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Internet Phone: Stay in Touch for Less

Linda Loomis
Linda Loomis was in the middle of a tax-free Section 1031 exchange deal when she traveled to Panama on business. She needed to stay in touch with the parties to the transaction, but cringed at the thought of having to pay the hotels’ fees for international calls, which were several dollars per minute. So she used Skype Call, an international calling product from Skype that allows Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Also known as Internet telephony, VoIP is simply the routing of voice conversations over the Internet or through any other Internet protocol-based network. Skype is a peer-to-peer software (i.e., it makes a private, secure network in which subscribers may communicate with each other). The system is compatible with most computers.

With Skype’s free software installed on her laptop, Loomis simply connected to the high-speed broadband connection in her hotel room, plugged in her headset and made her calls back to the States—for just 2.3 cents per minute using the Skype Call plan for $2.99 per month. The technology allowed her to consummate her transaction while avoiding high hotel fees for international dialing.
 
Loomis, a sales associate with Prudential Florida WCI Realty in Naples, doesn’t consider herself “high tech,” but she makes use of a host of technology tools that allow her to run her business more efficiently. One of those tools, Skype, allows her to stay in touch with customers and clients during her frequent visits to Central America.

Here are some of the ways you can use the Skype VoIP program:

1. Make Affordable Calls
Through her use of Skype to both make and receive telephone calls over the Internet, Loomis is holding down not only her costs for telephone service but also those of her clients and customers. Since Loomis has a practice that includes a large number of international clients, her Skype service is invaluable.

Skype charges $2.99 per month for unlimited calls to anyone, on any phone, within the United States and Canada. Calls between Skype users are free. A person who doesn’t have Skype can usually download it for free at www.skype.com (users in some countries pay a fee).

For calls to clients in other parts of the world, Loomis uses Skype Call. She can buy Skype Credit to pay low per-minute rates, which are deducted as she makes calls. The service is ideal for people who regularly use the service to place calls to other countries besides Canada. However, those who use it infrequently might not find it worthwhile. After 180 days of nonuse, any unused balance (i.e., credit) expires.

2. Receive Calls
Skype Call’s sister product, Skype Online Number , allows Loomis’ clients and customers to contact her anywhere in the world—for the price of a local call to her Florida office. So, if she’s in Panama, for example, her clients and customers (or anyone else for that matter) can simply dial her Online Number in Florida and they will be connected to her Skype service. (Callers are only paying whatever their phone company charges them for making a phone call to Florida.) If someone calls from another country, international rates (usually 2.3 cents per minute) are incurred.

Skype Online Number also comes with a free Skype Voicemail subscription. If a client or customer needs to speak with Loomis but she’s already on a call (or she’s not online), they can leave her a voicemail message that she can listen to at her convenience.

3. Live Video Conferencing
Using a Web cam (camera), Skype and an Internet connection, users such as Loomis can talk with and see clients and customers wherever they may be—provided they also have a computer, Web cam, microphone, broadband Internet connection and VoIP. (Web cams are relatively inexpensive—ranging from $29.95 to $149 and up.)

4. Virtually Show Properties
Loomis specializes in waterfront properties, golf communities, luxury homes, preconstruction and relocations. When customers can’t make the trip to see a property in person, Loomis must be their eyes and ears. Using a Web cam and Skype, she can personally share photos (or artist renderings for preconstruction sites) with the buyer so that he or she gets an accurate idea of what the property offers. 

This is also ideal in situations where documents are too large to fax or it would take days (if not weeks) to mail.

Thanks to the Internet—and to VoIP phone service—Loomis runs her business more efficiently and stays in touch with her clients and customers for just pennies a call. “My clients receive personalized, immediate contact, which is so important,” she says. “I’m constantly updating my knowledge about technology so I can better utilize all the new things that technology can do.”

This column, designed to offer exam-ples of how salespeople and brokers are using technology in their offices, won first place in the 2011 Best Department category from the Florida Magazine Association. The column is for general information only. Opinions expressed here don’t necessarily reflect an endorsement of the views by Florida Realtor® magazine or the Florida Realtors.

Loomis’ Tools
Cell Phone/PDA: Alltel Pocket PC
Copier/Fax/Printer/Scanner: HP Photosmart 2410xi  
Desktop: HP Pavilion
Digital Camera: Fuji FinePix 2800
Desktop: HP Pavilion
Software: ArcSoft PhotoImpression, Microsoft Office, Top Producer, VisualTour

Voice over internet protocol services

  1. Google Talk—Free anywhere in the world, but limited to other Google Talk users only, (650) 253-0000; www.google.com
  2. QuickBooks, Intuit, Inc.—$99.95 to $399.95, (888) 859-4093; www.intuit.com
  3. SkypeOut, MYOB U.S., Inc.—$29.95 per year for unlimited calling within the United States and Canada; international calls for as low as 2.1 cents per minute; www.skype.com
  4. Vonage—$24.99 per month for Vonage’s Residential Premium Unlimited Plan, which includes unlimited local and long distance calls anywhere in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and select European countries, 866-243-4357; www.vonage.com