Technology Solutions

IM Connected

Brokers say instant messaging's real-time communication speeds business transactions.

As the time between mak-ing an offer and closing on a property shrinks, many commercial real estate pros are learning that new communi-cation tools help them keep pace with the industry. For example, in most cases a sales presentation still requires a face-to-face meeting -- unless it's a long-standing client who's staring down a 1031 deadline. In that instance perhaps an e-mail with an attachment will do the trick.

But what if the property is the perfect up-leg to a client's exchange, a triple-net deal in the right price range and location that isn't even on the market yet? Your client needs to know about it now, but he's traveling. You can e-mail the presentation package, but it's a big file, and he's in business meetings - he may not be checking e-mail and he certainly won't stop to download a huge attachment. But you check your instant messaging contact list and see he's available - you send a brief IM asking if he wants the file, he answers yes; you IM the file and the deal is underway.

Instant messaging is real-time communication. Users subscribe to an IM service that is usually free through e-mail providers, such as America Online or Yahoo. They choose an IM screen name and create a contact or "buddy" list of other IM contacts. When you're at your computer and you want to be in contact, sign on and everyone on your list knows you're online. Your contact list also tells you who else is online.

Real-Time Results

Many commercial real estate pros find the service invaluable for office communication. "We have all staff and affiliates on IM," says J. Steven Martin, CCIM, CPM, with Sperry Van Ness/Martin Commercial Group in Evansville, Ind. "We find it a quick way to get questions addressed throughout the day and we use it in lieu of 'while you were away' notes."

"IM allows me to get the attention of my colleagues even if they are on the phone or have their e-mail turned off. I can get a quick answer or set up a future time to discuss an issue," says Kevin M. Hanford, CCIM, a Sperry Van Ness adviser in Phoenix. "An additional benefit is that we can exchange large files with no size limit very quickly."

While the idea of IM seems intrusive - one more box popping up on your computer screen - when used properly, many find it eliminates distractions. "It helps keep down excessive talking and interruptions. You can answer someone quickly while on the phone with another person and not have a verbal interruption," says Albert F. Naticchioni, CCIM, with Re/Max of Redding, Calif.

"It is less intrusive than a phone call because it lets the recipient decide when to respond, and you have the added advantage of being able to print the conversation," says Jude Peck, CCIM, an investment analyst with Edens & Avant in Columbia, S.C.

While many limit their IM use to colleagues and office staff, others regularly use it with clients. "It facilitates a faster agreement," Peck says. "We have used it when negotiating a transaction on a conference call so we don't have to put the party on the other side on hold while sharing our thoughts with our counsel or other partners. Our partners get our immediate feedback without having to call back separately."

"On my most recent transaction, I found I could easily use IM to contact my client, especially when his phone line was tied up. Last-minute questions and details about the document signing were covered using IM. One advantage is that it keeps things short and to the point. If you need a long conversation, e-mail or a phone call is obviously better," says Harold S. Alpert, CCIM, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Commercial in Vacaville, Calif.

Brokers with international clients find instant messaging a good way to stay in touch across time zones. It eliminates the cost of international phone calls, as well as the time needed to find a temporary hotel or office number. "One of my clients travels globally extensively and IM is his preferred method of communication given the various time zones," says Christian J. Johannsen, CCIM, managing director of the Aztec Group in Miami.

"We use IM with clients who are located in Hawaii, [on the] West or East Coast, and in Japan," says G. Rick Robinson, CCIM, development manager for Island Land Co. in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. "Many times we are in the middle of the chain between the East Coast and Japan and need to be in contact with both instantly to speed up a transaction. We need to communicate in real time."

Just Among Colleagues

While 13 percent of IM business users said they include their IM screen names on business cards, according to AOL's third annual Instant Messaging Trends Survey, others keep close tabs on who has IM access. "I don't give my buddy name to anyone but my closest colleagues. Once [clients and other non-team members] ... get you on their list, they can butt into your personal computer space when you may not want to hear from them so immediately," Hanford says.

"I hesitate to use IM for anything other than intraoffice [communication] because you can easily be interrupted when you're in the middle of something important," says Julie Pawley, CCIM, a broker in Hilton Head Island, S.C. And like e-mail, IM offers no visual or voice inflection clues to receivers, she adds. Since IM messages are usually short, they have a greater potential for being misunderstood by those who don't know you well.

But commercial real estate pros are part of the more than 28 million business users worldwide who send nearly 1 billion IM messages a day, according to IDC, a technology consulting company. Last year in the United States, IM use was up 19 percent over 2004, with more than 80 million Americans sending messages daily, according to AOL's survey. As the list of top business-related uses indicates, more people are finding ways to use this feature to facilitate quick, to-the-point communication. "It is great for multitasking," Martin says.

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