How To Create a Technology Strategy for Your Real Estate Practice

This week, we’re joined again by Lee Adkins, who has some great tips for your firm when looking to adopt new technology into your day-to-day business.

Technology is a necessary evil in Real Estate. Love it or hate it, you have to use it and you will have to deal with continuously changing technology and platforms and apps. There are really only two choices here; Embrace the ever-changing world we live in or be left behind. This doesn’t mean you have to jump on every new app or program that comes out – but you do need to have a strategy to help you decide every time you hear about the latest and greatest, shiny new thing.

We’ve found that most successful agents, teams and brokerages have a basic  “policy” on adopting new software. Tips for this are to set parameters like; budget (overall marketing or tech budget), annual goals, ease of use for clients/staff/agents, does it work with existing tools (or does that matter?), etc. More and more, certain apps integrate with others too – so explore if the best CRM connects to the best email distribution program for you. Many of these products have free trials or freemium models (where a certain number of users or contacts are free, but become paid as you use them or add users.)

How to decide what to explore and what not to explore:
There are many sites that provide user reviews and “apples to apples” comparisons of software – sites like Capterra and Agent Armory to name a few. Spending more time upfront figuring what you need and what specific tools you’re looking at do, can save you tons of time each week moving forward. A best practice we recommend is setting a future time (3-6 months) to evaluate the tech you’re using.

How to develop a business strategy that helps you make high-level decisions on where to spend your time:
Don’t believe what everyone else says on social – and decide on a time frame for an evaluation of what you’re doing. If you have a clear plan for where your business is headed, you’ll know what components you need to get there. If a certain lead source or software does not contribute to that goal, don’t try it. It’s always funny when people make blanket statements like “software xyz doubled my business last year.” Don’t fall into that trap – your business model is probably completely different from theirs – just because someone (whose affiliation with the company may be unknown to you) says “you” need it doesn’t mean that you do. Stick to your plan. Shiny objects, beware!

Pick one thing that is the “brain” of your business (typically a CRM) and USE IT:
In a people-centric business, often a CRM (Contact Relationship Manager) is the key software piece that you need. Learn to evaluate how the tools you use work together, using the key software piece as the measure. It is not generally a good plan to have 20 logins that don’t “talk” to each other. We’ve had success with our clients on using a specific CRM as the main tool. If lead sources or software won’t work alongside that, we don’t even talk to them. Often it’s a function of learning what NOT to do over exploring all the things you COULD do.

Consider the other Players:
If you have a team or a brokerage, be sure it’s something you can easily train (or that offers support that trains) your agents to use it properly. Many of our clients will test new ideas or platforms with their more seasoned agents before rolling out company-wide. Or maybe test with the newer, more tech savvy agents and see if they like it. People will be honored to be asked for their feedback in the decision process – it’s great team building and you’ll get buy-in from part of the group before rolling it out. You might even be able to have one of those younger agents pair up with the seasoned agents on implementation.

Bottom line is, explore, test, adopt but don’t leap from tool to tool letting it define your business. Embrace the change, but have a simple plan to follow to help you decide which tools make sense for you.

Lee and his team are proud to present the Best Conference Ever on August 22 – an event in Atlanta focused on technology and real estate – but also making it attainable and accessible to all in the business and helping our industry run a better, more efficient and effective business. Come see Managing Director for CRT Chad Curry’s session: “Under All is The Land: Emerging Technologies & Their Impact on Real Estate.” The Best Conference Ever is brought to you by the following individuals, and takes place at the Atlanta Tech Village.
David Lightburn – co-founder of Atlanta Tech Village, Clickscape, Village Realty www.vratl.com
Maura Neill – Team Owner, National Speaker, NAR course writer, www.buysellliveatlanta.com
Lee Adkins – Consultant for teams and brokerages, www.PoweringRealEstate.com

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS® Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.PoweringRealEstate.com to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.

Three Key Takeaways from Chicago Panel on Commercial Real Estate Technology

This week on the CRT Labs blog, Jacob Knabb from NAR’s Commercial division writes about some much-needed advancements in commercial real estate technology.

Four industry leaders met recently in Chicago to discuss the state of commercial real estate technology, exploring what disruption might mean for the future of commercial real estate.

