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Real estate professionals today know that making smart use of technology is critical to their business today. Very early on, the real estate industry had felt the tremors of “disruption” by the Internet, and since then, no real estate professional has been able to be extremely successful without a deep understanding of the central role of the web in a successful real estate practice.

For many real estate professionals, it probably started with a simple website. From there, the use of online tools grew as the tools themselves became more powerful. Video home tours, for example, took off along with video-sharing sites like YouTube. When Facebook came along, real estate professionals began to learn how to use social media to their advantage in business.

So what’s next? At the top of any list of important emerging technologies relevant to real estate has to be collaboration tools, especially video conferencing. (Modern video conferencing, by and large, has happened by virtue of the webcams being built into every new laptop.) In today’s connected world, home buyers and sellers expect information to be accessible anywhere and anytime. These new collaborative tools allow that to take place.

Video conferencing lets you see and speak with the person on the other end; you can also use the software to share materials, like PowerPoint presentations, between the two machines, so that each person on the conference is looking at the same thing. The benefits are many.

In the early stages of the client-real estate professional relationship, for example, nearly every agent prefers a face-to-face meeting over a phone call. But when it’s impossible for you and your client to get together, a video conference is the next best thing. Clients will more than likely already be familiar with the technology, considering how popular free programs like Skype for connecting on holidays, birthdays, or even day-in, day-out communications by friends or relatives separated by any distance.

Another benefit of online collaboration is that it’s by far preferable to e-mail blasts as a way of showing off your latest listings to your most important clients. You have complete control over the experience, and can virtually lead the client by the hand in touring the property, pointing out its highlights and dealing with any questions as they arise.

Obviously, this can be especially useful with out-of-town clients. With tools like Streetview in Google Maps, a lack of physical proximity is no longer a barrier to someone learning about both a property and its adjoining neighborhood. They can “stroll down” Main Street from wherever in the world they might be, checking out shops, parks and schools. Some clients might be so satisfied with their online tour that they might be willing to close on a property before they even relocate to their new town.

Online collaboration tools help with contract negotiations, too. This is one of the tensest moments in any real estate transaction. New buyers especially get nervous as they get closer to the day when they have to finally enter into what will be the biggest contract of their lives. You can go a long way in keeping your clients calm by meeting with them periodically in a video conference as you work through details of the offer and counter-offers.

Today’s tech tools can help real estate professionals move from start to the end of the sales cycle more efficiently. Those real estate professionals who adopt the use of technology this way will gain a competitive edge in today’s competitive environment.

Susan Boyce is the director of the E-Commerce Cloud Collaboration Applications Technology Group at Cisco Systems, Inc. and is responsible for the end user segment of its Cisco Webex online business segment profit and loss, revenue goals and online business plan.

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