Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Need a little direction for GPS guide

For the January 2010 buying guide for Realtor magazine online I’ll be looking at “tech tools for getting there”—GPS navigation systems and services.

Reader input always helps make these stories accurate reports on what real estate processionals are using and why. So, I welcome comments from Realtors about your GPS solution.

Have you tried, do you have a preference for a dedicated navigation system, or the services available over your cellphone? Found an innovative way to integrate GPS into your real estate career? Send comments to me, antoniak at dtccom.net . Just tag it GPS in the subject line

I read all responses, and, based on trends, follow up with a few for interviews and inclusion in the article.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Electronic Signatures Update

Even in this digital age, there’s often a lag between when a story is researched, submitted and it posts. Case in point the December TechWatch column on digital signatures.

When I spoke with Tom Gonser at Docusign for the story in late October, he indicated it would take leadership from the top to really promote the digital standard, and indicated be something in the offing.

Lo and Behold, in late November, NAR announced Docusign as the latest member of its “Benefits Partner” program. You can see the release here.

Those who can’t yet take advantage of the tech, but would like to, can point to this announcement to bolster your case for a move in this direction with managers, brokers, fellow Realtors and local and state associations.

I’ve been meaning to make this post a while, but as any bloggers out there know, other things can easily get in the way. At any rate, what finally prompted this post is a follow-up email to my original column from a contact at a company called DotLoop.

They’re targeting the real estate market with a Web-based solution combining electronic forms, digital signatures, CRM and transaction management.

With NAR’s embrace, I expect 2010 will see the beginning of a real migration to electronic signatures and documents, for the good of all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Art of the Blog

Working on a story about what Realtors have on their tech “wish list” for next year. A couple have mentioned getting serious about a blog. It’s a lot of work, I advised, something that often gets pushed down the “to do” list as other responsibilities take precedence.(as here)

One reported the webmaster had it figured out, suggested entries and updates could be farmed out to overseas content creators. Cheaply too. If you can’t do it yourself, hire American, I say. As a freelancer, I’ve started to see overseas writers bid for work here for as little as $4 per hour on some of the freelance job boards.

A blog should be your voice, reflecting your unique understanding and insight into your market area. If you can’t pull it off yourself, find a professional writer to work with you and develop a voice for your blog. They need the work, and know enough to ask the right questions to make your blog speak for you. Just like your website, the best entries will be written by a professional who understands your business, your unique challenges.

You won’t get that by outsourcing....and if you can’t find someone in your area, hey, I’m available.

Shameless plug, sure. But having made writing my career, I just hate the thought of any of that work heading overseas, to the lowest bidder.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Odds and Ends

Another Video Hosting Site
If you’ve been thinking about using video tours to promote listings but have been put off by the cost or complication of pulling it off, take a look at Home On The Tube, a property marketing site. It provides members free video hosting and video streaming and can be used to promote homes, rentals and vacation properties.

Best, this service is aimed at those who want point and shoot simplicity. Here’s instructions to users, pulled from the website. “...pick up your digital camera, set it to "video mode" and begin to shoot the property you have listed. Just ‘walk and talk’ your way through the home; pointing out the best features. A couple of minutes of video is all you need. Then you simply upload your property videos to Home on the Tube for the world to see!”

Video can be that easy. Sample tours others have posted there and judge for yourself.

Mapping and Navigation
Your navigation system is only as good as its map database. If you live in an area where there’s significant development or construction, that digital atlas of streets should be updated annually, at least, Now that advice applies to anyone in an area where local post offices have closed or will be closing offices in the post offices nationwide efforts to streamline oprations.

That could mean zip code changes, and new addresses in rural areas, especially. Out in th country, the city part of an address may not reflect physical location as much as the location of the post office from which mail is delivered. If these changes could affect your market area, you may want to ask the provider of your navigation system if they will also impact your navigation system.
To my knowledge, Maponics is the first to address these changes with the latest release of its Zip Cod based mapping data, but the post office plans could impact all systems, so be vigilant in updating your map database.

