Friday, December 27, 2013

Appraiser's in Hardin County and Their Technology

1.
Technology for the Appraiser

Technology has changed so many aspects of our societies.  Electricity, automobiles, planes, microwaves, atomic energy, computers, the internet, and cell phones are just the beginning of a long list of technological changes that have shaped the world we live in.  The appraisal industry is no exception.  Appraisers used to take inspection photos with 35mm cameras, have the film developed, hand type the report, glue or tape the actual photos to the report, and either mail or hand deliver the report to the client.  That was bad enough, but keep in mind MLSs (Multiple Listing Service) did not exist and tasks around the office were done manually (i.e.-accounting).  How did appraisers ever get anything done?   There are many types of technology that appraisers can use in order to save time and money.  We’ll be covering a few of them in this chapter.

Internet and Software

I will not be spending much time on the Internet.  Let’s just say that it is a vital tool used to source information and deliver our products.  We use the internet to access our MLSs, online data sources like PVA, and delivering our appraisals through portals such as Appraisalport

Software programs can be put into two categories: production, and management.  We’ll talk about production first.  The main program that you will use for producing reports will be your appraisal form-filling software.  This program is offered by many companies, none of which I’ll endorse over the other.  You may want to check out: Bradford Software’sClickforms/CompCruncher, A La Mode’s Total 2013, ACI’s Appraiser Choice, and Homeputer’s software to name a few.  Some of these programs have built in sketchers, databases, forms libraries, mobile and accounting technology that range from $99 to over $600 depending on your needs.  My advice is to make a list of your requirements, collect information about the programs, and then go shopping. 

Your management software is primarily used around the office.  Microsoft’s Office products consist of familiar programs like: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher to name a few.  These programs can be used for a host of tasks that relate to marketing, advertising, writing letters, organizing data, etc.  Intuit makes a popular accounting software program called Quickbooks.  This program is compatible with certain appraisal software programs, and it can also be used to pay employees. 

Field Technology

In recent years, several gadgets have been made available that speed up our ability to gather field data and enter it into our appraisal programs.  Laser tape measurers (such as the Disto) are a convenient tool that allows you to get rid of fiberglass and metal tape measurers.  Lasers come in a variety of ranges, and some of them have built-in Bluetooth technology that allows them to communicate directly with a tablet device.  Lasers have both advantages and disadvantages; they dramatically reduce the time it takes to measure a home, they have the ability to make simple calculations, and they require only one person to measure a home.  On the flipside, you have to keep a spare battery on hand, and a pair of laser glasses in order to see the red dot in bright sunlight.  Lastly, in order for the laser to get a reading it needs a clear line of sight to a target. You can use downspouts, windowsills, water faucets, meter bases, and vinyl outside corners for most of your targets.  If all else fails, propping up a clipboard or tablet will make a nice target.

In addition to lasers, tablets are making their way into the appraiser’s tool chest.  At the present, I’m aware of two apps that can be used on Android tablets and iPads for collecting field data: Phoenix Mobile, and Total.  These applications allow the user to start a report at the office, edit the report while in the field, and sync this data into the report at the office so it doesn’t have to be entered a second time.  This process has the ability to save quite a bit of time and eliminate some of the paper trail.  A tablet can also be used as your camera, therefore eliminating the need to carry multiple dedicated gadgets; it also has the ability to geo-code the photos if that feature is important to your practice. 

The last piece of field technology I’ll go over is the GPS (Global Positioning System).  Instead of printing out directions and trying to read them while driving, the GPS will usually guide you pretty close to where you want to go.  You may even be able to use a tablet for this, thereby eliminating another dedicated gadget.  By the way, GPSs are not infallible.  They have led me to cattle gates, down one-way streets (the wrong way), and down roads that no longer exist, and some of their mapping is several years behind the current road system.  Just me mindful of where you are in case the GPS has a hiccup. 

Computers, Backup Systems, and Security

Choosing a computer is like buying a car or phone.  There are a myriad of choices and configurations, and personal taste has much to with the type of machine you choose.  The only point I’ll bring up is that most appraisal programs are currently Windows based.  If you are a die-hard Mac person, you’ll have to run boot camp (partitioning program within Mac) in order to install a Windows OS so you can run your programs. 

USPAP requires us to maintain our work files for at least five years, or two years past the last litigated event.  This leads to huge filing cabinets, boxes, and rooms filled with old reports, which are vulnerable to damage or theft.  This leads to back up systems.  Work files can be stored electronically (i.e. - on external hard drives or remote back up stations) which eliminates quite a bit of the paper trail, and provides reasonable security.  External hard drives can be bought at very reasonable prices (I use WD software, which continually backs up my computer as I’m modifying files), and web or cloud-based back up services (Carbonite, Highrise, etc.)  can be purchased on a subscription basis. 

Lastly, I’ll touch briefly on security.  If your computer and its systems are becoming an increasingly vital part of your business, you need to stay on top of its security.  Always use an Anti-Virus software program (Defender, Microsoft Essentials, McAfee to name a few) in conjunction with a firewall, and keep them updated!  Protect your usernames and passwords, because if they are compromised the confidentiality of your client’s information could be at risk.  Next, make sure you are backing up your computer on a regular basis to either your external hard drive or off site back up service.  In the event of a bad patch update or your computer crashing, your information will be able to be retrieved and restored onto your machine. 

