Back in 1971, I bought my first piece of real estate. It involving writing letters, waiting for a response, and getting on the now retired Bluenose Ferry from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The property was an old farm of 140 acres, and I ended up getting it for around $7,000. Some friends and I spent considerable time gutting the house and fixing it up. There are some pictures at this web album.
When we wanted to learn how to do something, we had to ask someone, or read a book. A call home was a call on a party line. When we needed something for the project, we often ended up driving from one end of the Annapolis Valley to the other. We sometimes had to find pieces of what we needed in three or four hardware stores. There were no Lowe's Home Improvement or Home Depot stores.
When I sold the place a few years later, it was still an unfinished project, but it had come a long way. I had learned a lot about copper plumbing, wiring, and carpentry.
Sometimes I feel that way about my career in real estate, I have learned a tremendous amount in the last five years, but it is still an unfinished project.
Technology permeates our lives today compared to the seventies. Since we could only get two television channels while living on the shore of the Bay of Fundy, we mostly listened to CBC Radio. In Nova Scotia's winds, our television antenna was always blowing down. Long distance telephone calls were very expensive. Air travel was something of a luxury, but you were treated very nicely.
Today, there are so many technology choices that it is hard to keep up with them. While we have the Internet, computers, tablets, and smart-phones, there are so many technologies that it is easy to be paralyzed while trying to find the right tools to do your job. It is easy to get so caught up in the gadgets of modern life that you lose you focus. Advoiding distractions is one of the keys to success or just surviving the world of 2011-2012.
The good news is that computers, phones, and other technology gear are all very competitively priced. They are also relatively easy to use.
A lot of what you end up using depends on what you have learned to use. Some folks get comfortable with technology and don't want to change. There is nothing wrong with living with what isn't broken, but after a certain time, some products need to go.
I would put Windows XP in that class. While Vista was a disaster, Windows 7 has been a pleasant surprise. Both my wife and have been using Windows 7 laptops for almost two years. Their performance has been great. When you consider that we paid less than $1500 total for two laptops, one I7 model and another I5 one made by HP, I cannot complain about the cost over time. There have been no repair costs, and I certainly don't miss the forty-five minutes per week maintenance that I had to do on my Vista machine to keep it going.
Macintoshes also figure in my life. I worked at Apple for nearly twenty years so I know Apple hardware and software.
Five years ago if you had asked me which platform to use if photography was important, I would not have hesitated to recommend that you buy a Macintosh. The Windows world has closed the gap considerably, and I end up managing many of my photos on my HP laptop. A few things I still do on my Macintosh including developing websites.
Cameras have also come a very long way in five years. I have used both Panasonic Lumix cameras and more recently, a Sony Cybershot DSC HX7V camera. They are all pocket cameras. The cameras also have the advantage of having wide angle lenses which are great for inside room photography.
I also use a Nikon D3100 which has the advantage of an eyepiece instead of just an LCD screen for composing your picture. In bright light, most LCD screens are unusable. My Sony camera has built in GPS which I find very useful. Both the Lumix and the Sony take video that is acceptable substitute for a dedicated video camera. The Nikon takes video that is almost too good for the web.
One of the big things in 2011 is that the "Cloud" came of age. It is now not unusual for people to store photos and documents on-line. It is actually far safer and more convenient than using thumb drives which are easily lost.
If I had to nominate one piece of software as the most useful thing that I have found this year, it would be Dropbox. It is free online storage which you can access from any computer, Windows, Mac, or Linux. It also works with most smart-phones. I save almost all of my important files there. I never have to worry about being able to access them or leaving a file at home on the computer. You can sign up for Dropbox at this link. Dropbox is one of the few things in the world of technology that just works. I have never had a problem.
While I am a strong supporter of Google's cloud services and Gmail, I have been favorably impressed with Microsoft's SkyDrive. The servers are fast, and there are some interesting sharing options. If you want to compare cloud services this article is a good primer. I use online photos as a method of showing people the area.
I even have a great movie on YouTube that I took with my Sony camera. It is a wonderful ride down the glassy smooth White Oak River in my skiff one summer morning at about thirty miles per hour.
Of course the world of cloud computing is evolving rapidly. There can be some gotchas as I found out recently with Apple's iCloud services. I have an I5 iMac that I purchased in October 2010 about fourteen months ago. It is running Apple's Snow Leopard operating system. I also use an Android phone purchased almost two years ago so I don't have an iOS device. Mapping is important to me so the Android phone is a better choice than an iPhone for my needs.
I recently found out that in order to use Apple's iCloud services, I either have to buy an iOS device or upgrade the operating system on my Mac. I don't want to upgrade my Mac since I think it will break an application that I use extensively. If you want more details you can read this post on my Applepeels blog.
In the world of blogs, I have become a firm believer in using Word Press on your own site as the best choice for most people. I have a previous post which provides details on those recommendations.
The real clincher in technology is that your clients have access to all the same things as you do. You may well run into a client who is more technology literate than you. Sometimes technology can be like running on a treadmill where the speed always seems to be increasing.
It is important to not fall into the trap of technology just for the sake of technology. The latest computer or smart-phone, even an iPhone or iPad, might have little impact on your sales. It still all boils down to connecting with clients.
I continue to get good leads from my Crystal Coast Life website. But I also find that Internet leads are more challenging than people who are already on your door step looking.
If and when our market ever really turns, I suspect the web is going to be very important especially as we transition to the generation which doesn't use phone-books, read newspapers or pour over real estate magazines.
My children who are in their late twenties and early thirties are dedicated technology users. Two have recently purchased Kindle Fires. They all live and die by Google search. They do most of their shopping online.
We need to be prepared for clients who live and die with what they find on the web.
We all know that a web picture is no substitute for seeing a home in person. However, a lot of looking is done on the web every day.
Smart buyers eliminate a lot of homes by previewing them on the web. However, we also know that a good real estate agent if they can get a few hours of showing homes to a client, can often narrow down their search very quickly. Sometimes they show clients homes that fit their needs better than the clients could tell from what they saw on the web.
The world of real estate has certainly changed a lot since I showed up to Mr. Longmire's tiny office on the banks of the Annapolis river in 1971.
A smart-phone was not part of the equation in those days, but it almost always is these days. It is one of the reasons that your reputation on the web is more important than ever, but more about that in my next post.
We have had a great fall. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season just as peaceful as it is along the waters of North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks. May your weather be as nice as the shorts weather that has made for more than one stellar day over on the beach this fall.