One of my passions is helping my fellow appraisers save time and make things more efficient for their appraisal flow. As a fee appraiser, I realize that time does indeed equal money. If I can complete an appraisal faster (without cutting quality), I can do more appraisals over time, and make more money than my competition, without cutting fees. Saving a few minutes here and there does not seem like a big deal, but it adds up over time when we are doing hundreds of appraisal assignments per year.
Over the past few years (through use of my blog, podcast episodes, workshops, and one-on-one coaching), I have been able to share ideas that have transformed the way some appraisers do business, helping them become top producers in their geographic markets. Those who follow my work know that I am all about efficiency, but only if quality of work remains the same (or increases) during the process.
I am constantly on the lookout for new technology, ways of working with others, or changes in the appraisal business model, which will lead to a more productive office. In order to excel in the competitive and challenging world of appraisal, efficiency is key. This is one reason I am a huge advocate of ‘going mobile’ for appraisal inspections. Most know I use a tablet, smartphone, or other mobile computing device (together referred to as ‘tablet’ for this article) for gathering data in the field. However, many don’t realize that using a tablet does not save any time in the field. In fact, it will likely increase inspection time!
Using a clipboard with a form, or piece of graph paper, and a pencil is the traditional way of collecting data about the subject. I used this method during the first few years of being in business. It is actually not a bad way to do an inspection. One can easily carry the clipboard, measuring device, and a camera. Gathering data consists of sketching the property on the paper and making notes about the quality, condition and amenities while walking through the property. An added benefit is dropping the clipboard does not result in a $500 equipment loss. One simply picks it up, brushes it off, and continues on their way.
Recently the mobile computer was brought to the scene. The power and memory contained in a handheld device trumps even the largest computers from a decade ago. The technological world we live in is incredible. More and more appraisers are using tablets in the field to gather their data. If you are looking to decrease the time you spend at a subject property however, tablet use is probably not for you. In a recent, non-scientific study, I found that my time in the field was actually increased by 5-7 minutes using a tablet over the traditional method. That’s right, I was spending more time in the field while using a computer rather than a more traditional method.
Why is it slower to gather data with a tablet? First of all, everything is done on the tablet itself. The three main components of an appraisal inspection are photos, sketch, and form data. Whereas the clipboard/pen method has you taking photos with a separate device, tablets do it all. This may seem like a time-saver, but it actually increases time spent because you are constantly moving from one screen to another – to put in a photo, measure the side of a house, and back to put “Vinyl/Ave” in for the exterior material description. With a clipboard and pen, it can all be done on the same ‘screen.’ There is also more to fill out at an inspection with a tablet. For example, I label all of my photos (“Side of House,” or “Mold Under Kit counter”) as I take the pictures. That is not done in real time when using a digital camera. I am also particular about filling out every field I can on-site. I want the report to be complete and clean when I upload it back to the office. All these factors increase time spent at the property.
So, why spend hundreds of dollars on a tablet and countless hours learning how to use it, if it does not save time (and thus money)? Hold on there, cowboy! I didn’t say a tablet does not save time. I said it does not save time “in the field.” That is not where the efficiency comes into play. For those of you who are still using the clipboard/pen method, I challenge you to experiment. Next time you get back to the office after an inspection, use a stopwatch to find out how many minutes it takes to get your notes, sketch, and photos into the report so you can start looking at comps and making adjustments. I guarantee it takes longer than you think. Now, multiply that number by the number of appraisals you do in a week, month, and year. That time is greatly reduced when you use a tablet in the field. The time saving benefits of using a tablet for inspections are not found in the field itself, but back at the office when re-entering data you already dealt with at the property.
With the skepticism some borrowers have toward appraisers, spending a few extra minutes in their home may not be a bad thing. Also, though it may seem trite or even a bit vain, I think carrying a tablet vs. a clipboard gives a professional air, which may give the borrower a little more peace of mind that you may know a bit about these “fandangled appraisaling” things.
Lastly, tablets will actually increase the quality of your work. No more getting back to the office only to find one side of your sketch does not match the other side. On a tablet, it either fits or it does not. One is less likely to forget photos because all pictures can be seen in a glance at one’s screen. If you forgot to take a photo of the street, there is an empty, grey box staring you in the face, reminding you before leaving the property.
As I talk with appraisers who are still using the old, paper/pencil method of gathering data, I am often met with resistance. I am sometimes informed that they “have tried the new tech gadgets and they do not save any time. I have been doing it my way for decades now and it works just fine for me, thank you!” Certainly, I understand and respect that approach. In one sense, I agree. Using a tablet in the field does not save any time at the inspection. It is when you get back to the office that you see the real power of technology in action.
First published in the Appraisal Buzz