While we’re on the subject of navigation, Navigon has added itsTrafficLive feature to its MobileNavigator iPhone application. It provides users with real time traffic alerts to help reduce commute times. It’s available for a one time purchase of $24.99, with no additional service charges. An introductory rate of $19.99 runs through next month.

Right name...
When I did the recent TechWatch column on brokerage management solutions, I tried googling different terms and keywords to find relevant products. Something I do for every story to make sure I don’t miss the obvious.

So you would think a company and website called Broker Office Solutions might pop in the results. Well it didn’t, and a contact there followed up to ask that I include their products in future articles. Click the links to see what they have to offer brokers and agents.

At the very least, this demonstrates the importance of search engine optimization, as the right name alone will not guarantee good ranking in search results.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Briefs: GPS Safety, Facebook App, Affordability....

Personal Security Locator: Often when I do the buying guides guides I’ve been writing for Realtor since the early 1990s, I’ll hear from companies about relevant products not included. Sometimes it’s purely an editorial decision,there’s only so much space. And sometimes, despite my relentless search for relevant items to include in the chart , things just don’t bubble to the cyber syrface. Case in point the September personal safety guide,

After the story appeared, the maker contacted me about his Personal Protection Locator. At $299 and $99/year for the service it’s may seem a little price little to some, but can you put a price on safety? The key-sized KeySmart transceiver is easily concealed. When activated, it sends out a signal to the response service pinpointing your location. The service then calls the desigated contact and guides them to wehre you are. It’s a new applicaiton for GPS, and a safety service/feature that could eventually find its way into other GPS devices.

ATT Facebook Users: Another reader contacted me to spread the word about a facebook app developed specifically for Realtors called CenterStage for Real Estate Agents from Clientopoly. It simplifies the process of adding info—text, price and pix—of current listings and home’s you’ve sold to your facebook profile. You can sample CenterStage with a 30-day free trial, after which it costs $8 per month with a year-long commitment.

Affordability Index: Want an idea how how your market racks up nationally, in terms of affordability? In Late September Coldwell Banker released the results of its annual home price comaprison index.The survey reviews pricing on comparable 2,200-square foot four bedroom homes in 310 U.S. housing markets, then ranks them from most expensive(La Jolla, CA) to most afforable(Grayling, MI).National average: $363,460.

Location means everything: a similar home would cost the buyer $2.125 million in La Jolla, but just $112,675. Click here to see this year’s home price comparison index for the U.S. and Canada. There’s a two-minute infomercial about the index on ColdWell Banker’s YouTube channel.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Indexing confidence

Pont2 Technologies is looking to turn its widespread presence into timely market insight with its Real Estate Market Confidence Index, now officially up and running. The index is based on a monthly survey of Point2 users who rate the state of the real estate market as they see it in their area. Participants are asked to rate current conditions and the market outlook, on a scale of one to 10. The index represents the median, or mid point in total responses, for each topic.

For instance, the August index(the most recent available), indicates there is growing optimism about market conditions, but plenty of room for improvement. Using the scale where 1 represents bad and 10 translates into good, the confidence index for the month is 5.9. That’s a slight improvement over the August index of 5.4. There also seems to be more confidence in prospects for a long term rather than short term market recover.y Using the same scale, the short term optimism/pessimism index was 5.8, a full point below the 6.8 index of the outlook for a long term market conditions.

Of course no single window affords a complete view. You may also want to search the Realtor Confidence Index, updated throughout the year, and Zillow’s monthly Homeowner Confidence Survey.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Google Voice Launches, by Invitation Only

Google has sent out invites to sign up for a free Google Voice account.

Formerly called GrandCentral, it’s the Google version of a unified messaging system for managing your calls from a single account. Users can publish a single phone number, then have incoming calls routed to your phone when, as needed be it a landline or your mobile. It also includes centralized voicemail services from a browser-based system and interface. That’s just a start.

