Is Technology Making it Easier or Harder to do Your Job?

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.

tablet-feat-1116I 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

32 thoughts on “Is Technology Making it Easier or Harder to do Your Job?”

  1. Pingback: Is Technology Making it Easier or Harder to do Your Job? - Appraisal Buzz

    1. Goo afternoon,
      I read your article regarding the use of technology with great interest. I did have a tablet several years ago however, it was very heavy and too cumbersome to be effective. Also, the transfer of data back to my desk computer was not efficient. As a result I sold it.
      That being said, and with the new and improved systems available, I once again, am interested. So, my question being a novice to this technology, is this; which system do you find the most efficient out there?. I also want to add that in March 2016, I will have been an appraiser and a Realtor for 45 years of continuous service. I can remember when an Appraisal was done on a 6 inch X 11.5 inch hard stock paper . I attached a black & white photograph of the front of the subject dwelling along with a brief description (4-6 lines), the date of the inspection and a final Estimate of Value. The cost was $35.00. In the 1970’s I completed several thousand of these Appraisals.
      Anyway, what systems do you suggest? I appreciate both the content of your articles and the time to answer my question.

      1. Lee:

        The type of tablet does not matter much. Most of them work about the same. I use an iPhone 6 and a Disto laser if that helps any. Yes, we have come a long way. 🙂

  2. I agree 1000%! Not long ago, at an appraisal conference, I was having this conversation with a peer (competitor). He said he tried an ipad and thought it was too much and he liked his “tried and true” method of using the clipboard. My response was simply “I’m happy to hear that!” and walked away with a smile (smirk?) on my face. He came up to me a couple of months later and said he couldn’t stop thinking of my last comment and finally “forced himself” to learn it. He is now happy he did. I am too as I believe it elevates the professionalism of our look to the customer.

    1. Smirk all you want technotard.

      I’ve used a fiberglas tape measure, sketch pad and pen for over 20 years and therefore saved hundreds of dollars on “technology” that is pretty much useless time wise in the field and much more prone to “break” and can guarantee I am as efficient as you will ever be.

      Good luck next time you drop any of your little “gadgets” and they explode. I promide I won;t be smirking because I will be laughing out loud at you and your little broken “toys”.

      1. I have about 30 years in this business. In January 2015, I went to an Iphone 6+ as I need a larger screen size. The builtin camera flash does a good job in the attic or crawlspace. A lot of tablets don’t have that feature. Further the phone is easy to carry and if you have your earbuds plugged in, you can carry on a conversation on the phone. Tablets are to large when you try and take pictures and are stretching to get the correct angle.
        The crossover too the phone took about 2 months to learn correctly. The time in the field has not changed. Sketch accuracy is now 100% accurate. Photos are rarely missed. Notes can be verbal or typed into the program. The biggest advantage, is that when you decide on your comps, enter just the address and the programs mapping software, shows you where all your comps are. Drive by, snap your picture and take notes and you are off to the next comp. My software allows one click between map and comp. I do not waste time filling out all of the data in the phone as my skeleton has most of the standard responses set up.
        For all of you old timers like myself, take the time to adapt.

      2. Why wish or laugh at bad fortune on another appraiser? I’m old school myself but I keep monitoring techies so that when the products reach a point where they are reliable, I can revisit whether they’d work for me. Respectfully we should be looking to help our fellow appraisers…not seek opportunities to scoff at them (unless they are VERY good friends). That’s why I volunteer through the American Guild of Appraisers to help TRY to defend appraisers in trouble with state agencies, blacklisting or undue pressure issues. I saw underlying humor in your post and prefer to assume THAT was the intent all along.

        1. “Why wish or laugh at bad fortune on another appraiser?”

          “Joe” started it and I finished it, simple as that…

        2. Hey Mike:

          CA + AG + AGA + GAA + RAA don’t come close to SRA and
          CA X AG X AGA X GAA X RAA don’t even sniff MAI.

