Edina Realty, a division of HomeServices of America, is the second-largest residential real estate broker in the U.S. Like most of the industry, Edina has kept a close eye on the evolving wireless space, evaluating how technologies, such as mobile phones with Web access, PDAs, and Blackberry-style pagers might improve workflow. A device that would give agents remote access to information held the promise of improving business processes. Most of the industry, however has taken a "wait-and-see" approach. Recognizing that its competitors were balking and failing to capitalize on the technology available today, Edina Realty moved quickly to arm its realty agents (independent contractors) with a powerful wireless tool that would give them an immediate edge over competitors.
In a seller's market, when the supply of homes is low and demand is high, first access to new listings can be the difference between closing a sale or not. Prior to having wireless Internet access, a broker might initiate home tours with a potential buyer and spend days contending with multiple offers on a home. While in the office, a broker would download information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database and then store it on a PDA. (MLS provides all the listings of available homes in a market).
The static information was useful as a guide for houses in a certain area or in a certain price range, but did not assist brokers in executing actual transactions out of the office. Instead, the broker would have to return to the office to submit offers and view new bids on listings in which the client was interested. The lapse in time, typically six hours, could cost the buyer the house they had been pursuing. This cycle could repeat many times throughout the transaction process.
It became clear that a solution that merged telephony, wireless e-mail, and Web access would save agents critical hours in the transaction process, allowing increased interaction with clients and greater mobility in the field, where brokers spend most of their time.
After examining numerous wireless options, including the RIM BlackBerry™ pager and Palm handheld, Edina selected the Kyocera QCP 6035 smartphone for its field force. The Kyocera QCP 6035 combines a wireless phone with a Palm handheld, as well as a pager and Web access*. The MLS database, via a proprietary application, runs on Edina's Web servers, into which agents dial to retrieve data in real-time. The systems integration platform was developed internally, utilizing a SQL server and Cold Fusion as the application server.
With the Kyocera smartphone in hand, agents could access Edina's MLS database in real-time, while on-site with clients. Immediate retrieval of dynamic information, such as pricing and status of a sale, cuts down the length of the sales cycle and limits the amount of time a broker must be in the office.
More than 100 of Edina's agents in 75 offices are currently using the Kyocera QCP 6035 smartphone in the field. With the smartphone's wireless access, the entire transaction process is cut from 1-2 days to a half-day in many cases. In one meeting with a buyer, the broker can show newly listed homes (before the "For Sale" sign is even hung), check listings on that home, submit a bid to the seller and compare other offers, all while out of the office. Edina's e-mail system also allows brokers to filter which e-mail messages from the consumer Web site are pushed to the smartphone - brokers can designate that e-mails from prospective buyers get pushed through immediately, while other miscellaneous messages are held at the broker's desktop. This level of client service and immediate attention is key to winning business in the real estate industry.
Brokers comment that the phone's Web access keeps them more informed while on the road and promotes professionalism and an "always on top of it" image. Many have found a direct correlation between the amount of business closed since using the Kyocera smartphone. Web access has allowed Edina brokers to increase the pace of play over its competitors. Agents can spend more time showing property, writing purchase agreements, prospecting, and going to closings. As one Edina agent put it, "I sold $1.5 million worth of houses the first week I had it - that's $40,000 in commissions."
Equipping its field agents with the Kyocera QCP 6035 smartphone has enabled Edina to widen its lead over major competitors. In the Twin Cities, for example, Edina surpassed its chief competitor as the leading volume seller of residential properties for the first time in several years.