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Paper Isn’t “Green”

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Green, I am (now)

I’ve not put a lot of stock into being “Green” until this year. I felt it was a political issue that was being exploited just to have one more thing to disagree about. You know what? I still think it is, but being good stewards of the earth we’ve been given just makes sense. I think we can make ourselves crazy with trying to be over-zealous with it. That doesn’t excuse some good common-sense actions to help keep our “home” clean and healthy.

“Paperless Society”

One thing I’ve decided that the real estate industry can do much better is stop using so much paper. It’s ridiculous the amount of paper that is sitting on my desk… Therefore, I’ve created a list of things I think that we can do better:

1. Stop printing out e-mails, just because you don’t know how to save them in sub-directory or make a reminder to use it later.

2. Stop putting 100 flyers in flyer boxes, when you can refer the potential buyer to a URL (on your sign) of a free website just for your listing.

3. Stop putting flyers in flyer-boxes for homes at the end of a remote dirt road where no one is going to drive by.

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4. Associations can stop sending magazines, newsletters and postcards to cater to agents who still thinks it’s 1979. Those who are truly interested in the information will read the e-mail, blog or webpage.

5. Brokers can stop putting memos in the agent’s box or copying e-mails or on-line articles because they don’t know how to forward them. If the agent is too lazy to go where the information is, or read the Broker’s e-mail – kick ’em to the curb.

6. To all the junk mailers: You can stop sending junk to me that goes STRAIGHT to the recycle bin. (The junkmail I get alone, will save an entire forest, if they’d stop sending it)

7. RE instructors can stop printing out countless handouts and student manuals for classes. Put the hand-outs on your webpage and let agents know where the reference material is, if they want it. Only about 10% of adult students will refer back to materials after the training.

8. Stop printing out 20 homebooks for homes. Leave CD’s in the home. If your homebooks are really good, the buyer agent is likely to take the materials to mimic your ideas. Make an on-line homebook and leave a tent card with the URL to your Real Estate Show, survey’s etc…. If the buyer is really interested in the property, they’ll go to the webpage.

9. Minimize relocation books. I know that there is value in giving consumers information they can hold in their hands, but a 300 page relocation guide is overwhelming and useless. Create a minimal packet, with reference to the relo page on your website / blog.

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10. Consider using Digital Signatures for your clients, instead of printing out countless documents just to fax them.

11. Don’t print out PDFs and other documents because it’s “easier to read” when you know that you’ll discard it immediately after reading.

12. Buy printers capable of double sided printing… and uuussseeee it.

13. E-mail contracts back and forth during ratification and only print out pages with changes to turn in.

14. Stop sending out calendars and other type products to clients who put your calendar on their fridge, but then hire their son-in-law to list their home because he’s new to the business and needs a start.

15. Stop littering my subdivision with non-compelling flyers that you made on a 1998 version of Publisher, with bad clip-art.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re bent on using all the paper flyers and such, now what works! Don’t just throw stuff out there that is going to cost you time and money and not work.

If you’re going to ignore all these thoughts (you’re not alone) please have paper recycling boxes in your homes and offices, that you use and turn into recycling companies for your area.

Got more ideas? Please share ’em in your comments!

Written By

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is



  1. Matt Thomson

    July 19, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Great thoughts…I’m going to print this out and share it with our whole office.
    Seriously, with the digital signatures, is that recognized as legal and binding in a real estate contract? If so, what’s the easiest way to get that done? Is there a software for it?

  2. Glenn fm Naples

    July 19, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Good points Matt. At the local board at a committee meeting we were discussing the use of e-mails for newsletters and eliminating the monthly printed magazine. I can not say publicly the cost of printing the monthly magazine but a significant percentage of our annual dues goes to the publication. There were two schools of thoughts about the elimination – 1) timely news and articles and 2) marketing. The timely news and articles can be handled via the email newsletter and the magazine can be a marketing item – but printed either quarterly or annually. It is still being explored by the staff for recommendations.

    Relocation guides can be converted to PDF documents with today’s scanning printers.

    Like Matt – I am researching the use of digital signatures to reduce the amount of paper.

  3. Matthew Rathbun

    July 19, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Matt / Glenn:

    My attorney has advised me that electronic signatures area legally binding. Wikipedia has this explaination:

    Obviously you need to confirm this with your Broker and your own corporate counsel / attorney. I use and have really enjoyed it’s use.

    As far as timely information. Blogs, e-mail and webpages give you “day one” notification, whereas a small percentage of members even read those items and often times it’s month af they receive it. It usually goes out monthly or every six months. IMHO the industry changes too quickly in some regards to wait for two months for someone to read about it.

    Our state real estate board had to do a last minute change to match a disclosure statuate on a legally requried disclosure document. The day they voted it in, the new form had to be used. That can’t wait two months to let everyone know…

  4. Ken Smith

    July 19, 2008 at 10:45 am

    #14 is funny. I once listed a home that had magnets from 8 different Realtors on the fridge. Naturally after signing all the papers I had to ask why she didn’t use any of those agents. She said that the thought actually never crossed her mind. The seller was looking for someone who knew the neighborhood and the agents never sent her anything that made her feel that they knew her neighborhood. She did also mention that the calendars helped her keep her grandkids art on the fridge so that was nice.

  5. Brian Block

    July 19, 2008 at 11:05 am


    There is so much wasted paper in this industry, it’s not even funny. You’ve made some great suggestions for reducing waste. Anything I print out internally for my use only is printed on both sides and I’ve got a big stack of recycled paper (with printouts on one side) for use in my printer.

    I’ve seen some enormously wasteful flyers, brochures and homebooks at some of the homes I’ve visited recently, including a 25 page, single sided paper brochure about a condo with basically 15 pages of marketing materials about the agent!

