Property musings on Facebook - 19 September

by Alistair Helm in

Here are the articles posted on Facebook over the past week - short, spontaneous insights and observations which I felt needed immediate discussion and didn't warrant long-form articles written.


For property buyers Google remains invaluable

Leveraging technology to be a smarter property investor

by Alistair Helm in

Technology iStock_000003518333Small.jpg.png

I have often heard it said, that smart property investing is all in the buying. That makes sense, but surely it is as important to manage an investment property smartly as it is to make a smart purchasing decision.

Needless to say technology can play an important part in acquiring and managing a property and I have been checking out some of the latest tools and apps that I think are vital for smart property investors.

Whether you have 2 or 20 investment properties it is critical to keep track of them in regard to rents, maintenance, tenant details and inspections. I’ve a found a single tool that matches this task list and the beauty is that it is a kiwi innovation, built right here in Wellington and providing services globally with clients in the UK, Australia and the US.

PocketRent is an online tool that helps you manage all those tasks as well as improving communication between you and your tenants. From a finance perspective it is integrated into the Xero accounting solution, another great kiwi company taking on the world in accounting software and beating the best in the game. I have checked out a number of online solutions for property management and have to say PocketRent is the smartest.

The proof of any good online service these days is the promise of satisfaction from a ‘try-before-you-buy’ option, this is how PocketRent works, you can load up a single property for free and try it out, pricing then is scaled to the number of properties you own.

If you prefer to unbundle the tasks of property management either because you have you own record management systems or you just like to do things that way, an excellent app for managing property inspections is Happy Inspector. This app for the iPad provides a great way to record property conditions and prompts you to tasks during the process. It naturally captures and integrates photos seamlessly and synchs the data to your home computer or any computer for that matter, as well as providing printed reports and forms to coordinate with contractors and repairers as well as agents.

If you happen to manage some furnished properties it is worth looking at the My Inventory Manager app on the ITunes app store. This app allows you keep a track of all inventory in a property with serial numbers and values.

I started off by stating that managing an investment property was as critical as buying smartly. Naturally any review of technology for the property investor could not be complete without the importance of websites and apps for searching property on the market. Naturally when it comes to finding property for sale you cannot go past Trade Me Property and For finding tenants Trade Me Property is the answer.

For more detailed information on property values and sales QV and Zoodle provide great insight and valuable data as paid for reports. If you happen to be in Wellington then check out Watch My Street - you have the benefit of this free site for local authority property info. Hopefully in time they will be able to provide this service for all of NZ.

Whilst I have outlined a number of valuable fit-for-purpose apps to assist the process of property management and purchase I thought it would be helpful to also share some more generic recommendations in regard to technology.

One of the most fundamental, and one that is all too sadly overlooked until you become the victim of it, is lost files. As with family images; property data and historical reports on properties are valuable to you. Ask yourself, what would happen if your computer hard drive were to crash, if your laptop were lost or stolen? – Where is your data back up?

There is a simple 3.2.1 rule to remember for data storage.  Three copies of everything, at least 2 mediums (one in the cloud and one on a physical disk) and at least one copy off-site. I use a great service called Dropbox, which provides a fully synchronized copy of all my files, I run it on 2 computers – one at home, the other at the office. In this way I have a copy in the cloud and 2 copies on hard drives with two different physical locations. Dropbox also offers a great service for version control so if I accidently delete a file or do something dumb to a spreadsheet I can retrieve a copy of a prior version, very helpful.

Another tip I would share regards passwords. I like most people, are hopeless at remembering passwords and tend to use the same password for many accounts. This is not smart. The vulnerability though is never where you think it is. It is unlikely that your email and password will be hacked from a trusted site or critical site. It will be a weaker site where you use the same email /password combination – malicious access to these type of sites is sadly more common and once collected these email / password combinations can open up the more critical sites. My trick, which I have used for a number of years, is that on all non-critical sites where I don’t provide important personal information or credit card info, I simply use the site name as the password, that way it is easy to remember.

A better and safer solution to this problem nowadays is using a service like LastPass or 1Password. These services use two-factor authentication to create an encrypted password for each site that your computer safety and securely stores. These are very secure services and ensure you only need to remember a single access password, which is secure.

