Author Chat: Lisa Holton on her iPhone Real Estate Dictionary App

By Erica Christoffer, Contributing Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

Lisa Holton, a prolific Chicago-based real estate and business writer, has conquered the iPhone. Her digital book, The Essential Real Estate Dictionary (Sphinx Publishing/Sourcebooks), is believed to be the first real estate dictionary published on iTunes’ App Store. The dictionary features more than 3,300 definitions, abbreviations, and Web sites, serving as a handy, on-the-go guide for buyers, sellers, and professionals alike. Here’s what Holton had to say about enlightening the world of iPhone users to terms like “Monterey architecture” and “simple assumption.”

iphone_essentialrealestateHow did the opportunity to create an iPhone app using your book, The Essential Real Estate Dictionary, come about?

HOLTON: To a great extent it had to do with the current fortunes of the publishing industry. My publishing company Sourcebooks and I had been weighing the opportunity to do a traditional book-form dictionary. This dictionary had originally been published by Barnes & Noble in 2003. But Sourcebooks suggested that because we’re in a down-publishing economy, why not take the product and put it digitally onto a phone? Agents and other people in the building trades rely on their phones considerably. It would be nice for them to have this kind of information at their fingertips. I added terms over the years and terms that have relevance in today’s lending environment.

How does the application function once downloaded to the iPhone?

HOLTON: When you pull up the app, it gives you the option to look up a word, look up an abbreviation, search word meanings, and something called “random word,” in which any of the words in the book pops up.

What do you think will be the greatest benefitsfor real estate pros who use this?

HOLTON: This would be handy if you are trying to explain something to someone, or you’re trying to get the correct definition of a word for an area of the house if you’re getting something repaired or replaced. It’s also a good way for agents and brokers who don’t have a lot of experience to get to know the parts of a home or the parts of a commercial building, as well as standard lending terms.

What kind of audience do you envision using this?

HOLTON: In addition to the professionals who could use it, I also think people who are property buyers will use it. This is an opportunity for someone who really wants to learn a fair amount about real estate, not only structural terms, but lending terms and definitions of the key agencies involved in both the public and private lending processes. It’s a pretty good way to get to know the real estate business.

What was your process for writing the dictionary?

HOLTON: After getting the gist of what was out there, I went to professionals in various parts of the field and asked them what terms come up most often and what terms are relevant now. I also checked the news to make sure the terms people need to know reflect current headlines. I’m hoping we’ll come back in the next year or two and update the lending terms, because the way the lending world has changed I have a feeling we’re going to be learning a lot of new terms, a lot of new agencies, and a lot of new processes.

What is your favorite word in the book?

HOLTON: Given the present state of the economy and the current minefield brokers and buyers face to get there, I’m going to go with “closing.”

What motivated you to create this dictionary?

HOLTON: Initially, it was fairly unglamorous. The publisher was looking for someone with business writing experience to do a little more extensive dictionary, and there was an obvious need for it. I stuck with it (since the original was published in 2003) and have written other books on real estate, so it made sense for me to stay in this area. Even though the real estate business is in a difficult place, people are still interested in learning.

Do you have any plans to incorporate your dictionary into educational classes or training opportunities?

HOLTON: We have talked about it. The dictionary is obviously something that would be a great help to anyone teaching basic real estate licensing classes. We just got the app up earlier this summer. At this point Sourcebooks is mainly promoting the product through tech media right now.

lisa holton

Lisa Holton

Could you share a little about your background? How did you begin writing about real estate?

HOLTON: I was a business editor and reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, where I also wrote stories for the real estate section. Obviously being a home owner, I already had a built-in interest. Writing about real estate was a natural fit. I also tend to like projects where you’re teaching someone without a lot of knowledge the basics of what they need to go forward.

Lisa Holton has 27 years of experience writing about real estate, business, investment, and education. For more information, visit her Web site:

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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  1. Any word on a app. for the iphone to open the supra lockbox? If they get that I will get ma a iphone. I am using a palm because it will open the lockbox for me.

  2. Charles Daye

    I am a brand new real estate agent and wanted to know if the dictionary is an application on the Iphone or would I have to go on line once I brought the Iephone

  3. Jennifer Johnson

    I am a fully mac and iPhone based Realtor. This application by Lisa Holton is just an indication of things to come. Supra is currently working on iPhone compatibility. Most Real Estate applications in my region are working on Mac compatibility if they are not already.

  4. Its great to see new advances like this happening for our real estate industry. I cant wait for the Supra key to be accessible with the Iphone.

  5. I believe 2010 will be the year that the IPhone and apps for real estate go mainstream – especially if Apple can get services through an additional carrier with a more reliable network such as Verizon.

  6. Great article. I am a new employee of a St. Louis Mortgage company and have a lot of contact with real estate agents. I’ll test out this app since it should help me better communicate with agents.

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