closing with a status update and is frequently “liking” and commenting on her friends’ statuses and photos.

“This has helped me to pick up referrals and create a sense of expertise amongst my peers,” she says. “Brokerages must continue to place more emphasis on the people in the real estate industry and recognize that people buy homes, not computers, robots, or smartphones. Technology strengthens our industry, but people are at the core, and we cannot forget that simple fact.”

Barsky-Allison uses Salesforce.com to track her pipeline and communicate with her sphere of influence. She sends out weekly and monthly emails as well as monthly market updates, and acknowledges the buy or sell anniversaries of her clients by sending a note or gift.

Customer service is a top priority for honoree Jessica Bean, salesperson with Century 21 Price Right in Lewiston, Idaho. That’s why she arms herself with data from NAR’s Realtors Property Resource® before every marketing or listing presentation.

“It’s one of the most integral pieces of my business,” says Bean, who will compare RPR’s detailed reports against her own research on comps as well as the assessed value of a property. The reports also help her make the case that presale updates can make a listing much more attractive.

Bean also notes that RPR can help her craft a competitive offer in the seller’s market that currently defines much of her area. She uses it to help buyers put themselves in sellers’ shoes, explaining how she’d use the RPR data to price the home if she were the listing agent on the property. And finally, Bean loves the fact that she can pull RPR up on her phone on the go: “I literally use it every day in my business. Man, it’s a lifesaver for me.”

 

Credit to Erica Christoffer

Erica Christoffer is a consulting editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

 

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The Internet of Things & Organized Real Estate

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In examining how the Internet of Things will change the way people buy, sell, and manage property over the next few years, it’s clear that the universe of Internet-enabled devices and beacon technology could also change the way the industry organizes itself.

In case you missed our print feature examining the Internet of Things (or IoT) and real estate, here’s a quick recap of how this technology works: Smart devices record and transmit data in a variety of ways, and many of these devices are focused on improving consumers’ interactions with homes and businesses. One familiar example is the Nest thermostat (created by a company recently purchased by Google). This device allows users to control the HVAC system of a home remotely, using a smartphone. But for a device to be truly “smart,” it needs to be more than a glorified remote control. The Nest learns a household’s schedule and programs itself based on its owners’ habits. Individual users can set baselines about how much water or electricity they want to use, but the device can also coordinate these commands with data from the National Weather Service or a city’s electrical grid to help conserve energy and save money. Beacon technology is another facet of the IoT world. These small devices, usually powered by Bluetooth low-energy technology, can be mounted virtually anywhere and transmit information about the environment to nearby receptors (usually to mobile devices via app software).

Organizations can also use this emerging technology to better serve members and event attendees. Beacon technology has already been used to enhance trade show and meeting experiences at the Las Vegas and San Diego convention centers, among others. Beacons can deliver location-based information to visitors, gather audience feedback in real time, and offer smarter, faster ways to register for and network at large gatherings.

Just as increased information about homes captured by Internet-enabled devices can help listing agents market properties better, and just as environmental data captured by municipal smart devices can help buyer’s agents determine the best neighborhoods for their clients, so can IoT help associations improve the member experience. The California Association of REALTORS® is building a warehouse of sorts that will merge some of the more traditional member information, such as designations and committee involvement, with data that tracks member behavior, like interactions with webinars, e-mails, and zipForms. The association hopes to use the data to help them make more informed, strategic decisions about member benefits and engagement.

“This year, we’re going to start looking at correlations between behaviors and trying to determine what we can learn about that in order to make our investments more effective,” says Josh Sharfman, CAR’s chief technology officer. “What can we do to make members more productive?”

Sharfman sees the potential in using beacon technology to proctor educational courses. Beacons can be set up to record when particular people enter and exit a room, allowing associations to set up a check-in process during a board of directors meeting or continuing education class.

“Of course, there is a creepiness factor to being able to follow a person around at all times. But when it comes to a committee member, who is being paid for their time, being able to account for whether or not that person is in the room when they say they are is a pretty reasonable use of the technology,” says Sharfman.

Technology experts at the National Association of REALTORS® are also watching these developments closely.

