Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Briefly Noted....

      I’m continually approached by start-ups  and small companies to  over and review their products. I invite those contacts, but in fairness I have to say up front I don’t have the time or resources to test or review every product. 
  I can use this space, when applicable, to mention new solutions and get the word out to readers readers who may have an existing need and are willing to check out these new products on their own. Mention here should not be taken as an endorsement, however.
Canned Banners offers a web-based app for building interactive banner ads to promote listings, yourself or your company on Websites. Users upload photos and text and they can create a banner ad from customizable templates.
After reading the earlier post on QR codes, Per Schmitz contacted me about, the social media business card solution he’s developed.  In his words,  “DooID bundles all networking AND contact details on one Social Business Card with privacy protection.”  It’s free, with scalable privacy settings, and automatically generates QR Codes  which can be used on a vcard, or downloaded for printing. Best seen to be understood, you can look at his here.
If you’re shopping contact management/virtual business solutions, take a look at This new real-estate based contact management program that also supports file storage, calendar appointments, and multiple user interaction (for teams). A mobile version is available.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Coded Opportunity

Looking for something new and novel to set you apart? 
        Might want to investigate QR codes, one of several marketing tools included in the September buyer’s guide I recently completed for Realtor magazine online.
         A QR code is a bar code emblem which can be read with special scanning software installed on a smartphone. It has many uses, but for now in real estate it’s primary value is how it can merge print to the Web. Feature one of these codes on a postcard, flyer or in a newspaper ad, and they can be scanned to launch the Website for you or your listings on the smartphone. 
A few Realtors® are starting to feature QR codes in yard signs and ads, and some marketing solutions providers now tout QR codes as the latest value added service for subscribers. You can also generate your own, like the one above, for free, by clicking this link . Then, start exploring their possibilities.
QR codes have so much potential value for engaging smartphone users— prospective buyers and sellers — I expect they will become a fixture in all types of print promotions and marketing materials over time. For now, though, they are still new enough that there’s a definite advantage in being the one to introduce them to your market.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Patience can be its own reward

       Apple’s widely reported problems with the antenna in it’s iPhone 4 simply highlights one of the guiding principles with technology, be it the latest hardware or software. It doesn’t always pay to rush out and be the first with the latest tool until it’s been proven in the market, by actual users. Wait to hear feedback from those earliest adopters, let someone else work out the bugs before buying.
The leading edge can sometimes prove to be the bleeding edge. Exercise patience, and  you can spare yourself some frustration, and the disruptions that go with it.
A couple of briefs: Real Estate Success Tracker has added a companion Web-based service to its real estate CRM/productivity software for Mac and PC. RESTAssured automatically backs up the software database files from your computer to the Web for anywhere/anytime access. $149 set-up, and $34.98 monthly hosting fee. To learn more, click this link. ..... Navigon’s upgrade to MobileNavigator, its iPhone app, adds current weather reports, updated maps and 3d street renderings, and voice-guided directions when walking. A “Clever Parking” feature alerts you to where you’re most likely to find a space as you finish the drive to your destination.... For Blackberry users who want more control over incoming calls, the PrivacyStar  app from First Orion has been updated with enhanced call blocking and call forwarding features. The $2.99 app can also be used to identify unknown callers and add them to your contacts.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Apple users?

Later this month I’ll be working on a column for Realtor magazine online abut the Mac’s newfound status in real estate. If you’re a user of an iMac, Macbook, iPhone or the new iPad I’d like to hear your thoughts. Just email me or post a comment and I’ll get it.
 I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic input from users of Apple products when soliciting user input for recent buying guides.
 When I did the desktop computer and smartphone guides, Apple aficionados products comprised the majority of respondents, eager to share their thoughts. 
The iPhone’s popularity certain has helped make some Mac converts, but I think the iPod opened the door for many users years ago. The iPod experience, easy of use and intuitive design all  seem to have initially eroded perceptions that Apple’s products  were not for real  estate.
And now I start to hear talk of the iPad as something some Realtors would like to have, whereas other tablets never really caught on.
But what are your thoughts on the mac and family for real estate? How tough was it to match Apple’s products and software to your real estate career? Pros, and cons?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More and Less: Digital Cameras

A digital camera is one of your necessities. How else to get pic for the tours so vital to promoting listings online?

For most Realtors® the answer has been some from of compact camera. The range of compacts with a wide angle lens, and HD video record capabilities has been improving, with many models for under $300.

