“I Can Inspect a Home Faster Using my Clipboard and Pencil”

I do a lot of traveling.  Too much if you ask my wife.  I enjoy traveling and seeing new cities, but dealing with airports, rental cars, hotels and the like gets old.  Sometimes I travel a long distance, but much of the time my travels are somewhat regional.  I am not a huge fan of Vegas, but it seems that I have business there at least 3-4 times per year.  Now, the City of Sin is only about 9 driving hours from my home, but I usually fly.  Every time I go through the process of getting from here to there on an airplane, I ask myself why I don’t just drive.  Dealing with commercial flying is never a worry-free task.  You must pack in a certain way, find a place to park at the airport, check in 2 hours early, wait, board the plane, wait, stop for a layover (there are very few direct flights from my hometown), wait, re-board, wait, catch the tram to the Strip, wait.  Did I mention all of the waiting?  It just always makes me wonder why I don’t avoid the challenges and simply hop in my own car to make the trip.  Of course, the answer is obvious; time savings.

Though it takes me less than 10 hours (stops included) to get from my front door to Excalibur in Vegas, that is still much longer than flying there on a 450 mph jetliner (waits included).  Of course, there is also the fringe benefit of being able to do other things while I am traveling by airplane that I do not have the luxury of doing while behind a steering wheel.

By now, most appraisers who know of me equate the Appraiser Coach title with Mobile Appraising.  I have been a huge advocate of using tablet computers at real estate appraisal inspections for years.  However, it is not unusual for me to get several emails a month ‘informing’ me that tablets/iPads do not save any time in the field.  As one recently put it, “I can inspect a home much faster using my trusty old paper and pencil.”  Well, this does not come as much of a shock to me because it also takes me longer to use a tablet in the field (and I have been using a computer at inspections for over 15 years)!  The time savings comes when you get back to the office and do not have to retype everything from your field notes.

Just as it is easier and less hassle to hop in my own vehicle and head to Vegas, I do it because of the time it saves me on the overall travel.  Furthermore, the added benefit of being able to work while I travel is akin to the benefit of increased quality you will experience using a tablet or iPad in the field.

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.  His two-day workshop will be held on Nov 11-12, 2013 in Las Vegas. His principles and methodologies are also taught in an online, Mastermind group. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children.

29 thoughts on ““I Can Inspect a Home Faster Using my Clipboard and Pencil””

  1. I am in the process of going total digital, and I have to admit its not easy. Sometimes it’s easier to go back to our old way because the new gadgets are not as “natural” feeling, but I trust than when I have retrained myself going back to the old way will also feel unnatural. Keep up the good work Dustin!

  2. I have been using a tablet now for almost 2 years. There was a learning curve, but it was worth it.

    Those who say they can do an inspection quicker with paper and pencil have lost sight of the big picture. What takes 10 minutes more on site alleviates more than 30 minutes in the office (then again maybe even more for slow typists). I wouldn’t go back to paper and pencil even if you paid me- because that is what you would have to do to make up for the lost productivity in the end.

  3. We also do all of our inspections on an Ipad. I still use a camera because of places where you need a flash, but as soon as the Ipad camera has a flash, I am there.

    It really does save you a ton of time in the office, and something that is rarely mentioned is that using a Disto and an Ipad (or Android tablet) is much more accurate. When you do make a big mistake, like typing in 40 for a 30 foot wall, you know it on site because the GLA is displayed.

    I am 47 years old and have used computers for my entire business life. I bought a MacPlus with a 1/2 gig hard drive for a little over $3000! (1985)There was no internet, but I was able to enter my clients and print mailing labels.

    We have come along was since 1985, but my encouragement to those who feel a little ‘clumsy’ with technology is to find someone who is already using technology and if you can, go along on a few inspections. The time you will save when you go back to the office and begin to type the reports will pay for your Ipad in 1-2 months, depending on your fees. It is well worth it.

  4. use your ipad for pictures, when you need a flash, use your phone and email it to your tablet, will save you even more time

  5. I purchased a tablet 3 years ago and found the alamode tablet software did not save me much time and it was awkward to use. But I tried. Recently, alamode upgraded the Total Mobile. That software is so much better. While drawing the sketch, I can tap the room lable and a new window open where I can take a photo of the room and make notes.

    As Dustin said above, the real saving is not having to redraw the sketch and drag and drop photos into the report.

    Dan, I would recommend buying a used or refurbished tablet at first if you don’t think you will like it. I am purchasing a new Samsung tablet because it has an LED flash for the camera which will help in taking basement photos.

