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.
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.
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.