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The Power Broker Roundtable is brought to you by the National Association of REALTORS® and Jeff Barnett, NAR’s Liaison for Large Firm Relations. Watch for this column each month, where we address broker issues, concerns and milestones.

Moderator: Jeff Barnett, Liaison for Large Residential Firms Relations, NAR
Participants: Dean Asher, Broker/Owner, Don Asher & Associates, Orlando, Fla.
Jennifer Branchini, Better Homes & Gardens Tri-Valley Realty, Pleasanton, Calif.
Rick Haase, President, Latter & Blum, New Orleans, La.

Jeff Barnett: Looking for the newest thing in mobile technology can be a little like tasting a box of chocolates. Sometimes you get the crème you were hoping for, and sometimes you just get the raspberry. But the fact, for most real estate practitioners today, is that handheld devices and mobile apps have become a way of life if you are going to succeed in this business—maybe not because they make the sale any easier, but because they can cut your “paperwork” time in half and offer exciting new ways to involve and communicate with your customers. Just this morning, at our Alain Pinel office staff meeting, I checked out an app called “GroupText” and learned I could text to any part of a distribution list without selecting contacts one-by-one. For me, it was a revelation, and it got me thinking about the hundreds of apps that are making life easier for REALTORS® around the globe. So for my first shot at moderating the Roundtable, I’ve invited a cross-section of industry professionals who not only know what the hottest apps are, but what they can do for your business. Dean, you’re a long-time believer. Why don’t we start with you…

Dean Asher: It’s true—I admit to having been first on my block with every generation of the iPad—and to changing all my personal and home devices to Apple so everything speaks the same language without any need for the Internet. Apps like “SugarSync” and “SkyDrive” give me everything I need for data storage and for grabbing all the forms in my virtual file cabinet, and “HomeSnap,” which gives me all the data I could possibly want on any house just by snapping a photo of it, is the one of the coolest apps around.

Jennifer Branchini: And by the way, these apps are not just for the youngest and hippest of us. I’ve been in the industry for 14 years, and while I was an early adopter of the mobile lifestyle, I soon realized that in today’s generational world, at least 50 percent of consumers are using them daily. For instance, I use an online file storage app called “Dropbox” to give my clients access to the complete file of documents on the property they are buying or selling. They can access everything, even on their laptops or PCs if they want, and they really love and appreciate it.

Jeff Barnett: I can understand why. But with so many apps available out there, how do you pick the most effective ones?

Rick Haase: It’s less a question of which apps to choose than the functions you want to use them for. At Latter & Blum, we started by taking our “Top of the Latter’ top performers on retreat, where we drilled down to the three most important things that contribute to their success and the three biggest challenges they were facing. Based on that information, it was relatively simple to search out and implement the best suite of apps to meet those goals.

Jennifer Branchini: Trial and error is part of it too, and some apps, like “DocuSign,” just keep enhancing and evolving. And new apps come up all the time, like “Expensify,” a great budgeting app that made my old one obsolete, and “MagicPlan,” which measures your rooms and draws your floor plan just by taking pictures in the house. Finding the newest and the hottest apps is easy if you know where to seek them out. I work a lot with our State and Local Associations and with the Bay East branch of the Young Professionals Network (YPN), where these are always hot topics. Our local Tech Expo, which is growing every year, drew more than 400 attendees this year who wanted to know more about hot apps and how to use them.

Rick Haase: We use apps for market analyses, to automate prospecting systems, and to not only provide targeted customer data but to track where and how often a user is searching them, so you know when to make a personal contact. They help us and our customers make more valuable decisions and forge effective and long-lasting relationships.

Dean Asher: For me, and I think most people who adopt these solutions, keeping your data in the cloud is the only way to organize, store files, simplify work processes, and ultimately increase productivity—and we don’t have to entice our customers to use them. Even the customers who may not yet be as knowledgeable about them, are eager to use these apps to grab the data they need when and where they want it and use it to their advantage. Try an app like “BlockShopper” or “Foreclosure Search By” and check out their intrinsic value.

Jeff Barnett: So the consensus and the implications are universal. Whether it’s iPad, Android, Smartphone, laptop, we are reaching out to three generations—the Civics, who are the oldest and most traditional, the Boomers, and the Gen X and Yers. If you’re not out there talking to all three of them, you could be missing a third of potential customers—and if you’re not out there looking for the best ways to do that, you are missing the proverbial boat.

WHAT’S HOT: A Few of the Apps They’re Using Now

Mobile apps can go in and out of favor faster than weight-loss diets – but here’s a quick and dirty sampling our Roundtable panel currently likes for Apple, Android or smartphone:

BlockShopper – Do hyper-targeted research on a property’s sale history and ownership DropBox – free service lets you collect and share with clients all photos, documents and videos

DocuSign – Get electronic signatures, distribute and store signed contracts for easy access

EKey – Open lockboxes from your smartphone. Part of the Supra System

Expensify – Create free expense reports that rock. Scan receipts, log purchases and more

Foreclosure Search By – Find 1.5 million preforeclosures, auction or bank-owned listings

GroupText – Send group messages to all or selected contacts on your distribution lists

HomeSnap – Get all the data on any house just by snapping a picture

HotPads – Do on-the-go map-based research on apartments, homes and rentals

LoopNet – The Zillow or Trulia of commercial real estate

MagicPlan – Measures rooms and draws a floor plan just by snapping pictures

SkyDrive – Upload files to cloud storage, share and access via Web browser or mobile device

SugarSync – Free service for synching files, cloud storage, and online access from anywhere

WordPress – Create a customized blog and manage content. Free with paid upgrades available