Mobility Essentials for Real Estate Agents

I recently received the following email from Lisa Mahoney, a real estate agent in Uxbridge, MA working with RE/MAX American Dream, and am reprinting (and answering) it here with her permission:

Hi there, I am just starting out and have paired up w/ a “team.” No one else uses any real mobile technology (except cell phones). I would like to suggest a few ways to move towards being more efficient and mobile.I spend hours sometimes at an open house, where I could be working etc. So I am wondering what should a good agent have??So far I have a wireless Laptop (not sure if it would work w/ on the road) and a blackberry. Of course a printer/fax but those are not portable. Also what kind of software would I need to have to be able to fax through email online and connect to the internet? How does it all work together?

Sorry for all the questions……this is all so new to me but I LOVE YOUR IDEAS!!!

Thank You,

Lisa Mahoney
RE/MAX American Dream

Dear Lisa –

Thanks for the compliment!

Creating a mobile office can be a challenge, but it sounds like you already have the primary bases covered. With your laptop and your blackberry, you have a way to work and a way to communicate. What you will need to add is an aircard for your laptop so you can connect to the Internet and send emails directly from your laptop.

Personally, I’m a Cingular customer and I use their 3G Option GT Max. It’s a slender card that fits into the PCMCIA slot on my Tablet PC. You should probably have a PCMCIA slot on your own laptop. This will allow you to connect to the Internet and send/receive emails from any location where you can pick up a cell phone signal (like your open houses).

Profile Matters
I would recommend the card I have (or one with a similar profile) over other versions because it offers a butterfly antenna option – which sinks into the aircard itself, getting completely out of the way when not in use. I find that it works as well as the longer “wire” style antennas that the other cards offered (I’ve tried other styles, but the antenna is ALWAYS in the way. With a laptop the profile of the card may not be as essential to you, with a Tablet PC, it matters.

Cost is Significant
When you use an aircard, you rack up a fairly large monthly bill. Even with the “unlimited” plan, you are looking at an additional $60-90 per month on your cell phone bill, and possibly a two year contract on the required SIM card. The device itself runs between $100-150, depending on where you purchase, but you may be able to find a special that lowers the initial investment. You can add this as another “phone” on a “family” or “group” plan if you have that option with your carrier.

Paperless Office Options
When working mobile, anything you can do to make your office “paperless” will improve your productivity.

  • Get a PDF printer program so you can “print” all documents in an easy-to-port and easy to share format.
  • Make sure you can easily access your contact database from both your blackberry and your laptop (and that it’s the best contact mangement system you can find). Never lose or misfile this information, it’s the backbone of your business.
  • Install a FAX program on your machine. Although I recommend that you use PDF and email as much as possible, some places still require old-fashioned, grainy fax copies.
  • Develop an organized “filing” system for your emails and documents so you can find what you need quickly and you always know where to put your files. Searching for files is frustrating and sucks up valuable time.
  • Make sure you backup your laptop at LEAST once a week. Consider an external hard drive that you keep in a location other than where you keep your laptop.
  • Keep your information protected. Getting a mobile office running is time-consuming. Protect that investment by running a good virus program (AVG offers a free version and a paid version — both are wonderful). Also keep an eye on adware creep by installing AdAware and SpyBot Search and Destroy. Both are free, and both should be run at least once a week.
  • Make sure everything you send out has your brand on it — a signature line on your emails, a letterhead option for your faxes and PDF copies of contracts, forms and documents. Never miss an opportunity to brand what belongs to you. It’s easy to forget this important part of marketing when you “go mobile” and paperless.
  • Create an environment on your laptop that makes working mobile easier, then put the customization information in a folder that you back up regularly.
  • Get and use a password program. These, when you are on the road, make working so much easier. I currenly use illumsoft’s eWallet, but may be switching to one of two open source (and free) encryption programs I’ve found: Keepass and Password Safe in the future.
  • Install a basic office package on your laptop. If you don’t already have one, and you want a high performance, no-cost alternative to Microsoft Office, consider OpenOffice. It is an opensource product that offers cross-platform file types for all major software office productivity software. I’m using it as my replacement for Excel, Word and PowerPoint and have no complaints to date. Frankly, I’m impressed.

PDF Printer Options
The classic PDF writer is Adobe. I currently use Adobe 8.0, but it’s quite an investment. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, you can download an opensource Adobe alternative like PDFCreator. Also, if you are using the latest version of MS Office, most of the programs have a “print to PDF” option with this download from the MS site.

Fax Options
Currently, I use the fax capability of my branded 800 number for incoming faxes and I send my information out as a pdf or an attachment via email. This type of setup may work for you, it may not. It depends on if you need to be able to accept faxes, send faxes or both while mobile. (Please note that the following are NOT products I have used or tested, but I’ve researched a little to help you with this question.) Here are several options for Fax functionality you may want to consider:

  • VOIP services – Many VOIP services offer a fax option. If you are considering VOIP, be sure to ask if they offer this option. Warning: the aircard will seldom offer the speeds required to make VOIP function well. Ask someone with your service who is using the product you hope to use before purchase — or request a trial period from the VOIP company before making a commitment.
  • If you are a techie, or if you have access to a friendly geek, you may want to dig into the open source options for IP teleconferencing and fax programs, like Open H323 or Asterisk Fax or HylaFAX.
  • Purchased products – MightyFax or Zetafax.
  • Purchased services – Some companies will provide fax services for you for a monthly fee. For instance: My Fax, Send2Fax or eFax.

Again, I have not tested the Fax products listed above and this is just a sampling, there are many other options of each type. Please do your own comparative research and read the reviews on each before selecting one.
By purchasing the right hardware, loading the best software and taking extra steps to organize, protect and promote yourself online, you will find that running a mobile office will be rewarding, productive and enjoyable.

Best of luck to you and thanks for the question!

Angela Parker