Today is the first installment of what I hope to be an ongoing series at the CRT blog, Mobile Tools. This topic will cover all those applications out there that allow you to use your smartphone or other mobile device to complete tasks on the road that used to require either lugging around a laptop or going back to the office. In this installment I am going to focus on iPhone and iPad apps that allow you to view, edit and even sign documents while on the road. There are several applications that are available and I will briefly summarize some of the ones that I was able to find.
The following applications allow you to read various types of documents such as PDFs, Word Documents and eBooks. They are designed to make reading easier and have limited to no ability to edit documents.
- Mail – The mail application has the ability to read many documents that are attached to your email, such as PDFs. While it will work in a pinch, it requires that the document be attached to an email.
- iBooks – This application preinstalled on your iPad and newer iPhones and iPod touches. More of an electronic book reader, it does allow you to read PDF files that your sync through iTunes, and documents can also be added from Mail attachments It’s a good reader application, but the requirement of iTunes syncing is restrictive.
- GoodReader – GoodReader is available for both the iPhone and iPad and is a bit more flexible. It too can have documents added from Mail, but it also allows you to download documents stored online on Google Documents, DropBox and other cloud based file storage service. You download the document to GoodReader over the internet and GoodReader saves it for easy and fast access, even when offline. GoodReader also has limited editing ability for some types of files and costs $0.99, a really good price for such a useful application.[Update 10/8/2010 Version 3 of Goodreader adds support for annotating PDFs, another cool and useful feature!]
Reading a document is all well and good, but sometimes you need to edit the document as well. These apps allow you to do just that.
- Apple’s iWork Apps for iPad: Pages, Numbers and Keynote – These three apps are the iPad version of the iWorks productivity suite from Apple and allow you to view and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations respectively. Each of these apps is designed to work with the iWork productivity suite, so if you are running a Mac and have iWorks these apps provide tight integration. All three apps also support access documents on cloud based file services, mostly through access to Apple iDisk and iWork.com accounts. If you don’t have either of those, it can access documents on a WebDav server as well. Each one of these applications is $9.99 so to get all three is about $30.
- Documents to Go – Dataviz has been in the business of providing mobile document editing software for several years, and their Documents to Go suite, which originally was written for PalmOS is now available for the iPhone. Documents to Go allows you edit read and edit PDFs and Microsoft Office documents (premium version required to edit Powerpoint). You can download a free desktop application, for both Mac and Windows to manage syncing documents between your device and your desktop and includes WiFi syncing. The premium version also includes access to cloud based file storage services, including Google Docs, iDisk and others. Documents to Go is $9.99 for the basic version and $16.99 for the premium,
Being able to sign documents without the need to printed hardcopies while on the road is in many ways a killer feature of mobile devices for people in the real estate industry. The following applications allow you to electronically sign documents on your iPhone or iPad.
- DocuSign – DocuSign is a well known player in electronic signatures and are even partnered with NAR to create solutions specifically for members. The DocuSign application is free for download and requires you to be subscribed to a DocuSign plan, and as a result has tight integration with the DocuSign service. On top of this it also links with other cloud based file storage systems such as Google Docs and Box.net.
- Zosh – If DocuSign is a little too heavy for your needs, Zosh allows you to annotate and sign documents using digital signiture capture, basically sign with your finger. While it does allow you to email the annotated and signed documents, it does not connect to online file storage systems. Zosh is $2.99 in the app store and it’s price and simplicity make it appealing choice for those that just want to simply annotate and digitally capture signatures.
Document handling is one of the most important tasks your electronic tools, including your mobile tools, can perform. This is a small list of applications for iPhones and iPads that can help you be more productive in that arena and there are sure to be more on the way. Keep a look out for more articles from CRT about Android applications that give you similar functionality.
Share this news with your IT Staff: CRT is happy to announce the release of Data Wrap. Data Wrap allows you to easily create an Atom feed based off of existing RETS servers, and was built for CRT by Mark Scheel of Digital Construction. Data Wrap is written using Python and libRETS and like all CRT RETS projects is open source. Data Wrap available on Google Code hosting here. You can also join the discussion group for Data Wrap here.
For those that are unfamiliar with REsync (aka simpleRETS), it is a simple command line RETS client that is easy to setup and run. It outputs RETS data to CSV format for easy import into many tools and can be run easily from a scheduling program. It allows you to browse the RETS metadata, download data as well as objects such as photos. Take a look at the project page to get a good idea of what REsync does.
The first release for REsync under the new name went also out today, REsync version 1.5.
The last post I made about Doozer was short, and I think a little more information is in order. So here is a more detailed explanation:
Doozer is a RETS metadata based DMQL builder. DMQL is the language that RETS uses to perform it’s search requests and it is not the easiest language to use, even for people that have experience with programming. In fact, the difficulty of people creating DMQL queries for simpleRETS was what lead us to create Doozer. The target audience of Doozer are fairly technically inclined users of a low-level RETS clients such as libRETS or simpleRETS. With this tool, it’s much easier for someone to create a RETS solution with these tools when they are faced with the task of creating DMQL for searching.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of real-estate-focused web services available to agents and consumers. Many of these simply repeat information and services that were already available in other formats. The most obvious and common example is real estate listings, either from the MLS or directly from the listing agent. Many listing sites are powerful and have expanded the audience a listing can reach, but this area is now so well covered that new versions of these services are trying to solve an already-addressed problem.
