Real Estate Agents: Lose the Laptop, Gain a Pocket Mobile Office (PART III)

Last month’s poll indicated that information on productivity tools is what you want most. To help save you money, time, and effort — I’ve developed the following list. (Consider me your own personal field-tester.) After downloading and testing, buying and discarding, dedicating and reconfiguring —I’ve come up with a few Treo gems I consider essential.

Information Keepers…

In real estate, having your important information available at all times is the key to improved productivity and improved customer service. Below are a few of the information “keepers” and programs I use with my own Treo to keep information convenient.

There are too many real estate specific software packages on the market today to list them all here. Many of them offer a palm version to keep you mobile without conversion between systems. Check the manual, online help files or contact software support for your specific program to determine if a palm version is available and how it handles updates. Some can update via the web, wirelessly, and others require a hot sync with your computer.

In addition to any real estate specific packages you may already own or may be considering for purchase, consider the following programs to improve your personal and professional productivity:

NoteStudio

This awesome little wiki-based program is where I stick those little bits and pieces of information that, a couple years ago, would have floated around my desk jotted on bright yellow sticky-pad sheets. It’s where I keep track of quotes, record client conference notes, track and manage ideas for my next articles, store characterizations for novels, keep my list of books to read, and where I store all my essential technical notes (from safe-booting sequences on multiple operating systems to troubleshooting networks and tracking down DNS issues for websites to step-by-step instructions for backing up my computer system).

Anything I need on a regular basis – or those items that I need only once in a blue moon (and that usually take me ages to remember where I tucked the information) now reside on my Treo in NoteStudio. It’s where I keep everything that’s not easy to file elsewhere. Why? Because the wiki format is a natural one-stylus-tap way of sorting through tomes of information and the search feature is excellent (i.e. thorough and quick!).

Now, I must admit when I first got it, I just stared at it awhile thinking, “For $50 bucks, there’s got to be more to it!” After using it, I’m constantly amazed at how well it meets my changing needs, how well it synchs with the desktop platform and how often I use it (it’s on my quick launch tab on my laptop and is hard coded to launch with the button conveniently placed just under the volume button on the side of the phone).

For those unfamiliar with how a “wiki format” works, visit www.Wikipedia.com and see how information is interspersed with live web links to “drill down” for more information on a given topic or subtopic.

Now, imagine having this type of power on your Treo and on your computer for your own notes. That’s the power of NoteStudio. And the information is backed up by date each time you exit the program on your computer – so you never lose your essential info. Although the program is offered as a standalone for the Palm platform, I highly recommend you buy the version that offers both the Palm and the Windows options. I use mine many times a day and I always have the information I need a button-press away.

eWallet

How many codes, username/password combinations, credit cards, bank accounts, online accounts, offline passwords, and other alpha-numeric keys, codes and identification numbers do you juggle in a given week? Mine number in the hundreds.

I no longer scramble for the information on how to log into my eBay account, how to access my control panel of my hosting accounts for four different websites, my rewards program number for my next Best Buy purchase etc. – I keep them all in one place now. And, they are always with me.

There are several of these wallet-type programs available for the Palm platform, but the one I use is eWallet by Ilium Software. I can categorize my information in a way that makes sense to me, I can change the appearance of the cards, from color to layout, and it’s always just a tap away – but keeps my information secure behind a password wall.

I never thought I’d be the type of person to use an electronic wallet, but when I test drove this program (it was part of a larger software package group), I suddenly couldn’t imagine going back to the “now where did I stick that?” form of information management without a password protection. EWallet has both a Palm platform and a Windows platform. I use them both several times a day. No matter what I add, or where I am when I add it, keeping both versions up to date is only a Hot Sync away.

CardExport II

With this little gem of a program and an expansion card for your Treo, you can retire your thumbdrive.
(Personally, I’d advise that you buy a 1 or 2 gig expansion card if your budget will permit.) When you plug your Treo’s USB hot sync cable into any computer, you can activate the CardExport II program which makes the computer recognize your expansion card as an external hard drive. (I use a portable hotsynch from BoxWave.com that coils up to stay compact).

Using CardExport II means you can carry files – even HUGE files— from one computer to another using your Treo. It also permits you to move files like .mp3 (music files) and .avi (video files and movies) from your computer to your Treo’s card much faster than can be accomplished using hot sync. Movie files (like the ones I rip from my DVD collection to view while on the road) will NOT transfer using the Palm hot sync conduit, and CardExport II is the best way I’ve found to move them – even after test driving several hot sync replacements recommended for moving video files. This one is quick and simple which means I don’t have to keep another software program to do one small thing (transfer video files).