If you didn’t get your invitation, you can sign up for one here

AgentWorx: A New iPhone App for, from a Real Estate Pro

AgentWorx is new specialty software developed specifically for iPhone users by broker Chris Larsson in Portland OR. He describes it as an iPhone contactmanagement/productivity application for real estate. Helps organize, retrieve and share essential information in an easily managed form. Requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later and is compatible with both the iPhone and iPod touch. Available for $9.95. You can learn more here , or download AgentWorx at iTunes

A Budget Buy on Netbooks

Looking for an an easily affordable way to get started with a netbook?

How does 99 cents sound?

That’s right for a limited time, Sprint is offering a Compaq netbook for less than a dollar....with a two year service plan. At this writing, Versizon and Sprint have the same package for $199 with a two-year plan, but time will tell how they respond to the Sprint offer.

To learn more about this offer through Best Buy, start there.(http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=pcmcat182100050001&type=category) .

If you’re not familar with netbooks, take a look. This, or any other model in this growing category may be just what you need if you want more than a smartphone for mobile computing, but less than a full-sized notebook.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Briefly noted...

Here’s another compilation of announcements I’ve set aside, hoping at some point to devote some space to them. Rather than procrastinate further, here’s a rundown of some developments you may want to explore further. Just follow the links.

And by the way, the next buying guide I’ll be working on for Realtor magazine online is about Website enhancements. If you’ve found or developed any you think would be of interest/value to other realtors, feel free to email me with a link to the info.

For a long time ACT seems to have been the most popular off the shelf contact management system for Realtors. Early last month the company released the latest version of the program developed specifically for those in this trade. ACT! by Sage for Real Estate 11, $299 or $199 upgrade, adds a few new features, including a “related contacts” feature for defining relations among contacts like buyers and sellers; improved integration with Outlook for organizing emails and calendar functions with contact records; and streamlined search functions.

Uses of digital signatures, and those interested in seeing how the technology might streamline their workflow, should take a look at the new version of DocuSign just announced. new features in DocuSign v9.1 include electronic signature personalization, a screen guide to sending documents for signature; a proprietary “Intelligent Document Recognition” feature which recognizes the type of document , then tags and tabs it as defined by the user for signing or data entry; designation of a “Signing Host” who functions as a host and notary to coordinate use of electronic and in-person signatures in transactions involving multiple signers.

MobileAppLoader.com is trying to get a leg up as a developer and distributor of iPhone applications with its iPhone application Real Estate Real Easy. Initially available free for download and distribution, the company touts it as a tool to promote your business on the client’s phone. When they launch the application, the opening window invites them to call or email you. Subsequent pages allow them to search for properties, visit a webpage, learn about your services and company, or send you a location-based request for information about an area or particular piece of property. You can see samples at the Website or iTunes( http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewArtist?id=293197705&mt=8 )

Realtor.com continues to fine tune its marketing programs to the varied needs of members and company. Just announced is a deal with Long & Foster to increase marketing exposure for its sales associates and clients on the Realtor.com website. Long & Foster listings will display company branding, a virtual “lawn sign”, wherever they appear on Realtor.com, including on the search results page.

In another new marketing program, Realtor.com and broker members of The Realty Alliance announced plans to avail the Showcase Listing Enhancement package to Realty Alliance brokers and associates increase the appeal of select listings on Realtor.com.

The featured listings will contain a photo gallery of as many as 25 photos, neighborhood details, full motion videos and virtual tours(if available) and lead capture forms. Pilot programs will add home warranty and mortgage services info alongside participating brokers’ listings on Realtor.com

Monday, May 4, 2009

How I bought a camera

My Canon digital camera finally died, forcing me back into the market.

What mattered? Price, for one thing. Since new cameras seem to be released every few months, I didn’t want to spend too much, knowing there could be good cause to step up to something else within a year or two. So, I didn’t want to spend more than $200.

Megapixel rating is a much touted and overrated feature. In reality, for typical real estate applications—posting to the web, images in flyers and brochures— a 3MP camera would do. But sensors have evolved well beyond that, except on phones and Webcams. So I knew any current camera would serve.

