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Paperless Office

by Joeann Fossland, PMN

ipadIs your business "paperless?" Do you feel inadequate or guilty if not? If you already enjoy working paperlessly, just skip to the end for some app suggestions to enhance your practices. If, on the other hand, the whole issue of going paperless makes you a bit crazy, let's consider why, along with your next steps.

We are in a transition period with our clients and their expectations, the institutional and state real estate departments' acceptance of paperless forms, and with our own acceptance. Some brokers, agents and vendors (even some clients) still demand the use of paper. And among real estate professionals, we don't all trust storing critical data "in the cloud."

"I am so visual, if something isn't under my nose, it is invisible to me and doesn't exist," said past Women's Council National President Judy Moses of Pathway Homes in the Boston area. "That said, there are lots of things I can scan and keep paperless so I can actually find them."

So what really constitutes "paperless?" As Michelle Poccia of Weichart REALTORS® points out, a more realistic goal may be "less paper" than 100 percent paperless. Digital signatures are legal, and many consumers love exchanging documents digitally, she says. "My challenge often comes when getting other agents and attorney offices to participate. Many do not want to embrace it, educate themselves and become proficient at using less paper."

Marilyn Urso of Long Island Village Realty says Baby Boomer clients often want to view a paper file on listing appointments. However, the same clients may prefer to view other information via email. Urso agrees the concept of less paper may be more realistic than truly paperless. In fact, NAR's 2012 research indicates only 5 percent of today's REALTORS® are truly paper-free.

The Good News

You are unique, and your business is unique. While the buzz these days may suggest everyone is already paperless, the most important consideration is what works best for you and your clients.

The average REALTOR® is 56 years old, and Baby Boomers and senior clients are still a significant part of today's market activity. That means a majority of us and our clients did not grow up with computers. While we've learned technology along the way as our business has demanded it, there is a big difference between knowing how to text, using your smartphone or getting a digital signature and going completely paperless. For many of us, paper is what feels "real," and storing vital files in the cloud is daunting.

Considerations for Your Business

Two areas of the business to consider right now are:

1. Your personal time and efficiency.

  • Garry Wise, from The Good Life Team in Austin, says agents who receive "Paperless Agent" training report saving on average five hours on each transaction by using a tablet and the related applications that allow them to manage everything on the go. How many hours would that mean realistically for your business? You don't know until you try to reduce your dependency on paper.
  • By storing all your files in the cloud (and therefore with you at all times via mobile device) you can provide better customer care by being able to immediately answer or respond without having to wait until you go back to the office to track down a file.
  • E-signatures eliminate a fax machine or a drive to a client's house to get forms signed.
  • Laurie Barrera of Keller Williams says, "Life is too short to be buried in paper!" A small scanner like Scansnap is a must-have for her business.

    Mobile apps, such as Evernote, are easy to learn and a cinch to search when you need to look up something on the go.

2. Giving the consumer a "wow" experience.

  • When working in-person with your client, use your tablet to differentiate yourself from other agents who are not paperless. Load all the information for the buyer's tour – down to the type music the client likes – onto your iPad, and then allow the client to navigate, record their comments and take pictures. If you find the right property, you can comp it immediately, figure monthly payments and write an offer.
  • On your next listing appointment, bring your iPad rather than a stack of papers and use it to take notes, pictures, show comps and write up the listing agreement. Use technology to showcase your real estate expertise. Most sellers, even if they aren't tech savvy, expect their agent to be. Use the iPad to enhance their confidence in your abilities.
  • Take a few moments today and examine how well you are utilizing technology in client communications and what you can do as next steps to raise the bar with your business. Determine what's a good fit with your "perfect" clients and yourself. List three possible actions you should take along with your "by when" deadlines. I recommend a newer 32G iPad with a wireless connection. However, you can use other tablets or even your phone to do most everything you need to as an agent.

What Apps Do I Need?

If you want to embrace a "less paper" operation, there are many helpful apps that are free. However, don't let a small investment stop you. Here are some top apps for a less paper business:

  • Evernote to handle at least half of the process with the notes, photos, audio clips, tracking and the ability to share with clients. Check out Dean Oulette's book, Evernote for Real Estate  and the Facebook group Evernote for Real Estate for tips.  
  • Dropbox.com as your file cabinet in the sky.
  • iBooks to import and store MLS sheets.
  • Mortgage Calc or your favorite mortgage calculator.
  • Zipforms Online or whatever program you use in your company or state.
  • Docusign Ink or whatever signing platform you use in your company or state.
  • Keynote, which is Apple's version of PowerPoint for easy presentations.
  • Realtor.com or whatever app your prefer for accessing listing info on the go.
  • Skitch.com to do magic with maps.
  • Waze for GPS with real-time traffic reporting from a community sharing platform.

As 2014 gets closer, continue to adapt to those less paper practices to make you a more efficient real estate professional. Be flexible with your clients in determining their preferences and honoring that, but also introduce them to ways to enhance the process.
Continue to follow and adapt to better ways of doing business as they evolve.

As you do your business planning for next year, your attention to enhancing your productivity and wowing your clients should begin your strategy. Don’t be afraid to "up the bar" in this area to make your business more successful.

Research for this article was done in part through Facebook group discussions. Feel free to join in the discussion with your comments below.

JoeannFosslandJoeann Fossland, GRI, PMN, has 30 years of experience in real estate as an agent, marketing expert, international speaker, trainer and personal coach. Her gift is helping people be wildly productive while living lives they love. She was recognized by a Stefan Swanepeol poll as one of the "Top 25 Most Influential Women in Real Estate." You can subscribe to her free "Tuesday Tips," attend "Fossland's Forums" and free monthly tele-seminars and find out about classes delivered by e-mail and personal coaching by visiting her website. Her email is joeann@joeann.com. You can also connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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