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Realtorís jobOn the surface, real estate is about selling property. But if you think about what must be accomplished to close a sale, you arrive at something deeper—the relationship. Real estate is about building successful relationships between buyer, home, property, and financial institution.

Managing the complexity and length of those relationships calls for more than just industry knowledge and a smile. It requires a proactive strategy and effective tools for managing leads, appointments, follow-ups, communication, and every task that may occur in between—essentially, the entire journey from initial contact to closing day.

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is possibly one of the most valuable assets agencies can use to orchestrate the selling process. Sadly, nearly half of active REALTORS® rarely or never use a CRM system or transaction management software. Many agencies mistakenly rely on separate, manual tools to organize the client experience, such as spreadsheets, email, and personal mobile devices.

This could be because they’re hesitant to spend big money on sophisticated software or commit to a binding vendor contract when, at the end of the day, all they want to do is sell property. That’s not unreasonable. It’s also why real estate is a prime candidate for open-source CRM software, one of the IT community’s greatest gifts to small and niche businesses.

If you’re not familiar, “open-source” means the software’s source code is publicly available to read and edit. Most open-source software (OSS) is built and continually updated by a community of skilled developers. Unlike proprietary software, OSS is usually available for free or at a very low cost.

CRM systems, of course, are the workhorses of business IT, used in almost every vertical where customer relationships drive growth and development. Common features of CRM include:

  • Contact and lead management
  • Marketing automation
  • Sales pipelines
  • Task management
  • Calendars
  • Reporting and analytics

Ways You’ll Win with Open-Source

Beyond the common functional areas, open-source CRMs offer a number of additional strategic advantages for real estate agencies:

1. The lower upfront cost (or no upfront cost) means open-source CRMs will yield a greater, more immediate return-on-investment (ROI). If you’ve been avoiding relationship and marketing automation tools because of their price tag, you don’t have to anymore.

2. Being able to access source code allows for greater flexibility and customization. Perhaps with a little help from an IT consultant or tech savant at your agency, you can tailor the system to use just the data that matters to you. A study by the Ponemon Institute revealed that 74 percent of IT professionals think OSS offers better continuity and control than closed-source software.

3. It will be easier to scale up. Instead of paying charges for additional users or being forced into a higher pricing tier, you can add agents at will and experience growth as a positive change, not an extra cost.

4. Instead of being locked into a contract with one vendor, you maintain the freedom to change products. This also means that you own your data, and it can’t be held hostage in the event of a dispute or discrepancy. You’ve got enough contracts to juggle, why add one with a software vendor if you don’t have to?

Where to Start Looking

A 2013 survey by Black Duck showed that development of OSS is quickly rising, with over one million unique open-source projects underway. There are many great OSS products available for CRM, some of which are real estate-specific, and others that can be customized for real estate use. Here are four prominent systems on the market today:

  • Deskera: property management and real estate CRM; free installation
  • EspoCRM: used in real estate, banking, and insurance; free installation
  • SugarCRM Community Edition: fits multiple industries; free installation
  • VTiger: fits multiple industries; priced monthly, per user

If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because your agency needs a little help: you’re seeking answers, and looking for a solution to the frenzy of real estate management. Whether you choose a product from this list or elsewhere, CRM built on an open-source platform is often a win-win. You’ll wield the power of leading-class software without having to trade in your data control or hard-earned profits.

Aleksandr Peterson is a technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers gamification, CRMs, project management, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.