More important were the camera’s optics. As both a Realtor and avid photographer, I wanted a wide-angle lens, and a powerful optical zoom.

Versatility, too. I don’t shoot that much video but wanted that option so I would no longer need to carry a camera and camcorder. A determining requirement for me was that the optical zoom function when recording video. That’s not such a common feature.

For convenience, I wanted a compact that felt good in my hand. Internal memory and SD card. With everything else, it had to be durable: I carry my camera on a lot of hikes.

So what did I get?

Panasonic Lumix TZ-4, purchased in a bundle at Sam’s Club for $179. It’s one of last year’s models in the Lumix line, so the price break. It’s a compact with a stainless steel body. As far as the optics go, it’s got a Leica (synonymous with quality optics to those of a certain age) 10X wide angle optical zoom lens. Optical zoom works in the video mode, and it can record high resolution video at 720p in the 16:9 aspect ratio. There’s a step-up model, the TZ-5 which records in true HD (1080 lines of resolution)for less than $50 more.

The only compromise I've discovered so far was giving up a through-the-lens-view finder. That takes some getting used to... I’ve also learned in some situations it’s best not to shoot in the camera's “intelligent” mode. That and carry a tripod for when I want to shoot with the full zoom.

This is not an endorsement, nor a glowing review. In fact, mine may not be the right camera for you. But that’s not my point. It’s this: when you think these things through before you start shopping. prioritize which features and functions matter. Computer, phone or camera you’ll end up happy with whatever you’re buying.

I am.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Five Questions About Smarter Agent

Most think of GPS as a navigation tool, but one company is using that technology as the basis for of location-based property searches on mobile devices. Smarter Agent is a carrier approved, GPS-powered tool which enables consumers to search and retrieve property information on their cell phone or other handset, based on where they are. It was developed by co-founders and brothers Brad(CEO) and Eric Blumberg ( CTO and president). The Blumbergs have an insiders’ understanding of how technology can best serve the needs of today’s mobile real estate professionals and clients. Their mother owned a brokerage office, and they have held real estate licenses since they were 18. They hold several U. S. patents for the use of technology in their system.(responses have been edited)


Can you explain Smarter Agent?
Smarter Agent gives consumers a mobile application to search property listings anywhere, anytime from the convenience of their cell phone, iPhone or BlackBerry. Our application Homes for Sale pinpoints the users’ location then pulls up all properties for sale in the immediate area: IDX/VOW (publicly viewable listings) data with sales prices, property descriptions and neighborhood information. They can map the results, view photos and search by city, zip code or community name. When ready, they hit “call to see” and are connected with the broker or agent who provided the application, no matter whose listing it is.

How does this solution work (including integrating with IDX and MLS)?
Smarter Agent works as a vendor with the broker or agent’s MLS to take the IDX/VOW mobile, while maintaining the broker/agent’s brand just like their Web site. Consumers can search “all” properties in that region, and our Homes for Sale application lets them see all nearby homes for sale, based on their current location, as they travel through neighborhoods.

What's the cost and requirements for agents and brokers?
Agents and brokers pay to have our application branded, distributed to clients, and their calls routed to you. Standard pricing is around $40 per month, for unlimited distribution to consumers. We offer specials throughout the year so call for the most updated pricing.

For consumers? 
For consumers, the download is free on the iPhone and BlackBerry devices. For other devices, the carrier may charge a fee to download Homes for Sale, comparable to the cost to download a game or a ringtone

What are the benefits to the real estate professional providing this solution?
Homes for Sale is a branded mobile application. It gives brokers/agents access to clients on their cell phone, whether they use it for text messaging, mobile web (WAP) or downloadable applications. Searches can be launched directly from a Web site, or as directed by a sign rider or printed advertisement. Calls placed from the branded application are routed back to you, regardless of who listed the property.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quick Takes:

For Mac Users
If you’ve got a G5 or better, and have experimented with past versions of iLife for building/managing a Website via iWeb, or creating video tours with iMovie I’d highly recommend the latest version of the suite, iLife 09.

