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Results of Appraisal SW Package Evaluations

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Tejus

Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
Texas
Greetings,

Over the last several weeks I evaluated commercially available Appraisal SW Packages. This is a summary of the process and my findings. I apologize for the long posting, I tried to keep it as short as possible.

The first step was to identify my requirements. The relevant requirements were:

- My operation is currently a small operation with possible expansion later. More than one person may work on the appraisal report, but there would never be more than one person working on the appraisal report at any instance in time. My business consists primarily of residential appraisals for purchase/refinance/construction with conventional financing.

- I want to optimize my appraisal process workflow and cost/benefit ratio.

- I performed a detailed workflow analysis of my appraisal process to identify all the tasks involved in my workflow and the time spent with each. If workflow questions arose, then I solicited opinions from the appraiser/client community to determine the best answer or common business practice.

- I weighted the tasks by criticality and several other factors which are important to me.

- I am interested in an appraisal sw package’s functionality, usability, interoperability and price.

- I am interested in the best of class sw applications with plug and play interoperability.

- My hw/sw target environment is the equivalent of a Pentium 4, 2 ghz and Windows XP.

- I have dial up internet access, max 28 kbs connection. High speed access is not available where I live except for a satellite dish (I’m evaluating this to determine if it is cost effective).

I contacted the appraisal sw package vendors and requested their demo packages or downloaded them if available. I reviewed the documentation for the appraisal sw packages to become familiar with their functionality. I reviewed as much information as I could find on the different user forums related to the sw packages. I also compared their system requirements with my target environment and eliminated sw packages not compatible with my target environment. I also eliminated sw packages if there were questions about the vendor’s continued existence.

I then took the remaining appraisal demo packages for a test run. The purpose was to obtain a quick look-feel of the appraisal sw package human interface, usability and the vendor’s philosophy on how they solved the appraisal process workflow issues.

After the test run, I matched the appraisal sw packages functionality with my workflow tasks. Based on this comparison, I narrowed the list of sw packages to those which addressed my workflow tasks the best. I also took into account the sw package’s human interface, usability and cost when narrowing the list.

I then went thru a complete appraisal process workflow with the remaining sw packages. I kept track of the time and effort spent on my tasks using each sw package. I also compared the sw package benefits against the cost. I then stepped back and analyzed the data I had collected.

Results
--------
Reviewing the appraisal sw packages was a good learning experience. I recommend this for all appraisers. There were things I liked and disliked about all the appraisal sw packages. After completing the entire evaluation process, I came to the conclusion there is no appraisal sw package which provides the functionality, usability and interoperability at a price I consider reasonable for my requirements.

After reviewing my requirements, I considered a simple and cost effective solution for my requirements. I have since implemented a sw appraisal package on MS Excel. The implementation uses the built in db, forms and menus available in Excel. The result is very simple and effective. My productivity has increased and my expenses have dropped. I’m a happy camper.

One of the nicest features is the extensibility. New forms or changes can be added as quickly as you can type them in. You can also customize the forms to be anything you want. I’ve already made my USPAP 2003 updates. I currently have the forms I use for my standard appraisal report, new forms will be added as needed.

Another nice feature I noticed was the reduction in the size of my Appraisal Report pdf file. The pdf files generated by the appraisal sw packages were approx 900 kb, the Excel pdf file with the same information was less than 500 kb. I can’t explain the reduction in size but I’m quite happy with it.

I also tried a MS Word implementation, but backed off the Word implementation due to several bugs and issues I encountered with Word. I think MS Word may be a better implementation platform than Excel for this problem if the Word bugs are fixed. My current implementation is on MS Office ’97. I plan on upgrading to a MS XP implementation in the future and will investigate MS Works/Excel/Word at that time. Unfortunately, with this simple implementation my 6 yr old Pentium I, 150 mhz system works fine and I have difficulty justifying the hardware upgrade. The Pentium I does bog down when manipulating pdf files so that will be an adequate reason to upgrade.