Emily Line, Vice President of Commercial Services, Realtors Property Resource® (RPR), Constance Freedman, Founder and Managing Partner, Moderne Ventures and the Moderne Accelerator, and Karin Kraai, Senior Managing Director, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, joined moderator Ginger Downs, Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Association of REALTORS®, for an informative discussion of commercial real estate technology to a packed room of Chicago-area real estate practitioners.

(L-R) Kraai, Line, & Freedman. (photo by Jacob S. Knabb)

Ready or Not Here Comes Commercial Real Estate Technology

 The first major takeaway is complexity inhibits technology adoption, as does fear of change.

Line pointed to a 2016 Forbes survey, which found only 11% of respondents consider themselves on the leading edge of technology. Yet the same executives also believe that technology is “revolutionizing the industry.” A similar survey by KPMG revealed that over 94 percent of commercial real estate executives identified complexity as their greatest challenge, Line noted, with 84% identifying ‘information management’ as one key solution. “Despite the fact that 84% recognize the solution, 89% are still not willing to step out of what’s comfortable,” Line said.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that new technology companies are entering the industry at a rapid pace, creating cost-efficient products designed to simply workflow. Most of these companies offer supportive data in a more digestible fashion. One great way for REALTORS® to establish yourself in the tech sector is to sign up to test new products “At Moderne, most of the companies we fund asked to create pilot programs where users can try a new company’s product for free in exchange for user feedback,” said Freedman. “Get involved and you may build a real relationship with a company.”

Commercial Real Estate Technology Isn’t Exactly Disruptive

The second key takeaway is that commercial real estate hasn’t had a true disruption yet. “We’ve had embellishers and enhancers [in commercial real estate technology] but not a disruptor,” said Kraai. Commercial real estate still hinges on human expertise at its core and as a result “brokers don’t want to be disrupted,” Kraai argued. Freedman agreed, noting the importance of human relationships. “Deals can take five or more years to complete [and] clients want an advisor or a consultant,” Freedman argued.

“Disruption is separate from the individual,” echoed Downs. “And the products need to make the broker more efficient.”

Technologies created for other markets will penetrate commercial real estate, enhancing how the industry functions. There movement towards smart buildings in smart cities is undeniably changing the way brokers and investors think about properties. “Buildings are becoming greener and offer far more smart tech options for tenants,” said Kraai. “Here in Chicago’s riverfront we are seeing a definite desire on the part of tenants and firms to have a smaller footprint.”

Intentionally Cultivating a Growing Workforce

 The final takeaway is three-fold: Diversity creates better companies, the key to building diversity is through mentorship, and this matters to the incoming millennial workforce. Line argued the “Work, Live, Play” movement is unavoidable.

“Shifting lifestyle preferences are prompting major changes in the real estate landscape, forcing developers, investors, and REALTORS® to dive deeper into research and think about the full picture for a community,” Line referenced a study commissioned by NAR and conducted by Swanepoel T3 Group called the Commercial Real Estate ALERT. According to the report, Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2030. “One of the most pressing challenges for commercial real estate is to plan for where this important segment of society will live, work, and play,” Line reasoned.

This incoming workforce brings a different set of expectations about diversity. Freedman noted a particular lack of diversity when it comes to the investor space. “The managing partners in firms across equity is roughly 7%,” she said. “In real estate, it’s closer to 3%.” Freedman bemoaned the fact that hardly any women have their own fund despite the fact that almost all want to.”

That said, Downs noted a marked shift in company culture to attract younger employees and improve the happiness of current ones. “Millennials will soon be the largest demographic in the work force, so it’s important to consider what they are looking for in a work place and find spaces to make those dreams a reality,” said Downs. “Because so many of us live tech-heavy, fast-paced lives, we need our work places to be innovative and efficient.” The entire panel strongly believed that practitioners should commit to the old-school method of mentorship to support millennials, particularly women and minorities, entering the commercial real estate and technology space. A diversified industry creates much stronger returns. As Kraai succinctly put it: “All of the Top-20 Tech firms have women in at least 20% of their key positions. It makes better thinking and increases profitability.”

Jacob S. Knabb is Commercial Communications & Member Services Associate for the National Association of REALTORS®. He works frequently with CRT Labs, keeping us informed of the latest and greatest in commercial real estate technology trends.