Both simple to use, but they’ve opened up on the creative end to deliver that combination of ease of use and sophistication that is the Mac experience. New version of iPhoto can geo-tag your photos too, and post them on a map, if you’ve got one of the few GPS-enabled cameras like the Nikon Coolpix P6000. If not, you can enter addresses as you upload them to take advantage of the mapping feature.

Rumor of the week : Apple is prepping its version of a Netbook, with speculation based on orders for 10 inch-touchscreen panels placed with Taiwanese manufacturer. A hybrid iPhone/iPod Touch/tablet for the netbook class? We’ll have to wait and see

Regardless of Apple’s plans, a netbook is something t to consider. Just got one of the Dell netbooks in my house...for one of our kids who wants nothing but quick on for Facebook, IM, etc. First hands-on impression are these could be great solutions for the mobile Realtor who wantsmore from the Web than a smartphone can deliver but finds a full-sized notebook a little cumbersome to haul around. Keyboard a bit cramped, but more than enough screen. And the price: under $300.

But is any netbook a good choice for you? Think about what you need in the field. If it’s mostly Web, comfortably viewed, they make sense. And you don’t have to worry about loading it with all your software. With Web based-apps like Google Apps, Top Producer and the like, as long as you can connect, you’re in business.

Design Center
Here’s how practical and productive Web-based apps can be.

For a mailing , I didn’t have the right template for the labels. No problem. With the Avery Design and Print Online center you can build then print whatever you need to print on Avery’s paper products--labels, business cards, postcards, etc. All done right there, via your Web browser, perfectly formatted for your printer in a few steps--even addressed using your mailing list.

Create a free account you can save your projects, return revise and edit as needed. Just another example of potential for Web-based apps.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Discerning some trends from CES

In Tech Watch for Realtor magazine online’s February edition, I tried to highlight some more noteworthy introductions at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Here, I’ll briefly highlight a few emerging product with potential promise for mobile agents

CES always has its surprises, but more than anything the show offers a compass on where technology is headed. One key to the future is the continuing refinement of flash memory technology, and the next generation of equipment it will empower. For example,the SD Association, representing more ethan 1,100 companies, announced agreements of a next standard, called SDXC, for flash memory cards with storage capacity of up to two terabytes(1 terabyte ==1,000GB) of data

When you can slip that kind of memory into a portable device of any kind, there’s simply more you can store and do. In fact, the implications of advances in flash memory are already evident in the growing selection of flash-based camcorders. With no moving parts , save their optics, these compact portable devices may be all you ned for photos and video.(Announcements from Canon, Sony

That is of course, if high res image capture isn’t already built in to your next generation smartphone. The newly announced palm Pre, with its its 3MP sensor, is already good enough for basic photos for the Web.

Last year, the miniature projection systems from the likes of 3M and Microvision , http://www.aboutprojectors.com/WowWee-Cinemin-Stick-projector.html
were among the show stealers at CES.

This time out we started to see potential applications of that technology in a range of devices like 3M’s MM200 and the Cinemin line coming this spring from WowWee.

Such projectors will be ideal for presentations on the road ,and get get around the small screen display which has been one of the real limits to many mobile handsets. One day with one of these, you could confidently leave a full sized notebook behind, and decide between a smartphone or net notebook as your mobile office.

One dedicated device which could go the way of all flesh: stand-alone GPS navigators. With GPS navigation a routine service offering from most cellular providers, and as as more smartphones offer GPS navigation as a standard feature or option, you have to wonder where the dedicated system will fit in the future. In the car seems most likely, and to secure that presence there has been a trend to improve the services which empower these devices.
If you live or work in a busy city, the most useful seem to be real time traffic updates now increasingly common with device/services bundles like TomTom Live, TeleNav Shotgun or the Dash Express (http://www.dash.net/product/traffic.php).