“But there never seems to be enough time To do the things you want to do.“ – Time in a Bottle- Words and Music by Jim Croce Copyright © 1975
Most major appraisal management companies issue a monthly appraiser “report card” and bear names such as “Vendor Performance Report.” One company report does not equivocate on the sole object of most of these reports and the report is aptly named “Turn Around Time (TAT) Report.” Submitting timely reports has come to dominate the relationship between the appraiser and the appraisal management company.
Concurrently, there are even more demands for greater and more detailed reporting. The Fannie Mae Selling guide and Guidance on Appraisal Related Issues speaks to this issue. In this publication Fannie Mae calls for the inclusion of a number of interior pictures, and calls for reporting data/or verification for each comparable sales. The data source for this reporting must be specific such as noting “the buyer, seller, listing or selling agent.” Fannie Mae summarizes their position thusly: “Regardless of the source(s) used, there must be sufficient data to understand the conditions of sale, existence of financing concessions, physical characteristics of the subject property, and whether it was an arms-length transaction.” Appraisers are reporting using many more comparables then were used just a few years ago. Each comparable requires verification and often, even in this world dominated by cell-phones and e-mails, verification is difficult to come by within the narrow time-frames appraisers are given complete reports. The demands to complete appraisals in even shorter times are unrelenting and the fixation by clients on turnaround time (TAT) can be a disruptive influence on conscientious and competent appraising. At the same time, appraisers must allow time for marketing; building and maintaining a client base. More than ever as appraiser enter 2021; appraisers must face the reality of time pressure with the focus on productivity and the judicious use of the hours in each day. Appraisers may begin this process by a focus on those conditions that may be considered “time wasters.”
What Wastes the Appraiser’s Time?
Time wasters may be self-inflicted or come about by external sources. This is an important distinction. Examples of self-inflicted time wasters are procrastination, perfectionism, lack of self-discipline, worrying, personal disorganization, lack of priorities and over-commitment, (the inability to say “no”.) External sources of time wasters are intrusions from phone calls, e-mails, traveling, waiting, crises and not being able to reach people. For appraisers, we add to these list workspace problems, sub-standard research resources and using the wrong software and/or outdated technology.
Appraisers live by their opinions. Having an opinion about time is the starting place to work toward personal time management goals.
Ten Top Appraiser Time Wasters
1. Over emphasized work life
Appraisers generally underestimate the fatigue factor in their lives. Appraisers with travel time and heavy inspection schedules can become pressed for time to relax and re-energize. The basic principle behind working productively is to work when being tired does not hinder thinking. The words “time off” and “vacation” should not be a foreign language in the appraiser’s vocabulary. The most important software in the appraiser’s office is themselves. Why run on overload when there is a simple alternative to planning and inserting time to refresh and re-charge? Sooner or later health may suffer when the crisis point is reached and time off will be forced and it will probably occur at the wrong time. One casualty of an overly hectic schedule is sleep. Sleep is fundamental to health and it is essential that appraisers be aware of the need for sufficient sleep and rest. Take a sleep inventory over a couple of weeks and abide by the results of this survey.
2. Procrastination and excuses
Putting things off for many is the single most identifiable time waster. Delay not only wastes time, it is draining on energy and thoughts with much of the time spent worrying about what needs to be done. It becomes an endless cycle disappointing both clients and the appraiser. The general watchword is if you don’t start, you won’t finish. The somewhat timeworn cliché states: “No one plans to fail, they just fail to plan.”
Most authorities on time management agree that planning must operate at two levels, the first being an overall plan of personal goals and priorities, preferably re-evaluated annually and when this is in place then maintain a clearly set out daily plan. The overall plan includes life goals, family values, and financial projections. These incorporate a personal value system. When it comes down to the day-by-day challenges, these overall goals set the tone for the decisions made each day. That decision to make the last inspection photo of the day or attend a son or daughter’s soccer match are more easily made under the glare of an overall plan that sets out priorities for family interaction and values.
