Our own paper handcuffs

Fall SunsetI have seen some true innovation over the years.

I can still remember when the only way you interacted with a bank was through a teller.

Gas was pumped by someone who came to your car and cleaned your windshield while your tank was filling.

You talked to an operator to make some long distance calls. The only way to make a call while traveling way to find a pay telephone booth.

When I started farming, I jumped within a year or two to putting up our hay with a round baler. It was a true innovation and allowed me to take care of two head of cattle with very little human help besides myself. The provincial department of agriculture told me the haying method that I was using was doomed to failure.

Personal computers when they first came out made huge changes in the way we did things. Typewriters almost died off, and everyone and his brother could do desktop publishing, but as we all know the paperless office never happened. In fact the reverse happened.

Somewhere along the way, computers made it so easy to generate paper that we are now close to drowning in it.

As a Realtor®, I am amazed by how much paper it takes to buy and sell houses. We continue to add sheets of paper to everything we do. In fact our main offer to purchase contract went from five to seven pages just this summer.

While more and more paper is being required, our communications between people have become less and less paper dependent. Very few people write letters anymore.  You cannot go back and refer to what someone said in a letter.  You are lucky if they sent you an email.

While some people seem to like communicating by email, others have come over to the world of instant messaging, and then there are those who always have a cell phone glued to their ears and cannot seem to communicate any other way.

Somewhere along the way when the world should have moved to digital signatures and secure encrypted PDFs, we got stuck on faxes which are easy to hate. In spite of all our advances, faxes are dependent on mechanical paper feeds which have made little progress when it comes to handling sheets of paper. Scanning and/or faxing are not exactly my favorite way of doing things.

While an ATM almost never fails, if you try to do a twelve page fax, you are almost guaranteed to have to resend a page or two. Often when we switch to scans by email, we end up stressing the human at the other end of the email chain. It is not unusal they are challenged at downloading or printing even simple PDFs.

This leaves the real estate business with not only some of the latest technology but also some of the oldest.  We still get forms by mail.

While real estate is one of the few business where blogging has become effective, digital pictures omnipresent, and centralized online databases a part of everyday business, it is also one of the last places where bricks and mortar places of business still are important along with those faxes and printed documents.

I have watched a number of real estate people try to move to the world of smart phones which guarantee instant communication and the ability to keep everything synchronized and in one place. Based on the people I have watched, they do not work very well. I see people whose phones are beeping all the time from the overload of mail and phone calls.

While Apple’s iPhone promises that everything you need will be in one spot, that is a tall order in a business where multiple government agencies along with county, state, and national professional organizations want a record of what you are doing from the time you first meet a client until they sign their HUD statement.

My experience has shown that a paper file folder seems to be the only effective place for keeping everything from faxes to my notes. In fact the paper file folders seems to be the cornerstone of the real estate business.

Learning how to create a listing folder with the various pieces of information that we pull from different computers along with the signed documents we get from clients is key to being successful in our business. Eventually that folder becomes a pending folder and a closed folder. It is often mirrored by folders that we real estate agents carry so we do not lose our minds.

The paper folder might hold a fax from the county environment services group on a septic permit, a computer print out of the tax value of the property, computer generated forms, a digital flood map, and notes that are scribbled while talking on a cell phone in a parking lot.

There is no phone smart enough to what a paper folder and a note pad can do. Those old fashion tools essentially put all the pieces together that are required to make a complex business transaction happen. The best way of taking notes is with a pen or a pencil and a pad.

Yet we are a business that seems to find a way to use every piece of technology that can be throw at us.

Yesterday I scheduled my first closing using TimeBridge. While it will not get rid of any paper, it might save a few phone calls and emails.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are better ways to do what we have to do, but there are so many legal requirements that I do not see a way out of these paper handcuffs.

Reinventing business knowledge

Roanoke Valley Before SunriseThe last four years since I left Apple’s sales team have been interesting.

I have worked for a couple of other technology related companies.

One was full of youngsters who were determined to learn everything the hard way.

I have also done technology consulting, writing, photography, and I am now a Realtor® on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I ended up in real estate mostly because you can work a lot on your own, and there are plenty of older people already working in real estate. Still now is not an easy time to be in real estate.

I find myself at 58 years old more skilled than ever. I feel more knowledgeable than at any time in the past. I know more about technology than when I worked at Apple. I have learned Linux and Windows along with ultra high speed networking for research labs. I also sold email services.

With real estate, I went back to the classroom, and now I understand settlement statements and a host of other things.

I have written an article for pay for the Guardian newspaper in London. I have consulted on a couple of articles for the WSJ. I have even written well over 1,500 posts on the Internet.

I have sold prints as far away as Texas. My travel guides for Emerald Isle, Swansboro, and Beaufort, NC, all towns along the Southern Outer Banks, are highly ranked in Google search.

My websites get very good reviews, and in the last month four potential buyers from out of state have shown up to look at property. In today’s real estate market that is a near miracle.

The websites I create for my listings have everything from podcasts to movies. I have listed property and sold property.

The other day, I had some customers ready to give up on our area. I completely turned them around in a few minutes.

A lot of years in the trenches has taught me leadership and of necessity sales.

I think that I am pretty close to the top of my game, but in our world which increasingly values youth over experience, I find myself wondering why it is so hard to find a place to be really successful. You would think up and coming companies would want to suck my brain and those of others like me dry before they put us out to pasture.

Yet I have learned from experience that most companies would rather learn the hard way than listen to the experiences of others.

It is almost like we have created a class of individuals who are so sure they are right, that the only way they can learn is when they really screw up.

It is a hard way to do business, but it is becoming the American way as much of the talent and business knowledge retires. It is especially difficult for good customers.

Few companies have cultivated a strong relationship with more experienced employees. In high tech companies have been pushing older employees out the doors for years and replacing them with less expensive young employees who get no knowledge transfer from the older employees. The best new employees are sometimes the ones who can put on the best appearance of pretending to know what they are doing.

It seems to be the new mantra is don’t worry about not knowing how to do your job. We have plenty of customers for you to practice on over the next few years while you are figuring it out. It might be a way to save some dollars in the short term, but it is a foolish way to keep your business humming.

I guess it is good thing I have little at stake in these businesses. I can stick to my own business.

And in that there is always the satisfaction of mastering my new field and doing my job really well.