“I think NAR will get into the IoT game in the near future,” says Chad Curry, managing director of NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology. “It has the potential to improve member experience and value.”

Curry adds that IoT data could someday augment the research department at NAR or other associations. By using predictive analytics carefully, the tracking of industry trends could benefit from information gathered in real time by Internet-enabled devices.

“We might be able to see a recession coming faster if we notice that there’s less traffic on Michigan Avenue,” Curry says, referring to the iconic stretch of high-end retail known as the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. “Maybe there’s a specific store, even, that signals that.”

Making Listing Data More Valuable

Though beacon technology is still new, it’s already being used to augment home tours. Avid Ratings, a customer loyalty management firm for homebuilders based in Madison, Wis., launched an updated version of its home tour software at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas this January. Called GoTour Onsite, the new version uses beacon technology to enable house hunters to tour a model home on their mobile device. As they enter each room, customers can immediately access floor plans, options for customization, and videos that provide in-depth information about hidden aspects of the home, such as building materials and HVAC systems.

Folding this type of data into a multiple listing service feed could be game-changing. MLS listings could be augmented with data feeds from outside sources, perhaps allowing buyers who gaze out a “smart” window to see up-to-date municipal information about how much traffic goes by, or to have the area’s Walkscore pop up on their mobile device when they’re standing on the front porch. Sharfman says he sees this technology as an opportunity for MLSs to add real value to the home tour experience, especially for the luxury market in California. Such smart home tours could even be produced using information pulled directly from an MLS listing, making the home marketing task a bit simpler for individual real estate pros.

The data flow could theoretically go in both directions; while MLSs could provide and package new information about for-sale properties, they could also collect information about transactions that could prove to be useful for MLS members. An MLS could use beacons or Internet-enabled lockboxes to record how much time house hunters spend in each room, helping listing agents better position a property for sale based on real-time feedback from buyers. By having this data on all homes in the MLS, members could get an idea of how many minutes of attention their listing has gotten compared to other homes on the market.

Of course, the development of such complex data-sharing systems may be awhile off, depending on the pace of development both within the technology sector and in associations and MLSs.

“It’s going to take effort and investment to make it work on all sides of the deal. It requires a sophisticated real estate professional to add in data streams, as well as some of the narrative information about what it’s like to actually live there that sellers may tell the listing agent,” says Sharfman. “But it also requires a dedicated MLS to make sure all these data streams work together and feed up information in a useful way that home buyers will actually enjoy interacting with, rather than seeing it as a distraction.”

Todd Carpenter, NAR’s managing director of data analytics, also views this as a way to shift the value proposition for real estate professionals in the future.

“The piece of the pie that is MLS data is getting smaller,” Carpenter says. “If you’re selling yourself, you can say ‘I’m the one who can help you decipher this expanding data,’ instead of ‘I am the one who can show it to you.’ The person who only has the keys to the MLS is not going to be successful in the future.”

While the complexity of the task ahead is great, so too may be the rewards. Curry agrees that the Internet of Things is ripe for organizational investment. “This is a beautiful time to be working on this. Listing data is almost passé right now [and] home performance data and behavioral data are going to become key,” Curry says. “If the MLSs and the associations and portals were to get into this market, it could be a real boon for the industry.”

 

Credit to Meg White

Meg White is the managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine

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Stay Ahead of Hackers

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During the economic downturn, real estate pros were on high alert for scams by perpetrators who preyed on cash-strapped home owners desperate to stave off foreclosure. Today, a new wave of scammers is breaking into people’s e-mail accounts to cull information about pending deals.

The hackers—posing as sellers, title company representatives, or even other real estate agents—instruct buyers, agents, or attorneys to transfer funds related to the purchase to accounts belonging to the scammers, potentially swindling victims out of sizable sums. In addition, agents lately have been the target of ruses involving overseas cash “buyers” who ask for bank account information so they can supposedly wire deposits.

