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Switching to a Paperless Office/Users/adamp/Desktop/Oct_Mag_pics/Paperless

Are you sick of the paper jungle? Consider a paperless office. Here’s how to get started.

Look, Mom, no manila folders! Are you running out of space for file cabinets, swimming in paper chaos or struggling to read a fax of a fax of a fax? Maybe it’s time to go paperless.
The paperless real estate office enjoys many advantages over its hard-copy predecessor. Instead of hunting through paper files to find that elusive document you can simply do a search on your computer to find it. A server storing your files takes up far less space than bulky file cabinets. And if a customer needs information or a document, you can immediately send it via e-mail rather than hunting it down and trying to coordinate the fax process.
This doesn’t have to be an overwhelming procedure. You can start today with any new buyers or listings you receive.

Here are some tips for digging out of the paper jungle:

Start with Your Electronic Files
On your computer desktop, add two new folders and name them 2007 Listings and 2007 Sales. Each time you get a new listing or buyer, create a subfolder within the appropriate folder. For listings, name the subfolder for the address—123 Oak Street, for example. For buyers, use their names—for instance, Smith,
Jim & Sue.

From this point on, keep all documents, pictures and contracts with any addenda in their respective subfolders.

Yes, some of you are saying, “I have this 32-page contract and addenda in paper form in my hand. How do I get it in the computer?” If you’re not familiar with scanning, it’s time to get familiar.

Find the Right Scanner
First, you need the proper hardware. I prefer Fujitsu’s ScanSnap s510. I never thought I would have another dedicated scanner taking up space in my office since the multifunction printers graced our presence years ago, but this little baby changes everything. It scans 18 pages per minute, both sides, directly to a PDF file, and it includes Adobe Acrobat Standard, which would cost $300 if I had to buy it on my own. The ScanSnap costs about $400 ($350 with the $50 rebate they’re currently offering). It closes up to a size smaller than a shoebox, and it scans the smallest of receipts for Quicken and even business cards. 

To use the ScanSnap, I take the document in its paper form and place it in the machine’s feed (making sure to remove staples and/or paper clips). I then hit the “Start Scan” button, and moments later the “Save As” window pops up on the computer screen, asking where on my hard drive I would like to place my newly digitized document. I save the document as a PDF file to the appropriate folder. If your office still likes to receive a paper copy, then you know what to do with the paper after you scan it. If your office doesn’t need the paper copy, shred it after double-checking to assure that you scanned it correctly.

Get an e-Fax Subscription
Next, look at getting an e-fax subscription, with a site like www.Efax.com, www.MyFax.com or www.RingCentral.com, to name a few. They work like this: You pay them a fee either monthly (as low as $7.95) or yearly, and in exchange, they give you a local or toll-free phone number that you give out as your fax number. You fax through your computer and upload documents to the service’s Web site.

When someone sends you a fax, you receive an e-mail message with a PDF file attachment. The PDF attachment can be viewed, saved to your hard drive and printed. It’s a great way to save paper, you never have to print junk faxes and the quality of digital fax reproduction is usually much greater than that of standard faxes, especially if you need to forward the fax, which you do via e-mail.

The next recipient will receive it with no reduction in quality—unlike receiving a fax that has been refaxed the standard way. Even better, this process is transparent to the sender (he or she doesn’t realize that they are actually e-mailing you a PDF document), who doesn’t do anything different when sending you a fax.

Back It Up
Now that you have all these important documents digitized and on your computer’s hard drive, it’s even more critical that you back up your data. [For more information on backups, see Florida Realtor®, May 2007, “Back Up Data Now or Suffer Later,” page 42.]

If you don’t have an internal DVD burner on your computer, get an external DVD burner that plugs directly into a USB port. Burn a new DVD of the important files on your computer at least once a week.

With these few simple processes, I’ve freed myself from the weight of all that paper that was cluttering my work life. Try it for yourself, and you’ll quickly find out why those of us in the know go paperless. 


Mark Porter (www.markporter.net) is a broker-associate with Keller Williams Realty in Texas and a senior CRS instructor for the Council of Residential Specialists.