  6. I perceive the problem with most appraisers is that they feel that they must be both the inspector, the processor, and the appraiser. I have built a very successful business model through the process of allowing a processor to input all information. I simply go into the field, take notes on my clipboard and shoot digital pictures. From that point, she loads all information into the software for my review and adjustments. Her pay is less than $700 per week. This is only the equivalent of doing two extra appraisals per week. This has never been a problem in my practice. In the end, I have every evening and weekend to spend with my family. I have provided employment for someone in need. And I have increased the volume and response time to my clients. Best of all, I am continually told by clients that the reason I received the assignment was that I always had someone who could answer the phone when they called! Work smart, not hard.

  7. Sorry, but “Old School” appraising with 100′ tape in 10ths, clipboard/sketch pad and pen ain’t broke so no NEED to fix it in my opinion. If some of you folks prefer the disto and tablet/laptop good for you.

    I prefer to inspect the property and drive to the office to write the report as opposed to either working on a tablet while in the house or sitting in front of the house in a glaring sun trying to read a computer screen.

    I garontee I can measure, take notes and photos and write up an appraisal report as quickly, efficiently and accurately as pretty much any appraiser with all the techno gadgets. And writing a report should not be all about “speed” anyway. It is simply much easier to concentrate on what you are writing in the office as opposed to in the field, period.

    And by the way, why would any professional ever stay at Excalibur when in Vegas?

  8. I’ve been using a disto for about 5 years. It was an incredible time saver from the start. I went to a site and didn’t have it the other day and had to go old school (tape), and it sucked. Was a 4000 sq ft house and it took forever. Then there’s the upstairs. That’s where a laser shines. I have combined this tool with an android tablet for about two years but just switched to the Samsung Galaxy note II phone. I can do almost an entire report on the phone. Its large enough to see and it has a flash with a great camera. I have found these items combined to actually save me time on site and definitely back at the office. Takes a little practice to get proficient but I “garontee” (LOL) I can crank out a faster more thorough field inspection than someone who doesn’t use these tools. I have an app on my phone that basically makes it into a document scanner. Someone has docs in the field for me to look at I just scan them with the phone and they go right into the work file.
    I was recently at a CE class with 20+ local appraisers and was astounded at how many old schoolers where still doing it the slow way. Out of 20 maybe 3 used a disto and non used a tablet. I was more astounded when I tried to talk to them about the technolgy and how many of these people got defensive and almost angry when you try to tell them how easy it is. They just fight the technology and I guess the change. Most were older than I am ( I’m 47) and I guess they don’t want to come to grips that the world is moving on, and it’s moving fast. I’m actually kinda glad they fight the technology as I’m sure my faster turn times have added greatly to my business. I stay swamped while other I guess turn their customers off with slow turn times.

  9. When I originally researched tablets I had 4 possibilities. The HTC Jetstream won hands down due to the amazing camera with flash, longer battery life and was slightly cheaper than the iPad.

    I concur that the new Total 2013 app is so much better than the older WinTotal versions for the tablet.


  11. I am in the middle. I have been using a laser for over 5 years and swear by it. YES you can do exterior measurements just find something to hit or go to a fence and subtract, etc. I have not switched to a tablet but am really considering it. I am not sure how the photos will go in the right places but I plan to give it a try this winter. I am sure if I get used to it it will be like my laser and I won’t look back.

  12. I have been using a tablet for a couple years now, and at times I feel better using pen and paper, mostly for box style homes that are pretty basic. However, for those more complex properties, I prefer the tablet. The greatest benefit for me is knowing that when I finish the drawing, that everything reconciles with no surprises back at the office. Also, I know what my gross living area is before I leave the subject, which at times is not consistent with county assessor or older MLS data. This allows me to search for new comparables if necessary while I am in the field (on my tablet), instead of finding out back at the office and having to make a second trip for photos. But for some, it just won’t be a good fit, and more power to you.