In the end, no matter how good the system or credible the expert, the real deep down cause of procrastination is some undefined fear. When faced with the job of finally finishing a project, there may be something in the assignment that is causing apprehension or unseen dread. Fight or flee are the two natural instincts in man. Procrastination is often fear based and is nothing more than flight.
Some appraisal projects involve multiple variables that involve differing levels of analyses. In anticipation of meeting the scrutiny of the client, appraisers are faced with the simple question as to the acceptability of the appraisal solution. More and more lenders are relying on computer rule sets to check the work presented in an appraisal. Appraisers are finding meeting this level of scrutiny both time consuming and sometimes difficult to address. Unfortunately, avoidance of these future issues comes into play, resulting in the hesitation to complete the project. One solution is to anticipate this level of review by providing more detail. For the computer initiated clarification requests, accumulating a running set of boiler plate comments to address the clarification requests may expedite resolving these computer driven clarifications requests.
3. Mail, telephone, e-mail and the Internet
The most common external intrusion on an appraiser’s workday is the telephone. Now cell-phones extend the reach of anyone wanting to talk to an appraiser. Conventional wisdom regarding phone interruptions is that phone calls should be turned over to an answering machine and phone calls should be returned at a more convenient time. While appraisers can control the time they call for information etc, no one can control when a call is received. Appraisers have to remember that they operate a business with no inventory and they are dependent on a constant stream of orders. As appraisal management companies are handling more and more appraisal products, more and more appraisal work is coming from persons in a cubicle at some AMC headquarters whose sole job is to place that appraisal order. If the appraiser is not there at the end of the phone line to say yea or nay, the AMC staff person goes to the next appraiser on the list. An appraiser not answering their phone immediately; returning calls promptly after they have been on the phone or forwarding calls to their cell phone when they are in the field, are missing out on orders. Not taking calls promptly is detrimental to the marketing of an appraisal firm. In my experience answering the phone and dealing with that call when it comes in tends to be more effective than returning calls later in the day. When it comes to phone calls, I advocate dealing with the phone now and quickly putting the matter behind.
Ever since reading Alan Lakein’s classic “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life”, I think in terms of priorities when it came to sorting mail. Mail is an “A”, “B” or “C”. An “A” requires quick response and goes into my immediate ‘to do” list, and a B is something not so urgent. Catalogs, magazines and such go into the “C” pile to be looked at when things are caught up or at the end of the day when concentration wanes. It took awhile before I began to apply the same system to my e-mail. There is no question that Spam and Pop Up ads are ruining the Internet and making e-mail more of a chore each day, now more of a sorting and deleting process. My ISP has an excellent Spam trapper from my in-box. I am astonished how effective it is and more so what amazing volumes of e-mail it is able to divert. In the beginning, I had to check to make sure I listed all the names in my address book so that those who needed to reach me would not wind up in dead-Spam-land. As far as handling the e-mail that does get through, I now prioritize my e-mail in the same way I handle the mail. For those newsletters or items I want to read later, I put them in a folder. I unsubscribe if I do not find them of on-going interest. Formerly I used e-Fax where all my faxes came to me as an e-mail attachment. Now faxing has gone out of fashion and dealing with faxes is no longer necessary. My priority items or my “A” items are handled right away if there is an urgent need. I have not used instant messaging but for those within an office or in a work group where time is of the essence and where phone tag is likely, instant messaging appears to be an efficient way to communicate. Use filters to separate private personal e-mail from business e-mail. The point is that e-mail can be managed to conserve time. In terms of when to check e-mail, doing so upon every arrival is not efficient. But since e-mail may also include an order, not checking e-mail frequently enough may cause an order to be lost. Striking a proper balance is best worked out by trial and error.