  6. Dan Connolly

    July 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I have been using a Tablet PC for the last couple of years. Have people sign the screen and email contracts to all parties. So far nobody has even blinked, I think the electronic signatures at the store checkouts have conditioned everyone that it is safe and normal business. I still print the final accepted contract in case somehow the electronic copy disappears, but all of the back and forth waste is gone.

    One of the biggest things we can do to turn the tide is recycling. Cereal boxes, cardboard of all sorts, as well as the sea of paper we generate can all be recycled, I think a lot of people do plastic and aluminum but forget about cardboard. It is amazing how much cardboard waste we generate every couple of weeks!

  7. Bill Lublin

    July 19, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Matt :
    How about scanning documents and emailing them to me instead of faxing? I would even rather thave email spam then fax spam. –
    You’re on the money – “Baby steps, Bob, Baby Steps!”

  8. Matthew Rathbun

    July 19, 2008 at 1:24 pm


    I am all about e-mailing. I use a system called It’s like e-fax, only cheaper and better. Regardless, If I have docs, I fax them to myself which creates a PDF and then I have them in PDF in my e-mail. This is how I get them to the office, appraise, lender, settlement attorney, other agent, my client etc…. Forwarded all at once while using BCC.

    Our office, and many others have copier machines that allow you to scan them to your e-mail account. Great tools!

  9. Matt Wilkins

    July 19, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    One of my firms’ strongest goals is to become as paperless as possible. However, I find teh larget obstacle is working with other parties who “have not seen the light”. Some of the things I use to reduce paper and up efficiency are:

    Tablet PC
    ZipForm eSign (which is powered by DocuSign)
    RELAY (archives and distributes all transacion documents nad files)
    Adobe Acrobat 8 (so I can convert any file into a PDF directly instead of printing and rescanning back into the computer).

    Like Brian and Matthew, I also double side and use scrap paper for internal documents when possible

  10. Michelle Berry

    July 19, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Great discussion…

    CutePDF is a free PDF converter that installs just like a printer on your computer. I use it more than my real printer, and the client file on my desktop is usually more accurate and up to date than my hard file. My office just rolled out digital inter-office forms so we can now email our paperwork in.

    Google Calendar lets you set up as many sub-calendars as you need, so I set one up for each of my clients, “share” it with them, send them the link, and ask them to bookmark it. Get google apps for your website and each client can have a dedicated email@yourdomainname, with calendar and intranet site…. I think this is the one thing I hear most about from my clients….I encourage them to add their busy/free time, but most importantly they understand all the deadlines much more clearly.

    Also, I create and leave 6 digital homebooks in my listings; they are a hit with my sellers who I’ve found like to take them places to share with their co-workers, friends, and family. Never had a seller lug the printed home book in a binder around.

    I used to print off or copy a complete set of paperwork that my client signed, and present at closing in a nifty little folder, but last year I switched to pdf’s on a disc, with my branding all over it, of course.

    Now I’m off to check out some of all your suggestions!

  11. Matthew Rathbun

    July 19, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Hey Michelle,

    Those are great suggestions and ideas! Another good trick for the sellers, is to create a good presence for your listing on a webpage. Than take about 10 of your biz cards; print out labels with a pic of the listing, MLS #, URL and invite for the buyer or Seller’s friend to come visit the URL for more. Then give the cards with the labels on the back to your Sellers to “help” market their homes and of course, pass our yout business card.

    See all this sharing? This is why I love all the commenters at AG! Thanks for stopping in Michelle!

  12. Eric Blackwell

    July 20, 2008 at 4:26 am


    Exactly– There is a product called Design Center that has property cards that utilize that concept with a foldover business card.

    Another product of theirs is a “slideshow tour:” (virtual tour with tons of pics- no periscope and it has branding). Send the seller an email with a link to the virtual tour, saying : Wanted to show you one of the ways I am marketing your home…if you would, please forward it to your friends and family to let them know your home is on the market…

    Gets the referral part of your game cranking before the first clients house even sells. We have been doing that for about 3 years now

  13. Will

    July 20, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration… it usually takes a few pushes to get the ball rolling but I will be taking up many of your suggestions to go paperless. Already have with the TabletPC, VREO software (for secure signing), and a fax? I only have to use one of those when the other side just isn’t quite up to snuff with scanning and emailing. Next is listing sheets and mailouts. I’ll be contacting my clients to confirm their up to date email and getting permission to go that route instead of paper (bet I find out who my most loyal past clients are in the process).

  14. Kevin Boer

    July 20, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Docusign has been a lifesaver for me for three plus years. Saves paper, time, and the environment. It’s sort of like cell phones — when they first came out, they were kind of cool, but it wasn’t clear why anybody would actually want to use one — I mean, what’s wrong with old fashioned land lines anyways? Now we can’t imagine living without cell phones. Same thing will happen with electronic signatures…eventually. Brad Inman jokes that we’re likely to achieve peace in the Middle East first.

  15. Melina Tomson

    July 20, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I use a tablet PC and have never had a client think twice about signing it for me. Either they trust you or they don’t.

    I use Settlement Room instead of Relay, but same concept. Adobe Acrobat 8 is amazing and worth the cost personally. You can also, with one click convert all of your saved emails into a .pdf. After the transaction, I create transaction disc for my clients with all the docs and a .pdf with all of the emails on it.

    Vreo is another digital sign company like DocUSign.

  16. Paula Henry

    July 20, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Lots of excellent ideas here. I am big on email – convert everything to .pdf and send. Last week my desktop went to the HP hospital; my Vista laptop (piece of junk) is not compatible with my scansnap – I was lost.

    Sometimes – I think I need a technology assistant to keep up with everything, though.

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