Whatever the technique, hackers are finding ways to trick buyers, sellers, and practitioners by e-mail or phone to hand over large amounts of money. In many cases, the heists could have been prevented if the victim had verified that the instructions were legitimate before proceeding. “For anyone involved in real estate transactions, the key is vigilance and making sure that what is happening should be happening,” says Peter Bolac, trust account compliance counsel for the North Carolina State Bar, which has received multiple reports of fraud involving wired funds in real estate transactions, including one involving a loss of $200,000. “Everyone involved in handling [transactions] has a duty to be sure their accounts are secure” and the procedures they follow include safeguards to protect clients.

Hacking incidents, sometimes referred to as “spear phishing,” have disrupted transactions in a number of states, including California, New Jersey, and North Carolina.

Any e-mail seeking a funds transfer from you or your client should be examined carefully. In one North Carolina case, the hacker used an e-mail address that varied from the actual seller’s address by a single letter—but the discrepancy went unnoticed until after the unsuspecting buyer had sent over money.

The best way to foil e-mail hackers is to keep them from getting into your account in the first place. “The nature of threats on the Internet is that you don’t always know whether your systems are getting attacked,” says Les Sease, information technology director for Carolina One Real Estate in Charleston, S.C., underscoring the importance of paying close attention to how you manage your e-mail accounts.

One of the strategies Sease recommends for keeping intruders out of your e-mail involves two-step verification, which requires you to log in using a unique code provided by text message or through a mobile app in addition to your password. The advantage of this method is that even if a hacker is able to figure out your password, he or she won’t be able to enter your account without also knowing the code. E-mail providers such as Google and Yahoo offer this option.

Password strength is another factor to consider. Create passwords that are difficult to crack and change them often, says Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based personal security and identity theft expert. In addition, resist the temptation to use the same password for more than one account, and use passcodes to protect your smartphone and other mobile devices, he says.

Some real estate pros say reliance on electronic communications in business has contributed to the slackness. By contrast, the personal relationships that define the real estate industry are a powerful deterrent to fraud. Cameron Platt, owner of Platt Inc. Real Estate, in Oakland, Calif., says, when it comes to preventing information theft, “nothing beats face-to-face and voice contact” between parties in a transaction.

 

Credit to Sam Silverstein

As a writer-producer for the National Association of REALTORS® based in Washington, Sam Silverstein develops articles and videos for NAR’s members and others interested in its activities, statistics and research.

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Tech Trends That’ll Change Showings

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Imagine a new way to transport your out-of-town buyers to the living room of a home for sale without them ever having to leave their desk. Or how about ways to show the expanse of a property from above rooftops? Maybe you dare to dream of a easier way to move smoothly from property to property as you work with your clients. Technology has the potential to shake up the real estate business and overhaul how you conduct showings in the future.

CES 2016, the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, kicked off Jan. 6 in Las Vegas, touting some of the potential game-changers coming to market in 2016 and beyond.

This year’s conference breaks records in terms of size and scope: Companies show off products in 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space throughout Las Vegas convention centers and hotels (the equivalent of 50 football fields). About 20,000 new products are expected to launch during this year’s conference.

What developments at CES 2016 could potentially shake up your real estate business? Here are four big tech trends coming out of CES 2016 and how they could affect you.

1. Virtual reality headsets

These offer the capability of transporting you into a 3-D world, which could even include a home that’s for sale thousands of miles from where you are. You’ll feel like you are there as you look around the space. While virtual reality headsets have mostly been geared to the gaming industry in recent years, that could change in 2016.

Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s VR Gear, and HTC Vive are among the VR products debuting at CES this year. More than 40 VR exhibitors are present at this year’s conference.

As these headsets are paired with more smartphones and other tech tools, businesses likely will unlock more practical applications for them. For example, some VR headsets could be used in conjunction with 3-D video cameras to capture virtual reality content, which could then be viewed with a Google Cardboard VR viewer or Samsung Gear VR.

2. Drones

In real estate, unmanned aerial vehicles could soon help you market your listings from above rooftops, offering aerial photos and videos of homes and the surrounding property. While FAA rules regarding the commercial use of such drones have not yet been released, some real estate professionals have obtained Section 333 waivers permitting them to use drones in their business. For more on this evolving topic, check out NAR’s frequently asked questions on drones.

