James G. Cahill
Executive Vice President, Chief Information and Technology Officer
New handheld devices, map technology aids brokers
By Anjali Naik
With new versions of iPods coming out every week and Google planning to corral all known data in the universe, technology is transforming every facet of society, and the real estate business is no exception.
In New York, a city where people update cell phones on a regular basis, listening to a portable compact disc player is like driving a horse and buggy, and getting your business from print advertising is, well, really old-school. Tech-savvy brokers need to check back in to understand how the latest gadgets might help their business, thereby increasing their efficiency, leads and commissions.
One of the tech trends that Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy has just tapped into is voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), which allows agents to check voicemail over the Internet. Instead of the voice data flowing over traditional circuit-switched transmission lines, it flows over a packet switched network. Agents can log into the company's Web site from their laptops, BlackBerries or Treos, and check voicemail from anywhere in the world.
"Most agents need to be in touch with their clients," says Eric Basa, Coldwell's director of information technology. "They need to be constantly accessible as they never know which lead is going to end up generating business. From a cost and flexibility standpoint, there's something in it for everybody."
Charles Olson, chief technology officer at Prudential Douglas Elliman, says that New York brokers should be armed with a laptop with a Wi-Fi connection, a BlackBerry, and a Treo. Olson uses a handheld Palm Treo 650 that, among numerous other functions, enables him to make phone calls, surf the Web, check e-mail, and shoot videos and photos.
"My Treo," Olson says, "has fundamentally changed the way I interact with my cell phone and personal organizer. It enables me to be away from my office, away from my computer and still function as if I am right there. It's got almost everything a laptop would have. I don't know what I would do if I left home without it."
Olson, who helps agents and brokers at Elliman create their own Web sites, believes that agent blogs are a huge factor in attracting and generating client leads. Furthermore, taking into consideration that most people begin their searches online, Olson predicts that podcasts will be the next big trend.
"In a year or so, especially when video iPods take off, we're going to see a lot more podcasts," he says. "Agents will be able to present high-quality video and audio presentations of their properties on their Web sites and clients will be able to download and view them whenever they want."
Terra Holdings, the parent company of Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead, is rolling out a new technology called Realplus Mapping that displays all the listings in a given area on a map. Looking at a particular neighborhood on the map, for example, a broker can hone in on a specific building and then click on it to find the available apartments for sale.
"A key advantage of the mapping technology is its link with our in-house listings system," says James Cahill, executive vice president of information technology at Terra Holdings. "This is not just a street mapping tool. It is the first mapping technology to be integrated with a live New York City listing database."
The mapping system is already in use at Halstead and will be in available to the rest of Terra Holdings in January.
Another time-saving device has been to upload templates and data into the company's computer system.
"In the past, it would take days to create beautifully colored pamphlets," he says. "Now, with a push of the buttons, our brokers can create their own brochures and access marketing reports that would have previously taken weeks to prepare."
The point however, Cahill emphasizes, is not merely to give brokers cutting-edge tools but those that are easy to use and operate.
"Our mission," Cahill says, "is to give our agents a system that doesn't require a high level of technological experience."
Thursday, December 01, 2005