Real estate companies are responsible for an immense amount of content on any given day. Throughout the week, employees may find themselves passing financial data, demographic information, and confidential contracts back and forth so often that it’s no wonder many of them haven’t found an efficient strategy for cataloging it all. Different departments may use different software, making it difficult to see how information is altered, tagged, or stored.
But the normalcy of floating information or uncontrolled access to privileged data does not make it any less risky. We asked real estate companies to name their single biggest challenge in providing requested information, and more than half (55 %) stated the largest factor was an inability to consolidate data between departments. From front to back, real estate firms segregate their key documents, only to find they can’t produce the proof they need when they need it the most.
Information isn’t just helpful within the organisation; it’s necessary to the regulatory bodies that govern it. Real estate companies who want to adhere to compliance expectations need to first understand the ramifications of perpetuating an inefficient content management system. Not only are employees more likely to waste time searching through countless documents to find the numbers or confirmation they need, but they’re also more likely to violate the ever-changing regulations that stipulate what can and can’t be done to Personally Identifiable Information (PII). When each department needs to comply with everything from the Fair Labour Standards Act to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it’s all too easy for information to slip into the wrong hands. Not only can this be catastrophic for the company’s general finances, but it can eventually lead to complicated litigation that ends up swallowing months of a company’s time.
In addition to legal compliance, more real estate companies are developing a methodology to use data and metadata to make long-term decisions for the future of their business. According to a report published by CoStar Real Estate Manager, strategic planning ranked as the number one use for past data. The more a real estate company can look to their past, the more likely they can guarantee profitability in the future. If information is incomplete or inaccurate, leaders will allocate resources with only a small piece of the puzzle rather than having the full picture of how the company is performing as a whole. And yet, this doesn’t seem to be a priority for the industry. In the same report, close to 40 % of real estate respondents expressed doubts about their data. The 61 % who were “Very or Extremely Confident” in their data do appear to understand just how important it is to have a system that everyone values and uses.
When real estate agents are subject to strict deadlines and a mountain of paperwork, an efficient intelligent information management (IIM) platform can step in and pave the way for a smoother journey. We’ll take you through seven specific ways you can increase efficiency in your organisation.
Paperless: Information Capture And Scanning
Despite technological changes, there are still enterprises relying on paper. And, on the surface,
this makes sense for decision-makers. Not only is it impossible for a criminal across the world to hack into a paper contract, but it also provides a type of physical proof that many find reassuring. But IIM technology offers tight security without the heavy cost burden and productivity loss in a paper-based office. Paper is messy and time-consuming, especially when real estate professionals consider just how much of it they go through on a daily basis. Storing all that paper makes it difficult to locate later — regardless of how fine-tuned the organisation strategy is. And if someone happens to misplace a file or misclassifies a single signature, the whole company can conceivably be turned upside down in a stressful scramble. When 42 % of all real estate companies with 50 employees or more still use either spreadsheets or paper in some capacity, it seems clear a change is in order.
Intelligent information management allows companies to digitally capture information so employees can do more with it. It allows shared access to documents, so everyone has the tools they need at their fingertips.
Implemented correctly, all content can be precisely tagged, so multiple users can pull up the right documents under multiple keyword searches. Use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert scanned files of paper documents into images that can be edited and searched at a later date. Taxonomy has always been a barrier when it comes to digital searching, but IIM helps companies classify their information in a more efficient way. Information capture and scanning in a real estate enterprise put all data in one central location, while still enabling administrators to build strict access rules for each document. In addition, this technology is entirely scalable, so it’s equally effective for a two-man team as it is for the largest real estate company in the world.
Back-office Admin: Human Resources, Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable
The back-end admin process in a real estate office is often overlooked by leadership until there’s an immediate problem that needs to be handled. There are inherent inefficiencies that companies might not even know they have. But the major issues that arise from back-office tasks, such as HR complaints or a missing check, are symptoms of larger issues that need to be addressed within a real estate company. The time spent correcting the problem would be better off devoted to a project that would stimulate revenue or improve employee satisfaction. HR especially must handle some extremely sensitive employee information — like salary data, medical information, and personal grievances against the company.
IIM makes it possible to keep track of how employee and client information is being handled and tracked at all times. When it’s time to destroy data, employees will know when and how to carry out the task. The system can speed up processes at every level. Whether it’s settling an account or onboarding a new employee, IIM allows everything to be stored in a designated location.
If data needs to be verified, employees can move forward quickly and in total confidence. A real estate firm is fast-paced and jam-packed with countless steps for each employee. Streamlining these steps serves to save everyone time and energy throughout the day.
It gives back-end employees that many more ways to arrive at the answers, fix the discrepancies, and identify a mistake before it spirals out of control.
