The Real Estate Paper Chase

April 7, 2020

It’s no secret that real estate has always been a very paper-intensive industry. Paper dependency has always been the only option for brokers and sales associates because it’s been the easiest medium by which to communicate information with home buyers and sellers. The ability for a broker or associate to print a document and hand deliver or fax it to the intended party has been the tried-and-true process for decades. And, although not the most economically efficient process, it does get the job done.

That said, there are many issues with depending on a paper process. Issues revolve around sustainability, accountability, productivity, access and security, but by far the main issue is cost.  Businesses are looking to cut costs, and in the small business environment of a real estate office, they are keenly aware of the cost of doing business – right down to the last pencil and paper clip.

Consider these costs:

  • Print technology – While manufacturers of hardware continue to reduce unit costs, it’s still a capital equipment expense that sits on your books.
  • Printing a document – While this cost has decreased over the years, it’s still an operational cost that needs to be addressed.
  • Working with documents – Think of all the ancillary costs connected to working with paper documents: filing materials, storage space, postage, shredding, disposal, and staff time for handling, re-keying data, filing, re-filing, searching and distributing paper documents and invoices. It is estimated that the life of a document can be31 times the original cost.
  • Storage – Whether it’s on premise or off site, storing documents is an expensive proposition.
    • PricewaterhouseCoopersestimates that businesses spend an average of $20 in labor to file every document.
    • According to Gartner Group, the average four-drawer cabinet costs about $25,000 to fill and $2,000 per year to maintain.
  • Print management – Most organizations do not practice print management, so many of the costs associated with print remain invisible, meaning you don’t know your actual total cost of ownership. It is a matter of accountability.  Having a handle on how you print and when you need to print means you are smart in your operations and know how your people work.

Beyond the Cost Management

We have all been more cognizant of our own footprint in the environment – adopting reusable bags for groceries, buying electric or hybrid cars and recycling and composting whatever we can.  Businesses are similarly aligned, with solar panels in their parking lots, lights that flick off when no one is present and reducing waste – specifically paper trash. So another key area that eliminates paper files and paper processes affects is Sustainability.

What is the impact of Paper Usage on Sustainability? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper a year, which equates to four million tons of paper used annually.  Not to mention the cost of buying that paper in the first place!

While we are thinking of all the great cost savings – we would be remiss if we didn’t address all the positive effects of going paperless: we improve our access to information and can do a better job of protecting our information.  And, in the long run, we can provide a better customer experience.  So let’s consider these:

  • Workflow – The paper workflow process is purely manual, which can be both expensive and inefficient. Once digital, you can create electronic workflows with accountability to let the information flow more effectively.
  • Security – While creating a paper document is as easy as hitting the print button, it’s also a high security risk. Paper can be easily lost or stolen. Digital documents are more secure and protected.
  • Safety – Digital storage means a natural disaster is not going to drown or blow away all the important records in your office. The information is digitally safe.
  • Ease of Search – Paper documents can be difficult to find, especially if older, or off site. With digital documents for which you have captured the appropriate fields, you can find relevant documents quickly through a keyword search.
    • The same study by PricewaterhouseCoopersestimates that businesses spend an average of $120 to search for each misfiled document and $220 to recreate every document.

While paper continues to be an option for real estate, many firms are realizing that there are more efficient and cost-effective options. Brokerages are slowly embracing Enterprise Content Management (ECM). The ability to convert paper-based forms into electronic documents which can then be transmitted electronically through email – or through some form of workflow – reduces both time and cost. Another advantage to this technology is the ability to scan older files into the system, making them available on demand.

Sales Associates can build rules to categorize their documents that will enable them to easily file and access their information.  For instance, you can create designated inboxes and storage folders specific to each home seller, buyer, individual listing, neighborhood, county, state, etc.   Access to information is key to a real estate agent’s success, so making the office more efficient is an important element of digital transformation.

Associates benefit in other ways.  Often, they are in the field working, dragging around a bunch of folders with paper-based information. Imagine traveling without stacks of paper.  With electronic information, they can work from anywhere using the power of mobile access.

Worried about wet signatures?  Not to worry.  The e-Sign Act of 2000 makes it legal for Sales Associates to attain electronic signatures through a tablet with a stylus.  So, with a digital repository, you have an audit trail of every action and every note for each file to ensure accuracy of information.

What now?  We know the challenges in real estate offices and we know how you want to work.  We can help you make the digital transformation and improve your productivity.  Reach out to us today to get started.

Mike Cardwell
Director, Healthcare

Mike Cardwell is experienced in developing enterprise wide, business transformation strategies for corporations by targeting inefficiencies in the current process and engineering a solution that focuses on all aspects of the information management process. Mike has taken his 20+ years of experience in Global, consultative sales of Enterprise Content Management, Business Intelligence, Business Process Management, and Managed IT Services and has applied it to developing a strategic approach to designing and implementing comprehensive information management solutions for our customers.