Despite recent ups and downs all related to fortunes of the dot.coms, technology remains one of the most versatile tools in the real estate agent’s toolbox. That’s not to say that traditional touches aren’t useful. Old-fashioned direct marketing has been combined with technology to create a “total marketing package,” according to one real estate expert.

The widespread adoption of technology, especially the personal computer and the cell phone, has not only open up a new world for real estate, but has made these products less expensive.

The Eggs Solution’s virtual-tour camera, which was on exhibit at the most recent Realtors’ show, now costs only $500, a remarkable drop compared with just three years ago.

Now that 360 degree virtual tours have been accepted by just about everyone and are in demand by computer-saavy consumers, the tekkies are working on ways to make the tours faster and with better definition.

Still, the old ways are popular, too. Postcards, business cards, photocopying machines and traditional closing gifts are all “in” these days.

Included in the gifts’ category are cookbooks. For instance, Jumbo Jack's Cookbooks of Audubon, Iowa, allows Realtors to produce cookbooks for their clients — either three-ring or spiral-bound — as closing gifts.

Cookbooks like these are typically used by small organizations as surefire fund-raisers, but are easily turned into real estate marketing tools. How about compiling the best recipes from among the office staff and handing copies to clients after the closings have been completed?

A variation on that theme: collect the favorite recipes of past clients and hand the book, and the testimonials to you from those clients, as a marketing tool when you meet with sellers and sign the listing agreements?

The permutations are only as limited as your imagination.

Other gifts: membership in the National Arbor Day Foundation ($10) and a tree ($25). This would be a wonderful idea in a new-home development in which trees tend to be more scarce than in older established neighborhoods. However, a tree can be one of the things a home buyer can use to personalize his or her new house.

The technology that Realtors are looking at also serve the public well, which has benefited everyone by helping to reduce the price.

Remember when VCRs cost $1,000. Now they’re so inexpensive that every house can have three, if they don’t want a DVD player. But, I’ve seen simple DVD players at the drug store for under $80.

Here’s some of what’s available these days :

Digital cameras: Ricoh's RDC 1700 retails for $1,475. Olympus' model C-720 costs $499. There is the Canon Powershot A40 for $249 and the Canon PowerShot S330 for $349. Egg Solutions sells a lens for 360-degree imaging as part of a $995 package.

Digital cameras have pretty much dropped in price to make them as affordable as the old-fashioned ones. The hotter attachments include Canon's $199 CP100 card printer, which can be hooked up to a digital camera and can print you a business card on the spot.

Then there are smart phones. For example, Samsung's SPH A500 is a $299 cellular phone to which you can attach a digital camera and send photos to friends or family (or photos of houses to clients) instantly.

Webcams are now selling for $899 (the 2120 Netcam from US Axis) and $999 (Pansonic's KX-HCM 270).

And if you need to check your e-mail in your client's home, there are a series of “air card” modems from $99 on up that help you avoid asking to plug into the phone line.

Why is technology so important? The National Association of REALTORS® recently published a study on the future of real estate brokerages. Part of the study focused on the future of the brokerage, and the authors stated: “The rapid growth in the Internet and its instantaneous access and delivery of information … have contributed to growth opportunities.”

One of the emerging models, described as “market makers,” will let consumers use an auction format to determine the fair market value of a property and shorten the sales cycle.

“The Internet can be used as a marketplace for transacting such deals,” the authors of the NAR study said.

Remember, technology is an important tool, but just one in the real estate agent’s toolbox. One of the dangers of any new tool is the tendency to play with it rather than finding ways to incorporate it into your total business strategy.

However, don’t forget the little things. Cookbooks, flowers, bottles of wine and trees say as much about you as a real estate agent as how fast you answer your client’s e-mail or answer their calls on your cell.

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