Cloud Computing for Realtors
Real Estate Is Mobile
Ed Pattermann presented a session on cloud computing at AAR’s Winter Conference in March 2011. We received such positive feedback about it that we asked him to share his tips with the full membership through this article. If you like to stay on the cutting edge of real estate in Arizona, plan to attend Winter Conference in Prescott next March.
Technology has been good for real estate.
The emergence of technology into the business of real estate over the past 10 years has benefited both the public and REALTORS®. For instance, the Internet makes communication easier, helps to disseminate information quickly and efficiently, and allows consumers to find and research properties and connect and communicate with REALTORS®.
Then there is Facebook. Real estate is a relationship business — the relationship between a consumer and a REALTOR®. Facebook makes it easy to connect with consumers online and create “top of mind awareness.” (For more on Facebook, see my post on AAR’s blog, “Facebook and Twitter for REALTORS®.”)
And then there is cloud computing.
Real estate is mobile. A REALTOR®, during the course of just a single day, can start in a home office, meet a client for breakfast, stop and check on a house inspection, have a listing appointment at 10am, stop at the main office, eat lunch with a previous client, show houses in the afternoon, stop by a branch office, have another listing appointment at 3pm, drop off at a title company, one more stop at the main office, then home to do a little work in the home office at night.
What’s important, besides a comfortable pair of shoes and good gas mileage, is always being able to access your programs and data WHEREVER YOU ARE: at home, main office, branch office, breakfast, lunch, your car, on listing appointments, and at the title company.
And by “programs and data,” I mean everything — your contacts, your calendar, your email, your Word documents, your PDF files, your spreadsheets, your pictures, your faxes — everything. And the programs you use as well. And not just data from the past 30 days, but ALL YOUR DATA. Every file, email, contact or fax you have ever had. Access all your data, at any time, from anywhere, and always access the same data.
Now, I don’t mean doing this with wire and duct tape (in other words: syncing folders, remote login/GoToMyPC-type programs, or carrying flash drives around with you).
I mean using cloud computing — using programs that are “in the cloud” and storing all your data “in the cloud” so that you are always using the same programs to access ONE SET OF DATA, from anywhere, at any time, from any device (computers, laptops, smartphones and tablet computers).
While trying to accomplish this task only a couple of years ago was difficult and expensive, now it is much easier and more cost effective.
This has been made easier by Google Apps.
As you may have gathered so far, the difference with cloud computing, compared to how many use computers today, is that for practical purposes, there is only ONE COPY of your data and ONE COPY of your programs. Other than for redundancy and backup purposes, it is not duplicated anywhere.
Your data and programs reside on Google servers (high performance computers capable of supporting thousands of users), intended to provide your programs and data for your use when you need them, as quickly as possible, no matter where you are located.
The key here is there is no PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTE of your data or your programs.
Gone are the days when “that email is on my computer at home” or “that document is on the computer at the office.” Your data is no longer SOMEWHERE ELSE — no longer in some PHYSICAL location.
It is WHEREVER YOU ARE.
Why are cloud computing and Google Apps important for REALTORS®?
First of all, you gain freedom and flexibility. You can access your data and programs from any computer, smartphone, iPad or tablet, from anywhere, at any time.
Second, you work more efficiently.
- By nature of having your data and programs in one place, your data is “always in sync.” You are always accessing the same set of data.
- You are always using the same and most updated version of your programs. The programs are updated automatically for you, at no cost.
- You can share your data easily with others and can even jointly collaborate on documents with others online.
- You can export your documents in over 15 different formats (including the standard Microsoft DOC and XLS formats). You can also easily email or save your documents in PDF format.
- Your data and programs are always backed up, and if you want a secondary backup, those options are available and are very inexpensive (see http://www.Backupify.com).
- You can visit an “app store” and add more cloud-based programs, which let you easily add new tools integrated with your data, such as MailChimp for doing email campaigns with your contacts.
Third, your data is secure. There are a lot of questions about the security of data “in the cloud.”
- Your data is only as secure as your password – so have a REALLY GOOD password, or use a password encryption tool like the AAR-provided member benefit RoboForm.
- How secure is your data now? And is it backed up? I would guess most REALTORS®’ data is as secure as a broken pane of glass. Meaning not very secure at all. Google goes to extreme lengths to protect the security and privacy of your data. Over three million businesses trust their data to Google Apps. And sadly, many users do not back up the files on their computer. Being “in the cloud” makes backup easy.
- I do not recommend Google Apps for contractual documents, such as listings and contracts. I recommend you use SureClose® for that, another AAR-provided member benefit. SureClose® is better suited to the task of managing transactional documents and providing those documents to your office and your broker. SureClose® is also a cloud application.
- When you allow a third-party application, like MailChimp, to access your Google data, you are bound by their terms and conditions. Generally these programs will only use your data for the purpose for which you are allowing them access. Like in this case, MailChimp, to email newsletters to your contacts. But you should be sure and read their terms and conditions carefully.