Sony's new NEX-5 compact DSLR
Better photography often requires a digital SLR with an interchangeable lens system. The range of lenses, and advanced features of these cameras, give you more creative control over photos, inside and out.

Now a third category of camera is emerging: compact digital SLRs. These have bodies closer in size to a compact, but with the added versatility of an interchangeable lens system. They might be the best choice for those who want the best in both worlds.
Some models to consider: Olympus PEN EP-1; Panasonic Lumix GF1; Sony NEX-5As examples of one of the latest advances in imaging, they command high prices...for now.

As these cameras work int the pipeline, there’s notable news at the other end of the imaging pipeline, too Image sensors of 5MP or better are becoming increasingly common on smartphones, as seen in the 8MP Kin Two from Microsoft,(aimed at the youth market) and the previously mentioned HTC EVO Apple’s newly announced iPhone 4. While 5MP is good enough for your real estate photography needs, the zoom capabilities of these cameras still lag.

A good strategy might a high res smartphone for everyday use, and one of the compact D-SLRs when you want the best photos or tours, if your budget allows that luxury. There will come a time when the smartphone will be all the camera you need for stills and video.

We’re not quite there yet, but with each wave of innovation we’re certainly getting closer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

As smartphone usage grows, so do your options.

A report just out from Nielsen indicates 23 percent of cellphone subscribers now own and use a smartphone.
I’d venture the percentage is higher among real estate users, at least judging from feedback from readers of work I do for NAR’s Realtor publications.
Happy users are likely the phone industry’s best advertisers in real estate, as agents and brokers who are pleased with their respective phone and OS want the world to know. A year ago, the most enthusiastic seemed to be iPhone users, although the ranks of real estate pros shouting the praises of Android phones are is swelling.
Much of the enthusiasm for smartphones has to do with the breadth and depth of the catalog of available “apps.” (Look for an overview article on mobile apps in the July Tech Watch) Although Blackberry users seem pleased with their choice in a smartphone, the relatively slim software pickings available for that platform could be one of its biggest stumbling blocks. Android will certainly attract more, but the phone to beat, as far as software, remains the iPhone.
One surprise for me, Mac aficionado that I am, is how deeply the iPhone seems to have penetrated the real estate market. Or maybe it’s just iPhone users are most outspoken. In any event, from my perspective , the smartphone will ultimately come down to a choice between an Android and iPhone for most users, in real state or otherwise. But there’s still a way to go.
And in the meantime, there’s always new models to convince everyone to step up to a smartphone. Check out the newly announced iPhone 4 or HTC EVO for a better idea of just how the choices are evolving, and how enticing their future.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Pocket full of Presentation Power

I’ve written about the new generation of micro projectors since they were first announced, seeing in them great potential as a tool for presentations, and a technology which could have great implications for the future of smartphones and other mobile devices. A PR representative of 3M contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I’d like to check out their latest micro-projector for business users, the MPro150. I explained my freelance status but he still offered to send me a review unit.

Seeing and sampling new technology is far different from actually having an opportunity to throughly explore and play with the features of tools like this. I have to say I’ve been duly impressed with the image quality and versatility of a projector just five inches long For real estate professionals who like their gadgets, this could be a useful tool for presentations to small groups, buyers or sellers in any setting where your laptop screen just isn’t big enough.

3M recommends the MPro150 for projecting up to images up to 50 inches wide, measured diagonally, but I found the quality acceptable at larger sizes. In fact, everyone I demonstrated the unit to was dazzled by the quality and size of the images coming out of this pocket-sized projector in a sufficiently darkened room.

The MPro150 uses an ultra bright LED and extremely compact lens to deliver those results. In addition to mini-USB and VGA/AV input ports for connecting it to a computer or external video source. It has 1GB of internal memory, and a microSD card slot for for storing media files. The unit can display MPEG4 video files, JPEGs, PDFs and Microsoft Office files directly from memory, without being connected to a computer, and is also an MP3 player. The package includes all cables, an AC adapter with international adapters, a 1GB microSD card, mini-tripod and two hour lithium ion battery. Suggested retail is $395.

For real estate users, this could be a practical solution for presentations, whether displaying video from a connected source, or from its own internal memory, within limits. One could, for example, use the device for powerpoint presentation, to share large screen versions of JPEG tour images, or to play sample video tours for a small audience.

Video quality is as good as you can expect from an MPEG4 file, at VGA resolution, The larger the projected image the more apparent the limitations of that format. JPEGS, and content from connected devices hold up well, even when displayed larger than the recommended display size.