I keep a non-converted copy of my “critical information” document for the business on my expansion card. (This is the info my family will need to send to my business designee should I thoughtlessly step in front of a speeding bus). I also use my expansion card to carry standard Word formatted documents and Excel spreadsheets from my computer to clients and other computers as needed. I usually carry the latest copy of articles I’m writing, the book I’m trying to complete and even my novel notes. It’s like a mini-backup for my mission critical files that I can keep with me.

Most importantly, it means there’s one less thing – a thumbdrive – I have to carry. Before the Treo, I actually carried two, a 512 meg and a 1 gig. Now, I keep that information in a folder on my 2-gig expansion card. And, I can quickly capture a backup of everything I store on my expansion card by merely saving the contents of this “external drive” to my computer’s hard drive.

Productivity Tools…

Financial Calculators – Every real estate agent needs to keep a financial calculator handy. Why carry an additional device when you can use a simple program on your Treo for the same purpose? I’ve reviewed several of the scientific, financial and special-use calculators offered for the Palm platform. Two of my own clients use LoanPro for their real estate calculations. I urge you to test the calculators for your own needs before purchasing. The design and on-screen layout of these programs is essential to their usefulness. Some are created to look just like the top-selling calculators, which makes your conversion from a physical calculator to a software platform easier, if you can find one similar to your current or favorite calculator. Check PalmGear.com to review the available options.

IR Based Lockbox Key – Supra eKey™ by GE offers another way to lighten your load. Now you can access listed houses by “beaming” your secure agent ID and daily-updated access key to an IR-equipped lockbox. As a showing agent, it helps you to schedule your day with less hassle and leave your comments before you leave the listed house. As the listing agent, using this device means that you have a daily report of showing activity and a digital copy of showing agent comments to save you time and keystrokes.

WordProcessing/SpreadSheet Programs – A version of Documents to Go® comes with your Treo. You may want to get a more feature-rich version if you plan to do more document manipulation than the stripped version permits. I use the Documents To Go® professional version, personally – but I’ve only loaded the Word and Excel conduits – I don’t have a need for pocket-sized PowerPoint presentations.

I’m still looking for a less space-hungry word-processing/spreadsheet program (or programs) that won’t require a PC-to-palm conversion conduit, but I’ve not found anything I like better yet (and I’ve tested several competitors). If and when I do discover a better program for these tasks, I’ll blog about it on WickedTreo.com.

Conversion Program – Are you ever caught with the need to convert any unit of measurement to any other unit? I just found and loaded a great little free program to meet your needs. Matt N. Marsh has created Converter (now in version 2.2) to meet your palm needs. You can get a copy of the program at www.mattmarsh.net or on PalmGear.com for your own Treo and begin converting pounds to grams, the number of teaspoons in a fluid ounce, US clothing sizes to UK measurements or even more exotic conversions involving torque, pressure, radioactivity, and more. It’s free, it’s small and it’s quick to use. Get it. You will use it more often than you might expect.

Other Real Estate Specific Information

In addition to the information keeper programs and basic real estate office tools, you may also want to consider keeping the following information on your Treo 650:

  • Showing and/or Staging Checklists – Keep these essential lists in your Excel program or in a special section of NoteStudio.
  • Local Sales Statistics – Keep a copy of the most up-to-date sales statistic with you wherever you go for reference while with clients, to illustrate your advice or to be able to quote last month’s stats with ease.
  • Your Contracts Library – Keep a copy of all your standard contracts for quick reference purposes and to show your clients on the spot. (You may also want to consider keeping a full copy of each one in a designated folder on your expansion card so you hook up to any computer and download the document quickly.)

These are just a few of the ideas to help you to begin customizing and stretching the usefulness of your own Treo.

This concludes my three part series on the Treo 650 as a tool for real estate agents for ePowernews.com. There are dozens of other excellent programs and accessories to consider to expand the basic “as delivered” functionality of the Treo. You may learn more about these by searching the web, browsing PalmGear.com or visiting my Treo blog.

Here’s wishing you a productive month!”

Note: This article was orginally published in the November 2005 edition of ePOWER! News.

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