AP AND AR EMPLOYEES | From tax documents to invoices to receipts, AP and AR have a way to keep everything organised. It ultimately minimises the total risk for clients and company alike.
HR EMPLOYEES | IIM helps you keep employee files safe and secure without compromising the accuracy or cohesion of data. This includes contact information, contracts, and certifications.
Finally, the back-office employees are also responsible for the reports that management studies when they need data to help them plan. They need the best possible data to determine how the countless transactions in the company are all adding up to the company’s success or failure. Inside the numbers, graphs, and charts produced by backend administrators, decision-makers have multiple opportunities to identify failing territories, cut expenses, and track commissions. An IIM system can cut through the miscellaneous figures that apply to each sector of the business, and help upper management easily find the information they need in context before settling on the right solution.
Legal: Full Regulatory Compliance
Everyone in a real estate agency is aware of just how much paperwork is involved in each transaction the company handles. Whether it’s online or off, employees are expected to protect that information, regardless of their department. To make matters even more complicated, a real estate company is subject to jurisdiction compliance that can change from street to street. And while it’s certainly simpler to sell a one-bedroom condo in North Carolina than a multi-story skyscraper in New York City, a single compliance violation can cause anything from a delay in the sale to a full-scale criminal investigation.
IIM is designed to give real estate companies total security on all protected information. It extends the concept past general firewalls and perimeter security because time after time, we’ve seen these tactics have not always been able to withstand the talents of a determined hacker. IIM encrypts the data of a real estate company so there’s no chance of violating the guidelines.
In case the company is successfully hacked, encryption ensures cybercriminals won’t be able to access the information they’ve stolen. Storing the information on a remote server also makes it possible to safely preserve and recover any lost data in its original form.
Juggernauts like Target and T-Mobile may register the most noteworthy headlines after they experience a hack, but it’s not just the household names that are targeted.
In July 2018, the FBI reported that the real estate industry found Email and Business Account compromises were the top two threats for real estate, according to Dark Reading. One industry victim in 2017 reported $18 million in losses due to cybercrime. And while much of this crime is pinned on the element of unfamiliar contacts, a tighter security strategy could go a very long way to block destructive communications and protect information even in the case of an employee mistake or omission.
The right content management system is also the perfect anecdote to a complicated internal or external audit. A real estate company is required to keep extensive documentation of all properties and clients (and even more so if the company manages real estate too). These folders and files should ideally all be kept together, so an auditor can easily verify every step of the purchase or sale was followed. But audits rarely go smoothly and often last longer than they should due to preventable reasons.
For example, in some states, one of the most common violations in real estate audits is the ability to produce accurate and comprehensive trust fund data from the broker. This content has long been a bane for real estate companies due to the complexities of the transfers. Real estate companies are typically required to have a record of all funds along with dates, check numbers, and a daily running balance. If there are multiple beneficiaries named, real estate agencies may be required to keep all data separate. A back-office team with the right IIM will instantly have an easier way to manage each column, making it possible to get in and out of an audit with no lasting scars.
Mobile Access: Any Time, Any Device
Document access from any device and any location is crucial for real estate transactions. When buying and selling property, these documents represent a new phase in the journey. A real estate professional is privy to so much paperwork and is so often offsite that there’s little doubt they need mobile access to do their jobs effectively. When an agent works with a client away from the office, mobile access facilitates the initial communication that leads to a long-lasting relationship the agent is attempting to build.
The agent is ultimately more competent, which inspires greater trust between the client and the agent. Not every real estate client needs to see an agency at the cutting edge of the technology revolution, but all clients want to see their real estate agency doing more for them. When complex documents can be accessed and managed mobile devices, there are fewer delays to contend with, and more transparency in the operation.
If a real estate company has Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, IIM can be especially necessary to prevent potential security threats without interrupting the transmission and delivery of documents.
Workflows: Making Everything Move
A workflow that stalls for any reason will always lose company money. It’s that simple. And while some hiccups are inevitable, brought on by anything from client whims to employee termination, there are ways for real estate agencies to develop a review and approval process that functions like a well-oiled machine. With the help of content management, the responsibilities for each party will be well-established and easy to follow. IIMs can be customised for real estate companies and come complete with digital signature capabilities, which can make it easier for transactions to flow smoothly from one step to the next.
Clients want their real estate agency to tailor each transaction to their needs. For an agent to do this, they need the right information right at their fingertips. Companies can use IIM to get a handle on what data is important and which information is redundant or irrelevant to the transaction. Thus, tighter information management becomes a function of the customer experience.