          Nice try though…

      3. Margaret L Burrell

        Thank you for saying that. I tried the tablet recently, the glare on it made it hard to use, I spent way too long trying to move back and forth to screens, it took me out of my game. I like the old fashione way with that old pencil that will not freeze on a cold day and paper that will not be wrecked in the rain. There is nothing professional looking about me fumbling with a tablet while the borrowers stare at me in there bathroom for 10 minutes trying to type “tile/avg” Until I get too senile to remember the house I just inspected this morning I will be fine with my pencil and paper and digital camera. Good to go for under $100 and no software upgrades.

  3. Dustin,

    I’m a 20 year veteran so I may too be an old dog, but I’ve tried every form of mobile starting with a Fujitsu slate with windows 2000, couple different convertibles, Note II, and a tablet and I stay with the pen and paper, Disto, and camera for a different reason. I find that if I’m looking at the tablet I’m not looking at the real estate/improvements. So I find that I produce a better product with the old tools. BTW, I’m not an old geezer, I’m a total techie and the tools I really dig are the Anthro Elevate II sit/stand desk, twin Dell U3011 monitors, Intuos Pro for touchpad/mouse replacement, dragon naturallyspeaking with Samson CR77 headset, scansnap IX500, Brother HL-8350 color, and for the rural peeps a TP-Link TL-R470T+ Load Balancing Broadband Router (4DSLx5mb makes living in the country functional). Just my 2 cents.

      1. I am currently using a Canon Powershot A4000, but would not recommend it due to the focal length. I would look at one of these with a smaller first number on the focal length. I used to have one, but forgot when I dropped it and replaced it. I’m gonna order one of these, but haven’t decided which. It will likely be the Samsung WB350, it’s expendable at that price. Best Wishes http://point-and-shoot-camera-review.toptenreviews.com/

  4. I have tried the tablet and my objection to it is I can’t/or don’t draw the interior. I think on a large home it might be easy to “miss” a room/powder bath…..I don’t like fumbling back and forth from drawing to notes etc. I use graph paper so an error in measuring is small because it needs to add up.
    Good for you though!!
    Renee

  5. I am a true believer of mobile appraising. As with any new technology or change, there is a learning curve. Going from the clipboard to the tablet took some adjustments and a willingness to embrace the technology, but now I advocate for it every chance I get. What I found was the need to develop a system that I use each and every time I perform a property inspection. With a systematic way of going about my business I don’t overlook any rooms, make sure I have all my photos, and any notes I need to make are included whether in about the overall condition and/or quality of subject itself or in each individual room. When I get back to the office and upload this data back to my desktop I am starting at the “let’s look for comps stage” instead of beginning the process all over again from scratch. I have done the timing and I find I save approximately 25 minutes per report. Over a year that’s about 5000 minutes (200 reports) or a little over 2 weeks. I can either take a vacation??? or catch up on all that pesky administrative work that sometimes falls between the cracks. If you haven’t tried mobile appraising I strongly suggest you do and give yourself the time to get over the learning curve, I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  6. The gentleman with the high powered stuff is impressive. Heck I have no idea what a TP link load balancing broadband router is, so I guess he wins. What I will say is that when this cowboy (literally) shows up at a ranch or a house, I find it interesting the conversations that start with the property owners or agents. As far as the time spent at the property, well again Dustin you too, are smarter, taller and better looking than me. I am usually at the property for about 15 to 30 minutes longer. Partly because I dictate all my site and home notes in the tablet ( which I dropped kicked last year, $355 later). Plus I review all my notes with the property owner and discuss what I didn’t see. That usually leads to the owner remembering something that they really should have told me. Usually when I am done even the simple tract house I am there for about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Now I can hear all the laughter at this point. But here is the kick. First off I have not had to go back and measure a home to verify that my dimensions are right and that public records is screwed up. Where I live that is a regular occurrence, So I have not gone back to a house to remeasure two long walls in 2 years. Also haven’t had to go back to a site because I forgot to shoot the rear photo or street photo, tell me those out that haven’t done that. I hear laughter again, but because I do litigation work I have seen what happens to appraisers on the witness stand that didn’t do there do diligence. A savings in time and money when I don’t have to go back to a property, Lastly and more importantly, I can’t tell you the number of times that people of commented on how professional I am, (remember I wear a Stetson, big belt buckle and boots) and because of that I get referrals from agents and property owners regularly for the private party work, estates, litigation or pre-listing appraisal work, why because they think I am professional. Now sometimes it may have to do with the fact that I think I know what I am doing, but some of it is perception and right now this industry needs some help in the perception arena. So to all you who still have your clip board and graph paper, why not consider spending a couple of bucks and giving it a try, this techno computer fan-dangle stuff, you might be surprised. I was, I am glad I did even though it cost me $355, when I dropped kicked the tablet and had 4 legged large 17 hand horse step back right on top of the screen. Spending money on technology is not always about saving time, it is sometimes, about keeping up and trying to better yourself. So now I have to go out and find out what TP Link, load balancing broadband router is, since I live in the country, better catch up with that gentleman who commented about his clipboard. My hope Dustin is that you and your family have a great Christmas and New Year’s. I figure where you live it should be a White Christmas. Keep up the good work. Regards