Google invests hundreds of millions of dollars in redundant data centers all over the world, redundant data security, redundant storage, redundant power supplies, cooling and extensive physical security at each data center location.
Google adheres to the U.S. Safe Harbor Privacy Principles of Notice, Choice, Onward Transfer, Security, Data Integrity, Access and Enforcement, and is registered with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Safe Harbor Program.
Google also started and promotes Data Liberation. Data Liberation is an effort whose singular goal is to make it easy for users to move their data in and out of Google products. The idea with Data Liberation is that whatever data you put into ANY Google product, you can always retrieve it and take it out.
For more information on Google Apps security and privacy, please refer to these links:
Is there a downside to cloud computing? There are these caveats:
- The document and spreadsheet applications in Google Apps are not as powerful as the desktop versions of Microsoft Word and Excel. I was a power user of Word and Excel for 20 years. I switched to the Google Apps versions with little difficulty. But I had to make some adjustments. The Google Apps versions of these applications are getting better all the time but will probably never be as powerful as the Microsoft desktop versions. That said, probably 95% of the functionality you use today in Excel and Word is in Google Apps.
- You can upload over 12 different file formats into Google Apps, including .doc, .xls, and .ppt. Most of my existing documents imported fine. The documents that had extensive formatting in Word had to be tweaked and some areas reformatted once uploaded into Google Apps. I had very few problems importing Excel spreadsheets, and on the whole, the Google Spreadsheet functions are the same as the Excel spreadsheet functions. If you have spreadsheets with custom Visual Basic macros, the macros have to be converted to Google’s macro language.
- In general, you need to have Internet access to access your data “in the cloud” and on Google Apps. That can be from a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, iPad or other tablet computer. More and more that is true of anything we do on the computer. If you do not have Internet access, you can’t do much. Note: Google has been working on offline access to Google Apps and plans to support that in 2011.
How do you get started?
First of all, you need your own domain name/web address. A domain name is the name you use for your email and your website. If you already have a website and domain name, you can use it with Google Apps. If you don’t have a domain name, you will need to pick one to use.
When picking a domain name, I recommend a name that is:
- easy to spell
- easy to remember
- the shorter the better
Good examples of domain names would be SamDumas.com and EvelynAZ.com (individuals), IntegrityPrescott.com and EveandDiane.com (teams). I think a domain name using your name, or based on your name or your team name, as long as it meets the above recommendations, is best, if it’s available.
Then, there are two ways to get setup to use Google Apps:
- Do it yourself — reserved for the technically experienced and adventurous. Note: If you choose this path, and already have a domain name, you will be required to change the DNS records on your existing domain.
- Go to http://www.Google.com/a.
- From the “Solutions” drop down menu, select “Google Apps (Free)”. This version is free. They have a “business version” for $50 per user per year, which provides better support and more storage. I recommend starting out with the free version.
- Then click on “Get Started” on the upper right corner and follow the instructions from there on out.
- Pay a one-time fee ($30 to $99) for a Google Apps certified consultant to set things up for you.
- A Google Apps certified consultant can help you get started with Google Apps, transitioning your current domain to Google Apps or creating a new domain for use with Google Apps.
- The consultant can also help you migrate everything you have (say in Outlook or on your computer) to Google Apps, including moving all your old emails, docs, calendar, contacts, everything, “into the cloud.”
- A list of Google Apps certified consultants who can help you can be found here.
Either one of these paths will get you started on your transition to cloud computing.
Moving to cloud computing is not something to be taken lightly. You are learning new applications (for email, calendar, contacts, word processing, drawing, presentations and spreadsheets). You are in limbo for a short time (about a day usually) while your data is moved. You will feel a little “out of sorts” while learning the new way to do and access everything.
But in my opinion, having helped over 40 REALTORS® in the past year go through this transition, it is worth it. With the freedom it provides you and the efficiency you gain, I believe that you will look back when it is all said and done and be glad you moved “to the cloud” and to Google Apps.
FEEDBACK ON THE CLOUD
Here are what some of the agents from Ed Patterman’s brokerage have to say about their cloud experiences:
“In today’s fast-paced, detail-oriented real estate market, REALTORS® would be hard pressed to keep up with their businesses without putting Google Apps to work toward success and prosperity.”— Ann Howell, GRI, CNE, CLSS, SRES
“Who would have believed that having been in this business for over 30 years, someone so used to Microsoft Word on my 10-year-old desktop computer would ever completely change over to Google Docs? Life is so much better ‘in the Cloud.’”— Evelyn Logosso, Associate Broker, SFR
“The cloud allows me flexibility, enabling me to spend more time with family and out of the office. I can access everything I need with just the click of a button from anywhere, and responding to my clients’ needs is faster and easier than ever! It makes things better for everyone!”— Christin Kingsbury, CNE
“I have three computers in three different places and used email to get everything I needed in the right place. Now with Google Apps, I can view ALL of my emails and documents from one place, wherever I am, from any computer or my cell phone. This has improved my efficiency as a REALTOR® greatly. I am very happy being in the cloud.”— Diana Allen, ABR, GRI, SRES