Technology

Remote Workers – What Does It Mean For Residential Real Estate?

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Over the past three years, we’ve moved just about every process and system we use at Home Rental Services to the cloud. Office365, Google Docs, DropBox, EchoSign, and AppFolio are just a few of the systems that we use that have made this possible.

What this means is that our team can do the majority of their work from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection. And it works well. And that got us to thinking…

The Trend – More and more people are working from home

2016-03-10-WorkingFromHomeAccording to BetaNews, about 45% of workers in the United States do some or all of their work from home. Of those workers, 53 million people are freelancers doing consulting and project work for companies from their home.

The Need – Home office

With so many people working from home full time or for a few days each week, the importance of having a dedicated home office has grown. And just as important is the availability of a reliable internet connection.

If you have a dedicated office on the ground floor of your home, be sure to let us know so that we can make sure that information is in your listing.

Google Fiber – A selling point

GoogleGoogle continues to roll out fiber service to areas across Kansas City. Their fiber connection provides incredible bandwidth and speed for someone working from home. This is a selling point! This is another thing to ask your listing agent to include in your listing.

We think this trend will continue. We’re doing it at our company and we see renters moving to the area to work for Kansas City companies doing it as well. If your home makes it easier for remote workers to do their job, we need to be telling people about it when advertising your property!

Always Improving – SMS Text Messages Improve Communication

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At Home Rental Services, we are always trying to improve our internal communication and processes so that we can provide you the best and most efficient service possible.  One of the things that we wanted to make work was to get an SMS text message for important and critical emails sent to various members of our team.  The only challenge was that our messaging systems only supported email notifications.

Cell Phone Carriers Provide SMS Gateways

Did you know that all major cellular carriers provide an SMS Gateway into their messaging network?  That sounds technical, so in layman’s terms this means that you can send an EMAIL to a special email address at your cell phone carrier that will turn the content of your email into an SMS Text and deliver it!  The only challenge is that you need to know the phone number and the carrier for the person you are trying to text.

This was the perfect solution for improved internal communications for Home Rental Services!  We now get text messages in addition to the regular emails we were getting for our most important communications.

Interested In Trying It Yourself?

If you want to try this yourself, just use the chart below for your carrier and put your cell number before the at [@] symbol!

For example, if your cell phone number is 913-123-4567 and your service is with AT&T, you would send an email to 9131234567@txt.att.net.  The body of your email would be converted to the message text.  Keep in mind that depending on the provider, your message may be truncated or spread across multiple text messages if it is longer than 160 characters.

Provider Email to SMS Address Format
AllTel number@text.wireless.alltel.com
AT&T number@txt.att.net
Boost Mobile number@myboostmobile.com
Cricket number@sms.mycricket.com
Sprint number@messaging.sprintpcs.com
T-Mobile number@tmomail.net
US Cellular number@email.uscc.net
Verizon number@vtext.com
Virgin Mobile number@vmobl.com

NotifyJoCo Service & Large Item Recirculation Day for Leawood

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NotifyJoCo – Important Service for Johnson County Residents

notifyjoco-logoNotifyJoCo is a mass notification system designed to keep Johnson County residents and businesses informed of emergencies and certain non-emergency events. By registering with NotifyJoCo and customizing your alert preferences, you’ll receive time-sensitive messages directly from the County, city, and participating public utilities. Customize your contact information to get messages at home, work, on your cell, by text or email, and more.

NotifyJoCo is a partnership among Johnson County, WaterOne, and participating cities. View Participating Partners

Large Item Recirculation Day for Leawood on June 8th

City of Leawood LogoThe City of Leawood notified us that Saturday, June 8th will be Large Item Recirculation Day.  This event is for items that can be reused/recycled and is not a trash pick-up day.
Please do not put items out before Friday, June 7th.

Items suggested in this recirculation day are:
Couches, Chairs, Love Seats, Tables, End tables, Refrigerators, Stoves, Washer/Dryer, Dishwashers, Vacuum Cleaners, Beds, Bed Frames, Stereos, Electronics, Microwaves

Items remaining, will be picked up by Town & Country Disposal, in cooperation with the City of Leawood, on Sunday starting at noon. Do not leave anything out that you do not want taken. ie. Bikes, grills, toys, lawnmowers, etc.

For more information, please see the PDF located here.

New Server This Weekend!

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We thought it might be a good idea to let everyone know that we are getting a new computer server for our office this weekend.  Our trusted friends over at Umbrella Systems are doing this project for us.  We will still have email, because we switched to Office365 in October last year… all of our email is “in the cloud!”  Also, our office phone system from Avid Communications will still be working because our internet connection will still be on.  However, due to our server being down for the replacement, there are many activities that might be impossible to do until Monday morning.  We can still communicate… things just might be delayed a bit.

