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Technology & Real Estate

REALTORS ROLL WITH TECHNOLOGY
Electronic tools give real estate agents’ listings more immediacy

BY BILL WILSON
The Wichita Eagle
WICHITA – Marlin Penner loves his new high-tech downtown commercial real estate office.

Penner’s clients and staff use two computerized conference centers to punch up everything from geographic information systems-generated aerial and ground property views to teleconferences and Webinars.

“This sucker’s working,” said Penner, who moved NAI John T. Arnold Associates last year to 100 S. Main.

Innovations in technology — from virtual site tours to teleconferences and real-time transaction management — are making it quicker and easier to sell real estate.

“Last week, we had a couple of developers in here talking about things on the strike list for new developments,” Penner said.

“Rather than run them all over town, we had it GIS-programmed into our big screen, and we sat at the conference table and ranked their interest, through zoning maps, school districts.”

Penner’s two conference rooms are the hubs of his new office, taking the place of shoe leather and long hours in the car.

“You snap on the big screen, pull up the GIS and you get full-shot aerials,” Penner said.

“You can roll it down to 45-degree angles and see how the traffic flows.”

Real estate buyers demand information quickly as they do a deal, making the latest computer bells and whistles essential for brokers.

“A large portion of the interest in technology in our industry is generationally driven,” said Saul Klein, chief executive of Internet Crusade in San Diego, the company that provides online technical training for the National Association of Realtors.

“These are Generation X, Generation Y folks now. They want real-time information. They don’t want e-mail, and they don’t want to take telephone calls. You can text them and they’ll get right back to you, or they participate in social networks,” he said.

Real estate and the Web

The real estate industry was one of the first nationwide to embrace the Internet, Klein said.

“People have a tendency to think the real estate industry is behind the technology curve,” he said. “The truth is quite different.”

In 1992, the National Association of Realtors commissioned studies with three firms to examine the application of technology in the industry.

“The key to success in real estate sales is to be different,” Klein said. “Do things that are different.”

Trial and error on the Internet ultimately is good for an agent’s business, he said.

“Realtors who jump on board are finding and starting to participate in online communities and social networking. They’ll discover practical applications for themselves,” Klein said.

“It’s a trial-and-error proposition, but that’s the way this business is. It’s low-cost, and while we might think it’s time-consuming, prospecting is time-consuming, too.

“It’s all about the right idea: Reaching audiences other Realtors won’t reach.”

High tech in Wichita

Most Wichita real estate firms use some computer-driven form of technology to get real-time information to clients.

The sky’s the limit for those services — from Penner’s high-tech office to the debate over Twitter to quick-turnaround e-mail programs.

Nationwide, the innovations continue to hit the street. Coldwell Banker, a national commercial and residential brokerage, rolled out an interactive touch-screen tabletop last week with Microsoft putting property information at a prospect’s fingertips.

Murray Anderson, a residential agent for J.P. Weigand & Sons in Wichita, has been putting home listings on Twitter for two weeks.

“I love the instant access of the updates,” Anderson said.

That instant access, Anderson said, will prove valuable to home shoppers.

“In today’s market, with the new homebuyer $8,000 tax credit, there’s a good pocket of homes in the $80,000 to $130,000 price range that the first-time buyer can qualify for,” Anderson said.

“So if you’re not around to hop on a new home listing, it can be gone.”

His Twitter listings are generic, including the area of Wichita, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, garage and basement styles and the price, along with a link to Weigand.com, his company’s Internet site.

However, Klein, the San Diego real estate technology expert, doubts that Twitter has value to the industry.

“For me, the jury’s still out on Twitter,” he said.

John McKenzie’s Plaza Real Estate was one of the first Wichita brokerages to host its own Web site in 1996.

“Now, we’re primarily Web-based and transmit everything to our clients and customers in real time,” he said. “Instantaneous feeds and uploads so that the consumer is getting the very best, fast and efficient.”

It’s a little different at Prudential Dinning-Beard in Wichita, where the Web is in use and under study at the same time.

“People want communication automatically,” said Mitch Crouch, sales manager. “It seems that they want it in a no-wait society.

“They’re going to try to find it, and if you’re one of the first back with the information in the way they like to receive it, chances are you’ll do business.”

Crouch said Internet leads make up about 80 percent of his firm’s business, primarily through its quick-response e-mail service to prospects.

But he downplays the Internet’s role in quick property sales.

“When people use the Internet, they don’t buy right away,” Crouch said. “You think that when someone’s looking, they want to buy right away, but they’re kicking tires more often than not.”