The Ten House Challenge: Overcoming the Difficulties in Using Mobile Appraising Tools

Using a laser measuring device and a tablet or smartphone in the appraisal field can be a daunting undertaking for someone who has never done it before. However, being willing to buy and try these tools may very-well change the way you appraise forever.

In my role as an appraisal business consultant, I have opportunities to teach and mentor appraisers across the nation. I find there is a common theme with most of them; they are struggling to make ends meet with all of the new (and not so improved) regulations and changes in the industry. These are good, educated, highly experienced and honest appraisers who are barely scraping by. Now, there is something wrong with that picture. I contend that it does not have to be that way. However, the answer is probably not found in figuratively clenching our fists, jumping up and down, and screaming about how unfair life is. Though I highly encourage each of us to be involved in helping to change and improve the industry, your fastest improvement will come through your own, individual changes.

Imagine for a moment a three-legged stool. Each of those legs are important to the stability of the platform (and the person sitting atop the seat). When I show appraisal business owners how to increase efficiency and thus profit in their offices, I teach about three, important legs. Those pillars of success are the utilization of technology, delegation to others, and the proper use of systems. Each are vital, but I want to focus in this article on one small aspect of the technology leg–mobile tools.

Specifically, I am talking about using a laser measurer and computer in the field to assist you in gathering data during your appraisal inspection. I have found that my clients typically use three, favorite excuses for not utilizing these important tools. 1. They did not know they even existed. 2. They are too expensive, and 3. The learning curve is just too steep. Your reading of this article has already satisfied the first excuse. Allow me to help you with the other two.


I want you to stop thinking about business tools as an expense and begin thinking about them as what they truly are; an investment. My first Disto laser measuring device cost me $650. That was no minor decision for me. However, I quickly found that the device saved me about 5 minutes per inspection. Due to the volume of work I was doing at the time, I paid for that tool in a manner of about 2.5 months. I still own that device, and it has paid for itself over and over and over again.

Learning Curve

When I first got my Disto in the mail, I was as excited as a 5 year old on Christmas morning. By the next day, I was on the phone with the company I had purchased it from asking for instructions on how to return it. The customer service department was wise and gave me a challenge. He said that I could definitely return it, but that I would need to pay the return shipping. And then he gave me this incentive; “If you will keep and use the device for 2 weeks,” he said, “and you still do not like it after that time period, I will pay for your return shipping charges.” He then went on to give me a few helpful instructions on how to properly use the laser measuring tool. As I mentioned above, I still have that device.

I have been using the Alamode field software since the 1990’s. Most of that time was spent on a small screened “pocket PC” or later a smartphone. A little over a year ago, I finally broke down and switched to a tablet (the iPad II). Even though I was about as well-versed in using a computer in the field as anyone, I was extremely frustrated during the first few inspections using the iPad. It was enough different that it really threw me for a loop. However, it did not take long, and I was as comfortable as I ever was with the smaller devices I had used for so many years.

I was recently asked to test drive the new PhoenixMobile software. Though similar to Alamode, I found it to be just enough different so as to also frustrate me in the beginning. It took me more than just a few inspections before I was comfortable with the software. I am now teaching webinars on how to use PhoenixMobile. Are you starting to recognize a pattern?

The Challenge

I advise my students to buy and use these powerful tools in their own appraisal practices, but I always do so with a challenge. I call it the Ten House Challenge. Many, like me, get frustrated when they first try to use these new tools. Admittedly, there is a learning curve. It takes a few times to get used to the hardware and software before it actually becomes beneficial to them. Do not give up. Commit yourself to using these tools, but give it at least ten houses (both simple and complex) before you make up your mind. It is in the use of these tools that you can change your situation and income faster than trying to change the industry as a whole. I predict that after ten houses, you will never go back to a tape measure and a paper and pencil again.

Now, go create some value!

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 ( 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 ( 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.

12 thoughts on “The Ten House Challenge: Overcoming the Difficulties in Using Mobile Appraising Tools”

  1. Dustin,

    I agree with all of your thoughts and am working toward exactly what your are describing (Disto, Ipad, etc.). My concern with using the Ipad in the field remains as follows: I take a fair degree of narrative notes during an inspection. How is the IPAD going to handle more than just touch and go drop down windows? A touch keyboard as you’re walking around a property is, at the very least, cumbersome. I can write MUCH faster. Any ideas?


  2. Android has a voice to text program
    that turns your speech into text.
    I think IPad might have it as well.

  3. The Appraiser Coach


    Great question. Both mobile apps for appraising feature both doodle pads and voice recording so you can make extensive notes while you are in the field. I use them quite often to note things that are not part of the main form.

  4. The Appraiser Coach

    Bob: You are correct. There are apps for this feature, but I have found them very cumbersome and needing WiFi to work. Maybe things have changed, but that is the way it was when I first started using an iPad about a year ago.

  5. Is there an android tablet similar to the iPad, that is 3 or 4G, that alamode has apps for? Getting ready to take the plunge, on upgrading technology. I have a laser measuring device now [$100.00] from Home Depot….is this sufficient? Also…..I currently have a ‘Droid’, but should I go Iphone and Ipad…..even though my laptop and desktop are Windows based [for alamode].



  6. David:

    Alamode will work on any tablet that runs Android. The model is really up to you. It will work. The laser you got from Home Depot will work on a budget, but you obviously get what you pay for. I encourage all my students to invest the extra money in the Disto (I have looked at them all and Disto is head and shoulders above the rest). What you have at your office (Windows based) should make no difference to what you do in the field (Apple or Droid based). The file uploads to the cloud and then comes down to your desktop in a Windows based file. Good luck “Taking the plunge” as you say.

  7. Joyce Colavita

    I love reading your articles but I am scared to death to implement them. I am an ACI user and do not want to change software – can i still switch to the IPAD for use in the field? Instead of the Disto, i have found using my Iphone that there may be app that will measure the house while taking the photos? have you heard of this…

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  9. Pingback: The Ten House Challenge | The Appraiser Coach

  10. Pingback: Is A Smartphone Big Enough To Appraise With? | The Appraiser Coach

  11. Pingback: Is A Smartphone Big Enough To Appraise With? - Appraisal Buzz

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