This is one of those necessary maintenance things that is never fun, but so important to get done.  It has been a few years since we have upgraded our network server, and it will be great peace of mind when the project is complete.  One of the best things that will happen as a result of this upgrade is a significant upgrade in the amount of storage we have.  Another is the fact that the backups will be taking a full snapshot picture of our entire server.  Why does this matter?  If the new server crashes in the months/years to come, we will be able to restore the snapshot image to a new server and be back up and running within hours instead of days!

Thank you for your patience as we go through the server project this weekend, we appreciate it!

EBE Office Solutions – Excited About Our New Copier!

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Have you ever been in the position where your office copier/scanner is not working like it should?  We found ourselves in that position in 2011 and after months of back and forth with the vendor, we decided to end our contract and move forward with EBE Office Solutions.  (We had worked with EBE in the past and had a good experience.)

How often do you truly get more for less?  In this case, we are happy to say that is true.  The new copier is smaller, so it fits in our break room and has given us back some office space for our growing staff.  Our monthly expense is less than what we were paying before.  We don’t have to take meter reads any more… it happens automagically.  The machine does what we were told it would do and the copies look great.

We worked with Graham Brown and he really helped us through the entire process.  He helped us get the old copier contract bought out and shipped back to the leasing company.  He walked us through our contract options for a new machine and made sure that we got the features we needed… and nothing more.  His team delivered a shiny new Sharp MX-4110N a few weeks ago.  It is so nice to have a color copier/scanner that works.  Their team did on site training with our team, and their engineer set it up to work in our network properly.

We like to share the good news about the companies that we work with that go the extra mile.  We have been very impressed with EBE Office Solutions and would happily refer them to other businesses here in Kansas City!  If you have had copier woes, comment and tell us your story!

GPS – An Important Tool We Use Daily!

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We manage more than 500 homes in the Kansas City Metro, and there is no way we can remember where each house is located.  We add new homes to our inventory on a regular basis and have to go to these new addresses.   It is incredibly important that we can drive to all of these locations efficiently.  We use a variety of GPS devices to find our way to each location.  (Be sure to let us know with a comment how you use GPS to help you do your job!)

Garmin Devices
We are proud to support local companies, and many of our staff have Garmin GPS devices.  Garmin is headquartered in Kansas City and their corporate offices are located near I-35 and 151st Street in Olathe, Kansas.  As with most technology, it is important to update the map data on Garmin devices to account for changes in roads (especially new business developments.)  Recently, Garmin came out with voice activated GPS devices that make it safer and easier to plug in the address you are trying to get to.  (Click here to see a range of Garmin devices at Amazon.)

Google Maps on SmartPhones
We also use smartphones that give us access to Google Maps.  Google Maps can use the GPS receiver and WiFi radio to triangulate the current position of the smartphone and display it in real-time.  You can plug in the address you are going to and then choose “Use Current Position” as the starting point for driving directions that get updated as you drive!

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that provides location and time information in all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible by anyone with a GPS receiver with some technical limitations which are only removed for military users. (More from Wikipedia here)

Dymo LabelWriter – Quick Labels and Easy Postage

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At Home Rental Services, we do all that we can to be a paperless office.  There are some things that we are required by law to keep physical paper copies of.  We organize paperwork in various folders with labels.  Historically, we would print labels for these folders off of a sheet of Avery labels.  This caused problems because we had to reuse sheets of labels and getting the right one to print was not an easy process.  Enter the Dymo LabelWriter Turbo 450.

The Dymo LabelWriter is a small label printer that sits on your desktop.  Its sole purpose is to print individual labels as you need them!  For example, if you need to mail an envelope and need a professional label, all you have to do is open the Dymo Label Software and print a single label for that person.  The Dymo Label software integrates with your Outlook contacts (and other contact databases) so that you simply check a box next to the person you are printing a label for.  You can also type in the text of what you want to appear on a label and then print it.  If you need to print dozens or even hundreds of labels, the Dymo can handle that as well… printing around 50 labels per minute!

Not only does the Dymo LabelWriter print labels, it will also print postage!  You can buy the Dymo LabelWriter desktop mailing solution from NewEgg.com for $225.  Dymo has partnered with Endicia.com to provide internet based postage.  Once you have the LabelWriter and Postage Scale connected to your computer, you set up a free account with Endicia.  All you pay for is the actual postage you use… no monthly fees.

The Dymo LabelWriter has streamlined our process and the results look more professional.  Throw in the added benefit of instant postage whenever you need it and this is a powerful combo to improve your office efficiency.  We would love to hear if you have ever used one of these label printers or if you might consider getting one after reading this article!

