Can You See Me Now?

Camera phones add a new dimension to staying in touch with clients.

Camera phones may not be on the cutting edge in terms of picture quality, but that doesn't stop savvy commercial real estate professionals from using them to improve their business. From marketing to documenting information and even keeping track of parked cars, CCIMs push the envelope on camera phone usage.

After an in-flight commercial real estate discussion, Skip Duemeland, CCIM, chief executive officer of Duemelands Commercial LLLP, in Bismarck, N.D., deplaned with a new client. Once the deal was made, Duemeland visited the property, and despite a lack of good lighting, used his palmOne Treo 650 smartphone to send site pictures to the buyer of the $5 million project.

In a separate instance, image quality issues weren't a problem when Duemeland received advertising concepts via his phone on the way to a CCIM leadership meeting. The information was so clear that he approved it on the spot. Duemeland routinely sends TV-like video clips to clients with his Treo 650 and is ready to share important business information with clients on a moment's notice. While he admits that a digital camera produces higher-quality pictures, the Treo 650's camera function provides an array of client-oriented business uses.

Like Duemeland, most CCIMs agree that camera phones' picture quality is marginal, especially in low light situations. Despite this drawback, industry pros are beginning to see these devices as new customer service tools. "The speed of delivery and ability to quickly respond to my clients is an important value-added service," says Robert J. Dikman, CCIM, chief executive officer of the Dikman Co. in Tampa, Fla. "I use the camera phone for property pictures all the time, especially when I don't have my digital camera with me or it's not charged. I'm able to quickly e-mail my prospects or clients with sites and/or buildings," he adds.

Products, Features, and Future Plans

The palmOne Treo 650 is a pocket-size personal digital assistant and phone with integrated video recorder and still camera. Its features include a high-resolution screen, expanded multimedia capabilities, Bluetooth wireless technology, and a removable battery.

With e-mail, Web browsing, messaging, phone, and camera capabilities, the device combines several product functions into one. "I don't even carry a notebook around any more," says Stan A. Stouder, CCIM, partner at CB Richard Ellis in Fort Myers, Fla. He uses his Treo 600 to sync his phone with ACT contact manager and Microsoft Outlook. In general, the PDA helps him to better manage and organize his business.

Recognizing this growing market, phone companies are adding more features to help business users be more efficient when working from the road. "Mobile and camera technology is constantly changing and becoming better all the time," says Illana Shenitzer, a Motorola representative. Current features for business users on most Motorola phones include calendars, alarm clocks, Internet access, instant messaging, and wireless capabilities.

Newer models such as Motorola's MPx220 phone combine global access to the Internet and e-mail with a 1.2 megapixel camera with 3x zoom, a 64-megabyte flash, and mini SD card with removable memory for extra storage.

Motorola's new PDA phone, QWERTY, or Q, will be available in first-quarter 2006. For business users, this PDA will be one of the first devices to run on Mircosoft Windows Mobile 5.0 and will include a digital camera as well as video clip capture and playback.

Nokia also is launching a new camera phone in 2006, the Nokia N90. With its unique twist-and-shoot design, the phone has a 2.0 megapixel camera with a 20x digital zoom autofocus. The camera also features six possible scene settings, including an option for low light situations. Also beneficial for business users, the phone has an integrated hands-free speaker and two-way video call.

Value-Added Services

Many commercial real estate pros find their camera phones to be great backup tools. "Sometimes you don't have your [digital] camera with you and that is when the camera phone or PDA come into their own," says Harold S. Alpert, CCIM, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker NRT in Vacaville, Calif. "Having a camera available at all times can keep you from having to return to a site for pictures. It is a time-saving convenience but not a substitute for professional pictures or amateur pictures with a high-quality camera," he adds.

Camera phones also are handy for spur-of-the-moment marketing ideas. Loaded with features such as an integrated camera with digital zoom, Bluetooth, and a five-way navigator, Alpert's palmOne Zire72 served a very useful purpose during one of his transactions. "The owners had a 'for lease' sign on the property and had given me the OK to place my new sign directly over theirs," he says. With his Zire72, Alpert took a picture of the existing sign and e-mailed it to his sign designer. The designer then created a new sign that Alpert mounted over the original one. It saved him an extra 20-mile return trip to the project site.

Business Emergencies

As in marketing situations, camera phones also are useful in business emergencies. "For emergency and spur-of-the-moment needs, it works great," says Ty R. Stetzenmeyer, CCIM, vice president of Arthur Goldner & Associates in Northbrook, Ill.

For example, he was a few blocks away from a property when a tenant called to say that a car had hit the building, causing damage. "I got to the site, took pictures, e-mailed them to myself at the office, took the copy of the police report from the police, and returned to the office," he says. Once he was there, he scanned the police report and e-mailed it with the pictures to the insurance companies immediately.

Documenting information is another way a phone's camera function can be useful. For example, Stouder depends on his Treo to photograph tenant directories and architectural features for business ideas.

Stetzenmeyer also uses his phone for on-the-spot documentation. "When traveling by properties that have new and interesting designs, color, and tenants, it's easy to take a quick picture and e-mail it to myself," he says. Once he gets back to the office, he has all the documentation he needs to send the pictures on to business

Road Warrior Function

While teenagers still may be today's biggest camera phone users, industry professionals are starting to use them to streamline their business processes. In fact, some commercial real estate pros find their camera phones to be more practical than ever. Christian J. Johannsen, CCIM, managing director of Aztec Group in Miami uses his to keep track of the more mundane details of business life: "I use the camera (function) to take a picture of where I parked in the airport parking lot so I don't lose my car."

Stephanie Bell

“I went through the [recession in the] 1980s and purposely set out a market plan that would not have the boom-and-bust [nature] that comes with real estate cycles.” — Joe W. Milkes, CCIM, Milkes Realty Valuation, Dallas“We were anticipating a slowdown in the market and wanted to develop an avenue of business that would create a steady stream of income.” — Yvonne Jones, CCIM, CPM, Zifkin Realty Management LLC, Chicago“I help struggling companies rethink their business models, which includes determining the most profitable use of their real estate.” — Audie Cashion, CCIM, Alpha World Properties LLC, High Point, N.C.Stephanie Bell is associate editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.


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