My camera captures videos as Quicktime movies, so I had to convert them to MPEG4 before I could play them back from internal memory. I saves these from iMovie on my Mac, then used the free file conversion service ZamZar( on my PC. Once converted, I experienced no problems playing the videos from the MPro150’s internal memory and micro SD card.

In fact the only thing I found lacking in the MPro150 was a remote control for use when displaying files stored in memory. The unit does have several slide show settings, but when you want to step viewers through images or a presentation stored internally, it gets a little cumbersome clicking through images with the unit’s scroll wheel. I usually jarred the the projector in the process, and had to manually refocus the image. Of course, that’s not not a problem when driving the device from an external source, with its own remote.

I consider the lack of a remote a minor inconvenience when weighed against all that’s packed into the MPro150. If presentations are regular part of what you do in your pitch for new business, and you canafford this luxury, here’s a big screen projector you can literally slip into your pocket.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mac and PC on the desktop

Wrapped up the buying guide to desktop computers for May Realtor magazine online a couple of weeks ago. Should be posted before the end of the month.

Always learn some interesting background info in the course of researching these stories. This time out when we posted a query looking for reader input on their desktop systems, of the two dozen or so who did respond, the overwhelming majority of respondents were enthusiastic Mac users. Even among the handful of PC users, most indicated they would at least consider a Mac as their next PC.

This is a surprising and dramatic break with what I’ve heard from readers in the past. I don’t think it reflects any wholesale move to the Mac, although it is clearly gaining popularity with real estate users. Maybe the iPod and iPhone deserve some some credit there.

What I believe it shows most, though, is that these agents and brokers are so happy with their Mac experience, they are eager to tell their world about it. In their enthusiasm, they cited the typical strengths: ease of use, intuitive operation, stability, lack of malware and performance.

Among the few Windows users I heard from, only one had yet migrated to Windows 7, the latest version of the OS. Despite generally favorable reviews for Windows 7, these Realtors® were sticking with XP. Burned by what they heard or their own experience migrating to Windows Vista, these users seemed generally reluctant to risk what they fear could be a disruptive upgrade. All realize Windows 7 likely lies in their future, but it’s most likely to arrive on their desks via a new computer.

And when that day comes, they’ll have to seriously weigh a Mac vs. PC.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Video Tour Insight...and more

In my meanderings around the Web I came across something I missed before, but might be of interest to those of you who are or have been considering using video tours to promote property.

Back in November, real estate video hosting service WellcomeMat commissioned and published its Real Estate Video Report, a survey on use of video in real estate. It’s available for free download here.

One key finding: 89 percent of respondents reported their use of video gives them the edge when competing with other agents or brokers for listings.

The report is well worth a look by any Realtor® wondering about video’s importance to your future.

Some Briefs: On the subject of tours, easypano, makers of TourWeaver, has created a tour building/hosting site, Hosting 360 Tour. The $29.95 monthly subscription covers an unlimited number of tools, includes tools for stitching together 360º panoramic images, and tours can be posted directly to Influx Software has released Projection cash flow analysis software for commercial real estate. It’s available in versions for Mac and PC,
along with the company’s Influx Toolkit of Excel-based spread sheets for commercial real estate...Last week DocuSign unveiled a special Realtor-branded version of its electronic signature solution. DocuSign Realtor® Edition allows subscribers to use Realtor branded signatures, email templates and a special dashboard to manage their electronic documents. It’s also supports electronic signing on all popular smartphone platforms.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mobile Essentials

I’ve put together a guide I hope will give many of you the understanding of the technology’s latest tools and how they can empower you in the field. Essential Technology for Mobile Professionals is my first ebook, and fifth book, and available for download here for $7.99.

I’d like to make it clear up front this guide was not written for the tech savvy real estate professional. You already know the how and why of today’s tools.

Rather, I developed this book for new comers and seasoned pros looking for a solid grounding in today’s tools and how they can empower your career, boost productivity and improve client services. Each chapter covers a specific tool, and explains its use, value, key features and evaluation points when shopping that particular solution. In my correspondence with readers over the years I’ve found that’s exactly the kind of advice many need, but can’t always adequately provide with so much to cover in limited editorial space.

Since technology move so fast, it’s impossible for any book to provide up-to-the-minute information on the latest announcements. So, I’ve tried to complement the broad information in the book with the RealTechToolswebsite. Click on any of the chapter headings there and you’ll find a page with links to Web resources such as product news, reviews, and manufacturer sites for that topic.