Rental Activity Surges in May

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We love helping people find a home to rent, and May has been busy!  Over the previous three days from Saturday through Monday, we have received twenty-two applications to rent the homes that we manage.  That is a significant amount of traffic for a weekend!  One of the interesting things about the people that we are helping is where they are relocating from.  We have people coming to Kansas City from Spain, Korea, Sweden and Australia.  Our agents enjoy showing these individuals and families the many things to love about Kansas City as they find them the perfect home to rent.

One question that you may ask when hearing these kinds of numbers is “How do they keep track of everything?”

We use three important pieces of technology to make sure everything is handled quickly and efficiently:

  1. When a prospective tenant finds the home that they would like to rent, the first step is to run a background check and make sure they have good credit history no prior criminal activity.  We use a system that can provide the credit history instantly and the criminal background check within 24 hours.
  2. Once the background check is complete, we use a web based contract management system called EchoSign to present the offer to lease from the prospective tenant to the owner of the home.
  3. Throughout the process, our agents use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system called ZOHO to track each person or family that they are working with.

What all this means is that we have great systems in place to manage the entire process, and the majority of our staff has visibility into where each prospective tenant is at during the process!  In living up to our belief that “Trust is the Key”, we understand the importance of keeping track of everything and technology allows us to do that efficiently!

We would love to hear your thoughts if you used EchoSign while working with us!  Did it make the process easier for you?

Camtasia Studio – The Easy Way to Make Videos

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One of the core values that we have at Home Rental Services is to always improve how we are using technology to provide better service and improve our processes.  Companies are moving from text delivery to video delivery to educate and train their clients and prospects.  We have jumped in with both feet and started creating “How To” videos so that people don’t have to read paragraphs of text to learn how to do something.  A good example is our How to Apply Online video.  This video walks a prospective renter through the process of applying to rent one of our homes.

We looked at several software packages that would allow us to create these videos and ended up going with Camtasia Studio that is made by TechSmith.  This program allows you to easily record your screen and your voice at the same time.  Once you have recorded your video, there is a powerful editor that lets you easily zoom in on parts of the screen to highlight what you were talking about.  You can add callouts and transitions.  You can add a soundtrack behind your presentation. There is a PowerPoint plugin that allows you to record your PowerPoint presentation and capture your face while you are speaking (if you have a web camera on your computer).  Once you have produced your video, you can upload directly to YouTube!

If you have a laptop with a webcam, you can record and produce a 3-5 minute video of your screen while you are talking in about 15-20 minutes.  Think about how many ways you could use that in your business!  We are going to create “Agent Introduction” videos with our agents.  We are going to create “How To” videos.  And we are just getting started.  We are excited that our staff can educate and train using video instead of traditional email or PDF documents!  Let us know if you are using video in your business and any tips or tricks you have learned along the way.  We will post them as updates to this article!

iPad 2 – Empowering our Leasing Agents in the Field

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Our leasing agents are driven and dedicated people that work hard to make sure our owners and renters are happy with each transaction.  What this boils down to is that they are often on the go, driving around Kansas City and showing the houses we have for lease.  Many of the systems we use are web based applications.  When a prospective renter wants to see the details about one or more of the houses we have available, they usually look online with their computer.  This isn’t an option when the renter and our agent are out together looking at houses.  Currently, our agents pull up property information on their smart phones, but the screen is tiny and the experience leaves a lot of room for improvement… so we are improving!

We have started a pilot program with one of our agents to see how much of a difference an iPad 2 can provide during the rental search process.  For roughly $500, the agent now has a fully functional computer with internet access available at all times.  (Internet access is provided by using the mobile hotspot feature on the agent’s T-Mobile myTouch 4G smart phone. This option was less expensive than buying a 3G enabled iPad and paying for the data plan through AT&T or Verizon)

At ten inches, the screen size is large enough to show the beautiful, full resolution pictures of the homes we lease.  The iPad 2 is thin and light and easy to pack in a folio or briefcase with the rest of the documents we normally carry.

We have mentioned before that we use AppFolio to manage many of the aspects of our business.  Owner information, renter information, property details, work orders and more.  With the iPad 2 and internet access, our agents will have access to this information at any time and in any place with cellular coverage.

Google maps and interactive directions will help our agents look at geographic areas for points of interest like banks, schools, grocery stores, coffee shops and more as prospective renters ask questions about different neighborhoods.

We work hard to make the experience for our owners and renters the best experience possible.  This means we always have to evaluate our processes and technologies to take advantage of new tools.  We believe the iPad 2 is going to become an important addition to the technology we use to be successful!