by Joyce Weiland
Most real estate-related companies are aware of the advantages of online transaction management and “the paperless office”— from less paper, less faxing, and less phoning to lower costs and higher productivity.
These convenient Web-based systems enable everyone involved in a transaction to communicate and view documents at any time.
Agents, lenders, title companies, and attorneys who use these systems claim they are able to close more deals, more efficiently.
Although the benefits have been widely touted, there is still resistance to adopting the technology. Some companies have clients with a stated preference for traditional one-on-one contact or who absolutely refuse to join the information age. Others don’t want to invest too early in a technology that might be replaced by something better next year. Many people simply don’t want to change the way they work or can’t seem to correlate the value these applications offer with the costs involved to deploy these systems.
With technology becoming more and more instrumental to business processes, the majority of real estate professionals who do move to a paperless environment will likely leave everyone else at a competitive disadvantage. This may or may not end up being true — but many companies who have embraced the technology and have become early, active users are finding that their online transaction management systems are actually giving them a competitive edge.
Securing New Customers
“We have people who come to us specifically for this technology,” says Liz Davis, vice president of operations for the Northwest Title family of companies. “It’s a form of customer service that our competition doesn’t provide.” While the technology has been adopted by a full spectrum of Northwest Title clients, Davis says that attorneys are among their most active users. “Attorneys love it because it provides secure document delivery. A fax can sit for days in a basket. E-mails can be intercepted. With our system, nobody can see your document without a password, and you can instantly find it whenever you want it.”
Northwest Title also posts documents for lenders and real estate agents. “Realtors are busy people who are often out showing houses until fairly late at night,” notes Davis. “With this tool, they can come home and log on to check out what’s happened during the day.”
“It’s cut down enormously on the amount of phone tag we used to play. Instead of calling to find out if a survey’s been ordered or a fax has been received, they can go online at anytime to check status, review documents, make comments, or give approvals. It saves a tremendous amount of time.”
Ultimately though, Davis feels that Northwest Title’s sales and customer service teams have seen the best results from the system. “It hasn’t changed the nature of what we do or our basic work flow, but it’s been a real enhancement to the services we’ve always offered.”
The Basis of a Marketing Campaign
At Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco, one of the largest law firms in Atlanta, the benefits and availability of their transaction management system is something they actively market to area real estate agents and lenders.
“Other companies in Atlanta have similar systems, but they aren’t using them anywhere near as extensively as we are,” says Marla Singletary, real estate training coordinator. “We automatically post to everybody whether they request it or not.”
According to Singletary, once clients try it, they’re sold on the ease of being able to go to the site anytime, day or night. “It’s also an enormous advantage to us internally to not have to take 12 or 15 calls on the same file to see whether taxes have been paid, title has been cleared, or payoff is in. Most people are happy to just go to the site and check for themselves.”
While the firm still has some clients who “want nothing to do with e-mail or electronic documents,” Singletary is convinced that online transaction management is the wave of the future, “We all know that eventually everything will be electronic, and we wanted to be on the cutting edge.”
Within the next month Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco plans to mail a brochure touting the benefits of its online transaction management system to area Realtors®, “We know our current customers like what we’re doing with it. It’s something our competition doesn’t have, and we’re going to start marketing it big time.”
Lytle Title in Virginia implemented its transaction management system in October of 2004. They make the system available to buyers, sellers, lenders, and Realtors® who can all log on to check the status of their transactions with a secured password. While everyone involved in Lytle Title transactions is able to take advantage of the online system, general manager Connie Thomas says the system is particularly attractive to lenders. In fact, their Web site features a quote from Teresa Rutherford, a loan officer at Wells Fargo who stated, “We love working with your staff, and think your state-of-the-art online TransactionPoint closing tool is terrific.”
Wait And See Might Not Work
The companies who are using a “wait and see” strategy to avoid investing too early or in the wrong technology may actually pay a higher price in the long run for not hopping on board with their competitors. With a number of mature and proven products available today, companies who embrace this cost-saving and productivity-enhancing technology now may cement client relationships that those who waited will have missed.
|Joyce Weiland is COO of SoftPro, in Raleigh, NC. She can be reached at 800-848-0143.|