The Versatile Raspberry Pi

This week’s guest post is republished with permission from our friends in Information Services at the National Association of REALTORS®. The librarians are some of our closest collaborators here at NAR, and recently Abby Creitz came to us with a series of projects that would help them rethink how members interact with our Library and Archives at NAR HQ. One of these projects, described here, includes a Raspberry Pi as a dedicated media/slideshow device. CRT Labs has featured the Raspberry Pi before, using them for projects like running servers and small computer projects, as well as as the base for an indoor air quality sensor. Other projects in the Library’s future include a customized iPad kiosk, a rethinking of the library’s lobby space, and more, which we will update you on as they happen! 

Ever heard of Raspberry Pi? No, I’m not referring to a baked good or an obscure geometric theorem; I’m talking about a small, inexpensive computer perfect for learning to code, and for DIY experimentation. I first heard of Raspberry Pi when I came across a Tooth Fairy Transport system created by one of the greatest dads in the world. What peaked my interest in the video was the use of a pneumatic tube system (#HomeAmenityGoals), but the real takeaway was how a Raspberry Pi made the project possible. Raspberry Pi has been used in many other innovative ways, some of which are great ways to implement smart home and home improvement projects for those unafraid of learning a new skill! At NAR Library & Archives, we decided to use it to improve how we interact with visitors.

NAR Library & Archives decided to partner with NAR’s CRT Labs to create and run a looping slideshow full of information about how REALTORS® and NAR staff use the library and its services (inspired by the Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ new office space in the REALTOR® Building). We decided that a Raspberry Pi would be the best way to run the slideshow continuously, dedicating the unit to the sole purpose of running the slideshow.

Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Pi

Out of the box, the Raspberry Pi was fairly simple to set up. It is a single board computer, containing all the components of a regular computer, just on a smaller surface. There are a few different Raspberry Pi kits available for purchase, but the kit we chose comes with an SD card, power cord, and an HDMI cable. You have to provide your own input devices (mouse, keyboard, microphones, etc.) and output devices (screen, speakers, etc.). We connected a Raspberry Pi to a large wall-mounted TV using an HDMI cable, plugged in a keyboard and mouse to the Raspberry Pi unit, connected the Raspberry Pi to WiFi, opened up a browser, and lastly, ran the slideshow using Google Slides.

Why do this instead of using a desktop computer? There were a number of reasons, but just to name a few: a Raspberry Pi cost $35, whereas a desktop computer costs hundreds; a Raspberry Pi has a footprint the size of a deck of cards, while the desktop takes up much more space; and using a Raspberry Pi leaves the desktop computer free for other demonstrations, or for use by our visitors while still exposing them to the information about our department that we wish to convey.

This sort of informational slideshow set-up could be used at open houses using the owner’s TV, or in reception areas of real estate offices. What other kind of projects could you see yourself undertaking with this technology?

Abby Creitz is the Web Content & Information Specialist for NAR Library & Archives. This post was originally published by Information Services Blog on June 21, 2017.

These Three Commercial Real Estate Tech Companies Are All About Connections

This week on the CRT Labs blog, Jacob Knabb from NAR’s Commercial division writes about some much-needed advancements in commercial real estate technology.

For years the commercial real estate sector has been allergic to technological advances. Data-sharing and easy access to listing information made no sense in a business where proprietary information, in-house data, and brokers who are hush-hush about who might be in their rolodex were the norm. This reputation for lagging behind the field is fast becoming obsolete, however, as commercial real estate has proven ripe for disruption. Over the past few years tech startups have been breaking into this market, changing the status quo and capitalizing on weaknesses in protocol and needlessly opaque communications between investors, brokers, and client reps. It’s suddenly fun to follow the commercial real estate tech market.

Floating Through Space by Ryan Tang

Today I want to look at three of the more exciting, noteworthy commercial real estate tech companies that have come onto my radar recently: VTS, WeWork, and CommissionTrac. The common theme for each of these products is a dynamic ability to leverage technology to speed up traditionally time-consuming, costly processes and to facilitate connections.

Let’s start with VTS, a platform Forbes touted for its ability to enable “real estate professionals [to] track deals and manage space in real-time, and collaboratively.” VTS is made for property managers, brokers, and tenant reps. This is what makes it revolutionary: VTS centralizes property portfolios, making them accessible to all of the key players in real time. “High quality, visual, actionable data gold,” as Duke Long called it in NAR’s magazine Commercial Connections earlier this year. Leasing data is delivered in an intuitive, visually pleasing display. Even for massive portfolios or team members spread around the globe.

