There’s always something to howl about

Real estate transactions without producing a single sheet of paper with Microsoft OneNote and PDF Annotator

I’ve fallen off the face of the world for a long time, but I’m back and I’m here to provide a follow-up to my discovery of Microsoft OneNote and tablet PC’s. In short, I’ve been able to complete my last 3 transactions …from first meeting the client through to closing ….generating less than 10 sheets of paper myself ….total (2 transactions had zero paper that I  produced and the third had about 6 sheets). It has simplified/revolutionized how I organize my client data and all the information that’s gathered in the course of a transcation, my notes, my tasks, prospecting, …you name it! I’ve been able to reclaim a good portion of some desk space since I’ve been able to do away with almost all my printed client files. When I go out for a showing, all I bring is my tablet pc and my keycard. The benefits go on and on.  It has by far surpassed my expectations from only a few months ago.

All my information about all my transactions are at my finger tips. Lender contact, escrow, title, cooperating agent, etc. No more waiting till I get back to the office to dig through files or worse yet, pull out the boxes of closed transactions from 6 months ago to find something. I have it all right in front of me and I have to thank OneNote for most of it. I have yet to see any other agent carry one of these things around and I just think … they just haven’t seen the light yet! :) Last week Stewart Title emailed me saying they were going to start going all electronic and had this huge write up on the benefits. It was nice to see an industry that generates a TON of paper going in this direction. It’s just gonna keep going!
Here is the setup that I’ve settled on…this is by no means an advertisement for these products (as they all have little issues or quirks).

Data management – Microsoft OneNote. OneNote stores all the listings I would have printed on paper before, all the handwritten notes I take of each house, all the contact info I gather per transaction, copy of property info from county website, and a slew of other info. For sellers, I keep advertising logs, showing logs, contact info, and a few other things. I’ve got vendors/contractor info stored, my marketing ideas that I think of and jot down, good articles I find on the web or blog posts, …it’s almost limitless of what you can store and how you organize it. Anything that you can print on your computer, you can print it directly into OneNote. For actual files, like excel files I generate, CMA’s, etc. ..I store them on the computer in folders. You can link them into OneNote but for me it’s just as easy to click on the desktop and pull up the full file there.

Digital Documents – I use a combination of PDF Annotator and deskPDF. Adobe PDF is way more expensive than need be. PDF Annotator can allow you to type or handwrite onto any PDF file. deskPDF allows you to create a PDF file from practically anything you can print (excel doc, word, publisher, etc.). I have all the blank contract forms in PDF and open them with PDF Annotator to fill out the forms and sign. In order to provide the client with a copy, I simply email them on the spot (the clients I’ve used this with have all been techie types so they actually wanted me to email them everything rather give them paper copies).

Tablet PC – Lenovo X61 (formerly IBM) was the tablet pc I chose. It’s got it’s problems (though I don’t know if it’s Lenovo or if it’s Microsoft Vista…I think it’s a little of both) but the other options for tablet PC’s didn’t review that much better if at all. This computer has a finger print reader so logging in to your computer while in tablet mode is a lot easier (don’t have to open the computer up to type in your password) and a digitizer pen with superb writing recognition.

Issues that one should consider before joining the digital revolution:
1) Tablet PC’s are not yet mainstream (Dell is supposed to have launched one by now, but it’s looking more like Q1-2008 sometime) and all the available models have some sort of issue with them. If you’re not somewhat computer savvy (like if you don’t know how to install updated drivers) some of the issues may make you throw your computer out the window. Also, they’re way more expensive than your typical laptop.
2) You have to have a reliable and consistent data backup system in place. If you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket gets dropped, broken or worse yet…stolen, you will be …to put it bluntly….screwed. Just know that technology will always eventually fail. You just have to be prepared. To do this, I’ve setup my tablet pc to sync with my desktop computer. All the stuff outside of OneNote are in a set of folders that I have automatically sync with my desktop whenever my laptop is on the internet. The service I use is another Microsoft service called Foldershare. It’s still in beta but it works pretty darn well and fast. OneNote has it’s own built in sync system so whenever my tablet is on my home network (ie, when I get home) it will sync all the stuff I added into OneNote with my desktop. Likewise, if I’m doing work on the desktop, all the info will get sync’d to the tablet. On top of that, my desktop computer is backed up daily onto an external hard drive. If I really wanted to get serious, I’d have a raid setup backing up my data, but I feel pretty confident that at least one of the three sets of data I keep (tablet, desktop, external hard drive) will be in tact should I lose one.
3) Tablets run on battery. Batteries run out. It’s pretty useless having all your data at your finger tips if you can’t turn the darn thing on. Learning from experience, I now have a power inverter in my car and a second power cord for my tablet…just for use while on the road.
4) lastly, ..prepare to re-think how you organize everything…and you’ll be happy about it! :)

**Note** There’s a difference between convertible tablets and a true tablet. Convertible tablets’ screens can flip up and rotate so it becomes and functions like a normal laptop. True tablets are only tablets. I have the convertible. When putting a document together or writing an email, …I can’t handwrite that (not enough patience). When I’m out and about and I need to take notes , it’s tablet mode all the way!

Some good links on tablet computers:

Tablet PC Review
Gotta Be Mobile

Welcome …. to the real world …I mean… the digital revolution.

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