Stay Connected—Wherever You Happen to Be

Part One of Three

Are you ready to leave your office behind? Unplug. Hit the road. Work in the cloud. Go paperless. In this three-part article, REALTORS® share the technology tools they use get closer to the dream of a truly mobile workspace.

Part one, below, addresses smart phones. Part two in July will look at your mobile computer and wireless networking options. And in August, part three will address document management.

Smart Phones

When you’re a road warrior, your phone needs to do more than send and receive voice calls. In fact, admitted Internet computer junkie Yvonne Coelet, ABR, CRS, GRI, LTG, PMN, broker/owner of Monument Properties AZ in Lakeside, calls a smart phone the minimum requirement for being mobile.

The best smart phones provide:

  • voice calls with good sound quality on both ends
  • email
  • calendar
  • text messaging
  • Web browsing
  • keyboard function
  • camera (still and video)
  • GPS
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • real-time synchronization with your data sources
  • an array of downloadable applications (aka “apps”) to expand your options

Which phone is right for you? Naturally, it depends. iPhone is the choice of Mary Roberts, e-PRO, GRI, an agent and technology coordinator with Keller Williams Arizona Living Realty in Lake Havasu City. “It’s great for emails, getting documents, looking at PDFs,” she says. “And it has apps for and zipForm®.”D. Patrick Lewis with John Hall & Associates in Scottsdale, on the other hand, uses a Palm Pre to post to his blog mobile-ly and boost his productivity. Craig W. Sanford, CRS, GRI with RE/MAX Achievers in Phoenix, reports that “the Droid has an amazing array of free apps, great sound quality and turn-by-turn GPS that I used extensively when navigating Washington, DC in May.” And Pat Leach, ABR, CRS, GRI, e-PRO, LTG, PMN, with Keller Williams Southern Arizona in Tucson, has chosen not to upgrade to the latest smart phone because her older Palm model functions as her lockbox key. (Newer phones would require a “fob” to convert the Bluetooth signal to infrared.) The Blackberry is another popular option with some agents.

If you’re in the market for a new phone, check with friends or colleagues in your area about cell network coverage. “Dead spots” stop both your Internet use and phone calls. Also, some smart phone models are only available from certain network providers. Do your homework. National real estate technology instructor Amy Chorew recently did a free hour-long webinar on smart phones with G. William James of Handheld Computer Solutions, which you may find helpful.

Here are several tech tools that can make your smart phone even smarter. Note that not all work on all smart phones:

Virtual phone system. Google Voice is a free service that allows you to have one phone number that rings all your phones. It also provides low-cost international calls, free text messaging, the ability to record calls and more. There are a few downsides, however. For one, you’ll need to set up a new phone number. For another, Chorew warns that because it is a free service, your calls can be subpoenaed without notice to you.

Paid services, such as Grasshopper or RingCentral, offer more robust virtual systems. For example, it is possible to have multiple extensions (“If you are a buyer, press one”) with individual greetings, voicemail, web access and email/text notifications. You can also forward calls, use a toll-free number, import existing phone numbers, control on-hold music and so forth. Prices vary depending on the plan/minutes you need. Grasshopper starts at $9.95 a month.

Voicemail-to-text. Imagine you’re touring homes with a buyer client and your phone buzzes. It’s another client that’s involved in a tricky transaction leaving you a voicemail. Wouldn’t it be great if you could casually glance at your phone and SEE what the voicemail said without having to step away? With voicemail-to-text services like Google Voice, YouMail or Jott, you can. Google Voice is free; Jott starts at $9.95 per month for 40 voicemails.

Google Maps. This free download allows you to view maps of an area, search for local businesses, get driving directions and see real-time traffic updates.

Social media. Many phones have special tools just for Facebook or other social networks. Maybe you’ll update your blog on the road with Posterous or coordinate status updates on multiple networks with HootSuite or Ping.FM.

Mobile Phax and Receipt. Shannon Williams King, ABR, GRI, co-owner of Schoolhouse Realty in San Diego, recommends two apps from MiTekSystems. Take pictures of documents using your mobile phone, and MobilePhax cleans them up and faxes them to the number you provide for 10-20 cents a page ($4.99 – iPhone; $9.99 – Blackberry). With Mobile Receipt, you can take pictures of your receipts, and it creates an expense report file for you ($4.99 with 100 receipt limit; $9.99 unlimited – iPhone).

Other apps. Every smart phone has a variety of applications—some useful, some fun and some totally crazy. You can view the options available by visiting each phone’s apps “market” online.

According to NAR’s 2010 Member Profile, 56% of REALTORS® use a smart phone (with wireless email and Internet capabilities) daily or nearly every day. Just one year ago, that number was 42%. “Having a smart phone is one thing,” says D. Patrick Lewis. “Being able to use it and understanding what apps are available and what are the best tools for you is a whole other [thing].” If you do invest money in a smart phone, plan to invest some time as well.

GRI Technology Courses Available

Want to expand your understanding of the latest technology for real estate agents? Consider attending these two GRI courses:

GRI 314: Technology Strategies for the New Marketplace (14-general) A two-day elective module aimed at intermediate/advanced professionals. Day one covers the tools you need to serve your clients more effectively: a smart phone, digital camera, presentations for digital marketing and more. The second day focuses on promoting and marketing your website as well developing your niche and brand.

GRI 320: Advanced Customer Care through Technology (6-general) This one-day elective module is designed to help students optimize their websites to provide maximum lead generation; use web-based tools and communities to enhance their overall marketing plan; use blogging as an effective branding and marketing tool; and create podcasts for personal and property marketing.

Learn more at

Sources: Amy Chorew’s “Tech Tools of the Trade: Staying Connected” (class sponsored by AAR – April 2010); “Road Warrior: Run Your Business as a Mobile Office” panel (breakout at AAR Winter Conference – March 2010); Shannon W. King’s “Real Estate Road Warrior” (session at NAR convention – November 2009)