FAA guidelines for commercial use are expected to be released this summer. While the industry waits for the FAA’s full approval, drone manufacturers have been sharpening their line-ups. Those at CES this year are showing off more sophisticated models that can be controlled by smartphones, offer longer flight times, are easier to pilot, and boast cameras capable of recording high-definition photos and videos.

Some manufacturers are also touting drones that could one day become your showing buddy too. For example, the Lily Camera is a $799 drone, available in February of this year, that tracks you and then films you as you move about. Throw the 2.9-pound drone into the air and it’ll instantly take flight and start recording in high definition. It flies itself and could even follow you and your buyers as you tour a space.

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3. Smarter homes

Home showings of the future may be more about demonstrating what a home can do than showing the spaces that comprise it.

Appliances and other home components are getting more intertwined. Nearly half of 4,000 U.S. adults recently surveyed by Coldwell Banker say they own smart-home technology or plan to invest in it this year. The main factors driving adoption rates, they say, are safety and security, temperature control and monitoring, and the ability to control the lights, usually via a smartphone.

Several companies will be launching systems at CES this year that hold promise for communicating with various products from one central command post. For example, LG’s Smart ThinQ hub connects the home’s appliances and monitors, controls, and collects information from home appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, ovens, and more, displaying the information on a central LCD screen. Samsung’s SmartThings hub allows control over lights, locks, and temperature all from a home’s TV.

Also at CES, tech companies are showing off smarter appliances. For example, Samsung wants the refrigerator to become a central hub in the kitchen with its new Family Hub Refrigerator, which features a 21.5-inch HD monitor and stereo speakers on the fridge door. The display can show recipes, the family’s calendar, and photos and can even use the refrigerator’s interior camera to show what’s inside (a view also accessible via smartphone).

4. Self-driving cars

Hands-free driving may be closer to reality than you think. That would allow you to take your eyes off the road and focus on your prospects as you prepare them for the next home to tour. The technology already exists, but testing, refinement, and public acceptance will likely keep autonomous vehicles from becoming mainstream for the next four years.

Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and director of research at the Consumer Technology Association, said at a session on Tuesday that he expects full self-driving automation to be available to consumers by 2020. By 2030, he says he expects 1 million autonomous vehicles will be on the road, and between 2040 and 2050, about half of all vehicles sold will be autonomous.

More than 115 auto tech companies and nine automakers are debuting products at CES this year. The car technology at this year’s show is showing off not only driverless capabilities but also new advances in energy-efficient vehicles and even home-car connectivity.

But the ambitions to get a driving-free era underway are stealing most of the center stage again at CES. On Tuesday, Ford announced that it’s tripling its fleet of autonomous vehicles in development and testing its Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles on roads in California, Arizona, and Michigan. It will add 20, totaling 30 autonomous vehicles — the largest autonomous vehicle fleet of all automakers. The company is promising a wide range of options as well. “When we do come out with an autonomous car [for consumers], it won’t be something just for luxury buyers,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said at a CES press conference Tuesday.

 

Credit to Melissa Dittmann Tracey
Contributing Editor

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® magazine.

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Healthy Tech, Healthy Business

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Until it slows to a crawl, idles, or crashes, you likely take for granted that your laptop or desktop computer will do what you expect it to. But it’s risky to overlook regular computer maintenance and even worse to be in the dark about whether your backup system is functioning. The fact is your computer will give out on you one day; you just don’t know when. The average useful life expectancy of today’s computers is anywhere from two to five years, says Matthew Cohen, chief technologist for Clareity Consulting, a real estate technology firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. But you’ll likely be able to increase the longevity of your devices—and eke out perhaps seven or eight good years—by following these tips. In short, a fast, fit, and trouble-free computer requires regular updates, cleanups, and backups.

Keeping It Clean

Your computer is probably covered with tiny dust particles, which can severely shorten its life span. “Dust is a killer,” says Burton Kelso, owner and chief technology helper of Integral Computer Consultants, a Kansas City, Mo., computer repair company. “When dust collects inside your technology, it can cause your devices to overheat, which will cause them to fail.”