With the help of digital signature capabilities, employees can send documents for review and approval, anywhere and from any device. To complete their end of the bargain, receivers only need a browser to sign. Multiple parties can be kept separate with different sign tabs, giving agents the means to track the progress of each person in a transaction. This secure feature is fully compliant with legal standards and gives employees the means to digitise a process that might have once taken days or even weeks to complete through standard mail.
Even printing and signing a document is an extra step that can grind a traditional workflow to a halt.
Speed-to-market: A Matter Of Efficiency
Whether the agency is in the middle of a buyer’s or seller’s market, the key to a real estate company lies in its timing. Agents may not have the luxury of months or even weeks to close a deal. If they’re constantly getting notifications from the back-office regarding their documentation (or lack thereof), an agency’s schedule is ultimately compromised by a lack of cohesion in the collection and transmission of data. If employees are constantly searching for files or unable to verify certain facts before moving forward on a project, they may end up losing deals before they ever have a chance to make it to the second phase.
The departments in a real estate agency are interconnected enough that a front-office employee will feel the impact of a back-office audit. A back-office employee will see their overall productivity slow when a front-office employee requests a copy of an old check from ten years ago. These seemingly one-off situations likely happen more often than leaders realise, and they may not realise just how much money and productivity it’s costing them. The frustration and slow-down of finding information spread over multiple storage locations is taking valuable time from employees — time that could be better spent moving deals forward.
With an efficient IIM, real estate employees can quickly locate obscure data in context. Whether it’s for an audit or pertains to a deal in progress, they can pull up payment histories, contracts, and purchase offers from a decade ago (or an hour ago). An automated system gives employees more time to talk to their clients and follow-up on their many requests. Standard-issue documents go out immediately, so there are no delays on invoicing or necessary paperwork. An agent can track how their client contracts moves throughout the organisation and when it’s been approved.
Employees can organise everything according to a single property, ensuring they have access to every spare scrap of data related to the ownership transfer should they need it. Real estate is all about creating forward momentum with clients. The faster they have their needs met, the faster a real estate company will see their revenue start to climb. IIM is designed with the same larger goals as the companies that use it: the more time and information a company has, the less likely they are to make mistakes.
Document Context: Integrating Your Data
Much of the speed a real estate company gains with IIM is tied up with the quality of their metadata. It’s this metadata that ultimately connects information across different departments and disparate information silos that don’t speak to each other. It enables professionals to have a 360-degree view of projects, deals and clients, in context. It slows progress if a real estate professional has to go to the network folder for a contract template, then head back over to the CRM for applicable notes and then search through their email for the last correspondence. With intelligent information management, a search reveals all relevant documents for that specific client or project.
Not only that, but innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning have opened a whole new world of possibilities. AI can automatically extract metadata values from a contract, for example — data like contract start date, end date, parties to the contract and more.
Why is that impactful? Now, users can search and find the information they need, regardless of how they search. The legal department may search for a contract by execution date while the agent wants to find it by way of customer name. With IIM, the same document can be found based on relevant information and not where it’s stored.
In a traditional system, employees rely on folder-based systems to determine how a document should be classified and stored. If they’re working with documents that deviate by containing more than one type of information, the naming system will quickly deteriorate into disarray. Regardless of the current system a real estate company is using, if leaders are largely relying on employees to remember how and where they put information, they’re opening the door to confusion on an epic scale.
What if it didn’t matter WHERE a document was stored, but the only thing that mattered is WHAT that document is? When an agency integrates their data, they describe exactly what the document is. Instead of trying to decide which folder it should go in (when it could conceivably go into three separate folders), employees can use metadata to catalog the information inside each document. Real estate leaders no longer have to worry about how the personal organisation strategies of employees will affect the larger enterprise.
IIM can cut down on miscellaneous or superfluous requests, and even create more empathy throughout the company. When different departments have a better understanding of how each one handles data and why they need certain information, it’s easier for everyone to identify with one another. Authorised employees in any department can track the information as it’s altered or adjusted, helping people quickly see how a situation developed over time. A single contract can be stored under the date it was signed, the name of the property, or any other information an employee deems relevant. Once they’re finished, an IIM will index it, so it can be pulled up under multiple searches.
An IIM system has the features and benefits a real estate company needs to close more deals with less risk. Employees can find information quickly, departments can work together on a deeper level, and leaders can see the big-picture information that leads to smarter strategic moves. Time-consuming processes become automated, and mountains of paperwork can finally be shredded and recycled.
While there will always be an adjustment period with any new technology, IIM doesn’t have to interrupt a real estate agency’s already-complex processes. Employees can be brought up to speed on how to tag files, track information, and locate specific documents. IIM is a gateway to efficiency and a stronger organisation.
Whether a real estate company wants to build sales, decrease compliance risk, or just increase their productivity, an IIM streamlines information, so it’s always available to the appropriate parties.