WeWork excels because it can “[b]uild, acquire, and manage assets with technology” by streamlining construction, acquisition, and asset management. I attended a panel discussion on technologies serving the built environment at DisruptCRE in Chicago this May that featured Megan Dodds, WeWork’s Midwest director of community. Dodds was able to convey WeWork’s focus on maximizing square footage by creating shared office scenarios that are proving to be quite appealing to millennials eager for community and companies hungry for space to house their untethered workforce. In other words: they create killer office environments that hum along at maximum occupancy, generating strong ROI for investors. WeWork will be exhibiting in the Commercial Marketplace at NAR’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago and I can’t wait to learn more about them in November.

I’m going to end this with a bang by taking a quick jaunt into bookkeeping technology. Almost lost you there, didn’t I? Most commercial practitioners detest this part of the job for a reason. It’s complicated to do and expansive to pay to have done. Atlanta-based ComissionTrac is disrupting accounting by providing a platform able to handle invoicing, deposits, commission distributions, and general ledger reports. You send them copies of all the paperwork, or your Quickbooks files, and they do all the heavy-lifting. You can run reports on any device from any location with a signal. CommissionTrac is customizable for agents, ‘back office,’ and principals and the full-service package is $9.99 a head (aka: affordable).

Commercial real estate pros love monitoring trends and here the lines are fairly straightforward: technology will only continue to blossom and grow. Baby Boomers are aging out of the workforce and notions of proprietary data and technology are becoming increasingly obsolete. With IoT establishing a firm foothold in commercial real estate, the next round of breakthroughs are likely to address security solutions. But for the time being connectivity is the word of the hour, and just like with other industries, the commercial real estate industry will thrive as it keeps that connectivity at the forefront of its technological advances.

Jacob S. Knabb is Commercial Communications & Member Services Associate for the National Association of REALTORS®. He works frequently with CRT Labs, keeping us informed of the latest and greatest in commercial real estate technology trends.

Smile for the Camera? Considerations for Using Surveillance Technology

Our next guest blogger is Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Following Lee Adkins’ post about voice assistant hubs, we wanted to share a look at the legality of having cameras and microphones in homes for sale.

Real estate agents and sellers sometimes use video recording devices to monitor open houses and walk-throughs. The motivations for surveillance are varied, and can be compelling. Video recording can offer an added layer of security for real estate agents conducting solo showings or open houses in remote areas. A prominently posted notice that security cameras are in place may act as a deterrent for physical attacks, theft, and vandalism. Some sellers and real estate agents may even use recordings to gain insight into a home’s marketability.

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

While surveillance technology can offer many benefits during the home-selling process, it is important to consider the possible legal implications. In general, individuals have the right to control legal activities within their own home. However, every state has privacy laws addressing the ways in which people may be permissibly recorded, and these laws vary widely. In addition, the laws governing audio surveillance versus video surveillance are not the same. It is therefore essential that homeowners and real estate professionals consult with an attorney prior to setting up any surveillance as part of a sales plan.

Video-Only Surveillance

Video surveillance is generally permissible in any situation where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because it would be unreasonable to expect privacy while one is in public, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on street corners, at banks, and in public transportation is entirely within the bounds of the law. Similarly, if a video camera records a prospective buyer walking into a home’s entryway with her real estate agent during an open house, she would have a difficult time claiming that she had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if the buyer steps into a bathroom to use the facilities, she would almost certainly – and reasonably – expect privacy. Therefore, homeowners should avoid installing cameras in bathrooms, even if the homeowner’s intent in doing so is both reasonable and innocent – for example, as an effort to prevent the theft of prescription drugs. (Instead, sellers should always make sure that medicines, weapons, and valuables are securely locked up or taken off-site during showings.)

Audio Surveillance

With very limited exceptions, audio surveillance laws in every state require the consent of one or all parties to a recorded conversation. Know your state laws prior to utilizing any recording device that captures audio.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal considerations, sellers and real estate agents should consider the ethical and reputational implications of making surreptitious recordings. The following best practices can help avoid reputational debacles involving recording devices:

  • Provide Notice. Consider providing prior notice when recordings may be made during a showing. You can post the notice in the MLS or on the property, or send notification via email prior to showings and open houses. In addition, if any cameras have an audio recording function, be sure to disable the audio function or get all necessary consents pursuant to your state’s laws.
  • Keep Recordings To Yourself. Never publish or share any recording you make of other people without their consent. The only exception to this is if you happen to record possible criminal activity – in that case, you should discuss the incident with the police, and provide them with the recording upon their request.

