Technology

Staying Connected

Learn Which Contact Manager Works Best For You.

"D oes it track people or properties?”
“Will it sync to my Palm Pilot?”
“Can I use it on a network?”
“It's too slow; too complex to learn!”

Commercial real estate professionals have numerous questions and opinions when it comes to contact management software. A recent informal survey of industry practitioners on their use of contact managers elicited the above comments, among others. It's not surprising that the oldest and most widely used program, Act!, was mentioned most frequently, followed by commercial real estate specific programs such as CoStar ARES, TransAct!, and Real Estate Assistant. Even personal information managers such as Microsoft Outlook and Time & Chaos garnered support.

Users found none of the programs to be perfect. Network versions that crashed, slow search speeds, and difficulty searching by partial information were some of the frustrations.

“The problem with most contact management programs is that they make your life dependent on them and use an inordinate amount of time — rather than being tools to make a person more productive,” says Ken Colburn, CCIM, president of Colburn & Co. in Tacoma, Wash. He has tried several programs and now uses GoldMine. ($295; Contact FrontRange Solutions, (800) 654-3526 or http://www.frontrange.com/.)

Some respondents would like to graft parts of one program onto another. For example, Lisa Villarreal, CCIM, leasing director for USAA Realty in San Antonio, wants the best of Act! and Outlook. She uses Outlook because, “I have systems support for Outlook and this support is not as knowledgeable about Act!; my e-mail runs through Outlook, and I have Outlook synchronizing with my Palm Pilot.” However, she'd like to see Outlook enhanced: “Printing, sorting, and querying certain reports are great tools from Act! that I would like to see in Outlook.”

The good news is that Act! 2000 integrates with Outlook. David Andrews, CCIM, a partner in Dominion Commercial Realty in Richmond, Va., says that his five-person office uses Act! supported by Outlook. “Outlook has an excellent calendar but Act! is much better at overall contact management. We have a goal of getting everyone on Palms this year so we can sync into the company's master calendar each morning,” he says.

Andrews isn't the only one interested in syncing up. Many practitioners are on the road with their personal digital assistants in hand. Fortunately, most contact management programs will transfer data.

For those who find compatibility a problem, Susanne M. Woosley, CCIM, president of Asset Management Consultants in San Diego, suggests checking out a product called XTNDConnect PC, which synchronizes between computers and mobile devices running Windows CE, Palm, and Casio Pocket Viewer systems. It supports Outlook 2000, Act! 2000, and several Lotus products. She uses it to transfer Act! data to her Hewlett-Packard Jornada. ($59.95; Contact Extended Systems, (800) 235-7576 or http://www.extendedsystems.com/.)

Finding What Works What practitioners seek from contact management programs reveals the individuality of this business.

“Whenever you buy canned software designed for an industry that has several ways of doing business, you will never find one that does exactly what you want,” reminds Walt Clements, CCIM, vice president of Colliers Turley Martin Tucker in Kansas City, Mo. “Commercial real estate brokerage is a vertical and narrow field in marketing terms, so there are not a lot of vendors looking to design software for such a small market segment.”

Some customized programs are available, such as REApplications' software suite, which includes REContacts, REProperties, and REProjects. The Web-based application can handle large data sets and information can be accessed remotely via PC, cell phone, and Palm Pilot. ($40-$90 per month, per user, 15-user minimum; Contact REApplications, (858) 483-0806 or http://www.reapplications.com/.)

Clements says his company spent more than $1 million to develop its own “people and property interrelational database,” only to have a number of its brokers dissatisfied with the end result. “In addition,” he asks, “who takes care of the continued care and feeding of the updates, modifications, and changes?”

Clements' experience jives with the comments of other practitioners. They're in the business of commercial real estate, not software development. Many have tried the major programs, with varying degrees of success. While no program is perfect, once people find a system that works for them, they stick with it.

For example, Christian Johannsen, CCIM, managing director of the Aztec Group in Coconut Grove, Fla., wouldn't part with his Sidekick 98 personal information manager “for all the tea in China,” he says. He's been using it, or a prior version, since 1994. “I can write letters from it, send faxes, use the Internet, have it dial my phone calls, generate reports, ... [and] I have it synchronized with my Palm Pilot V.” Although Sidekick doesn't come in a network version, he has devised a way around that and he even has figured out a way to use it as a property database.

Along with its user friendliness, Johannsen also likes the fact that all of the screens — to-do list, calendar, daily calls, and contacts — appear on one screen at the same time. Sidekick 99 is now available; however, some of the features of the earlier versions have been eliminated. ($49.95; Contact Starfish Software, (831) 461-5800 or http://www.starfish.com/.)

Big or Small? Johannsen has made a PIM work for him. For those who don't need all the bells and whistles, that approach seems to work fine. PIMs tend to be smaller, less-expensive programs designed to keep an individual organized on a daily or weekly basis. Many of them provide an address and phone number database, appointment scheduling, calendars, and to-do lists. They often autodial phone numbers and can do mass e-mail and mailings.

Commercial real estate professionals who use PIMs most frequently cite Outlook, which is available as part of Microsoft Office 2000. It also can be purchased separately online. ($109; Contact Microsoft, http://www.microsoft.com/office/outlook.)

