Real estate is a game of information, relationships and teamwork. Communicating with buyers, title companies, appraisers and the like covers the gamut of telephone, text, email, and sometimes capabilities like Dropbox. Often, something is shared via one communication channel and then misplaced requiring resending. Other times, telephone tag ensues, with “call me” messages left everywhere. And then there are the messages left at “work” when clients aren’t there. What if it didn’t have to be this way?
This is where I (cliché-ly) say, “It doesn’t.”
In the past couple of years, a new crop of communications applications have been hitting the scene. They’re loosely known as “team collaboration” and in many ways displace older technologies like “web collaboration” and conferencing. Their expanded goal is to unite the various methods of communications into a single stream of multimedia consciousness.
I hear you saying, “That’s a lot of big words … what’s it mean?”
Team collaboration applications are environments where a user can create a “room” and invite the people required to perform a task (buying a home for example). Within the room, users can chat and share files that are read by others when they’re able. No biggie, right? Well, you can also turn that chat into an audio or video conference call on the fly with one-button. Within the room, participants can even converse while collaborating with information presented on the screen – for example reviewing closing documents or contracts.
For Realtors, I see setting up rooms for each client to share new listings, schedules, and general chatter. If there is more than one client (husband and wife), conference calls can be scheduled to share information with both. Once a home is selected, adding in the mortgage broker, appraiser, home inspector and Title Company to the stream would ensure messages are delivered efficiently to all parties.
Builders, architects and developers can show plans, explore options and update work progress in real-time with clients who may not be onsite all the time.
The best part is that most of this technology is either free or low-cost.
Web conferencing applications by contrast have some traits in common with team collaboration applications, but once a conference is over, it’s gone … no “paper” trail to fall back on.
These applications all have similar looks, feels and capabilities. Basically users setup “rooms” (left column) and invite members for a given project. Within the room (large column), members can chat, share files (some integrate with Box, Dropbox, etc.), and instantly start a video or voice meeting with one click. The goodness is that unlike hunting through email trails, these applications keep all the information on a specific project self-contained and in one virtual location. No more voicemails, email strings, text trails and links to Box, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.
Beyond their organizational skills, the application’s video capabilities can act as virtual tour guides. Realtors, imagine attending a broker’s open house for a property you know a client would love. Fire up the application, contact your clients via video and literally guide them through the home in real-time. Clients not available? Record it for them to view later. You can’t do that with iMessage.
Yes, some features are paid, some are free. For small users, free may be all you need – all the chat and file sharing features for any size group. The free versions usually limit voice and video calls to three participants. If you need the paid versions (for larger conferences), the pricing is minimal.
For participants, all that’s required is to download the free application (from Apple or Android stores) to mobile phones and tablets. There’s also a browser version for the full-size PC experience. Regardless of whatever device being used, the information is available and referenceable (scroll up the stream to see all the older messages).
This kind of application has the benefit of placing all communications in one place. And everyone knows when there’s new information because the application notifies them of an update (like a text “ting-ting”).
Once the home purchase is complete, clients can remove the application from their device…or keep it until the Realtor’s services are needed again. Active rooms are always at the top of the list while inactive rooms naturally fall to the bottom. The room “owner” has full control to invite and drop participants at will.
There is some overlap with Team Collaboration within web conferencing. These products setup a specific meeting time where users can present/view files (often PowerPoint) to a group of attendees. Unlike Team Collaboration applications, once the web conference is done … poof … it’s over. Nothing of the session is retained (yes they can be recorded, but it’s an unconnected “event” versus a stream of work).
It’s worth noting that if you or your office already has Cisco WebEx licensing, they’re also entitled to a Cisco Spark “paid” license for free.
Desktop video is another enabling technology often supplied by companies like Polycom, Cisco, Radvision/Avaya, Smart Technologies and LifeSize. Most businesses of any size have some video capabilities including on-site meeting rooms. If your company has video conferencing already, they have licensing for desktop video for home users. Sometimes this requires separate screens, but most often it’s a camera attached to your PC/Laptop.
For Realtor/clients who are not in the same location (e.g. relocation), video conferencing can be a good way to put a face with a name – and remember, the vast majority of human communication is non-verbal, so video tells a richer story.
I can see this being used between a developer and a sales team more than for individual sales. But again, video is one part of a team collaboration application – it’s like having a separate answering machine when you have integrated voicemail.
Audio Conferencing has been around for decades. Your business phone system (often referred to as a PBX) will have audio conferencing as part of its capabilities. For those needing large conferences (10s to 1,000s of attendees) will require an additional purchase (if it’s not been bought already).
This is just a taste of the technologies available to streamline communications between all the parties within a real estate transaction. As with most new technologies, it takes a few champions (formerly known as “guinea pigs”) to try it out and get the ball rolling. I’ve used all of these capabilities for a while and see their benefits. However, I believe it’s the team collaboration applications that offer the most value to Realtors wanting a more personal and efficient “touch” with their clients.
Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! firstname.lastname@example.org