  7. It took me several years and at least 5 honest attempts to go mobile before it finally stuck. Now, I can’t imagine going back to pencil/clipboard/tape measure/camera data collection again. Yes, it does take more time “in the field”, but after 30 years of appraising, it seems I’m making more mistakes measuring than ever before. And, my penmanship is getting suspiciously undecipherable 🙂 Now, I’m able to catch my measuring mistakes & fill in all the blanks on-site which then allows me to spend more time analyzing data in the office, and, answering stupid UW questions. I use an iPhone 6+ at the inspection as I find it’s size is more manageable than an iPad. I sync on-site with a MacBook Pro, tidy up the sketch, pull comps and take comp photos with the iPhone and have everything ready when I get back to the office. Then it’s just sync, tweak, and git er dun. If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to go mobile a few times, give it a few more hacks. You’ll be glad you did. Just my 2 cents 🙂

    1. Your system is the first I have ever heard that makes sense to me. I like that you use your phone for both inspection data and photos and that your two devices are the same brand. I might have to retract the post I made prior to reading a few of these comments.

    2. Question. Do you comp search with your phone or laptop and if with the laptop, how do you get internet from your car? Do you pay for that as a separate phone line or is it rolled into your cell phone bill? Paying for laptop internet has been a sticking point for me. I loathe to pay for my smartphone data, but do it anyways for the mapping and email links. I go to Starbucks or McDonald or Noodles for wi-if when I don’t want to make a second trip for comp pics (I rarely pre-pick comps).

  8. I am waiting for the device that has a camera, laser tape and laptop all in one, programmed by appraisers to drop data into the report in the order it would occur during the inspection. Big fat buttons to push with gloves on too, water proof, shock proof. Now that would be cool and I would buy it in a heart beat.

    I think the return of investment towards high tech inspections depends on the individual. For a individual who has poor memory, or cant trust their memory, or is too worried they might make a mistake and get sued, or needs to look at their piece of paper each and every time they make a different entry, or cant read their own writing, or is slow on the keyboard/mouse, or struggles with software, etc., etc., high-tech inspections are probably a god-send. I dunno. Maybe that describes most people. My best appraiser friend is like that – great appraiser, horrible with navigating a computer so he limits his time on it as much as possible. He also has a bad memory and is terrified to make a simple mistake, so he looks at everything nine times sideways. He loves his inspection tablet and recommends it always. Yet, he is always doing less appraisals than me in more time.

    Conversely, high tech makes perfect sense when an appraiser delegates as much of their workload as they can. Anytime you involve two people in the same task, efficiency goes out the window.

    LOL. Sometimes I bring my laptop to the field so I can do a comp search after inspection without a second trip for photos (which I do pretty often). If I happen to forget my mouse and have to use the touch pad, I get so mad I usually consider going home (I never actually do, but the thought crosses my mind). The mouse is my favorite high-tech time saver.

  9. I tried a long time ago to take a laptop into the field with a paid assistant to start typing data I dictated. Disaster. Cant read the screen in many directions of travel; it ‘bounces’ making it hard for her to type, and in the end required someone with more appraisal knowledge and skill to be useful. Half the time I cannot read my phone screen outside. I’m loath to make my livelihood dependent on it being overcast. I just bought a Bosch Laser and tested it at home for accuracy before going on a commercial office-retail storefront building assignment. It was up to 5 feet off on runs of from 55 to 60 feet! I haven’t had to back out and re inspect in a LONG time, but that’s what I actually wound up doing AND double checking with a STEEL tape (fiberglass stretches).

