By Dustin Harris
Appraisers who are truly ‘mobile’ are using laser measurers, tablet PCs or smartphones, and software to upload reports remotely to the office to be more competitive- to save time and money.
As I travel the country mentoring various appraisal business owners, I am intrigued by the fact that so many appraisers are still using a tape measure and a clipboard to gather onsite data. When I show them the mobile technology that is available to us, they are typically hesitant to embrace it. Here are the “big three” justifications I hear for not moving forward and some food for thought about streamlining your business to be more competitive.
Many say the “gadgets” are just too darn expensive. Is gas for your vehicle too expensive? Well, yes it is but we need it to do our work. From MLS subscription fees to form-filling software, we invest heavily in many aspects of our businesses that are necessary. Investing in technology should be seen as a cost of doing business required to stay competitive, rather than a choice that you can’t afford.
When I first started using a laser measurer, I had the thing paid for in the first three months of ownership. My first Disto cost me $650. Sound expensive? It was but it cut my inspection time by an average of five minutes. No big deal you say? With the volume I was doing at the time, that meant one more appraisal per month that I could fit into my schedule. After overhead, 90 days was all it took to return my investment, with the time savings it provided. My most recent toy, an iPAD II, was paid for in even less time by speeding up the time it takes me to do reports. It saves me twice the time the laser did and cost me about half as much. Though there was a short transition period- I was used to using a smartphone with about 20 percent of the screen size as compared to the tablet, I quickly caught on. I find the iPad saves me twice the time but with a similar price tag to the laser. The fact is that the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier and more efficient. Efficiency in business equals increased productivity and higher profit. Not moving forward results in no progress.
Don’t Save Time
There is an argument to be made that inputting all the data on a tablet is actually more time consuming. I will concede that is true when discussing the time spent onsite. Where mobile tools really shine is not at the inspection but when you get back to the office. Most appraisers are inspecting every home twice- once onsite and a second time on their desktop. When you use mobile tools, you input all of the data at the inspection and there is no need to reenter it back at the office. This includes the front page of the URAR, the sketch and even inputting the pictures!
Without mobile tools, I spend an average of 20 minutes at each inspection (when inspecting a vacant house and have no pressure to talk to the home owner). I then spend another 20 minutes at the office redrawing the sketch, inputting photos and entering the data from the field into the subject sections of the major form. With these helpful gadgets, my time at the inspection may increase to 25 minutes but there is no re-entry at the office. In other words, I save an average of 15 minutes per appraisal using mobile tools versus doing it the old way. Not a big enough time savings for you? If you average one or two appraisals per day, you are saving up to 30 minutes a day. How many more appraisals can you do per week by switching to mobile technology? You know you want an iPAD anyway and I just solved the question: “how do I convince my spouse?” You can thank me later.
Old Dog New Tricks
I’ll admit that when I attend appraiser conferences most of the heads are either grey or balding. Like I can talk! But, as a happy client I was mentoring recently told me, “You can teach old appraisers new tricks.” Here’s the deal- most appraisers make the common mistake of not giving new technology enough of a fair shake. I sent my first laser measurer back to the distributor after only two days of use complaining that it was just too complicated and it was easier for me to use my wheel. They sent it back to me with a note that read, “Please try our product for a full two weeks. If you are not convinced after that period of time, send it back for a full-refund.” I did and I will never go back to a 100-foot tape or measuring wheel again. With a little instruction and a lot of patience, you too can learn new things that will dramatically enhance your effectiveness and your business. How hard is it? If my four year-old can teach himself to play Angry Birds, you can surely learn how to sketch a house on a tablet. You must remember that the first few days of using almost any new technology will slow down your productivity until you get through the learning curve. But once you get the hang of it, watch out!