Other PIMs mentioned are ContactPlus Personal, a less-expensive version of ContactPlus Professional, and Time & Chaos.

Frequently Used Programs Practitioners who are in touch with hundreds of people daily usually prefer a full-featured contact management program. One of the first, Act! originally was developed by Symantec Corp. and now is marketed by Interact Commerce Corp.

Robert L. Yale, CCIM, president of ComVest Realty Service uses Act! in his six-person office in Northborough, Mass. “All of us are standardized on Act!; we've grown along with the various updates and now enjoy the Interact 2000 version,” he says.

Richard Knutson, CCIM, of Moison Investment Co. in San Leandro, Calif., is another confirmed Act! user. “I use and am hooked on Act!,” he says. “I use the contact database organized by groups around each transaction or type of property in the portfolio. I keep property data in a different program called Realhound.” ($995; Contact Realhound.com, (949) 786-7200 or http://www.realhound.com/.)

Act! has generated a couple of add-on programs designed specifically for commercial real estate use. TransAct! customizes Act!'s layout and design and provides a property database, as well as a cash flow analyzer and other utilities. ($395; Contact Real Estate Computer Solutions, (800) 962-9651 or http://www.recsnet.com/.)

CoStar ARES 2000 is another customized commercial real estate program designed to be used with Act! 2000. This program provides three linked databases. Along with 150 brochure and report templates, ARES 2000 offers sales managements tools to track and graph leases, sales, investments, and developments; street-level mapping for any property or contact listed in a user's database; and Internet links.

ARES 2000 also provides networking capabilities, which Skip Duemeland, CCIM, senior partner in Duemelands Realty in Bismarck, N.D., likes. “We use it on a network for all employees,” he says.

Going head to head with Act! and ARES in popularity is REA. Of all contact management programs that commercial real estate practitioners mentioned, REA is the most customized for the industry. The newest version features 150 custom reports; the ability to attach spreadsheets, presentations, and other files to a contact record; and several scheduling features.

Many users like the program for its ease of use. “It is fairly idiot-proof,” says Michael G. Mullinix, CCIM, principal in Mullinix Commercial Real Estate Co. in Campbell, Calif. “It is very good with respect to mail-merge features ... and it allows you to search [your database] by a very wide variety of bits of information ... first name, street, date, or even part of a memo.” Mullinix recently had 4,500 tenants and 1,250 agents listed in his database, along with 600 personal contacts. He also had about 240 calendar entries.

Choosing a Program The accompanying chart lists the programs that commercial real estate professionals mentioned most often. Many of these programs have demo copies available online as well as more information on various features.

Anyone considering switching contact management programs should spend some time pondering their own work habits. Those who organize around properties should look into commercial real estate specific programs. If calendar and scheduling functions are most important, perhaps a PIM would fit the bill. Also, those with PDAs that don't use the Palm operating system should make sure beforehand that the program can sync up with their particular device.

Comparing Contact Managers
Programs Frequently Used by Industry Professionals

Program

Price

Technical support

Connectivity

Databases

Other features

Act! 2000
Interact Commerce
(480) 368-3700
http://www.act.com/

$199

Free online support; per-incident phone support

Connects to all PDAs with Palm OS operating system using Act! Link 2.0, a free download; network version available

Contact database with multiple fields

Generates 11 reports; prints fliers, letters, envelopes; does mail merge and mass e-mail, mail, and fax

Contact Plus
Professional

Contact Plus Corp.
(800) 366-9876 http://www.
contactplus.com/

$99 to $199, depending on configuration

Free e-mail tech support; 90 days of telephone support; unlimited telephone support for $299 per year

Not compatible with PDAs; has network capability for two to 50 users

Contact database with unlimited entries

Generates 54 standard reports; prints fliers, envelopes, letters; does mail merge and mass e-mail, mail, and fax; schedules five different items for each contact creating a complete chronological history

CoStar ARES 2000
Costar Group
(888) 807-8989 http://www.aresforact.
com/

$439;

90 days of toll-free phone support; unlimited free e-mail and fax support

Connects with Palm, Windows CE, Pocket CE, Psion, Rex compatible PDAs; has network capabilities

Three relational databases: contacts, properties, and comps and listings

Is an add-on system to Act! 2000; generates 175 real estate reports; prints fliers, letters, and envelopes; does mail merge and mass e-mail, mail, and fax

REA 2000
REA Inc.
(888) 290-5770
http://www.gorea.
com/

$395

One-year free phone, fax, and e-mail support

Connects to Palm compatible PDAs; network version available that provides eight network databases as well as eight private databases per user

Has eight relational databases: investors, tenants, properties, agents, sale comps, lease comps, personal, and vendors

Written and designed by a commercial real estate practitioner; prints numerous pre-defined and activity reports; prints fliers, letters and envelopes; does mail merge with Word; does mass e-mail, mail, and fax

Time & Chaos
Isbister Internat'l
(972) 495-6724 http://www.isbister.
com/

$45

Free online support

Connects to any Palm compatible PDA; has real-time network capability

Contact database can be customized by 100 categories

Main screen simultaneously shows to-do list, appointments, contacts, and monthly calendar; generates five reports; prints envelopes and labels; does mail merge with Word and WordPerfect; does mass e-mail with Calypso e-mail program only

 

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