My current appraisal sw expenses are:

Appraisal Forms $ 0 required approx 1 wk learning curve and to
implement on MS Excel/Word
Building Sketch $ 0 home design package from local retail store,
includes rebate, similar to Apex
Street Maps $ 20 package from local retail store, includes rebate
pdf writer $ 100 fineprint pdfFactoryPro and FinePrint combo
-------
Total $ 120

If my requirements change in the future, then I will re-evaluate usage of the commercially available appraisal sw packages. I will also continue monitoring the commercial packages in case they become more attractive in the future.

If anybody would like to exchange/review sample reports and/or ideas on how to improve the reports, then please contact me. I’m always open to new and better ideas.

Feliz Navidad.
 

Farm Gal

Elite Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2002
Professional Status
Licensed Appraiser
State
Nebraska
8O
Alan:

Congrats on being perserverant in assessing your appraisal needs...

I am just curious as to the appearance of your forms: so they closely emulate the standard commercial URAR and other forms created by the various 'major' SW providers??

If so, and your time sunk into the process was limited to a one week period you are either an extremely proficient typist/formatter, or stumbled on some pretty cool templates!
 

KD247

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
California
Alan,

OK, I'll bite. You didn't want to spend five or six hundred bucks, so you went to the trouble of scanning, mapping, and establishing field relationships for each of the forms? Which form-filling software are you using for the link between Excel and the appraisal forms? Or is there some simple way to use Word for form-filling with existing forms?

I honestly can't tell if your post is tongue-in-cheek, somewhat naive, or if you've really stumbled across the most efficient way to create an appraisal.

Or, am I misreading your post? If you are actually just using a self-designed template for appraisal analysis, then this makes sense for private non-compliant appraisals.

We'd like to hear more details! And Merry Christmas to you, too.
 

Pat Butler

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 17, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
Illinois
I too am not sure if you're just joking. The biggest problem with using Excel for graphical formatting is its rigid cell structure. That structure works great when a particular form looks more like a grid- like the back side of the URAR. But that same rigidity makes it very difficult to format large blocks of flowing paragraph text.

You must not use too many of the different forms. It would take weeks, if not months, to recreate the popular forms in Excel. I'd be interested in seeing an example- thanks!
 

Mike Garrett RAA

Elite Member
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
Colorado
I am curious as to how many appraisals you have completed?

A couple of observations.....

1. How cheap do you think cheap is? There are programs out there for $99 that will do what you took a couple of weeks to create.

2. Does your "program" have several hundred forms?

3. Did you also design and build your own car?

While I admire your ambition and enthusiam, I think you are way out in left field. You remind me of several of my appraisal students who came from the engineering field. They made lousy appraisers!
 

Tejus

Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
Texas
murfle slurp murfle slurp flop flop pop.
Please excuse me, I had to extract my tongue from my cheek.
Aaahhh, much better.

There is no magic in my earlier post. Excel/Word have been around for many years. They are designed to support user input via forms. All I did was set them up to collect the information I was interested in. If you want more info on this, then search the web or visit your local bookstore.

There is some work required to setup the forms. Forms with many fields (ie URAR) require more setup time than a form with text info. There is also a learning curve to get started. The time required for these tasks will also vary based upon the user’s experience and abilities.

I’ve created a couple web links so you can see the results. The first is a URAR form in pdf format that I created from Excel. This should answer your questions on the final output appearance.

http://alan57.home.texas.net/tejas/pub/URAR.pdf

The second link is an example of the Excel URAR human interface. Fields with pre-defined values contain a pull down selection menu. Fields without pre-defined values are type in. Relationships between the fields can be defined using Excel formulas. I modeled the interface after Henry Harrison’s Uniform Residential URAR Appraisal Report book.

http://alan57.home.texas.net/tejas/pub/urar_hi.jpg

The best advice I can give everybody is educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about as many topics as possible. The more you know, the more prepared you are to make intelligent and informed decisions.

Cheers and I hope Santa Claus was good to you.
 

KD247

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
California
Very impressive!

It looks as if you actually took the time to create Excel forms from scratch, manually typing in the labels, defining each field, and individually formatting each cell. Or, did you find some way to import a scanned form into Excel?

Somewhere about 5-10 years ago, I thought about doing the same thing, using form-filling software (lets you scan a form and then designate where each of the entry fields are). Every solution I could come up with seemed far too time-consuming.