Conclusion

Well, this wraps up an introduction to the appraisal industry.  I have enjoyed writing these chapters, and they have made me think about my own practice.  We have covered everything from getting an understanding to the appraisal industry, through ownership, to skills and technology needed to operate a successful and professional appraisal practice. 

What have you all learned from this series?  What did you think I missed or should have elaborated on?  Is there a skill or technology that you think I should have mentioned?  Feel free to provide some feedback, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook and leave a review





Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Radcliff Appraiser and Business Skills

1. 
On Your Own
In the previous chapter, we discussed the options that are open to appraisers once they have their certification.  Have you decided to work for an appraisal firm?  Well keep reading because there are aspects of ownership that can benefit an employee or subcontractor as well.  In this article, we will be talking primarily to those who choose the route of business ownership. 

Business Owner Skills
You never know when you will be learning the skills that are used as a business owner.  Some of you may learn best by taking specific classes that are geared towards managing a business.  Others may learn by observing the styles and techniques that our employers use and saying to ourselves,” that works, or that doesn’t work”.  I guess there could also be those who may have a mentor or coach that guides them along their way.  Whichever way you learn, there are certain hard and soft skills that you will need in order to be a professional business owner. 

Let’s start with the office.  Whether you are working out of your house or at a dedicated office space, you will need to have at least a basic understanding of the following areas: time management, organization, customer relations, accounting, accountability, marketing, technology (which we’ll cover in a later chapter), and goal setting to name just a few.  I won’t be going into depth on these topics; instead I’ll be discussing each one as to why they are important.

Time Management/Organization- As a professional, your business must be structured in order to effectively use the time that you have available both at and away from work.  Some of our customers demand a very tight time table, and we need to be able to deliver and project our production with a degree of accuracy.  I hope by this point that you are comfortable with keeping a calendar for your appointments, but you also must balance the time that is needed for the other aspects of the business, such as accounting, marketing, meetings, etc.  To be able to do this requires the ability to multi-task, but don’t get too many irons in the fire that will cause you to be scattered to the wind.  In order to work efficiently, you must be organized.  Keep your files, databases, calendar, backups, and procedures up to date, because you never know when you are going to need to quickly access a piece of information.  Another aspect of organization is how is your business model organized?  What are your products? Who are your customers? What is your revenue model?  What is your competitive advantage?  What is your supply/service chain?  All of these areas need to be considered.

Customer Relations- As a business owner, you not only have customers in the form of your clients, but you are now a customer!  You will be a customer to the subscriptions, software, and other businesses that keep your business running.  Let me give a little advice here.  Be pleasant, courteous, respectful, mindful of other’s time, thoughtful of what you say (saying or typing the first thing that comes to mind can get you into trouble), and professional when dealing with or as a customer. 

Accounting/Accountability- Some of you may decide to outsource this service to an accountant, do it in-house, or a combination of both.  Either way will require a basic understanding of accounting in order to answer questions from your accountant, or make financial decisions.  Accountability comes into play when we are expected to maintain the confidentiality of personal and private information of our clients.  It also comes into play if you will be handling escrow funds or retainers.  Lastly, by being accountable to partners and employees, it produces confidence in your leadership ability. 

Marketing- If your marketspace and or marketplace does not know you are there, how will you get business?  Take time to develop, implement, and adjust a marketing plan.  When I started out, I read a book called Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson.  Jay’s book is great for businesses that are getting started and or those on limited funds.  Also take the time to do some research into Ecommerce.  This is a multi-billion dollar industry that could have an effect on how you market.  Try to be marketing on a regular basis, because you never know when you will need to increase or decrease your customer base.  While we are on the subject of customer bases, a diverse customer base (needing multiple services) that is spread out over different markets should produce a more stable income when compared to a focused customer base in one area.    

Goal Setting- You’ve got your plan, and you are working your plan, but how do you know if or when it needs to be adjusted?  This is where goal setting comes in.  This is one of those subjects that some people just love or hate.  Goal setting can be broken down into three main areas: short (1 to 6 months), intermediate (6 months to 2 years), and long-term (2 to 10 years).  Each area should have sub-areas that consist of every aspect of your business (revenue, customers, accounting, marketing, technology, expansion, etc.), and the sub-goals should be well-defined, attainable, and have a time frame.  Goals should also be evaluated on a regular basis which is where the adjusting process comes in.  The evaluation of a goal may reveal that a previous course of action is not working, therefore necessitating a change in your plan. 

Conclusion- Well, we are almost there.  Our next installment will be our final chapter which will cover technology in the appraisal industry.  If you have enjoyed this article, feel free to visit our Facebook page, press the like button and leave a review.  Reviews can also be made on this website under the review tab. 



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Appraisers, Computers, and Radcliff, KY

I thought I would break the usual routine of appraisal topics that are focused in and around Radcliff, Elizabethtown, and
Hardin County in general by sharing with you all how I spent my evening.

How does the saying go? You learn faster by teaching?  Well, I wasn't teaching, but I was helping a group of fellow students (me included) get ready for an up and coming computer proficiency exam at McKendree University here in Radcliff.  I'm not as nervous as I used to be when speaking in front of folks, and the more familiar I am with a topic the easier it is.  Tonight was a middle of the road night.

I learned a lot from prepping for tonight, since I had to make up the study guide from scratch.  We still have a long way to go, but at least we are on our way.