    Im willing to try new tech but I want it to be RELIABLE! I don’t save much time if I have to go back into the field a second time! Also-I ‘upgraded’ my Alamode from Aurora to Total a couple months ago so I could match to a trainee that I told to buy Alamode; which is supposed to be compatible with portable devices. It’s the worst software I’ve ever tried to use. Software designers may be getting bored; or may want to ‘keep up’ with the Microsoft-Joneses but they should understand how MUCH software we have to stay on top of and frankly my tolerance for new learning curves is just about gone now. K.I.S.S. !!! Do NOT change what does not NEED to be changed! Fortunately I kept Aurora; and have Click forms AND ACI as back ups.

  10. Like so many of your other postings, this was another good one, that inspires debate, and even some unprofessionalism on the part of some of the commenters.

    I am a proponent of efficiency, it’s what I teach and preach, when I have the chance. As the owner of an AMC, I work hard to help my panel and staff become more efficient in their appraisal process. It’s good for them. Good for clients. Good for homeowners. Good for Borrowers.

    It really is a simple equation. When you use a clipboard, separate camera and a pencil or pen, you are doubling up all of your work on page 1 of the appraisal.

    Take the sketch for example. If you’re using a clipboard with the piece of graph paper and a pencil and you complete the sketch out at the property, you go back to your office, fire up a separate piece of scheduling software and do the sketch again. You have done the sketch twice. If you use a tablet with the right appraisal inspection gathering software, you do it once and that is it. The same goes for taking photos. You can take your photos with your tablet, you take them once, you label them and they get imported into the form correctly labeled. If you use a separate camera, you have to download the photos, put them into a folder on the hard drive somewhere, figure out which are which and import them one by one into your report and label them. Just these two examples show how inefficient the use of a clipboard and separate camera is. Inefficiency equals money and time lost.

    Take the time to learn and understand data collection software and use it to your advantage. You will become more efficient and more profitable. There is absolutely no other outcome.

    Thanks again for a great topic to debate.

  11. If I make it simple and answer the question “Is Technology Making it Easier or Harder to do Your Job” than I answer Harder. Its harder because any time savings I have created, have been offset by the lenders, AMC’s, know it all borrowers (Zillow), run a report in the MLS agents, underwrites who SEE things in overhead satellite photos, collateral underwriting platform (CU), etc. If I save an hour, but technology has given the power to other parties to create 2 hours of additional work for me, how is my work easier?

  12. I been in the biz for over 36 years doing eminent domain appraisals along with commercial and residential reports for lenders, CPA’s and attorneys. The advances in technology have made residential appraising the most profitable it has ever been . Over the last 2 and a half years, i attended several ala Mode seminars to learn how to maximize their software to the fullest extent possible within the context of my “one man band” office. In August 2013, I made the switch to their Total program, began mobile appraising and went paperless. Within two weeks, I had the work flow established with this new technology. The ala Mode seminars were the keys because you need to know the details which they provided. Trial and error is one way of learning. However, it can become costly and frustrating.

    Another thing I have done is out sourced the report data entry. This has cut one to one and half hours of report production time for a cost of just $12.49 per report. My time is worth much more than that cost. These guys are accurate and timely. When I go to the inspection, most of the subject and sale info are loaded in the report and I can edit as needed. Like Dustin and others have said, field time is not reduced but the effort at the office after the inspection has decrease. Although by having the Comp addresses in the report, the mobile app can provide GPS directions to the sales which is big time saver over messing with paper maps.

    Going paperless is much less traumatic than most think. I have the electronic reports and work files stored in three different locations. What are the chances of all three falling at the same time? I like the risk/benefit odds on that one. No more boxes of files to be stored for five years, no more file folders to buy and very little paper to purchase. I still occasionally use paper. If the hand written document is needed for the work file, it gets scanned as a pdf.

    So, my bottom line recommendation is to attend an ala Mode seminar to learn what works for many of us out there. Then use that info to implement the 2016 technology in your business. I would not want to go back to the clip board/pencil, pasting photos, drawing and coloring sale maps era of real estate appraisal.

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