Warm Body Element
Even with all of this great technology, there is still one aspect that is often overlooked by most appraisers. It is not an absolutely necessary ingredient to mobile success but its absence will often be the aspect that will break the resolve of a new mobile appraiser. Here is a direct quote from one of my new coaching clients, “I get what you are telling me about the benefits of using my iPad to assist me but I am not finding it as beneficial as I had hoped. Sure, it probably saves me time overall but I find I am doing so much back at the office to pull it out of the mobile format and prepare it for comparables that it does not really seem worth it.” This viewpoint is actually quite common. What’s missing is what I refer to as “the warm body” element. The frustration, as expressed above, always comes from one of two places: either they are a one-person appraisal office or they are appraisers who are under-utilizing their office assistants. Either one will lead to frustration and inefficiency with the effectiveness of mobile tools.
Here is the dirty little secret: the real time-saver with mobile tools is what happens between the inspection and the appraiser arriving back at the office. The mobile appraisal software programs that I am familiar with all include the ability to send your reports back to the office remotely from the field. At my appraisal office, that is where the magic happens. While I travel from the inspection to the office, my staff is busily tweaking and strategically preparing the report for my technical expertise. By the time I sit down at my desktop PC, the report is ready for comp input and adjustments. This is where the power of mobile tools shines brightest!
There is another less obvious but very important benefit to showing up to an appointment with all these fancy-pants gadgets….you just look cool! Now, I say this tongue-in-cheek of course but there is a positive aspect to this: an appraiser with a laser measurer and a computer simply looks more professional to a homeowner than one with a tape and a piece of graph paper. It says something about your professionalism. The fact that it keeps you in the home a few more minutes is not a bad thing either. How many times have you had a borrower complain about how little time you spent inspecting the property? As if the amount of time you spend walking through a home somehow affects the value. Be prepared for the following question, though, once you begin using mobile tools. It is sure to come. “So, do you love your iPAD too?” Now, that is cool.
Let me share one or two more items that may be helpful to those of you who may already be using mobile technology. First of all, by inputting all of my data onsite, I never leave the property having forgotten an important component. My pictures are always there. If I forget to take the front photo (hey, it happens), I know before I leave. If the west side of the home does not match the east, I do not have to wait till I get all the way back to the office to find that out. On a mobile device, you know in real time as you measure.
For those who have an assistant back at the office, the ability to upload reports from the field is priceless. Once I am done with a report and have inserted the comp photos, I send the report directly to my office through the magic of the Internet. My assistant gets that report in a matter of minutes and begins working on tidying it up for me as I am driving back to the office. By the time I hit my desk, the pictures are all labeled, the sketch is perfected, the subject information has been transferred from page one to the grid and I am ready to begin making adjustments. You cannot put a price on that!
I have been using mobile tools in the field for almost 15 years now. Some are surprised at that statement as most appraisers did not even know that these technologies existed in the late 1990s. They did and I increased my productivity and therefore my income by hundreds of thousands of dollars in these years just by employing them. As I look back on the antiquated instruments I used to use, they seem like relics akin to eight-track tape machines and rotary-dial phones. Isn’t it time you look into mobile appraising for yourself?
Now, go create some value!
**Working RE Webinar Series: Dustin is the lead presenter of Working RE’s upcoming webinar: Mobile Appraising: Saving Both Time and Money. In this webinar, Dustin will share the technology and techniques that you need to ramp up your volume, while simultaneously increasing the quality of your reports. This webinar will allow any participant to walk away knowing why mobile tools are essential for the competitive appraiser going into the future and how to actually use them!
About the Author
Dustin Harris is a multi-business owner, but he has found most of his success as a self-employed, residential real estate appraiser. He has been appraising for nearly two decades. He is the owner and President of Appraisal Precision and Consulting Group, Inc., and is a popular author, speaker and consultant. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach (www.theappraisercoach.com) where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers helping them to also run successful appraisal companies and increase their net worth. He is also the Founder and President of Your Appraisal Office (www.yourappraisaloffice.com) which implements some of the systems he has developed to help lower costs and free up time for real estate business owners. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children.