A Note to Buyers’ Agents: Don’t Take Privacy For Granted

Buyers and their agents should keep in mind that nanny-cams, surveillance cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets are all capable of recording video and, in many cases, audio. Prior to any walk-through or open house, buyers’ agents should consider advising their clients of the possibility of hidden recording devices. A good practice is to simply save all thoughts on a house until everyone is back on the sidewalk.

Jessica Edgerton is associate counsel at NAR. Her work includes extensive membership education and outreach. She is a regular speaker on the subjects of cyber fraud, cybersecurity, and legal risk mitigation for real estate professionals. She contributes to REALTOR® Magazine, AE Magazine, and RIS Media on a wide range of risk management topics.

Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 2)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, and continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. The two devices here are generally what we would call voice assistant hubs. They are fully functional on their own, but also work with and to control other devices as well. There are a lot of similarities, but they do have differences in their speech patterns and tempos and their general compatibilities. Amazon Echo allows 3rd party developers to add “Skills” for Alexa (think Apps) and Google Home is actually a more of a closed system at this time (with developers creating apps, but having a more limited number at the moment). BOTH devices currently only can be connected to one account at a time – eventually, it would be great to see them be able to recognize the users voice and access their specific calendar, music and other accounts.

Pro Tips:

  • Both these devices record data when activated AND both show requests to the owner via an app. While it might be fun to play with someone else’s toys while in a home, be respectful and be careful what you or your clients say
  • On a similar note, cameras and microphones, in general, are cheaper and easier to set up than ever before. Be mindful when showing homes (ed. note: more about that below).
  • CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

What does it do?
The Amazon Echo is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
The Amazon Echo is very easy to set up. It will basically walks you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $179 on Amazon with free 2-day shipping for Prime members.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Personally, I use mine for a fun fact in the mornings (just say, “Alexa, Good morning”) and then ask about the weather, in my city or wherever I’m traveling to
  • Scheduling or just getting a “daily briefing” on your calendar
  • Answers to general questions
  • Using the grocery/shopping list feature
  • Using the timer or other hands-free options while cooking or otherwise involved in something else.Playing music via Amazon Prime (commercial free, your playlists, etc)

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Amazon Echo.

Google Home

What does it do?
Google Home is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It of course works very well with the data you already have in your google account. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
Very Easy – Google Home will walk you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $129 in the Google store and available at several major retailers.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Reviewing or adding items to your Calendar (obviously, connected to your Google account)
  • Answers to general questions, powered by Google
  • Basically searching Google – local restaurants, traffic, etc.
  • Play songs from Google Play or Spotify account (even filter explicit songs)
  • It of course works well with Chromecast and YouTube as well as Nest products (since they are all also owned by Google)
  • Play podcasts (a little better than Echo for this)
  • It also has a shopping list feature

Additional Thoughts:
Google Home isn’t currently compatible fully with G Suite (paid Google account, previously known as Google Apps for Business) – Calendar, Google Payments and Uber features currently don’t work with G Suite accounts, but do work with free Gmail accounts. The easiest remedy would be to connect to a free Google account, which might be better if you don’t own the G suite organization you are connecting anyway. However, there’s an extra step if you are the super admin to allow your G Suite account to work – that info is can be found here

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Google Home.

Adrienne from CRT Labs here! I wanted to add some information to Lee’s post about homes that are for sale and have a voice hub inside them. The Amazon Echo and Google Home both are always listening, and thus capable of easy recording – they are programmed to function so that when a “wake word” is spoken, the device will be active, but the device is always passively listening for their specific wake words. If you and your clients are uncomfortable having a recording device on, please speak with the listing agent of the home about turning these devices off when the home is being shown. This is very simple on both devices – the Echo has a button on top, and the Google Home on the side, for turning off the microphone, and both devices have visual feedback to confirm that the microphones are indeed off. NAR’s Jessica Edgerton has written a blog post for us, coming later this week, about security devices such as cameras in homes for sale, and goes into depth on the legal aspects of them; we will link to that blog post when it’s live, as it will cover some of the same issues microphones have.

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.PoweringRealEstate.com to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.