As important as a notebook computer can be to the real estate professional, it doesn't solve all of your portable information and customer service needs. While it's easy to take a notebook to an Open House or a listing presentation, it's just not small enough to carry with you to the supermarket, the monthly Chamber of Commerce meeting, or to social events.

Additionally, even if you have your notebook computer with you, the amount of time it takes to "boot up" your system often makes it inconvenient and impractical as a means to quickly access just the right information for a customer, client, or prospect when the need arises.

In the real estate business, you never really know when you'll need instant access to important contact and business information such as your MLS data.

What makes real estate different from most other professions is that there in hardly any time, situation or location that could not present a business opportunity. Whether you're at the grocery store, at a picnic or golfing you may very well run into someone who is interested in discussing real estate, and listing and sales data are always integral to the conversation.

Everyone wants to discuss the "market" be it for their own information, or for someone they know. Common phrases include:

Regardless of the conversation, listings are the engine that can drive the discussion.

For the real estate agent who wishes to capitalize on opportunities, while providing superior service to existing customers, the perfect business solution is a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), SmartPhone, or cell phone that is equipped with MLS data.

Depending on the solutions that your MLS or Association supports, you may have the option to equip and of the following with MLS data:

Personal Digital Assistants (PDA): These devices are compact and multi-functional; allowing you to run a wide variety of business software and to access information from your contact manager, including your calendar and task list. PDAs fall into two categories, those that run on the Palm Operating system and those that use the Pocket PC platform. Both varieties will have a very similar "look and feel" but because of the wider selection of real estate software available units that run on the Palm OS tend to be more functional for the real estate professional. Prices range from $100 on up.

SmartPhones: These hybrid devices are starting to over take the PDA market share as they combine fully-functional cell phones with the operating system of a traditional PDA. The combination of the two technologies allows you to carry one device that not only contains all of your business data, but allows you to contact your customers at the same time. As with PDAs, some models support the Palm OS and others the Pocket PC. Prices typically range from $400 plus.

Cell Phones: Some MLS's have specific solutions designed to run on supported cell phones with specific cellular providers. While this approach will not allow you to run additional software or access your contact manager data, MLS data may be enough of a draw to make such systems worth your while.

The two most widely-supported software programs on the market will allow you to carry MLS data on a wide variety of PDA and SmartPhone devices. In some markets you may be able to choose either of the following solutions. However, this is not always the case so you may simply have to use the program that functions with your specific MLS.

Pocket Real Estate:
Pocket Real Estate is a software program that can be used on both Palm and PocketPC devices (including SmartPhones) that will allow you to manually import MLS data into your PDA.

This is accomplished by "capturing" a search of the MLS to your computer's hard drive. The saved search is then accessed by PRE's desktop software to synchronize the MLS information into your PDA.

Once the data has been "synced" into your PDA you then use PRE's program to access this information on the go.

Features of the program include the ability to execute complex MLS searches, access agent rosters, save listings for prospects and even access some statistical sales data.

The advantages of this approach include:

For more information visit: www.pocketrealestate.com

Supra eKey:
The Supra portable MLS solution will also run on a wide variety of PDAs and SmartPhones. Features are similar to those offered with PRE but the end-user's association must participate in the e-Key system in order for access to the eKey system.

While MLS searching, agent rosters and saved listings are similar in functionality, the eKey has several distinct advantages compared to the PRE software.

The only disadvantage to the Supra eKey is that your association will likely charge an ongoing monthly subscription fee for this service. Fees are set by the MLS and may vary from $10 to $30 per month, depending on the services offered.

For more information visit: www.supra-products.com

Cellular Access:
It's not uncommon for large MLS providers to have implemented their own portable MLS systems, generally relying on cellular technology.

The potential advantage of this approach is that data may be accessed in real-time, as opposed to data that is update once per day.

The downside of such solutions is that they usually require the agent to subscribe to a specific cellular provider using a specific model or models of cellular phones.

Additionally, while users of both PRE and Supra systems can access their saved MLS data from anywhere, users of real-time cellular systems typically can only access their MLS when a strong signal is present. Any location that tends to have a weak signal or that drops calls will unlikely yield satisfactory results.

Finally, because MLS data is seldom stored on the cell phone, accessing data will almost always be a much slower process.

Costs, fees and availability of such Cellular-based MLS systems are specific to each MLS.

Before deciding on any particular system for carrying handled MLS data, or purchasing a PDA, SmartPhone or Cell phone, be sure to check with your local REALTOR board, association or MLS to verify what systems are available and supported with your membership.

Finally, remember that as an emerging and quickly developing technology, your decision today is not a permanent one. You'll likely end up buying another handheld device in just two or three short years. Your new unit will have twice the features available today and will probably cost half as much, and the same can be said of the technology that supports portable MLS systems.

Wile it is understandable that many agents may resist spending a few hundred more dollars on yet another computing accessory, and then having to learn how to use it, in the case of handheld MLS access, the greater opportunities to satisfy consumer inquires (whether they be in person or over the phone) are compelling enough to justify the additional investment in almost every case.

This technology is practically guaranteed to make you truly more productive while substantially enhancing the service you can provide to prospects, customers and clients alike.


Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale