"Paperless" Appraising

WRE, Working RE Magazine, Appraiser News, Appraiser Magazine, Real Estate Appraisers, Volume 33
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“Paperless” Appraising
by Dustin Harris, The “Appraiser Coach”

Maybe you have grown accustomed to those filing cabinets against the southern wall of your comfy office. Hey, some people really dig olive green and beige. Perhaps you enjoy the constant hum of the printer. It is soothing. It is comfortable. It feels like home, and to not have those paper and ink cartridge bills anymore, well, that just wouldn’t feel right- would it?

Finally, papers and folders spilling all over your desk as well as cluttering your vehicle have become a way of life. An appraiser without a slew of manila folders is no appraiser at all. If this is you, this article may not be for you. On the other hand, if you’re an appraiser who is on the constant lookout for ways to save time and money, then keep reading: making a conversion to a “paperless” or “more paperless” office will be of interest.

First of all, if you do not know what the term “paperless” means, you need not be embarrassed. You are in good company. The term has not been around for very long, and you can be grateful that you will learn it here in the privacy of your own reading. There is nothing worse than sitting at the bar with your buddies when one of them makes a wisecrack about a paperless office, and you have to pretend to know what he is talking about. Going paperless is simply that; paper – less. Using “less paper” is what it is all about.

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Saving Money – No More Ink
Let’s face it, paper is not cheap. A ream will run you anywhere from five to nine dollars depending on weight and quality. The real travesty though is ink. To spend $250 or less on an inkjet printer is nothing compared to the thousands you might spend feeding it cartridges over the course of a year. I am pretty sure there is a conspiracy between the makers of printers and the makers of ink cartridges. Oh wait, they are the same companies! Like razors and razorblades- razors are giveaways but razorblades are so costly these days they keep them locked up behind the glass door at Rite Aid. I guess there is no conspiracy after all–just smart business. If you want to be smart about your business, going paperless will help you reduce expenses, and in a day and age when many appraisers are struggling just to pay the bills, a few lower bills is a blessing for sure.

Saving Time: Workfiles Created Automatically
A big misconception about going paperless is that it takes more time and slows you down. This is just not true. Getting rid of the paper and moving to an all-digital workday certainly takes some getting used to, but will actually save you time in the long run. The biggest time-saver you will experience is in your workfile. Appraisers are generally fearful that going paperless will somehow cause them to no longer have a workfile (and as we all know, a workfile is a USPAP necessity). Well, you will still have a workfile (it will just be a digital one), and if you set things up correctly, it will create itself automatically! No more time spent organizing and building the workfile. It just happens effortlessly. Furthermore, it is always there (and searchable) forever whenever you need something from it again.

Learning Curve vs Big Payoff
As you may know, I am a huge advocate for “mobile appraising,” which is using a laser and computer at appraisal inspections. Without question, the biggest hurdle for most people in going mobile is the huge learning curve. It is not easy to switch from a tape measure to a laser device. Going from a clipboard and pencil to an iPad™ is even more daunting. Some who try it, give up before they become converted. Incidentally, nearly all who commit to my Ten House Challenge™ never go back. There is no difference in going paperless. In the beginning, you will find it a bigger pain than you would have hoped. It is a new way of thinking and takes some real adjustments. I began the transition to a paperless office nearly five years ago. Many times in the first few months, I almost quit. Many of the people in my office resisted the changes. How glad I am that I stuck it out. I have now gone paperless in nearly all aspects of my life including church, relationships (yes, I have a paperless marriage- that’s another story), hobbies, and just regular life productivity.

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Well… Maybe not 100% Paperless
Potential converts often ask me if going 100 percent paperless is really possible. The answer to that question is a bit complicated. The answer is “Yes!” (Okay, maybe that was not all that complicated, but here comes the complex part.) It may be possible to go 100 percent paperless, but you probably don’t want to. In other words, creating a digital version of everything you currently use paper for may be possible, but certain things just need to stay status quo. Let me give you one example; when I get a phone call and need to write something down, it is just easier to pull out a sticky note than it is to pull out my iPad. Now, if the note is something I want to keep, it will be converted to the digital version quickly but I still keep some paper on hand. Also, though you might choose a paperless lifestyle, you cannot force others to do the same. There are many times that a borrower will hand me a spec sheet or an attorney will mail me case documents. Though those types of papers will soon be converted to digital files, I cannot profess to be 100 percent paperless. Though I like to claim we are 98 percent paperless, the truth is probably closer to 92-93 percent, when all aspects are considered. Still, it is a far cry from where I was just a few years ago.

So how does one go from the traditional to a digital office without being overwhelmed by the transition? The answer may be found in the old parable of how to eat an elephant… one bite at a time. Begin with something small. For example, set up digital backups for your files on multiple levels. Remember that “two is one and one is none.” I personally have five backups of everything I do. Once that is done, move to the next step. Start scanning your documents into a digital file when you are done. In other words, keep doing things the way you are now, but just add the step of digitizing your files and throwing the paper files away. You do not have to jump into the pool with all of your clothes on right off the bat. Dip your toe and then start wading. You will find that the more you move from paper to paperless, the more you will want to take additional steps.

It Gets Easier
You could say that I was paperless before paperless was cool. My affection for technology and all things efficient spurred me to go digital long before most appraisers even knew what that meant. In those days, it was not very easy and it looked much different than it does now. A slew of new technology has made going paperless very doable (note, I said “doable,” not “easy”). Though it still takes some getting used to, scanners, dual monitors, smartphones, tablets, software and apps have made the transition so much simpler.

In summary, paperless is key to the future for appraisers and other professionals who want to flourish in the years ahead.

If you want to save time, become more efficient at what you do and save a boatload of money at the same time, consider making this year the year to begin weaning yourself off file cabinets, manila folders, and hum of the printer for good and move into the digital age.

Now, go create some value!

Don’t miss Dustin’s upcoming Working RE/OREP webinar: The Paperless Appraisal Office. OREP Members/WRE subscribers save. (Am I a subscriber?)

About the Author
Dustin Harris is 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 also owns and operates The Appraiser Coach where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers, helping them to also run successful appraisal companies and increase their net worth. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children.

Upcoming Webinars:
April 10th: The Paperless Appraisal Office – Presented by Dustin Harris, The Appraiser Coach
See how to convert to a paperless office and how it increases efficiency, cuts costs and leads to better record-keeping.

May 8th: Complaints: What to do When the State Board Comes Calling – Presented by Time Andersen, MAI
See how to successfully defend yourself whether you’ve committed any violations or not. Andersen levels the playing field by explaining the State Board complaint process- what states are looking for, how to understand the charges filed against you and how to appropriately defend yourself.

We’re always listening: Send your story submission/idea to the Editor: dbrauner@orep.org.


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Comments (6)

  1. Great article!! The comments and replies above are simply not understanding that the quality of the inspection and the amount of data in the paperless appraiser’s workfile is not changed, but is generally higher than the traditional appraiser’s approach.

    - Reply
  2. I am an old appraiser with reasonable fees so I get ignored on AMC panels and only get their orders for s second opinion appraisal from irate homeowners willing to pay for a second appraisal. In EVERY case over the past year, the homeowner complaint was voiced after my inspection, to whit: “You now know my property and this is what I paid for, but the previous appraiser was only here 10 minutes and did nothing but look at some hand-held device the entire time and left here knowing nothing about this home!”

    - Reply
    • I agree that an appraiser who only spends ten minutes at the property and does not ask the owner questions is likely not doing their due diligence. However, do not suggest that there is any correlation between being paperless and a credible report. Being paperless has allowed me to improve my product.

      - Reply

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