4. Crisis management
Communication is probably the best deterrent for a building crisis that becomes the fire of the day to be extinguished. Keeping the client informed about delays and inspection times is the most effective way to avoid a crisis. If, through lack of planning or failing to follow an ordered approach to the workday, crisis becomes the order of the day, very little can be accomplished. Problems are compounded if the work at hand becomes rushed. Work that is rushed may be inaccurate and not represent the appraiser’s best work, also resulting in callbacks. When a crisis occurs and creates an interruption, there is always an opportunity to take preventive measures to avoid a reoccurrence. The single most effective tool for dealing with office crisis management is to work within an overall plan with set priorities leaving time to deal with the unexpected and uncontrollable patterns of an appraisal practice. Use short blocks of time constructively when between jobs, working out priorities that leave time eventually to deal with a crisis.
5. Wrong software and outdated technology
When it comes to technology in the appraisal office, nothing is constant or enduring. Computers, printers, software and other technology that are outdated can quickly reduce productivity. Underpowered and under-performing computers are the main contributor to the slow-down of work in an appraisal office. However, some slow-down of computers may be due to having too many files on a computer. It is always best to have a computer “guru” to consider such items. A simple solution may be archiving old files, freeing up disk space, which allows the computer to run at more reasonable speeds. Access into the Internet with slow dial-up connections results in extended transfer time for reports sent by e-mail and very slow times for Web-based research. How to tell if your software is out-dated? A general rule is if your computer can’t run the latest version of a key program, it is probably time to upgrade. In making any investment in new equipment or software, increased workflow is an important consideration.
For the residential appraiser, it might be well to take a serious look at residential software and conduct a serious reevaluation of the needs and benefits. Some residential appraisal software may have too many features or be more difficult to use for the level of appraising in the appraisal office. Some residential software just has not kept up with the demands of increased workflow. Residential software not only has to enable the appraiser to produce a report that meets the needs of the client, it must also allow the appraiser to produce that report accurately in the shortest amount of time. When the 1004MC swung into place, many appraisers embraced third-party software programs and MLS based programs that stepped up the efficiency of producing this report.
In an evaluation of the technology and software in the office should be comprehensive and be zero based. That is it is important to look at all software in the office as if you were starting a new office. In this way, workhorse programs such as the word-processing program and spreadsheet program receive a critical look as well as programs including web-based programs for flood maps, maps, sketch programs and database programs.
Windows 10 set off a total revolution in the world of appraising. The introduction of Windows 10 changed how appraisers are developing appraisals in the field. The clipboard is about to go the way of the 35mm camera. In the history of technology, it was never the hardware, it was always the software. VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, WordStar, Word Perfect drove computer hardware sales. These early software solutions evolved, demonstrating that nothing is forever. Change is constant and merciless. Tablets have been out there for years, yet, appraisers were slow to adapt simply because of the software gap. There is no a longer software gap. Each appraisal software company has adapted to the tablet world. However, the reality of the appraisal profession is that appraisers are slow to adapt. In short, appraisers tend to be technology nincompoops.
With the state of appraisal software there is no excuse for not completing the sketch of properties on a tablet or accumulating property data in the field. The reason…. Windows 10 now makes it possible to take the existing report directly into the field; enter the data, the sketch info into the report. Instead of a data collecting program, the info goes directly into the report with no steep learning curve, no paid down-load fees.
There are programs such as Ever Note that make it possible to write handwritten notes in the field on the tablet and sync these notes with the office computer. Appraisal software has a full array of pick list options so that during the inspection these can be accessed and noted in the report. With a smart phone camera, the property photos and comp photos can be put into the report while in the field. WYSIWYG was part of the jargon of early computer technology. Windows 10 makes a lot of appraisers see their way clear to finally adapt to tablet computers, precisely because, “What You See Is What You Get” Windows 10 and a good tablet make it possible to lug the familiar report software into the field and skip the clipboard once and for all. Keep your eye the developing tablet world The Windows 10 tablet means appraiser can keep all the familiar software and not have Droid or Apple applications on one computer and Windows version on another.
On a closing tech note: Does everyone know there is an HP-12C application for the I-Phone and Droid phone? It is really handy. Item two. Office weather report: Partly Cloudy, becoming increasingly cloudy. Everyone should be thinking of working on the Cloud at least sending backup to the Cloud (Drop Box) For notes and keeping track. Check out Ever Note. This is a multi-notebook program, just right for keeping track of a lot of data.
