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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 13, 2017 6 days ago

Realtors must be tech-smart

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Expert advises enterprising agents how to keep pace with their customers.
by: Carrie Resch, Contributing Writer

Homes are not the only aspect of the real estate market getting smarter. So are home shoppers and the tech-savvy, enterprising real estate agents who hope to serve them.

This shift toward consumer empowerment is facilitated by advancements in technology, which is why the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors in July invited Craig Grant of the Real Estate Technology Institute to lead a series of classes to teach Realtors how to best serve the modern homebuyer, while at the same time avoiding the scam artists and predators of the digital age. 

Grant is recognized as one of the nation’s foremost speakers about technology in the real estate industry. 

His sessions covered topics such as social media, marketing, essential tech tools, avoiding the pitfalls of technology and more.

What’s inside the successful Realtor’s technology toolbox

Being successful in the real estate industry means having the right equipment, software and security to keep data safe for both agents and their customers.

Having the right tools was the basis of Grant’s “The Realtors Essential Tech Toolbox” class, in which he advised students how to go about finding and using the  tools available to the modern real estate agent. 

Hardware

Hardware should be as portable as possible to allow work from anywhere. Generally, that  means a laptop is the best option over tablets. Grant suggested shopping by company, not by price, when it comes to choosing hardware. Consider the product and the type of customer support the manufacturer offers. 

A high-quality camera is essential to take photos and video, but can be expensive. Camera stabilizers such as monopods, tripods, selfie sticks, or gimbals — a device that pivots to maintain a stable image — also might be a good investment. Such accessories will result in higher-quality photos or videos. 

Drone videos and photos are another option to display the scope of the property, particularly  if there is a lot of acreage. 

Software

Any software should be cloud-based, Grant advised. Using the cloud, or online-based storage, allows users to access their documents or photos from any device and provides limitless storage. 

Google Drive is one cloud-based option to store files. Google offers several other free cloud-based services including Google Docs, with which users can create, edit or even collaborate on documents; or Google Sheets, which can be used to create spreadsheets.

Apps 

From keeping track of receipts and mileage to scanning on-the-go or planning around the weather, apps can be an extremely useful addition to any Realtor’s toolbox. 

E-Receipts and Taxbot are two apps that keep virtual track of expenses and mileage. Weather apps are plentiful, but Grant prefers Dark Sky or AccuWeather. 

When away from the office, scan and send documents in PDF format on either Genius Scan or CamScanner. 

Other handy apps for real estate agents include AM Open House, a paperless sign-in for open houses; and Roomy, which can be used to virtually stage rooms for online marketing.

For security, the app bSafe can be programmed to alert friends and family of an agent’s whereabouts, take an incoming call or even sound an alarm in the event of danger. 

Tech security 

Never use public Wi-Fi in a high-traffic area, Grant warned. Instead, he offered some alternatives: Use your phone as a mobile hot spot, purchase an air card or shared hot spot device, or use a virtual private network, which will create secure access across a public network. 

Install anti-virus software on all devices, Grant said. Some options for both PCs and Macs include AVG, Avast or Malwarebytes. Invest in the premium packages, he said, in order to access the full suite of features. 

Security begins with strong passwords, Grant said. A password manager such as LastPass will create and store secure passwords. Remembering passwords for each individual website or account is no longer necessary. Only one password is needed to sign into the password manager. 

Alternatively, create a base password that will be the same for every site, Grant suggested. Then add to that password a phrase associated with that website. Finally, add the quarter and the year to the end of the password, and update as appropriate.

How to market like a rock star

Today’s real estate marketing must be much more visual and personally targeted than it has been. And it needs to be more social. Those were the the fundamentals Grant stressed during his “How to Market Like a Rock Star” session. 

Internet marketing is all about targeted advertising, and Realtors should allocate more of their budget to online advertising, Grant advised. 

“You’ve got to start moving some of your marketing budgets toward digital marketing because that’s where your customers are,” he said. 

Today’s consumers move quickly and have brief attention spans. Therefore, advertisements should focus much more on visual elements and aesthetics than on text.

Videos are an effective way to engage a customer’s attention. And as Grant said, everything is going toward video.

Videos can even be incorporated into emails by using online tools such as BombBomb or Wiind.

Create a strong website 

One benefit of an effective website is that it’s open 24/7 for customers to browse at their leisure, Grant said. All traffic from advertisements — both digital and print — will be directed to the website, which Grant refers to as the “hub and spoke” or “home-base strategy.”

Web banner ads are one form of online advertising that drives traffic directly to websites. The ads are embedded into a web page that links to the advertiser’s website when the ad is clicked. 

A blog also can attract repeat visits to a website. Modern blogs needn’t be long, Grant said. Pick a topic you’re knowledgeable about and write one to two paragraphs, journal-style, every couple of days, he suggested. 