  13. I did the entire switch in August. Switched to total 2013 from another vendor i had used for 13 years. Went to total mobile inspection on ipad. Stopped using Apex. The change cost me over $4,000 in lost productivity (minimum). However, after 45 days, i am learning the inns and outs and the quirkiness of the software and the ipad inspection. I’ve used a Bosh laser measuring device for two years. It is the second best device i have ever purchased for my business, with the first being a computer. The software is still so so. The mobile inspection is still so so. The sketching by total leaves much to be desired as compared to apex on the desktop. Apex mobile is equally as frustrating as total 2013 sketching. All in all, i am saving time on the back end once i return to the office. It’s a royal pain to drop the clipboard after 14 years and i am still faster w/ a pen and clipboard on site. I still think clipboard = better notes however, i am learning and changing and taking the time to do it. In two more years the appraisal business is going to be totally digitalized and those left behind will take a financial hit. I want to be ahead of the curve. I complete my inspection in the field, send it to my assistant who prepares the report with data entry. After she completes her work i do my part w/analysis, adjustments and all the things i’m specifically licensed for and i save at least 1.5 hours per report by doing an all digital inspection. I’m also about 90% paperless as well. My advice to the old timers: the transition is absolutely terrible, frustrating and is not good for those about to have a stroke or heart attack. I’m 42 and surprised i didn’t jump off a bridge, pretend my ipad was a discus or just chunk the POS out the window of my truck. Now after 45 days (30 of pure frustration – 15 of so so frustration) i am seeing the benefit and want more. it’s helping my efficiency which equates to more $ per hour. Innovate or die.

    Drink the cool aid.

  14. How do you reconcile using a DISTO which discloses a built in accuracy variance of up to 4%, with the USPAP ANSI Standard which requires accuracy to within either one inch or one centimeter? A 100 foot run is going to give you up to 4 feet of variance. I used to use a glass tape (less stretch than cloth and more comfortable). When ANSI was adopted, I had to switch back to a steel tape (zero stretch).

  15. Absolutely concur! Been doing this almost 28 years now, and IMHO much of the technology has done nothing more than increase the clients expectations for more service and lower fees, in faster turn times.

    Wonder how many are using auto fillers for 1004MC (forgot about the “analysis part” of it, did we?); or that silly ass Working RE advertised form filling service where you now give all your clients personal contact data plus the fact they are even having an appraisal done, to third party strangers that have no business knowing it in the first place. Are we now quibbling with what the meaning of confidentiality is? If appraisers think it is ok, then let them ask their clients permission to disclose to 3rd party services, in advance of the order.

  16. KGB-justify DISTO compliance with ANSI as required under USPAP, THEN talk to me about how ‘smart’ you are.
    I have a Note II also, and it is far more cumbersome to use in the field than a clip board is. I’ve tried different background settings, different light and saturation settings and its still too difficult to read it in the daylight, which btw is when I do my field work. Note II may be a decent tool without the flip cover, but if I use anything on the internet it swollows the battery up in less than an hour; two at max. As a phone, it’ll last a day and a half.

    I’ve earned up to $93,000 a year HONESTLY in the past. You keep your shortcuts.

  17. Guys, Ive been using a Motion J-3500 PC tablet with a bluetooth Disto D-8 for years. In my Opinion this is the only way to go. Although it is truly a PC tablet and considerably more expensive then a iPad or a typical tablet it is a full functional computer. I literally directly input fieldnotes into my appraisal software that is on a common computer I use the same sketching software I would use on a desktop and with the Bluetooth D8 it literally transforms all of my measurements directly into my sketching software. There is no need to upload to the cloud or convert from one format to another it is all directly input into my ACI software….The exact same software that is on my desktop in the office. I walk around the subject property measuring with the laser measurer the laser measure transfers all of the measurements onto the sketching software so that by the time I have walked around the perimeter of the home the subject is completely sketched. Measuring 8000 square-foot crackerbox does not really safe time where this software shines is when you were measuring difficult floorplans with offset angles and this thing is totally awesome. I have also tried the tablet thing it is not worth my time and effort. Completing an appraisal on a iPad then having to send it to the cloud then downloading it and having to convert it from iPad to ACI and also going back into the ACI and filling in the data imports in which the tablet missed take way way too much time. I simply open up ACI on my Tablet PC complete the fields as though I was filling this out in the office then when I am done I can email the full .aci Format report to the office And have my guy in the office pulling deeds, plats, surveys, comps, etc. while I am on my way to the next appraisal. I literally gets twice is much work done twice as fast. This PC also has a built-in modem and GPS I can use it for everything and I can pull emails in the field and look at it on a 11 inch screen. I realize that an iPad cost $600 my set up with all the bells and whistles runs $3500-$4000. HOWEVER….Since I have used both this method and the iPad method the time and trouble you save from the conversion issues of the iPad to ACI…The time effort and money I save going with the motion J 3500 is well worth the money. You will save headaches time and I’ll promise you you will make this money back in the efficiency within the first 6 to 8 months. There Are several other PC tablet models besides the one I use, however the motion J 3500 is water resistant I can literally input stuff in the pouring down rain and I do not have to worry about my computer at all..It’s completely sealed. I am fairly young and have been appraising for 23 years I am 42 years old…I am from the old school and I used to use Pen and paper as well. I think that all of the people converting over to the new technology are getting frustrated with the iPad and similar tablets and the quirkiness that they have when trying to convert back to an ACI file And all of the extra steps you have to take to make a report work for you. Again I have used both a tablet and my PC tablet, the PC tablet is the way to go regardless of the make and model you use…Do yourself a favor and use a PC tablet not a cheap tablet That does not actually run your appraising software….Just my two cents