6. Workspace problems-Layout and clutter
As 2021 rushes along, a New Year’s Resolution may be in order. It might be well to spend a few days monitoring work patterns to highlight inefficiencies built into work habits and the place where most of the work is done. Look at where you lay out work and where you do research. Check out access to files and your file retention guidelines. Most computer desks are not suitable for reading and reviewing documents. The location of frequently used books and research material has a bearing on workflow. How many times a day do you have to get up to retrieve some item or file and are those files easy to find? Take a look at how you answer the phone and whether you have extension phones located where you can pick them up and review a file at the file location. I now use a “Weather-Tech” phone stand for my smart phone. Previously, finding the phone on the desk was a treasure hunt and now it is in easy reach. Fixing many of the items that reduce productivity may often be a matter of reorganizing the physical workspace.
Reorganizing may be a matter of adding a longer phone extension cord or transferring books away from the work area. It may simply be a matter of finally once and for all reducing the clutter around the work area. Analyze the filing system. Make sure you have the necessary supplies to maintain a proper filing system. Assess whether you need to shift into a paper-less office system or need more filing cabinets to make files easily and quickly accessible.
I had a chance to recently reorganize my work area. I had enough room in my new office to create two work areas, one where my computer is located and another for a desk where I could do reading and review research. Again, it is important to keep the fatigue factor in mind. Trying to read long documents at a computer desk is tiring. Having a work area more conducive to paper handling can reduce fatigue and more than likely eye-stain. Another argument for another work area is to consider where you view your e-mail. There appears to be some divided thought about when to read e-mail. Conventional wisdom seems to consider e-mail as an intrusion invading on valuable time. Others see e-mail as an important tool that often requires quick turn-around time. For some, frequent checking of e-mail allows for a small break from the intense work of computer input.
The new prevalence of Zoom meetings and for that matter helpful Podcasts is astonishing. Use of Zoom and similar programs accelerated in the on-going Covid-19 debacle. Wireless networking is now very common with the ability to link two or more computers on a network. Setting up a second work area with second computer or lap-top is a feasible alternative now allowing two separate work areas, one allocated for research and reading and the other reserved just for computer work and data input. I have a small lap-top easily moved for this means of communication. This extra laptop allows the main computer to remain operating while participating in a Zoom meeting or taking in a Podcast.
Of course, the greatest boost in the productivity of my work area was the addition of a second monitor and then six months later a third. With more and more data on line, a second and third monitor is a minimum standard. The ability to cut and paste from one monitor to the other will provide a significant productivity boost.
7. Substandard research resources
Relying on information from unreliable or dated publications, Web sites, research papers and other sources can make it necessary to extend or duplicate work. Subscribe only to those publications and data sources that will be actually used in the appraisal practice. Discontinue those trade publications, newspapers and magazines that clutter up the office and never really get read or used. The Internet offers many sources of data. Be on the lookout for new Web sites and by use of search engines like Google, investigate others when undertaking a new appraisal project. Opportunities to move from printed information to searchable databases abound on the Internet. It just requires an effort to develop them.
8. Running errands and traveling
Appraisers, particularly residential appraisers, spend up to 25% of their time in inspections and travel time. With so much time traveling and working out of the office, an equal effort to that of completing work in the office to plan and prioritize carefully is in order for trips made outside the office. Mapping out trips in advance, avoiding rush hour traffic and combining trips are all good tips when looking at this important segment of an appraiser’s time schedule. I routinely use an Internet map routing program to set out my route for photographing comparables. I estimate at least a 30 minute savings using these mapping offerings.
Appraisers during the re-fi boom relied heavily on a priority system for more valued clients as turn-around times lengthened. This was an important lesson learned with application when things begin to slow down. Scheduling appraisal inspections starts with the negotiation process at the beginning of the assignment. Allowing for some leeway at the beginning of the appraisal process will make it possible to combine inspections and make better use of the time spent going from assignment to assignment.