Outsourcing and more

Realtors don’t always have the time — or the ability — to do everything on their own. That’s where outsourcing comes in. 

Low-cost freelance services such as Fiverr, Upwork or an online graphic design marketplace like 99 Designs can be used to outsource tasks.

For do-it-yourselfers, websites to pull copyright-free photos and images include Pixabay and Open Clipart. Both options are free to use. 

Canva is an online graphic design software and Pixlr is a free online photo-editing app. Both can be useful for creating marketing materials or social media posts, for example. 

Technology pitfalls: Protecting you and your business 

Technology is an effective business tool, but it also can be used against you.

While technological advancements have helped the real estate industry evolve, it may pose dangers including the threat of hackers, viruses and damage to reputation . 

Grant outlined ways technology can be damaging to a business in his “How Technology Can Ruin Your Real Estate Business” class. 

Email safety 

The best protection against fraudulent emails is to slow down and pay attention, Grant advised. 

Review emails carefully. Is there anything out of the ordinary? Does the design look different than usual? Check for mismatching header information, misspellings, poor grammar and odd URLs or links.

Hackers use phishing emails in an attempt to get you to click on a bad link. 

Never click on a link unless you are 100 percent certain that the link is legitimate, Grant said.

Hover the cursor over the link to see what it really links to or visit a website directly and navigate to where you need to go rather than clicking on any link. 

One way to protect sensitive information emailed to a customer is through encryption.

Consider using encryption software such as VeraCrypt, GNU Privacy Guard, 7-Zip, or BitLocker. Encrypting emails ensures that only the intended recipient can view the information.

Backups

Back up or sync your devices regularly. It’s also a good idea to use redundancy to back up your computer.

Backing up on an external hard drive works well, but because it is a physical device, there’s always a chance it could be lost or stolen. If both your laptop and external hard drive are missing, you will have lost all of your files. 

Use online cloud file backup services in addition to an external hard drive. Grant recommends Google Drive, Box or SugarSync. 

Install anti-virus software on all devices and make sure it’s always up to date. 

Reputation management

A customer’s perception of you or your company is just a click away. Address negative reviews right away.

Consider using online reputation management software such as Reputation.com or LifeLock.com.

Reputation.com helps manage online reviews and LifeLock.com helps protect against identify theft. 

How to connect with connected consumers

Today’s homebuyers are more knowledgeable than ever thanks to technology. 

“When you look at how the real estate industry has evolved over time, it’s always been technology that’s moved it forward,” said Grant.

The object that is changing the approach of home shoppers more than anything else ever has, according to Grant, is the mobile device.

Rather than scheduling times to look at properties, customers are picking up their smartphones or other mobile devices any time of the day or night.

As a result, Grant stressed, it’s imperative that your website is mobile-friendly. 

There is a free, online test where you can enter a website’s URL to see if it meets the criteria of a mobile-friendly site.

Grant suggested google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly.

The modern consumer

Consumers are educated and empowered.

“The typical consumer knows they can buy a house without you and they can sell a house without you,” Grant said. To gain a customer’s business, Realtors need to prove their value, credibility and focus on relationships. 

Customers also expect swift responses in communication and follow-through. 

At the initial meeting, Grant suggested asking clients their preferred method of communication and their expectations for communication frequency. 

To gain an understanding of a customer’s comfort level with technology, Grant advised providing a handout of the websites, apps and other tools used and ask if they want you to show them how to use any of them.

“It’s little, simple stuff, but it absolutely adds up,” Grant said.

Getting social with social media 

Tapping into social media is a must for today’s real estate professional, but it need not dominate the workday. Instructor Craig Grant of the Real Estate Technology Institute outlined how to develop a social media strategy in his “Social Media Superstar” class in August at the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors Resource Center. 

Develop a game plan

  • Create a schedule for using social media. Consider your time and availability. 
  • Develop and follow a code of conduct such as refraining from posting about race, religion, politics or other controversial subjects. 
  • Establish a list of topics you wish to regularly discuss. 

Tools

  • Looking for articles to share on social media? Grant suggests using Flipboard, a website and app that presents articles about pre-selected topics in the news. As a bonus, it’s free to use.
  • Manage all of your social media channels in one place with Hootsuite — both a website and an app. Posts can be pre-scheduled, managed and tracked with Hootsuite, removing the labor of logging into each account separately. It’s free for individuals with as many as three social profiles. Professional packages start at $19 a month. 
  • Add copyright-free images to any post with Pixabay, a free, online source for photos and graphics. 

Tips

  • Drive traffic to your website with your social media posts. 
  • Research a topic and put all of the information you’ve collected on your website. Make a social media post about the topic and link it back to your website. 
  • Be community-minded. Post about people in the community or events.
  • Find a partner with whom to collaborate. One example is a lender. Share each other’s posts to reach a larger audience.
  • Mix it up. Post about a real estate-related topic of great interest to you.

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