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By Maria Patterson

RISMEDIA, June 16, 2008-There’s a lot of talk these days about getting back to basics-about the need to return to the fundamentals of real estate in order to emerge a winner in today’s competitive real estate market. What many real estate professionals overlook, however, is that having the right tools is key to staying one step ahead in the race to the consumer. And staying one step ahead means having the right technology in hand-literally.

In a climate where brokers and agents are most likely cutting back on overhead, BlackBerry smartphones make good economic sense, offering a generous return on investment, say many real estate pros. Whether you’re a franchise executive or a brand-new agent, wireless devices deliver what every real estate professional needs most: information at your fingertips. BlackBerry smartphones are often the device of choice among real estate professionals.

The View from the Top

As COO of West Orange, New Jersey-based Jordan Baris Realtors, Michael Hamilton utilizes his BlackBerry smartphone to help ensure “consistent and clean” communication throughout his company. For Hamilton, nothing comes close to BlackBerry’s technology and service. Agents who take advantage of that technology, he believes, are far better able to deliver the service clients expect-at the speed they expect it.

“We find as a company, and I as an individual, the innovation in technology invaluable,” says Hamilton. “It’s not the end-all; it is a tool. But surely a tool that speaks to productivity, efficiency and execution.”

When it comes to technology, Tami Bonnell, president of EXIT Realty’s U.S. Operations, feels that “it doesn’t matter who you are and what your opinion is…you have to accept it.” Hitting the real estate market in 1999, EXIT is a “youthful company,” Bonnell says, that embraces technology, which is a must for any newcomer to the organization. New EXIT franchisees, in fact, must fulfill a list of technology requirements that the company puts forth.

Although Bonnell describes herself as “the least tech-savvy person you could run into,” she swears by her BlackBerry smartphone.

“I cannot believe how much easier it makes your life and how much more convenient,” she explains. “It alleviates so much stress. I can be at the airport and respond to a million e-mails and issues, instead of coming home and spending my entire weekend catching up. You can handle a small problem right away, which could turn into a big one if you wait. If it’s something I can’t handle right away, I can forward it to someone who can. It’s huge to be able to communicate with people in such a short period of time and if you look at Gen X and Gen Y, that’s exactly how they communicate.”

Having found other handheld devices “unwieldy” and unreliable, Hamilton personally switched to a BlackBerry smartphone about a year ago in order to ensure a higher level of service and speed, enabling him to effectively interact with the approximate 200 sales associates at Jordan Baris. “Ultimately, our job as executives in this company is to provide impeccable customer service to our clients, who are all the associates who work for us. If we do a good job for them, and then they, in turn, do a good job for their clients, that’s good for us as a company.”

Getting the Job Done…Fast

There’s no ignoring the fact that today’s Internet-savvy consumers have come to expect a higher level of service delivered at rapid speed. The latest statistics from the National Association of Realtors, in fact, reveal that 80% of consumers are now doing their initial home searching online and expect a response from a real estate professional in 30 minutes or less. According to Hamilton, BlackBerry is just the tool agents need to connect with this new breed of consumers.

“We are in an age of instantaneous gratification,” explains Hamilton. “It’s a very time-sensitive business and using the right tools will increase your ability to service your clients. With a BlackBerry, agents can get their e-mail pushed out to them all the time, respond in a quick manner and provide the necessary information right away. Also, the browser capability is tremendous. If an agent needs to Google a client or an attorney or anyone involved in the transaction, and doesn’t have their contact information, they can find it right on their BlackBerry.”

Bonnell underscores BlackBerry’s ability to allow agents to respond to leads-that might otherwise be lost-in lightening-fast fashion: “Even if you’re on another appointment and can’t respond right away, you can forward it to someone who can. You can get a conference call going in two seconds and include the appraiser, the agent and all parties involved. Everything can be handled instantaneously. And you don’t have to worry about waiting for voice-mail because you can text or e-mail and get a response back right away.”

With a BlackBerry smartphone, agents basically have a “reflection of their laptop” in hand at all times, says Hamilton. They can access all of their e-mail functions and all of their contacts; they can view jpegs, manage their calendar, use the GPS functionality while touring homes with clients, snap and send pictures, and access a variety of databases, including the MLS. In short, real estate professionals can have all the information they need anytime, anywhere.

Beating Them to the Punch

According to Hamilton, BlackBerry smartphones provide a competitive edge to real estate professionals because, simply put, “they always work.”

“On other machines,” he explains, “when there’s a bunch of applications running simultaneously, there’s a tendency for it to freeze up. The BlackBerry, however, is a bulletproof machine.”

Bonnell also emphasizes how a BlackBerry device can help win listings in today’s tight market. “If I can stand in front of you and show you how I capture leads on my BlackBerry and within 60 seconds give buyers an inventory of my listings, and how I can save the buyer and seller time, and how I can market their property all the time, I’m going to win that seller’s business.”

“As an independent contractor, your work is always with you,” says Hamilton. “Real estate business is not conducted in a pattern-it’s sort of serendipitous; you get calls at night or in your car and you have to have access to information. It’s really important that you always have the information you need to be successful.”

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