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Dear George: Last week our telephone system crashed. Actually, the telephone system serving our entire office building crashed. A worker apparently severed a telephone cable just outside our office building. We were 'out of business' as far as the outside world knew for seven hours. Do you know of any practical short cuts to maintain incoming phone calls?-- Crashed

Dear Crashed: A highly-respected broker from Louisiana provided this gem. He suggests that when you report the outage to the telephone service company that provides your dial tone, you also request that they transfer (forward) all calls during the outage to a cell phone number. You may not have the bells and whistles of your phone system, but at least you won't miss any important incoming calls.

Dear George: I am opening a new brokerage office this fall. We are under construction now. I wish to offer my agents the absolute best in technology. That means purchasing all new equipment and software. I have many questions. For instance, should each agent have a direct line? I need to contract the services of someone who is reliable. This person or firm must also be technologically competent. I don't want someone who is selling something. I do want someone who does not have conflicts of interest. Do you have any suggestions as to whom I might contact? Thanks in advance for your advice. I wish you continued success.-- Arizona

Dear Arizona: Your recent request is typical of many I receive. I have agonized for months as to what would be an appropriate response. The answer came to me while reading your email: "Do what you already know how to do."

You stated in your email to me that you are not "technologically fluent." Fine. Focus on the skillsets that you do have. You interview prospective agents. Perhaps you also deal with prospective buyers and sellers. The point is, you (or someone in your firm) already knows how to conduct meaningful interviews. You already know how to ask specific questions requiring specific answers. By "specific" I mean answers that if misleading or false provide an avenue of alternatives to you as a business owner.

As in real estate, any "answers" to your questions should be in the form of written, signed quotes for the services and/or equipment. When conducting interviews, be sure to include telephone systems providers, telephone service providers (those that supply the dial-tone) and Internet Service Providers. I recommend that you not agree to any one service provider until you have acceptable written quotes from all those that you need to use. Make sure installation and service are included on all hardware. Be sure to inquire about training offered for any software. You know the questions you have. Write them down. Interview the prospective service provider. Then ask, "Are there any other questions I should be asking that I'm not?" Then read the body language. Let me know if this helped or not.

Dear George: I saw a virtual tour program at recent NAR trade show in Washington, D.C. You could take pictures with your own digital camera. The program combined the separate pictures into one really cool panoramic shot. I think they also let you make a bunch of pictures for the same tour. I remember the first twelve tours cost $48 each.

After that, I think the tours cost around $25. My problem is that I cannot recall the vendor's name. Do you know who it is? -- Forgetful

Dear Forgetful: I think you are referring to VisualTour.com. Their promotional material claims "$25 for a 50 Image Tour." It also claims "Same Day Turnaround." The higher cost for the first twelve tours compensates the vendor for its software, I believe. I attended that trade show. I also saw a demonstration of the automatic "Stitching" software. I was impressed. I have not yet purchased the $500 set up package that includes 12 tour tokens. I need to run it by my agents at our next sales meeting to see if they are as impressed as I was.

Dear George: I'm curious about something. I've noticed when using my dial up network connection that I've connected at a specific speed. I have a 56K modem. It usually connects at 48,333 bits per second. But when I download a program update or something similar, the window that opens for the download tells me I'm connected at a much lower speed. I see numbers like 5.8 and 6.1 in the window. Why do I lose so much speed during downloads?-- Curious

Dear Curious: You are not losing speed. Your Internet connection is stated in "bits per second." However, your download throughput is stated in "bytes per second." Bits and bytes differ. A "byte" (expressed in increments of 1,000) usually equals 8 "bits." Therefore, a download of 6.1 KBs (kilobytes per second) is equal to 8 times the amount in kbs (kilobits per second), or 48,800 kilobits per second.

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