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Of Bytes and Brokers : Computer Programs Designed for Realty Firms Speed Agents' Work, Expand Client Access to Listings and Mortgage Information

August 23, 1992|CHRISTINE ZIAYA-ZEIGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ziaya-Zeiger is a Sylmar free-lance writer. and

Ten thousand index cards. That's what Sylmar realtor Rich Weiler would be dealing with today had he not gotten a computer a year and a half ago.

Instead of using index cards, his company, Realty Professionals, now keeps track of clients by using sophisticated software that sorts clients into various categories such as those interested in purchasing property in a specific geographic area, those interested in purchasing property in three months, six months, a year, those interested in commercial property and so on.

By categorizing clients and keeping detailed information on them, Weiler can now refer to his data base and match appropriate clients with available properties more quickly and easily.

Like a growing number of realtors, Weiler has turned to computerization to help run his company more efficiently and more profitably.

"The computer helps me keep in contact with all my clients," Weiler says. To do this, he uses a customized version of "Real Quick" in conjunction with "Q & A." He can then program his computer to remind him when it's time to telephone clients. Or his computer can assist him with written correspondence. For example, it easily generates form letters that keep clients up to date on their escrows.

Overall, Weiler says, his computer has made it easier for him to handle more clients and, in turn, do more business.

Although computers are not new to the real estate industry--for more than a decade, agents have had access to computerized versions of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)--in recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of real estate professionals who use computers.

According to a 1990 nationwide survey conducted by the National Assn. of Realtors (NAR), 78% of real estate firms use computers. In comparison, firms with computer capability amounted to only 44% in 1983, 55% in 1984, 59% in 1985 and 65% in 1986. Locally, of the 1,200 realty offices that are members of the San Fernando Valley Board of Realtors, 85% of those offices are now using computers in some capacity. (The SFV board has 8,500 individual members.)

Among Los Angeles' largest real estate offices, the move toward computerization started slowly but has picked up obvious momentum.

At R&R Gable Inc., headquartered in Northridge, company President and founder Roger Hance said he has spent about $2 million on automation. All 400 agents in the company's nine offices have access to a computer network that links 500 terminals and personal computers.

Gable, as well as other companies such as Coldwell Banker and Jon Douglas Co., now have in-house management information systems (MIS) departments to meet their programming needs.

As interest in computers increases, so too has the number of software programs designed or adapted especially for realtors. Among the most popular programs are those that:

--track real estate clients and contacts.

--produce computerized comparative market analyses (CMAs), which compare a specific listing to other properties within the same geographic locale with regard to list and/or selling price, size and features.

--determine whether a buyer will meet the financial requirements of a lending institution to qualify to buy a specific property.

--assist realtors in creating their own brochures, flyers and other printed marketing materials.

More than 700 software programs designed especially for realtors are listed in the Real Estate Applications Software Directory, a publication compiled by the Real Estate Center, a nonprofit state agency at Texas A&M University.

Among the most popular and best selling programs are "The Real Estate Edge" (contact management), list price: $395; "Realty Ally" (tracking program with word-processing system), list price: $395 (single-user version), $1,895 (network version); "Realty Works" (including tracking, computerized CMAs and MLS access), list price: $149; "Sales Dominator" (including tracking, word processing, daily planner and finance qualifying), list price: $495, and "Top Producer" (including tracking, appointment organizer and direct mail), list price: $495.

Realizing the increased interest in computers, the NAR, in association with a dozen computer firms, has developed the Realtor Computerization Project aimed at educating and motivating agents to buy and use computers. The four-hour video-based seminar program is now being distributed to 1,800 real estate boards and 50 state associations nationwide.

One of the more popular programs, tracking software, allows agents to keep tabs on their past, current and potential clients. Various program features assist realtors by planning an agent's daily schedule, preparing correspondence for targeted mailings and even tracing transactions from the initial contact through closing. Because the program can store in memory everything a realtor does on a specific property, detailed activity reports can be compiled with ease.

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