Technology Solutions

Face Time

Videoconferencing personalizes long-distance business relationships.

Web-based videoconferencing can help brokers build stronger and more-personal client relationships. Videoconferencing is similar to telephone conference calls except all parties can see each other via Web cameras and have the option to use voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP. For tech-savvy commercial real estate professionals as well as novices, videoconferencing is a cost-effective way to share visual information with long-distance clients or those who can’t meet face to face.

Implementing the Tool

Once expensive, Web-based videoconferencing equipment now costs as little as $130. Ongoing costs average about $20 per use. Web-based programs such as Microsoft Live Meeting, WebEx, and Adobe Connect all offer licensing, subscription, and pay-as-you-go options. Costs can range from 33 cents to 37 cents per minute, or with some programs, $39 per month for unlimited use.

Videoconferencing is applicable to a number of day-to-day business and educational situations. For instance, a company hosting educational sessions for local real estate professionals or employees can broadcast courses online via a PowerPoint presentation to those unable to attend in person. Commercial real estate professionals can use Web-based videoconferencing to show properties or land to prospective long-distance clients.

For example, Duemelands Commercial in Bismarck, N.D., showed a for-lease property to a developer via a videoconference, which helped the deal move forward. Duemelands Commercial also discussed the prospective listing and management of a 350,000-square-foot retail center with the owner via a videoconference to familiarize itself with the property. Videoconferencing helped build a successful relationship and agreement between the groups. In another example, Duemelands Commercial used videoconferencing to show a client aerial images of a recently purchased property because the client was unable to visit the site. As a result of the Web-based videoconferencing, the company was able to keep the client informed about the property, which would have been difficult without using the technology.

The Requirements

Before jumping into videoconferencing, commercial real estate professionals must consider several requirements. Many brokers already may have the basic equipment, but if not, it’s helpful to make a checklist of necessary materials. Internet Connections. DSL, cable, satellite, and Wi-Fi and other wireless connections all can be used for videoconferencing. In addition, fiber optics, a relatively new technology also known as fiber to the node, is expected to become more popular in metropolitan areas later this year. Costs for these connections range from as low as $15 for wireless connections to nearly $1,000 for fiber-optic connections.

Bandwidth Speed. The speed of the Internet connection should be at least 256 kilobytes per second to support videoconferencing. Wireless connections usually run at about 125 KB per second, DSL averages 1.5 megabytes per second, cable averages 1.5 MB to 11 MB per second, T1 connections run at 1.5 MB per second, and fiber optics transfer 22 MB to 50 MB per second. Picture-frame speeds often vary between seven frames and 30 frames per second, with 10 frames to 15 frames per second being the most common. Videoconferencing cameras usually take about 125 KB per second of bandwidth. Cameras use bandwidth quickly, so selecting a connection with ample bandwidth is recommended.

Camera Considerations. The Logitech Ultra camera, which costs about $127, works well for videoconferencing since it adjusts for light, auto focuses, and automatically detects movement. The camera attaches to the top of a computer monitor and its small size makes it good for travel. Logitech also makes a desk-stand orbit camera that is easy to position.For laptop users, the Microsoft NX-6000 is very small and portable. It costs about $70. Brokers should check their current laptops since many versions have a camera included.

Audio Connections. The audio portion of videoconferencing can be substituted using a direct-dial phone, which is the easiest method and usually uses about 88 KB of bandwidth per second. Some companies recommend Internet message chat systems, but direct-dial phone connections work well.

Program Options. To enable Web-based videoconferencing, commercial real estate professionals can use Macintosh, PC, or Linux operating systems with Internet Explorer 6.0 or a comparable browser. Once the correct operating system is in place, Web-based programs such as Live Meeting, WebEx, Adobe Connect, and GoTo Meeting are easily accessible online. None of the programs require downloading anything to the hard drive.

All of the programs have their own idiosyncrasies. For example, on the WebEx program, only one camera may be on at a time. Some brokers prefer to see all participants, giving them the opportunity to view who is in attendance and their facial expressions.

Adobe Connect allows brokers to further their brand by specifying a URL address, such as their company name. The program grants up to 15 users access using a multipoint system. The host is the presenter and controller of the program. Participants select the “guest” button to link in and the host sends e-mails to invite participants.Quick loading is one advantage of this program.

Though Web-based videoconferencing requires many components, it can help commercial real estate professionals save money and time and improve service to clients. While there are some upfront and operating costs, they are outweighed by the savings in time and travel costs. Videoconferencing also brings brokers closer to prospective clients who are difficult to reach or too time-crunched to travel. And since developing personal relationships with clients is an important aspect of the industry, going the extra mile to instantly show clients or colleagues what is available in the market may give brokers a strong advantage over the competition.

Skip Duemeland, CCIM

Skip Duemeland, CCIM, is chief executive officer of Duemelands Commercial in Bismarck, N.D. Contact him at (701) 221-2222 or [email protected]

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