Inspect These Gadgets
What trusty tools are CCIMs using to realize their deal-making potential?
Jay R. Lucas, CCIM, president of CCIM Technologies in Dallas, recently went to a prospect’s office to present four properties. He began to set up his laptop in the crowded presentation room when he noticed something was missing: the projector.
The assembled group expected to stand uncomfortably around the laptop to watch the presentation, but Lucas was prepared. He reached into his bag and pulled out the palm-size Optoma PK301 Pico pocket projector, which allowed him to display up to 120-inch diagonal property images on the wall.
“They were nuts about the projector,” Lucas says. “And there’s professionalism in having the technology with you.”
At the CCIM 2010 Conference: ReFocus in Orlando, Fla., Lucas and other CCIMs discussed a variety of technology products that can help commercial real estate professionals not only impress clients, but also work more efficiently and effectively every day. If you missed that presentation, this is your chance to learn about some of the latest technology being used by the best minds in commercial real estate.
It’s important to build a rapport when meeting with clients, but excessive note taking can get in the way. Dewey Struble, CCIM, a senior adviser with Sperry Van Ness in Reno, Nev., struggled with this problem until discovering Livescribe’s Pulse Smartpen. Equipped with a built-in microphone and camera, the Smartpen records audio and syncs it with the digitized handwriting. “Now I can better concentrate on listening to the client and ask better questions as opposed to just writing good notes,” Struble says.
When tapped on Livescribe’s special dot paper, the smartpen replays the audio from the exact moment the note was written. Users also can upload the notes and audio to their computers, creating files that can be shared, searched, edited, and, most importantly, replayed.
The audio recording may offer protection if legal issues arise “when memories have dimmed and notes are misplaced or incomplete,” Struble adds. In addition to meetings, he uses the Smartpen for classroom training sessions, conference calls, and Webinars.
“It’s very innocuous,” says Skip Hansen, CCIM, owner of Skip Hansen Associates in Reno, Nev., who has sung the pen’s praises to CCIM colleagues for years. “People quickly forget it’s a recording device.” That’s why it’s often important to ask for permission when recording, he adds.
The 2 GB Pulse Smartpen costs $129.95, and includes applications such as a calculator and translator. Livescribe’s Echo smart pen can accommodate additional memory and applications.
The Google Solution
“As a sole practitioner, I’ve searched for the best way to sync e-mail, contacts, and calendars on my desktop, laptop, and smartphone,” says Joel Kahn, CCIM, owner of Equity Alliance in Bedford, N.H., and senior technology consultant with CCIM Tech. “Google has solved my problem.”
Kahn purchased Google Apps Premier Edition, which includes a 25 GB e-mail account for a domain that he owns and controls. He configured the built-in Internet message access protocol, or IMAP, system to sync the account on all of his devices. At $50 per user per year, “it’s a cost-effective solution that’s easy to implement,” Kahn says. Google Apps Premier Edition also lets users share and store files in Google Docs, as well as disable Gmail ads. Outlook die-hards can sync their Microsoft e-mail and calendar to retain that familiar interface.
But Kahn had another challenge: “I have to make my clients believe I am always accessible even though I travel often,” he says. Google Voice, a free, formerly invitation-only service, is Kahn’s magic hat. The program allows him to use one number to manage all of his phones. The number is tied to him, not a particular location or device. Google Voice also allows users to customize rings and voicemail greetings, manage and search voicemails, and receive written transcripts of voicemails via e-mail or text message.
Google Apps and Google Voice “are especially valuable to small companies and sole practitioners,” Kahn explains. “The programs give these groups the opportunity to have many of the bells and whistles available in large corporations.”
The Google laboratories resound with such innovations. One of the latest is Google Goggles, a built-in Android app that analyzes camera-phone images to search the Web. The program scans books, product logos, locations, and other objects to produce more pertinent — and perhaps more lucrative — search results.
Steven D. Weinstock, CCIM, regional manager of Marcus & Millichap in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., recently put Google Goggles to the test. He and another agent were out looking at properties and discovered one that was being renovated. Instead of manually typing in a search term or two, Weinstock used Google Goggles to take a picture of the temporary sign, which included the developer’s name and the new property name. The unique combination of data on the sign sealed the deal: “The program pulled up a recent news article that said the developer had on-site offices, so we went in to talk to them,” Weinstock explains. “It’s one thing to scour the newspapers; it’s another to get the information in real time.”
Google Goggles iPhone, BlackBerry, and desktop apps are in development.
Hollywood in Your Pocket
Though it doesn’t quite capture that new property smell, video is playing an increasingly important role in commercial real estate listing packages. YouTube and other sites offer cost-effective video-hosting solutions, and hardware options are more user-friendly than ever.
Among CCIMs who are shooting to thrill, Flip Video camcorders are the weapon of choice. The pocket-size device allows users to record and quickly share videos on Web pages or via e-mail. Lucas recently used his Flip Video camera while working with a Canadian company on a sublease. The decision maker was unable to travel to the property for a formal tour, so Lucas created five 30-second videos and uploaded them to his Web site. “The client was able to get a good perspective of the areas from the videos and we completed the transaction,” Lucas says. “We could not have done it without the Flip Video camera.”
But these devices aren’t just for fieldwork. Back at the office, CCIMs are using Flip Video camcorders for marketing campaigns and broker training programs. For example, Weinstock records weekly role-playing sessions in which agents in his office practice for client meetings — one person plays the broker, another plays the client. “We tape the session and immediately show it to the participants so they can recognize facial expressions and other factors,” he says. “There’s nothing like the big screen to bring out the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
The Flip Video Ultra HD camera, which records two hours of video, costs $199.99.
Walk This Way
“One thing that’s changing in commercial real estate is that people are more concerned about their carbon footprint,” Lucas says. As employees and renters aim to drive less, potential property owners and tenants are asking: Is it walkable? Walk Score, a Web site and iPhone app, has the answer.
Walk Score calculates a property’s walkability on a scale from 0 (car-dependent) to 100 (walker’s paradise) based on the property’s distance from amenities such as coffee shops, restaurants, and parks. Users can browse the list of nearby amenities and obtain addresses and other details for desired destinations. The program also provides a transit score, which is based on the proximity and number of nearby public transportation options.
Many CCIM members already may be familiar with Walk Score: STDBonline recently incorporated the program into its property reports. Commercial real estate professionals also can embed official walk scores and transit scores into property listings and fliers using Walk Score’s application programming interfaces, or APIs.
Rich Rosfelder is associate editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.