Having been around before LoopNet and CoStar appeared, I always wonder why CRE agents think they can’t survive without these two companies. Perhaps it’s because in the “old days” property related data was tedious to collect and maintain. When someone else started collecting it and making it easy to search, most everyone threw out the spreadsheets and paper files and jumped on board. With the specter of higher pricing hanging over CRE agent’s heads – not to mention the total lack of control or flexibility “outsourcing” data creates – maybe it’s time to start doing it yourself again.
But let’s face it. Entering all that property info in your REA app is never going to happen and filling in paper forms or Exel cells is a real drag. Tech tools have a come a long way, though, since the days before LoopNet or CoStar. Next time you’re scouting individual broker websites or searching Google, try some of these data collection tools/tactics.
1. Print listing pages to PDF or use a print listing button if they have one (skip the share buttons that will only share a link…unless that’s all you want). PDFs are searchable so name the file something useful (adding a date is good, too) and put them in a folder. Use the search feature in Windows to search the folder by keywords within the PDFs. Select the large icon view for viewable thumbnails to see what you’ve got. Or get a good desktop search app like Copernic that also offers an iPhone app so you can access all your indexed files on the road.
2. Use a web clipper (aka snipper) tool to grab text from a web page or just select text on the page, copy and paste it somewhere. Browser add-ons like Outwit Hub can be useful to grab text that you want to place in Excel. Use Excel’s Paste Special, then select Unicode text if the data is all dumped into one cell with the regular Paste command and you want it in individual cells. It’s not a totally clean process, but it’s a good start.
If you use Evernote’s web clipper, it puts the selected text in a new note to which you can add photos, comments, whatever. Create one or more notebooks for your listings – everything is searchable.
3. Just a note on using “other people’s” photos. It’s okay for personal use, i.e., reference. But you can’t use them for commercial purposes (creating a book or something you could sell) and don’t even try to pass them off as your own to aggregators. So it’s okay to put them in a file for your personal use. And if you don’t know how to copy photos from web pages, you should…
Right click the image, then choose SAVE AS. Rename it something useful and save. For those pesky sites that disable image saving…or the secured PDFs that don’t let you copy images (only do-able if you have Acrobat Standard or Pro…not the Reader) – just enlarge the browser/zoom in on the photo in the PDF and hit PrtScr (Print Screen) on your keyboard. Then PASTE (from the toolbar, Edit –> Paste or CTRL+V on your keyboard) into Word or a photo editor. Use Word’s or your photo editor’s cropping tool to get rid of the stuff around the photo and save/export the photo (in Word, select the photo, right click and select SAVE AS PICTURE).
4. If you want something more structured for data collection, create a form in Google Docs or other form builder app (like Wufoo or Survey Monkey). Use radio buttons, check boxes and pre-filled drop down lists so you don’t have to type much…which makes it ideal for using on your cell phone. (I’ve used Wufoo…looks good on my iPhone!) All your form entries are neatly logged into a spreadsheet waiting for the day you can import them into a database – or export the data to an aggregator. If that is your intention, use LoopNet’s or another aggregator’s listing entry form as a guide for your own form.
5. And speaking of databases, take a look at Bento (for iPhone/iPad). It’s a personal database right on your mobile device. Several templates are included but you can browse through the template exchange or create your own. It also interfaces with FileMaker in case you want to scale.
Another option is Ask Sam, a been around a long time free-form database ideal for holding “unstructured” data – all those PDFs, photos and notes you collect on the web. And if you don’t want to be stuck on the desktop/tablet, use cloud storage services like DropBox, Google Docs, Windows SkyDrive or Egnyte based on your searching requirements and number of users who need access.