  18. Nathan, I’m still old school on all of this but will make the switch soon.
    I agree with you on a PC tablet as the way to go but technology moves on and spending 3-4K on a system now doesn’t make sense. How about the new MS Surface – I hear it is more like a laptop than a tablet and wonder if it will take our standard ACI or ALa Mode software. Has anybody checked this out?

  19. I am in the same dilemma, guys. Trying to decide now whether to switch from ACI to Total 2013 based on how easy the mobile part of the equation is. I have tried ACI Sketch and its Phoenix mobile version; they are terrible compared to Apex. Wintotal sketching is no picknick either. I now have Apex V.5 and am going to try the Apex V.5 mobile sketch program. Forget about filling in the forms on my ipad in the field. The process of transfering data back into desk top software is sticky and can be fraught with time-robbing mishaps.
    I love the Disto laser measuring, especially when upstairs inside measurements are needed. I am thinking of just creating a one-page ms word template for site notes to be referred to later on the desk top, This can also be digitally stored in the report as a pdf.

  20. I too have been at this for 30 years, I carry three measuring devises. The Disto, a 25′ steel tape and a 100′ fiberglass tape. I use what ever is fastest at any given moment. Couldn’t live without the Disto. Saves much time, particularly in filled up garages, upstairs and less crawling in bushes. Its very accurate, I wouldn’t worry about that. With really long distances I’m usually using the 100′ tape, just can’t see that little dot. The newer ones with the video screens might help that.

    I use wintotal and its sketch program. I have given the tablet much thought. Don’t know anyone using one. The pc type seems to make more sense. Its the logistics that puzzle me. Rain, dropping it, banging into walls, sun glare, etc. All sounds too probable. Often, I have to skip around to other spots to measure due to obstacles and what ever. We’ve all have had walls we just couldn’t get to. Now I can go back the office a figure it out. Does the mobile have that flexibility? And what if you can’t close your drawing because its off a few tenths? Can you fudge around wall measurements afterwards? I’m sure with hands on experience will answer some of these questions but at this point I don’t get it. I’d like to here real life experiences before investing.

  21. Oh, and I might add…. what if the tablet locks up after measuring that 1000sf house? My clipboard has never locked up (although it can be hard to read when its wet LOL)

  22. Michael, that information is far from accurate. Not sure where you got that info or if it’s from older Disto product but my Disto D8, which is by no means new, has an accuracy of +-1.5mm or 0.06 inches measuring at up to 650 feet. That’s six hundredths of an inch. Now, at angles that accuracy goes down. So if I’m measuring a 30 feet length but I’m using the angle function and my angle is at 45 degrees my accuracy goes down to +-12mm which is less than one half of one inch. Most of the time we don’t use angles but even when we do, that kind of accuracy is pretty great. That same 30 foot wall measured at 10 degrees has accuracy of just a little over one tenth of one inch. You should go back to laser measuring. Here are the websites I used for these numbers: http://ptd.leica-geosystems.com/en/Leica-DISTO-D8_78069.htm (click on Product Information tab) and http://ptd.leica-geosystems.com/en/All-about-DISTO-D8_78107.htm Also, the cheaper Distos all the way down to the D2 have the same accuracy.

  23. I complete everything I can on Page 1, sketch, etc in the field. I have an app that transfers the info into the report. I worry about having a workfile with nothing from the field in it. Any thoughts on this? Would Appraisal Police believe me??

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  25. Nathan, this post that I read is old, any new advice to help someone trying get rid of the tape and clipboard? ( what is s the best Laser tool, best PC tablet, best software etc…, for the cost). I also have been using ACI for 28 years. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks Jim

  26. I am a trainee about to upgrade to certified. I originally used paper, tape and clipboard in my first year. Second year I used 100% tablet and laser (tape when necessary)without telling my old-school boss at the time. He was surprised at how much my overall speed had progressed; but most of it was because of technology.

    No need to redo sketch. I always know if my gla is off from historical data or not. Photos already labeled and ready to properly upload into report. Built in recorder (a la mode) for homeowner interview.

    My first year was done old-school. I get it, but i’m not a fan of double work back at the office.

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