However some services have recently sprung up that have a different perspective on the needs of the real estate market, and that address problems for which there are few or no online tools. I will look at three of these services: NationalBLS, CloudCMA and AgentWorld.
First, NationalBLS reverses the tradition method of buyers looking at sellers’ listings. Instead, NationalBLS bills itself as a buyer listing service. At NationalBLS, buyers list themselves and their requirements for a property; sellers and agents can then search for buyers whose requirements match the property the agents are selling. The service is very agent friendly and strongly encourages buyers and sellers to use agents in closing the transaction. This inversion of the traditional buyer-searching-listings model of real estate may be a better approach to selling a property in a buyers’ market, since you no longer have to wait for a buyer to find you. And NationalBLS also has pro tools agents can use, such as overseeing all communication to and from buyers and sellers listed on the site. For more detail about the service they provide, watch their video demo. Right now, the service is only available in a limited number of markets in the Bay Area, but they plan to expand from their current beta markets.
The second site is CloudCMA, a new service from W&R studios, the same company that created Dwellicious the real estate social bookmarking site. CloudCMA is an online report generator that links to a number of MLS and listing sites and can be used to generate a variety of reports, including CMA reports, Buyer Tours and Property reports. These reports can then be downloaded as PDF or emailed. If you want to check it out, their website has a page of how-to videos that can help you get going. And because CloudCMA can connect to many MLSs and listing sites, and pull from them the information needed for the reports, you won’t have to do any manual entry. There is a list of sites and MLSs that work with CloudCMA on their home page. If you can’t take advantage of CloudCMA immediately, the site is sure to connect with more MLSs in the future.
And finally there is AgentWorld which uses many of the ideas of social media, review sites and search sites to help consumers find the right real estate agent for them. AgentWorld is a social–media-style agent search site that helps agents manage their online reputation. Much like a microblogging site such as Twitter, an AgentWorld agent can have followers and post small updates in the “Buzz” section. Agents can show their usual contact information, as well as their level of their visibility on AgentWorld compared to others and their ranking. Rankings are judged by both clients and by other agents; the site allows buyers, sellers and other agents to rate members. AgentWorld also includes the ability to search for agents in a specific area, and to read their profiles, reviews and buzz in order to find—and contact—the best match. In many ways this site works like an online matchmaker, but instead of romantic relationships, it helps you make professional ones.
These three services show how the web is creating new opportunities for ways in which agents can do business online. The new technologies are helping expand the toolbox agents have for doing things like looking for buyers, generating reports and managing their reputation. With these sites joining the more traditional tools that are already available online, an agent now has more ways of successfully building their business than ever before.
With the recent announcement and upcoming release of the Apple iPad, there has been much discussion about how this new tech toy can be used. The real question for REALTORs®, of course, is “Would the iPad be of any use to me in my business?” And while it’s still a little early to see all the potential benefits, I think that the iPad or a similar device can be of great use to a REALTOR®; perhaps even better than a laptop when you’re on the road.
One of the first reactions that people had with regard to the iPad was something along the lines of “Oh, it’s just a giant iPhone.” I admit that I had the same reaction at first. Then I realized, “Wait, that’s awesome!” The idea of a device that is in between a smartphone and a full-fledged laptop actually makes sense for a REALTOR®.
To see what I mean, let’s take a look a couple of scenarios where a device like the iPad could serve you better than a smartphone, laptop or netbook.
First, let’s say that you are showing a property, and in the course of the showing, the potential buyer asks for some information that you don’t have in hardcopy, but that’s in your email or online. With a laptop, you could find the information and show it to the client, but it can be a little time consuming: you have to open up the laptop, find the information and then show it to the client. And unless you have a flat surface available, handling a laptop is awkward. With a smartphone, it’s much easier to handle, but not so good for viewing: you and the client would have to hunch over a tiny screen. But with an iPad, you have an easy-to-handle machine with a much larger screen. No hunching required!.
This ease of use could also apply to any other information you only have in soft copy. With an iPad, you could cut down on the amount of paperwork you would need to carry around with you while out showing properties. Simply preload your device with any information that you might think you’ll need for the showing. You can always go online if you need to. Even better, you can easily email this information for the buyer to look at later, if needed.
Here’s another situation where an iPad might come in handy. Perhaps, while out showing properties, you find that your client has new criteria for the property they want. Your current list for them doesn’t meet those criteria, so you need to do a quick search that takes this new information into account. Sure, any smartphone can take you to your MLS’s web search page, but again, it’s difficult for more than one person at a time to look at the device. A laptop or netbook would work well in this role, but only if you have a good place to put it. But the iPad could handle the search just as well as a laptop, without the need for a flat surface. And should a tabletop be available, you can attach a physical keyboard that makes typing on an iPad as easy as it is on a laptop.
