ANOTHER STEP TOWARD THE ELECTRONIC TRANSACTION

Because few business transactions are as paper-intensive as real estate, any technology that can ease the burdens of creating and handling paper documents is bound to be highly beneficial to the real estate industry. The latest version of Adobe Acrobat is certainly one of these technologies that can reduce your reliance on paper.

With corporate, university and government Web sites commonly distributing documents in Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) format, it's fair to say that most Internet-enabled consumers are at least somewhat familiar with this format.

It is important to point out that the tool most often used by consumers is the free Acrobat Reader (http://www.adobe.com/prodindex/acrobat/readstep.html) which simply allows their computer to view files already created in the PDF format.

From the professional's viewpoint, the full version of Acrobat (http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/main.html) offers much more than the ability to simply download documents from the Internet.

DOCUMENT SHARING

The primary use of Acrobat is for the conversion of documents from any application on your system into the universal PDF format. Regardless of the software that was used to create or scan a document, it can be converted into PDF format and then shared with customers, clients, prospects or members of the general public.

Whether you place such files on your web site, email them, or distribute them on CD or even floppy disk, the fact remains that others will be able to view these documents.

Additionally, these documents will retain the fonts, colors, graphics and layout that you used to create them, even though the viewing party may not own the same software (or even use the same computer operating system) as you.

To a real estate professional this represents a revolutionary new way to share information and provide better customer service. For instance, agents could place literally all of the documents that relate to a specific listing on their Web site.

This would allow visitors to see not only basic listing information, but also to review the seller's and agency disclosure forms, copies of a survey and title commitment, as well as additional marketing materials such as the property highlight sheet, floor plan and utility bills. All of this could be accomplished from any Internet location in the world, 24-hours a day.

Of course, such information could also be emailed to specific clients or distributed to prospects by copying the files to CD; handed out at an Open House, for instance.

ELECTRONIC FORMS

An often overlooked feature of Acrobat is the ability to use the "Forms Tool" to convert PDF files that you have created into "fill-in-the-blank" electronic documents. Such documents can include areas for text input, drop-down selections, radio buttons, checkboxes, and even digital signatures.

The creator of such an interactive PDF file retains full control over how others can modify the document.

For instance, a sales contract can be modified to allow a buyer or seller to change only a limited number of fields, to restrict their changes to pre-defined selections, and even control the order in which the fields can be accessed. Acrobat can also track any changes or modifications made by others, thereby creating a complete record of the transaction.

Thus, the real estate agent who creates the PDF could partially complete an electronic contact with known information, (address, legal description, etc) and then email it to a client who could then "fill-in" the negotiable details such as price, closing date, etc.

DIGITAL SIGNATURES

As mentioned previously, Acrobat now includes the ability to create PDF files that can be digitally signed by other users of the full Acrobat program.

While such documents cannot be signed by users of the free Acrobat Reader, an additional Adobe product, Acrobat Approval (http://www.adobe.com/products/acrapproval/main.html) will enable others to review and sign your electronic documents.

While most consumers will likely continue to complete forms on screen and then print them for physical signing, digital signatures are an inevitability for conducting business in the future. Providing this additional capability to those who are ready to do so now (and may are) will go a long way toward providing superior customer service for those who have come to expect it.

Additionally, users of the full Acrobat program can usually apply their digital signature to PDF documents, even if the author of the form has not specifically created the document as a fill-in-the-blank form.

The combination of all of these features into one universally accepted electronic file format creates abundant opportunities for any real estate professional to become substantially more productive and less reliant on the distribution of paper.

Whether you need to share information electronically, provide interactive forms to others, or simply wish to digitally sign documents for your own purposes, Adobe's Acrobat can make all of these processes both simple and effective.

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Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale