Is it possible to make forms sexy? Or easy to use? Or thoroughly modern? Here’s a look inside zipLogix’s makeover of zipForms … and there’s a lot to like.
Let’s agree on this: real estate forms are complicated. Really, seriously complicated. They’re not the same from state to state, they change with infuriating and minute frequency, they’re arcane legal documents, you can’t do business without them, and if you use the wrong forms or fill them out incorrectly, you’re toast.
So it’s not without a little trepidation that I am wading into forms territory with this review of zipLogix zipForm Plus®. Full disclosure here as well: I currently consult with NuOffer, which is a mobile-only application that enables you to write an offer using forms in about five minutes on an iPad. I help NuOffer with with messaging, positioning and marketing. I’m telling you this because NuOffer could be construed to be a competitor of zipLogix, though for the moment NuOffer only has access to forms in Texas.
zipForm Plus • by zipLogix • pricing varies by your association
With that said, I want to say that this is not a screed about why forms are hard to get, or who has access to them or why things are the way they are. This is a post about the mechanics, design and usability of zipForm Plus, which zipLogix introduced in October, 2013 after a beta period which began in May of last year.
Since about 670,000 agents use some form of zipLogix form-filling software every day, and 800,000 agents have access to it, it’s one of the standards in real estate. For many agents, zipLogix products are a free or low-cost member benefit from their associations.
Yet zipLogix doesn’t have a complete lock on the market. Instanet Solutions says that 400,000 agents use their form-filling software, Instanet Forms®, and there are some other smaller competitors too, such as Form Simplicity.
Regardless of which forms software you use, you’re most definitely locked in to using your association or MLS forms. So if you’re one of the 800,000 agents in an association or MLS that has partnered with zipLogix, this product update has serious ramifications for you. The good news is that many of those effects might just be very positive for you and your business.
zipForm Plus is a complete overhaul of zipForm 6 Pro®, which was introduced in 2009.
It’s no secret that zipForm 6 Pro was incompatible with a Java plugin, which rendered it all but unusable with certain browsers and tablets until the company rolled out a patch in early 2013.
That’s why it went back to the drawing board and completely rebuilt the platform in HTML5 so that it that eliminates Java altogether. While zipLogix was at it, they redesigned the user interface and added a number of new features that are intended to make the application easier to use.
For the moment, existing users of zipForm 6 Pro can choose whether to upgrade to zipForm Plus in their control panel. But as of June 2014, zipLogix plans to retire zipForm 6 Pro, and will forcibly migrate everyone to the new platform.
Although that may seem harsh to some die-hard fans of the Pro version of the product, zipLogix’s continuing headaches with Java make it necessary. New users can only sign up for zipForm Plus, which works on all Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, without any plugins, on both Macs and PCs.
It’s no longer possible to subscribe to zipForm Pro, although you can still buy zipForm Standard® (the desktop-only form software).
With zipForm Plus, zipLogix took a long and hard look at the way agents are working today — which is to say, everywhere, and specifically on their smartphones and tablets. That’s why streamlining the user interface was a critical objective for the company’s technical team.
zipLogix also focused on what it calls “data flow” — so that your transaction information follows you everywhere, no matter what device you use to access the application.
The most noticeable change is in the workspace. It’s easier on the eyes, with a simpler and expanded workspace that makes it easier to select your tools and apply templates.
The search function is greatly improved, so that you can find documents in real time, or select a template to apply to a transaction. Since agents, offices or brokers can create templates (which are essentially packets of forms appropriate to a transaction), it’s easy to pull the right forms into your transactions.
On the whole, transactions are more visual. You can upload a picture of your listing when you create the transaction so that you have a visual reference for it on your home screen. Once you’ve created your transaction, you can drag and drop forms and documents into the transaction folder. You can also organize your documents into custom folders within a transaction.
You can send completed transactions to an online archive, which removes them from your home screen but allows you to see them for up to 14 months online after they are marked complete.
If you want to store your transactions longer than that, you can subscribe to zipLogix’s zipVault cloud-storage service to store them for up to three years. You must have a zipForms Plus subscription to use zipVault, and pricing varies by your association. All transactions stored in zipVault are instantly accessible in zipForm Plus.
It’s also possible to duplicate transactions (useful for similar transactions). If you’re a zipLogix relay® user, you can send the transaction instantly to that platform as well.
Obviously, the heart and soul of zipForm Plus is forms. But zipLogix clearly spent oodles of time trying to figure out how to make it easier for agents to accurately and completely fill them out — and to not miss any in the process.
To begin, you can either pull in the details of a listing from an MLS feed (if your association has enabled a feed into zipForm Plus). If not, you can pull up an easy to use form that enables you to quickly enter the details of a property by tabbing between fields. Everything you enter here will automatically populate the forms you select for your transaction.
zipForm Plus also keeps track of which forms you’ve added to your transaction. They’re highlighted in blue in the right hand search column, so that you don’t inadvertently add the same forms twice.
As you start filling in the forms, your progress is saved every 15 minutes, as well as every time you move to another form. You can set a shorter save interval in your preferences if you want, although since you’re saving your work every time you email, print or send forms, this may be overkill.
One nicety is that you can expand any form to full-screen, and eliminate all the other tool bars and bric-a-brac of the application. This is useful when the form is long or complicated, and you want to work on it without distraction. Yet zipForm Plus keeps a basic toolset at the top of the form so you can save, print or send the form without having to leave it. It’s a nice touch.
There’s also a built-in spell checker, as well as a N/A (not applicable) button you can use to easily populate blank fields with text.
Templates and Clauses
zipForms Plus takes a lot of the tedium of assembling and completing forms away through the use of templates and clauses.
Templates are packets of forms that can be dragged into any transaction. There are five types of templates for residential, industrial, multi-unit, vacant land and commercial properties. They’re all color-coded, with green used for residential properties.
The clause library enables you to create standard language that you can literally drag and drop into your forms. If you update a clause, zipForms Plus only applies the change to forms going forward — so your existing forms are never affected by new language you or your broker may add to the library.
It’s a relatively simple affair to pull your contacts into zipForm Plus. Simply export your contacts from your contact manager into a .CSV file. Then import them into the platform. You can also import VCARDS on an individual basis.
As of this writing, there is a known issue where .CSV files may fail to be imported, regardless of which browser is being used to upload them. And if you’re importing VCARDS with multiple photos of your contacts, only the contact information (and not the photos) will be pulled into the platform. VCARDS with single photos import with no issues.
These minor glitches aside, it would make sense for future iterations of the product to synch with contact management systems, or to allow agents to pick and choose their contacts for import. Clearly, not all contacts in an agent’s sphere are buyers or sellers, so a blanket export and import may be of limited utility.
It is, however easy enough to create individual contacts for a transaction by entering them directly into the platform.
Regardless of how you bring contacts into the system, once you assign them as a party to a transaction, all relevant information automatically populates all the forms and cover letters you’ll need to send. You can assign multiple contacts to a transaction.
You can send documents out for signature via DocuSign Ink or zipLogix Digital Ink (a product from Signix). You’ll need your own DocuSign account to use it seamlessly within zipForm Plus, but zipLogix’s digital Ink is built right in. You can choose which service to use in your preferences.
It’s also possible to fax or print forms straight from the platform.
When you choose to use DocuSign or Digital Ink, the process will be familiar to you. Select what needs to be signed, add the signers and identify the places they need to sign. Signed documents are round-tripped back into your zipForm Plus account.
zipForm Plus Mobile
Although zipForm Plus was designed in HTML5 and is mobile-friendly, zipLogix charges $12.95 a year to use it on tablets and smartphones using its Mobile Web Edition. When you subscribe, you get access to a mobile-optimized version of the platform that includes full form-filling capability, highlighting and sticky notes, and fast-fill options.
What’s most interesting about this approach is that when you subscribe to the Mobile Web Edition, you also get free access to zipLogix TouchSign®. This enables your clients to physically sign documents using their finger or a stylus on your tablet. Once documents are signed using TouchSign, they’re immediately routed to the signers, and a copy is stored in your transaction files through zipVault.
It does seem odd that zipLogix would make the choice to rebuild the platform from scratch in HTML5 to be mobile friendly — and then charge users to use it on mobile devices above and beyond the initial subscription fee. Perhaps in the future the mobile edition and TouchSign will be rolled into the platform.
Another interesting feature of zipForm Plus is screen sharing, powered by AnyMeeting and called zipConsult within the platform. This feature is available to all subscribers of zipForm Plus, and it enables you to work collaboratively by showing your forms to others as you fill them out. You can also use your webcam within zipConsult.
zipForm Plus is a substantial upgrade for any who has used zipForm Standard or Pro. The company has clearly paid close attention to what its users wanted, and the interface is a lot cleaner. The platform also works on every browser, with no plugins.
If you’re an existing user, I’d recommend upgrading to zipForm Plus. Of course, since the company is phasing out zipForm Pro in a matter of months, you don’t really have a choice. But I think doing it sooner rather than later is a good idea, particularly since you can still toggle back and forth between the platforms as you get used to them.
I do wish that zipLogix had chosen to make the Mobile Web Edition and TouchSign integral components of the platform, instead of add-ons. In an age where every agent is mobile, it just seems like it’s the right thing to do. Yet at just about a dollar a month for the two products, it’s a small price to pay for the convenience of having zipForm Plus everywhere you go.