This is the best way I know to complement the work I do for Realtor. And, as a writer, it’s an experiment to see what kind of future there is in ebook publishing.

Please take a look, and thanks.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Catching Up

As I’ve said before, when busy it’s hard to keep up with blogging when you’re busy. If it’s not a scheduled priority it can easily get pushed aside, which is what happened with me. When not working on paid articles I’ve been wrapping up my first ebook and companion website, a guide to Essential Technology for Mobile Professionals, like those of you in real estate. More on that in a future post.

While on the topic of ebooks, here’s a freebie you amy want to take a look at: “Think twice before you sign anything again: 12 Business Cases for Digital Signatures” It’s a free pdf from digital signature solutions vendor Arx. If you’re not yet well versed in the advantages of digital signatures, it does a good job outlining the cost savings and efficiency gained by migrating to digital signatures for contracts and documents.

Since my last entry, Apple did unveil its much anticipated tablet, appropriately called the iPad. I held off writing about it immediately because, unlike the Nexus, it won’t be in stores for a while.

First impression: Too early to tell how practical it will be for real estate and other mobile professions until the working version is out. But for the home, or office, the concept seems a winner to me: a hand held window on he world of digital content. I expect this or something like it will one day be as a common a fixture as the telephone of old, reliability and expectedly there when you need it, whatever your purpose. More after it’s actual release. For now I’d hold off pre-ordering it as a mobile tool until there’s a chance for a little hands-on experience in your local Apple store.

Short takes
I get releases and pitches from start-up and smaller companies on a regular basis as they try to spread the word out about new products and services.When possible,I pass them along to alert you to solutions which may be of help. No quid pro quo, just putting some information out there to help them generate some interest....

Fabusend offers what it calls a “smart letterhead” solution for customized email. Features include cutomizable email letterheads with graphics and interactive links, with built-in tracking capabilities so you know who or when your messages were read. An annual subscription for individual users starts at $199...Ebroker House has developed a Web-based business management solution for agents and brokers. Includes online tools for managing contacts, listings, offers, reimbursemnts, documents,etc. They’re offering a 30-day free tial, then subscriptions start at $29.99/month...If you’d rather read than listen to voice mail messages, Phonetag automatically converts voicemail to text or email, then forwarding it to your cell, smartphone or account. Try it for free for a week. An unlimited monthly plan cots $29.95....LoopNet has lauched an iPhone app for commercial real estate searches. It uses the on the iPhone’s built-n GPS locating capabilities to retrieve info on area commercial real estate in the U.S. and Canada.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Year of the Smartphone...or Tablet...or Smartbook?

With Google’s official rollout of its Nexus smartphone this past Tuesday, the company upped the ante what is certainly going to be one of the most hotly contested markets this year: smartphones.

That’s good news for real estate professionals as the smartphone, in design and concept, is a product which makes sense. Having your “office” productivity tools at hand, with easy access to the Web, simply makes it easier to do your job away from your desk.

Google’s Nexus, running it’s Android Operating System, offers some innovation and solid features which make it a real contender in the category: 1GHZ processor, 3.7 inch touchscreen interface; 5MP camera/camcorder; GPS; WiFI and Bluetooth support; and speech to text conversion for composing messages without a touch.

Clearly the Nexus and the host of new smartphones coming in 2010, all want the iPhone’s crown as perceived category leader, though Blackberry still dominates in smartphone market share. (The iPhone’s limited availability through AT&T is certainly a contributing factor.)

Looking ahead, though, another recent survey found most consumers wanting an iPhone device, followed by one running Android.

With so much growth potential in the smartphone market, you’ll have plenty of choices this year as the category continues to evolve and attract more vendors and models. But you might want to wait a just little longer before buying into any of latest hype.

Wait to see what Apple brings to market in its much anticipated new tablet. It’s expected for Jan. 27 and speculation about what it will be runs wild. It could mark the next wave in mobile technology, or strengthen the case that the smartphone is the one solution every mobile professional needs.

The biggest problem with smartphones is their small screen size; the problem for netbooks, and tablets seen to date, is their larger screen size dictates a form which is just too large for a pocket or purse. Now if something could bridge that gap, and deliver everything the mobile professional needs in performance, connivence, productivity and portability, it truly will be the one device worth having.

While researching the Web, I can across this interesting article regarding the actual cost of smartphone ownership and thought it worth passing along.