A final thought in regard to technology and the property management relates to social media and your role as a landlord. If you manage your own properties, you really should be aware of the impact the democratic web could have on your reputation and through that the prospects for future tenants. Just as TripAdvisor has had an effect on hotels and their reputation, the web and its multiplicity of users could be sharing experiences about you as a landlord, the properties you own and your tenants grumbles and complaints.

You cannot stop people writing online and sharing what they want. What you can be, is alert to any such comments. Something as simple as setting up a Google Alert based on the address of each of your properties could be an easy and simple way to track if every anyone makes any comments. Google Alerts are free and can be scheduled to send you an email on whatever frequency suits.

If you become the victim of such negative feedback, to be forewarned is vital. As to action, my advice would be; be cautious about being drawn in. If the comment is from an existing tenant I would recommend face-to-face communication rather than online. If the negative comment comes from a prior tenant and shows signs of escalating then it can be valuable at some stage to add your own comment. Remember it is important to be polite, be calm, respectful and factual – becoming angry and inflamed only through fuel on the fire!

Technology is a core part of our lives, our business and our communications, my advice is use it where it can make life easier, you don’t need to be an early adopter, just don’t be a laggard!

This article is also published in the April edition of NZ Property Investor Magazine

Tablet devices are the future when shopping for a home

by Alistair Helm in ,

New Apple iPad mini

New Apple iPad mini

The most important medium for property buyers looking for their next home will increasingly be the tablet device. Not exclusively, but more than likely the most importantly. That is my considered opinion after some useful reflection from the presentation by the Google team at the Digital real estate conference held in Melbourne last week hosted by the Real Estate Institute of Victoria and

Data is always pivotal when it comes to Google – they are a data company. Their presenters Lucien Schneller and Pedro Queiroz shared some key qualitative and quantitative data on the move to mobile for real estate search.

Let’s start with the quantitative. The chart below shows real estate search as tracked by Google benchmarked against other key categorized for both general mobile usage and specifically tablet usage.

In Australia 12% of all real estate searches on Google are undertaken on a tablet device – higher as a proportion of searches than for these other main powerhouse search categories of cars, jobs and dating. Given the current installed base of 40% of households having a tablet device at present, this level of representation of searching on a tablet device will only continue to grow.

So to the qualitative research. The primary factor in device usage is context. Where a user is, and what a user is doing, drive the device of choice. This is why we don’t try and use a laptop in the car; and why a smartphone is a great device for checking messages whilst your partner goes to the bathroom whilst out for dinner!

The tablet is universally becoming the device for the couch and the conference room, and the airplane and the waiting room and the café etc etc.

Coupled with context the understanding put forward by Google into the type of usage undertaken on each device – the PC, the smartphone and the tablet speaks to how users define each device.

The smartphone

This device is seen as a fast, easy-access device. It allows for action-based activity here and now. It is always with me, and is my central communication device – communication in all its forms of email, voice, text and social.

The PC

This device in its near-ubiquitous form of the laptop is clearly now defined as a “work” device. I undertake work on it. I create work documents and I sit down in a work-like mentality to use it. It is a serious device.

The tablet

This device is actually defined as a happy device. It is an easy-to-use device which allows me to casually consume material. I use it when I am in a relaxed state of mind. It is less about defining and actioning a task and more about exploring and consuming.

This for me personally, is a critical reason why tablets are not incorporating mobile phone capability in the traditional sense. In the sense that phones are interruption devices. That is different to the role of a tablet when used for Skype chats or hangouts, those are actioned activities for which the tablet is well suited.

So when it comes to real estate and the task of browsing, searching, sorting, collecting, examining, exploring and investigating all about properties; the tablet is the device of choice. You have the gesture based experience which is akin to the time-honoured browsing of a magazine, you are more likely to undertake real estate searching on the couch. It is in the main a solitary event, punctuated by moments of sharing for which tablets are great.

So when it comes to crystal ball gazing the future of real estate search in a digital future the tablet is the device of choice for which real estate portals should focus. The smartphone will have a key role as the complementary tool to take all that collected information and shortlist of properties in your pocket, but the key engagement and loyalty building platform is going to be the tablet.