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Technology and You/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/JUN08/Images/TechYou

Smart and Speedy Appraisal Software

Cathie Foster remembers a time when developing an appraisal report required a lot of photo scanning, copying, cutting and pasting. “We did everything by hand,” recalls Foster, owner of Foster Appraisal Inc. in Port Orange. “We scanned and copied all of the maps and photos manually, and then inserted them into the final appraisal reports.”

That changed about six years ago, when Foster founded her current company and decided to streamline the process with a software system that could handle much of the legwork for her. “I shopped around because I didn’t like my system at the time,” says Foster, who decided on a la mode’s WinTOTAL appraisal management software.

Priced at $599 for the professional version, the software includes features like SmartMerge (which allows users to merge specific forms from old reports); high-resolution location maps, flood and Census data; QuickPix (for transferring photos from a digital camera to the forms); and access to more than 500 forms in a customizable library.

Here are four ways that Foster uses the appraisal software to streamline her business processes:

1. Pre-Fill Appraisal Reports
Instead of having to shuffle through photos and paper notes to create professional-looking appraisal reports for clients, Foster simply boots up her computer and clicks on the WinTOTAL icon on her desktop. Once the program is open, she has the option of opening either a new report or an existing document. For new projects, she can fill in the property address, owners’ names and other key pieces of information before heading out to see the home firsthand. “I try to get all of the basic stuff entered here to make it easier on myself,” says Foster, who often cuts and pastes such information from the county appraiser’s Web site to further simplify the task.

The software also includes hundreds of forms and the ability to add more “unusual” ones, as needed. If Foster is doing an appraisal on a manufactured home, for example, she uses an addendum that covers property-specific issues that lenders require for them. “It’s all right in the software,” says Foster. “I can find the addendums quickly, insert them into my reports and then fill them out for the borrower.”
 
2. Sync Data 
With the help of her Dell handheld computer, Foster can quickly transfer her pre-filled report into a portable format and take it with her when she does appraisals. Once at the property, she can add new information to the form such as the presence of covered porches and swimming pools, types of roofing materials used and details about exterior coverings.

“I can quickly pull up the form I was working on in the office and add all of the addendums that I need to,” says Foster. “It makes it much more convenient than trying to take notes and then running back to the office to enter them into my computer.”

3. Link to a Web Site
Foster’s appraisal software serves as a direct conduit to her company Web site, where prospective clients can fill in forms requesting her services. A client who lives in Massachusetts and is buying a home in Florida, for example, can visit the site and view all the appraisal pricing and details. To order an appraisal, the client simply fills out and sends a short form.

Foster enjoys this additional source of business, particularly in today’s unpredictable real estate market. “The software sends me an e-mail telling me that I have a new order. We’ve gotten a lot of referrals that way.”
 
4. Recycle Comparables
Instead of reinventing the wheel every time she needs to come up with comparable sales data, Foster relies on her appraisal software to maintain a log of her past records. That way, when it comes time to appraise a home in an area where she worked only two weeks earlier, for example, she can pull up those comparables and funnel the appropriate ones into her new report. “It fills everything in for me,” says Foster, “including the photos.”

Thinking back to the manual way she used to handle appraisals, Foster says she simply “couldn’t live without” her appraisal software. “It saves me time and money, and makes me much more efficient,” she says. “Plus, the quality of our reports is so much higher; you can actually see the photos now.”  

This column, designed to offer examples of how salespeople and brokers are using technology in their offices, won first place in the 2006 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association. The column is for general information only. Opinions expressed here don’t necessarily reflect an endorsement of the views by Florida Realtor magazine or the Florida Association of Realtors®.