To beat back interior dust bunnies, Kelso recommends his clients—15 percent of whom are real estate agents—clean the inside of their computers once a year. If you’re not comfortable with unscrewing the housing and zapping the inside with a can of compressed air, then hire a professional. The can costs less than $10, while professional help will set you back between $50 and $100 per hour.

Aside from keeping mechanical parts of your computer clean, you should also pay attention to software clutter. Delete programs and applications you don’t use. Cohen suggests using the “add and remove software” feature to cull old files and programs. “Always keep the hard drive at least 20 percent empty,” he adds. “If you have too much stuff, it’s time to upgrade your hard drive, with technical help, or remove unneeded files.”

Don’t install another program just to find out which programs to clean up. Cohen says practitioners should avoid utility apps that promise to optimize or clean your computer. “They cause more harm than good,” he says.

Older computers used to benefit from defragmenting, which basically compacted information on your hard drive, speeding up your system. Cohen says most Windows defragmentation utilities are set to run automatically. “However, sometimes, one needs to analyze and defragment the discs,” he adds. To do this, go to the Start menu, type “defragmenter,” and locate the “disc defragmenter” utility. Mac users “generally don’t have to defrag,” Cohen notes. “It does it on its own.” Finally, check your preferences and examine which programs launch automatically upon startup and which ones are constantly running in the background. You can almost always change the settings so that they use up less of your computer’s operating power.

Staying Secure

Kelso says malware is the cause of many computer issues, so Windows and Mac users need to take protective steps. Always download antivirus software directly from the vendor site, and don’t share your account information with others.

Part of keeping your computer secure is limiting access to it. Marc Catuogno, director of information technology for Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty in New City, N.Y., oversees 200 computers for 800 active agents and 23 offices. To keep data safe on corporate computers, Catuogno suggests centralizing important information and making it inaccessible to the general sales population.

“We keep our data in the main home office,” Catuogno says. “Anything really important we keep on our extranet, [which] is password-protected and limits the harm that agents can do to each other’s data.”

Keeping information stored this way can actually help agents’ computers run more efficiently, because the hard drive doesn’t have to store data locally. “There is very little information actually on the computers; everything is Internet-based,” Catuogno says. “We encourage the agents to keep their own portable thumbnail drives if they need to access things.”

And it’s not just other users you need to be careful about; be choosy about the web applications you use as well. Read their user agreements and research past security breaches before signing up. If you’re looking for a free e-mail solution, choose Gmail, Kelso says, over the less-secure Yahoo or AOL.

Keeping Up-to-Date

Sometimes computers are slow because you’ve been ignoring that box that pops up telling you it’s time to update programs, or even to get the latest operating system. If you’re really far behind, that can mean your software and hardware don’t have the patches they need to interact smoothly and safely.

However, don’t get too update-happy. Sometimes it’s best to wait a few days on major updates to make sure they work properly. United Real Estate Scottsdale broker Byron Short, who oversees information technology for 42 agents, warns practitioners against updating immediately. “There’s no reason to be on the bleeding edge,” Short says. “Let somebody else take the damage. Then come in when it’s proven and it works.”

Having an End Game

Everyone needs to prepare for the worst-case scenario: losing your data in a crash. Store critical business data on secure servers or using cloud-based systems like Carbonite or Dropbox. Even when your computer suffers a catastrophic failure, this doesn’t mean your business has to experience it as well. Kelley Skar, a real estate practitioner with CIR Realty in Calgary, Alberta, says the last time his laptop crashed in 2012, he lost 30 percent of his data. Fortunately, he’d backed the remainder up using online storage systems. Since then he’s spent about $300 to add a two-terabyte external hard drive that uses Apple’s Time Capsule program to back up his data locally once a month.

No matter how well you manage your computers, you’ll need to replace them eventually. Catuogno’s company uses Windows and Acer machines, but it doesn’t change out its inventory wholesale. Instead, he replaces the oldest machines with new PCs every 12 to 18 months. The company does keep older models that still have life in them available for agents who prefer to stick with what they know..

 

Credit to Michelle Hofmann
Freelance Writer

Michelle Hofmann is a Los Angeles-based freelance reporter who loves all things real estate. Connect on Twitter @realestatewritr or via LinkedIn or michellehofmann@earthlink.net.

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