Now is also a good time to look at the whole subject of appraisal scope of work and the ramifications on the amount of time spent inspecting the subject, particularly a property for a commercial report. More and more commercial appraisers are not including the cost approach in their reports recognizing the needs of the client and addressing the reliability issues that must be addressed in developing a scope of work for each assignment. In the development of an assignment without the cost approach, the depth of inspection is not as extensive as it would be if the cost approach were presented. This can likely result in spending less time and effort in the inspection process.
Errands outside the appraisal practice and trips to buy office supplies can eat away at valuable time. Planning all trips both business and personal is worth the effort. Not wasting time in duplicate trips or unnecessary trips is part of the process of carefully managing time spent traveling and completing errands.
9. Not saying “No.” or Why do I feel guilty when I say "NO"
How each person perceives time has much to do with their ability to negotiate assignments and therefore control their work flow People who think of time as relational or as “possibilities; there is always time for one more thing.” have a difficult time setting up boundaries and working within a realistic framework. How you think about time, then, bears heavily on your ability to say “no” and control workflow. Taking on too much prevents working at an optimum pace and therefore appraisers do not work at their best level. This becomes a disservice to the full range of clients and more time disappears. One appraiser friend of mine puts all this into stark terms. Early on, he advises appraisers to deal with those who say, “I need this right away.” very skeptically. He says that, when dealing with clients, appraisers have to operate with a specific question in mind, “How is your problem, my problem?” In this 24/7/365 world, seldom are things that urgent. This again, is the lesson of the re-fi boom. Business went on when turn-around times exceeded two to three weeks. The time to settle on a reasonable start and finish time is in the initial engagement negotiations. Appraisers need not get caught up in the client’s urgent, last minute world. Use a realistic deadline, somewhat greater than you expect, to give you time to finish the assignment without becoming rushed and becoming another crisis. As in every assignment also cover the scope of work of the assignment so that the true expectations and needs of the client are met and the job can be completed with reliable results. Sometimes, a less extensive approach to an assignment can yield satisfactory results and contribute to meeting a realistic deadline.
Lastly, develop a set of criteria to define work that is best left to others or in some cases can be accomplished but at a greater fee. In terms of work best left to others, as a matter of office policy, I do not accept Reverse Mortgage appraisals. On the more challenging side of appraising, I complete appraisals for off-grid properties but with strictly held expectations of higher fees. In Montana, appraisal requests are year round with some properties only accessible on lake islands by boat or on property only accessed in winter by snowmobile. These are considered only on a case-by-case since a pre-determined criteria is not generally possible.
10. Ineffective delegation or no delegation
For appraisers without backup assistance, there is a good argument for taking on assistance in the form of temporary help or long-term assistance. Much of the in-put in appraisal reports, filing and making appointments can easily be turned over to others, thus freeing up time for the appraiser to do more meaningful work. Using software accounting programs such a Quick-Books along with their payroll service make it possible for those running one-person appraisal office to take on part-time help and steer clear of payroll problems in an IRS or State Agency audit. It is also a good way to pay fee splits to trainees who do not qualify for contract worker status.
In every staff relationship, there is always the thought that you can do it better than your staff. This usually puts you in a position of doing more than is necessary leaving little time to focus on the necessary and the essentials of your appraisal practice. Time is not leveraged when not allowing others to carry out basic and routine tasks.
There are many time wasters in an everyday appraisal practice. Correcting, modifying and eliminating these often take time and investment. Appraisers benefit themselves and their firm by regularly reviewing the changes made to ensure that they are still effective. If they are, continue with the changes. If not, introduce some new ideas. Recent developments in the appraisal world, particularly the challenges of the Covid 19 virus point to some difficult times ahead. Increased marketing efforts are going to mean the difference in the coming months as the appraisal business comes to grips with changes brought about in a new Presidential Administration. Considering an action plan based on finding time to market is a good way to meet the challenges in 2021.