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VOL. 127 | NO. 108 | Monday, June 4, 2012

Home Browsers

Technology makes house hunting, real estate agents’ jobs easier

By Sarah Baker

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Amid the fast-pace world of the real estate business, having technology on your side is not only beneficial, but often necessary.

A home for sale at 1432 Island Town Drive on Mud Island can be found online through the mobile app Zillow, where many prospective buyers are shopping for homes ahead of real estate agents.  

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Due to the rising popularity of smartphones, real estate apps and the Web, homebuyers are doing their homework on neighborhoods, schools, amenities and crime well before they pick up the phone and seek professional advice.

Debbie Sowell, owner/broker of InCity Realty, studies market trends closely, especially in the Midtown area. In January, she noticed an upward trend of online lookers of homes – perhaps grateful for the new year and to be employed – followed by a healthy bump in showings in February.

“The buyers are looking online at these sites and these apps way before they’re contacting a real estate agent,” Sowell said. “They kind of know what’s out there and already have a small list in their head of homes they want to see before they even call a real estate agent. These apps have made it so easy for you to do that.”

To be positioned to give immediate response to those requests, Sowell is an avid iPad user. By using DropBox and the iCloud, she’s able to have her important documents with her at all times despite her location, while also cutting back on paper usage.

“If I make a change to a file at my office, it automatically saves to my DropBox, so then if I go home and I’m working tonight from my (home) office, I have all of my data from my office just like I would if I was there or vice versa,” Sowell said. “Same with my iPad – I’m going on vacation next week and I’ll have all of my files with me as if I was sitting in my office. I hope not to spend my vacation accessing all of those files, but I have them in case I need to.”

Sowell also uses her iPad for open houses. By having each client sign in on the iPad at the door, an automatic response sends the client an email thanking them for coming. What’s more, it saves their contact information for Sowell to follow up later in the week.

Another firm believer in the iPad as a business tool is Bob Turner of Southern Properties LLC, who uses Google Earth while showing property out in the field. For years, the best way for him to show land was in an airplane, followed by getting prospects on the ground and looking at paper maps in order to orient themselves and their surroundings.

“In commercial and farmland and land development, looking from above is the best way to look at stuff,” Turner said. “With an iPad, that lets you do that. It allows me to go out in the middle of nowhere out into the farms and land, take my iPad and say, ‘Here’s where you are and here the farm is.’ I can say, ‘You drive. I’ll drive to the farm, and you watch the blue dot take you around this farm so you can see what it is.’ And I can back out, show them all of the roads, the buildings and how they sit on the lots, the houses, how the subdivision lays out, what the common elements are.”

Meanwhile, one of the tools Michael Green of John Green & Co. uses to increase efficiency is a digital signature application called Authentisign, available to members of the Tennessee Association of Realtors. Theoretically, if both agents on each side of the sale are using Authentisign, no documents would need to be printed.

“It really came in handy when I was working with an out-of-town buyer and the husband was here and the wife was out of town,” Green said. “I was able to generate the documents, email them to both the husband and wife who were in different locations. They were able to sign them digitally in a matter of minutes rather than having to print off, fax, email and those types of things.”

Green is chair of the MLS Information Network 2012 Committee at the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, which recently increased the number of digital photos available through the Multiple Listing Service from 12 to 25. This not only makes it easier for agents to market their listings online through their individual websites using the Information Data Exchange (IDX) but also provides more options for potential buyers.

“I think photos are definitely one of the best ways to market a property online through the Internet to potential buyers,” Green said. “Once those photos are populated into the MLS, a lot of times what we’ll do is if we’re working with a buyer, we’ll set them up on a search through our MLS and they’ll receive emails of new and updated listings, price reductions, status changes on listings, and they’ll be able to view all the photos when they’re emailed.”

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