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Online property management automation

Utilizing the Internet to meet customer needs, transact leasing processes

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Soon every aspect of real estate transactions will be conducted online. From browsing for properties to applying and signing the contract, customers are demanding an online, on-demand environment in which to complete the entire sales process.

Characterized greatly by the X and Y generations, customers want fast, efficient service that meets their time and schedule needs. They want personal interaction where it matters and self-service where it doesn't. Today's customers shop online, get their news online, communicate online, bank online, etc. Customer service to them is providing immediate and direct access to the information or transactions they want when they want it.

To meet theses customers' needs, many real estate companies and property managers are now using the Internet to more effectively merchandise their properties and transact their leasing contracts.

Using the Internet has become much more than just listing properties online and providing a downloadable tenant application. The Internet has become a crucial battleground for companies to fight for and gain new customers, and companies that don't capitalize on the Internet successfully are pushed aside while their customers migrate to other companies that do.

Travel agencies are a prime example of companies that have moved to the Internet to meet customer needs. Companies such as Expedia.com, Travelocity and Orbitz have flourished using the Internet to simplify and accelerate the vacation buying process, and have put many local travel agents out of business.

Apartments.com, Rent.com and Craigslist are also good examples of companies that have taken their business to the Internet to meet customer needs. Apartments.com offers free online apartment searches with photos for each prospective tenant to look at, but the site also has solutions for every moving and relocation need. Specifically, individuals who visit the site can find a variety of moving companies or even lists of suggested items they might need for the move to their new residence. Rent.com and Craigslist offer comparable services and are thriving in the space because they incorporate user interaction, easy access and real-time information when the customer wants it.

The most effective real estate and property management companies are doing more. These companies are doing more than just creating an Internet presence; they are automating the whole tenant property management process by eliminating monotonous paper trails and turning to online contract execution companies. Online contract execution companies not only enable these real estate companies to achieve the full potential of their property investment by seamlessly streamlining the entire contract/lease closure process; they offer real estate companies and property managers an easy-to-use, on-demand online environment in which they can negotiate and execute all of their contracts and property management needs electronically.

Specifically, online contract execution companies increase a property management company's ability to serve their customers by enabling them to take applications, run background checks, process application fees and sign lease agreements without requiring their prospective tenants to make a trip back to the apartment office. Even out-of-state prospective tenants can lease the apartment they want. Tenant and lease data can be automatically transferred to their accounting system, eliminating the need for extra data entry. These companies also offer solutions that simplify the tracking and collection of rent, fees, as well as maintenance duties. Not only are the prospective customers happier, but the office staff can focus their efforts on delighting tenants versus pushing paper.

Additionally, many of these services are hosted online and don't require real estate companies or property managers to have an IT staff or complicated internal IT infrastructure. These Internet contract solutions are provided by an array of companies such as ContractPal, which offers a standards-based contract closure solution that allows organizations to move their cumbersome paper-based processes to the Web and maintain 100 percent compliance and legal enforceability. The system provides clear visibility to track status, remove roadblocks, close deals and deliver key data back into enterprise systems, freeing companies to focus on meeting customer needs and growing their business.

Property managers and realtors need to interact with their customers the way their customers want. By using the Internet, they can quickly and cost-effectively handle and produce legal leasing documents that previously took extensive periods of time and money to create. Property management automation is needed; customers are demanding it and those companies who don't give the customers what they want will find themselves without customers.

Curtis is chief marketing officer and vice president of sales and business development of ContractPal.

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