I would have guessed that it would take a week's worth of work to create the URAR form from scratch. Outside of a couple of places that could have been radio buttons instead of checkboxes (Marketing Time, Corner Lot, Zoning), the form looks really good.

The thing that I find really exciting about using an Excel-based form is that data import becomes fairly simple. Also, the URAR is not very input-friendly. It would be nice to be able to re-arrange the fields to match the order of the appraisal process. (For instance, enter all of the Subject property's public record information in just one section.) This will be particularly useful when we all start using tablet pc's (I know, there goes the $120 budget) for field input.

What are your plans with your forms? Would you be willing to share them so everyone can help improve them? Or, are we on the verge of the Gertner-Forms IPO? In any case, this is good stuff; keep us posted on your progress.

Again, good work on this project! And congratulations for thinking outside the box. And, I better get back to loading some music onto my wife's new mp3 player!
 

Tejus

Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
Texas
Koert, thanks for the feedback and ideas. I have the following comments on the two options:

Option 1
Public domain/ shareware software, I have been involved in similar situations before. In most cases, a small number of people end up doing most/all of the work. I am not interested in this.

Option 2
Commercial package for a minimal price. I might consider this if there is interest. If you are interested, please respond to [email protected].

Since my last message, I have been working on the following enhancements to the package:

- Upgraded from Windows 98 Office 97 Excel to Windows XP Office Standard Excel.

- Incorporate speech recognition to allow dictation of text and specification of commands. Great stuff for entering text descriptions and narratives. This may be the first Appraisal package with this functionality.

- Integrate other appraisal related software products I use.

- Investigate usage on PDA’s. If your system (any system) runs Excel, then this package should work.

- Begin negotiations with other party(s) to provide the remaining 200+ appraisal forms.

- Begin prioritizing a list of enhancements, such as data collection during the inspection, data exchange, MLS integration, additional integration, built in regression analysis tool, additional forms, etc.

- Set up a Beta Test package and begin Beta test. The results have been positive.

In response to Mike Garrett’s earlier questions:

How many appraisals . . .?
000’s

1. How cheap . . .?
I did not use the word “cheap” in any of my posts and cannot answer this question.
I’m interested in productivity and cost/benefits.

2. Several hundred forms . . .?
I have the forms I currently use. I have begun negotiations with other party(s) to implement the other 200+ forms.

3. Design your car . . .?
Yes. I first identified my requirements/wish list. I then looked for a match, there were none. I then found the closest matches and discussed options with the vendors. I then had to contact a couple outside vendors to get additional items not available from the original vendors. I then had the vehicle custom built and added the outside vendor options. 9 years later I still have the vehicle, it’s in excellent condition and I’m happy with it. Fyi, I’ve also recently designed and built my computer, desk and house (in progress, phase 1 completed). If I’m not satisfied with something and think I can do a better job, then I do.

Lousy appraiser . . .?
I’m sorry to say that I tend to agree with you and appreciate you pointing this out. I began to suspect a serious problem recently. When I received my new Disto Classic, the first thing I did was convert it to a Star Wars Disto Light Saber and refer to myself as Luke Housewalker. A real appraiser would never do this. I fear I have crossed over to the dark side. sigh. I hope with hard work and dedication I can return to the light and graduate from “lousy appraiser” to “semi lousy appraiser”. It’s going to be a challenge, but we all must have our dreams.

On the other hand, maybe new/different ideas are good. Otherwise, we’d still be living in a flat world.

May the force be with you.
 

Mike Garrett RAA

Elite Member
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2002
Professional Status
Certified Residential Appraiser
State
Colorado
And with you too....

No insult intended but I have found people who want to "re-invent" the wheel have a very tough time appraising. I wish you well.
 
B

Bemis Pownall

Guest
I respect anyone who can figure out how to use software these days.
Not be taken in by fancy sw providers who claim they have the best "package".

Next you should....
Incorporate
take it public
pay your self huge bonuses
sell more stock
sell some bonds
pay your self more bonuses
hire some accountants AA perhaps
and retire!

:drinking:
 
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