In addition, the iPad, as a new device, is sure to inspire new types of applications, some of which will probably come in handy for REALTORs®. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone developed an application that would allow a buyer to make an offer on a property electronically. Also, applications that allow one to sign documents electronically would greatly reduce the amount of paper work you need to carry about. Plus, the iPad is able to run the thousands of apps that have already been developed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. If you have one of those, and there’s an app on it that you love, you could put it on the iPad as well.
The biggest downside to the Apple iPad is its price, it starts at just under $500 for the cheapest WiFi only model and it is tied to AT&T for the 3G models. However, its release will undoubtedly inspire competitors to create similar devices, which will help make this kind of tool more affordable and give you a better choice of mobile carriers. If you don’t wish to wait, you can get the WiFi only model and buy a mobile WiFi hotspot from another provider.
So the Apple iPad is something that could, once it has been released, prove very useful to a REALTOR®. It could make showing properties easier, while reducing the amount of paperwork you have to carry with you. It gives you the option of easy-to-handle web access that you can share with other people. And new applications and devices are sure to bring even more functionality to an already useful type of tool.
One of the big buzzwords in technology these days is the idea of “the Cloud”. While this is not really a new idea, some services that are associated with cloud computing have recently become more viable. At CRT we recently had a chance to use a cloud service for our RETS compliance tester, specifically the virtual server service, the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (E2) from Amazon Web Services. Our experience was captured in more technical detail in a white paper, but for those that don’t want to get mired into the technical details I will give a high level overview and discuss when using E2 might be advantageous, as well as the potential drawbacks of using E2 and other similar cloud services.
First off, what is E2. The short answer is that it is a virtual private server service, where customers can rent the use of a virtual machine to run online applications on. These virtual server instances can run any software that you want, and you are given full access to them, configuring and running them very much as if they were physical machines in a data center. As an Operating System, E2 supports Linux, Solaris and Windows 2003.
Since E2 makes heavy use of virtualization, it allows you to easily scale up and down as demand requires. E2 lets you save your configured instances so you can create other instances with the same configuration, in addition to offering a large collection of preconfigured instances designed to give you a start for different types of servers (web server, database, etc.). A host of other services also support E2 to allow users to create robust and scalable applications, including Elastic Block Storage, Elastic IP addresses, Automated Scaling, Elastic Load Balancing and monitoring.
So what does all this cost? That depends, as E2 is mainly based on an hourly cost for each instance running. The hourly cost depends on the type of instance, the more power you want, (CPU power and/or memory) the greater the hourly cost. There are additional costs for the other supporting services as well as for bandwidth used beyond a certain base amount. All this means that it’s not necessarily cheap. Amazon’s page for E2 has the service and pricing details.
What are the disadvantages of E2? The biggest one is that you need to trust that Amazon will be able to keep the service up and running without an extended outage or a failure that destroys your data. In light of this, you would likely want to have backups held elsewhere. Also, there is a learning curve to getting the most out of E2, and you will still need someone to maintain your servers, so E2 does not obviate the need for a competent System Administrator.
So the question then becomes, when would using E2 be advantageous? E2 is flexible in a way that would benefit people who have an unpredictable demand on their online services, demand that requires them to have hardware to make sure the service is responsive, but that is not always being fully utilized. With automatic scaling and the preconfigured instances, E2 can allow you to scale up and down with demand needs, so you are only paying for the resources you need and are using. Also, the preconfigured instances can make service maintenance and set up faster and less prone to error. But if you have modest server requirements and little fluctuation in demand or light demand, E2 is likely to be more complex and expensive then a well-maintained physical box.
But if you are someone who finds they need a flexible server environment, or who just wants to make your server setup and maintenance easier, E2 might be a valuable solution for you
Chicago, September 23, 2009: The Center for REALTOR® Technology is excited to announce, as promised early last month, the release of the latest version of Variman – The Open Source and Free RETS Server. Variman version 3.1 is fully RETS 1.5, 1.7 and 1.7.2 compliant, as per the NAR MLS Board Policy requirement that all MLSs be RETS compliant by December 2009. In addition to being fully compliant, version 3.1 has an advanced graphical admin tool that will simplify editing the complex metadata file.
As always, Variman is free to download, install and use – and the same level of support will continue to be offered through the mailing lists.
Variman can be downloaded free at:
If you have any questions, please contact CRT at firstname.lastname@example.org
CRT has a new project! Not a big or fancy project, but simple! SimpleRETS is something that we used internally at NAR for about a year now and we thought it might be useful for other people. The basic idea of simpleRETS is that of a command line RETS client that downloads the data into a CSV format. This allows the data download to be easily run in something like cron and to have the data imported pretty much anywhere (CSV being such a well know file format). The target user for simpleRETS is the IT person at a small brokerage or agent office that needs a way to get their RETS data on a periodic basis.
Like all other CRT projects it’s an open source project, so if you like simpleRETS, you can help improve it as well.