From his time at Apple Inc. in 1991 to working for Motorola and Microsoft Corp. in the information technology department, Jonathan Boatwright, co-owner of Realty Austin, which just opened a new Lakeway office, has always been at the forefront of technology.
"I got exposure to a lot of different aspects of technology," Boatwright said.
In 2000, Boatwright's wife, Yvette, started working in the real estate market, and he would spend his free time helping her, he said.
"I would spend some time helping her with her marketing, her database and websites," Boatwright said.
The Boatwrights figured out the real estate website model in 2004, creating a site that generated inquiries of people looking at specific properties, he said.
"It started generating leads, which is huge in our business," Boatwright said. "It really unraveled the mystery of how to create real estate leads before most people in real estate had figured it out; it was very new."
With the success of the real estate website, Boatwright left Microsoft in 2004 to help Yvette, who got her broker's license, build a real estate company.
The success of the site caught the notice of Realtors looking for a way to generate leads.
"We started, slowly but surely, attracting people who wanted access to leads," Boatwright said. "What we were able to do with that was evolve, really a whole company platform where the company offers, other than just leads, a database system for our Realtors to keep track of all their clients."
The use of Salesforce, an application for agents to keep track of clients, has allowed Realty Austin to flourish in the market.
"In real estate, the most important thing for any agent to have longevity in the business is to keep track of everyone they know," Boatwright said.
The use of Salesforce in Realty Austin helps agents manage those contacts and automate all of the marketing that goes along with real estate, he said.
"[Contact] makes such an impact on our agents business that whether they come to us for leads or not, they are getting this other side of getting more referrals or more business from people they already know. Between the two aspects of that, it really helps them take off," Boatwright said. "The first year [an agent] is here, they plug in and will see about a 50 percent increase in sales."
The dramatic increases in sales are made possible by embracing the platform, he said. A number of other agents have noticed these increases and have embraced this platform as Realty Austin has grown from just Jonathan and Yvette in 2004 to 135 agents and 16 support staff today.
Collaboration among agents
Technology not only generates leads and manages contacts for agents at Realty Austin, but it also allows them to converse in real time, collaborating in a virtual office setting.
"When [people] use our site, it helps us collaborate more effectively," Boatwright said. "Our agents are able to see which homes they have saved as favorites and see what homes they are interested in so they can help guide their buyers towards the right areas and really help educate them. It helps make the home buying process much smoother."
Between showing houses and meeting new clients, agents are constantly on the go, but technology has allowed them to stay in touch with mobile apps and technology.
"Salesforce is a good mobile app," Boatwright said. "It allows our agents to see what our clients are doing while they are out and about and stay connected, stay available."
There is also an feature called Salesforce chatter, which enables agents to communicate no matter their location.
"It is kind of like our own internal Twitter, except it's called chatter," Boatwright said. "[Agents] can share ideas, ask questions, share new listings and really collaborate as a team no matter where they are."
Between the primary offices, there are only 23 desks that can be shared among 135 agents, so mobility is an important factor, he said.
Technology has also allowed Realty Austin to make the home buying process paperless, at least until closing, through the use of iPads.
"We are big believers in technology," Boatwright said. "The idea of being able to hand your client an iPad and tell them these are the listings we are going to see today, and this is the order, and for the client to be able to make notes on the iPad, it's completely different than the way we used to do things with sheets of paper."
Agents can draft contracts, have clients sign the contract, submit the contract to the other party and even make initial changes to the contract all on the iPad.
There is still a lot more this Austin-based business wants to accomplish in the future.
"We would like to be the No. 1 real estate company in Austin," Boatwright said. "We have a ways to go."