Elite AgentTECH + SOCIAL

The Paperless Office

With the growing popularity of creating a carbon neutral society and the help of customer friendly technology, the goal of a paperless office has been taken off the backburner and is a lot closer than you think. Story by Craig Thwaites.

Just about everything that you currently post to your clients and suppliers; from owner statements to letters and invoices, can be emailed instead.

The introduction of computers into Real Estate offices heralded the beginning of a new era in office technology and the way businesses operated. There is no doubt that hardware and software can bring enormous benefits to an office, whether through efficiency gains, streamlining processes, ensuring consistency, or conforming to legal and accounting requirements.

One of the other oft-touted benefits of the widespread introduction of computers was the idea of the paperless office. This environmentally friendly utopia was based on the idea that anything you could see on a computer screen didn’t need to be printed, saving trees and filing cabinets all over the world. Of course, the other major benefit from having all your documents on your computer system is the efficiency gains.

Let’s look at some of the most common tasks carried out by a Real Estate office and how these can be handled by a Real Estate software solution, such as Console’s Gateway Live, without involving paper.

Because none of us want to be working 24/7, it’s smart to put technology to use to service the needs of your clients and even give you the competitive edge.

There’s an easier way to find documents
Don’t waste time putting documents in a filing cabinet; just scan and archive them. Half the time when you look for a document you can’t find it straight away, if at all. The other half of the time you need a copy of it for emailing anyway.

By scanning the document and assigning it to the relevant owner, tenant, vendor or tradesperson it’s there for all time and can be easily found and sent via email. Whilst scanning and linking documents might take as much time as filing it for the first time, every subsequent time you access that document it’s literally at your fingertips. With the power of an online solution, such as OnlineAgent, it can also be at the fingertips of your clients.

Opt for online banking
Modern banking practices make it much easier to process transactions without the need for paper. Many tenants will be happy to set up an automatic transfer of funds to your trust account to pay their rent. This means there is no need to issue receipts and your owners receive their money promptly and consistently. Some agencies make direct debit one of their rental conditions and it’s certainly easier to set this expectation from the first rather than try to change the payment options once a rental agreement has begun.

You can also use online banking facilities to process payments to your owners, refunds to tenants, and pay suppliers and creditors, as well as a raft of other situations. It saves you from writing out a cheque and paying for the postage, and it makes record-keeping much more simple and traceable.

A good software program will allow you to enter an EFT payment against the appropriate tenant, owner, vendor, purchaser or creditor and will then create a file to be uploaded to your banking portal and processed automatically. This saves considerable time in terms of data entry (no need to manually transfer amounts) and visits to your bank branch.

Market your listings digitally
There’s still a need for your sale and rental lists to be made available to those who visit your office, but printing these is not the only solution. Display screens are becoming more popular and the ideal solution is a system such as Console’s ShowReal that draws on the property photos, details, price and description in your system to create a slideshow presentation for use on your window screens or in-office computer.

Say no to snail mail
Why spend money on stamps, paper and ink when you don’t have to? Just about everything that you currently post to your clients and suppliers; from owner statements to letters and invoices, can be emailed instead. This option may even allow your clients to extract the information they need for accounting and tax purposes. With email more prevalent, even for those who don’t have constant access at work, this is becoming a more feasible and requested option.

As well as taking you one step closer to the paperless office, this also ensures that your communication reaches its destination faster than the post can manage, and that you retain a copy of what was sent.

Get your clients online
With more of us expecting instant access to the information we want, chances are that the expectations of your clients will change accordingly. Because none of us want to be working 24/7, it’s smart to put technology to use to service the needs of your clients and even give you the competitive edge.

OnlineAgent is a free self service website that allows your owners, tenants, vendors and suppliers to log in and see information on their sale or rental property, drawing this information from your Gateway database. Instead of having to get in touch with you during office hours, your clients can view, search and download the details they need from their own home or office computer. They can also put documents onto OnlineAgent which synchronises back into your Gateway database.

Choose a more secure method
Trust account reports are important documents that you need to keep safe and secure. Often a paper record is not the best option in terms of security and longevity, which is why it’s wise to store all the information in your system or database, back it up daily (if not more often) and keep PDF back-ups in a separate secure location. This also ensures that your data is always on hand and in the best format should your accountant, or the taxman, come knocking.

Making the switch
Unfortunately, there may be challenges to implementing these changes: staff and clients.

Tips for convincing staff
When it comes to your staff, the key is training and consistency. Set some clear guidelines and ensure that everyone follows them. Make sure your staff know why you are putting these changes in place and what the benefits are to them, the office, your clients and the environment.

Tips for convincing clients
Your clients may prove more challenging. Understand that you will not be able to take all of them along on your paperless journey, and that even small steps are a big improvement. Come up with a plan of attack, starting with your new clients, and then moving on to those who are easiest to educate about the use of technology. Make it known why you are doing this and what you hope to achieve including something to satisfy their what’s in it for me?” question (speedier responses, more frequent updates, improved communication, etc).

There is no doubt that the paperless office is becoming closer to being an achievable goal for Real Estate businesses, as long as you have the right systems in place and engage with your staff and clients. If you can achieve even small changes in your office, the difference it can make to the amount of paper you use will be surprising. This is a great result for your hip pocket and the environment.

Craig Thwaites (MBA, B.Comm, CPA) is CEO of Console, the market leading provider of Gateway Live; the property management, sales management and trust accounting software of choice for more than 3,000 real estate agencies throughout Australia and New Zealand.

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