New appraisal tools for the new year

Do you have any new appraisal tools for 2016?

new appraisal toolsWell, it’s a new year and a fresh start. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while of moving into the new age of paperless appraising and electronic appraisal tools to gather field data. I’ve slowly been making the transition, and this new phase of moving from a clipboard and fiberglass tape measure to tablets and electronic tape measures has finally arrived.

It’s the journey, not the destination, right?

I have slowly been moving in this direction but until know have not been willing to go full in. My logic was that if I can do it just as fast or faster with a clipboard and tape why not?

I tried but was not completely happy with the mobile app for the appraisal software I was using so I decided not to worry about new gadgets and to continue on the way I had always done things. But you know what they say, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten”.

In an effort to streamline the appraisal process and improve my workflow I decided to try again so I took the plunge and added some new appraisal tools, and I can honestly say I’m glad I did. It required me getting different appraisal software, but I’m happy to say the learning curve for the new software has not been too bad.

There are many appraisers that made this step years ago, but considering the fact that most appraisers are over 50 years old, and sometimes it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, I’d bet that there are still a lot of appraisers out there that are still doing things the old way, which is fine if your’re happy with that. What I am doing here is sharing my experience in transitioning to a different way of doing things. If it can be useful to one person and make their job easier and more productive then I’ll consider the time spent on this post well worth it.

So what are my new appraisal tools?

Appraisal Software

As I stated previously, I decided to change appraisal software. I’m now using Total by Alamode. I tried their software many years ago but found it to be difficult to use, however that is not the case with the new Total. It’s not too difficult to learn and once you know the basics you’re ready to go. There are still a lot of features that I haven’t learned yet but I’m sure that will come with time. The mobile app that you use in the field is free and works seamlessly with the desktop version.

Appraisal Tools- Tablet for data gathering

I did a lot of research regarding the hardware I wanted to go with. There are a lot of options to choose from but some of my criteria included the following:

  • I wanted something bigger than a phone but not a full size tablet
  • I wanted a built-in flash for interior photos
  • I wanted something reasonable in price
  • I wanted a wifi version
  • I wanted expandable storage
  • I wanted something light weight

After looking at what was available on the market I ended up choosing the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, 8.4 inch version. I am familiar with both Android and IOS systems because I own both a first generation iPad and a Samsung phone. Two features of the Galaxy helped me to choose it. They include the built-in flash and a high quality front facing camera.

I don’t think you can go too wrong in choosing a tablet because most of them are very similar and will do the job. I know a lot of people like to use their phones due to the convenience of it, and because some models are larger they are easier to see. Whichever tool you will use the most consistently is probably the one you should get. Some people get a certain model but because it is not convenient or it is cumbersome they may not stick with their mobile set up and will end up going back to the old fashion way. If you do this then you’ll be out a lot of money with not much to show for it in the way of improving your appraisal business. It’s better to get something that you can work with so that the chances of success are greater.

Appraisal Tools- Electronic tape measure

I’ve had my Bosch electronic tape measure for while now and wrote about it when I decided to go with it. Using an electronic tape measure has really helped out a lot, especially for interior measuring. I will admit that I still use my fiberglass tape on the exterior whenever I cannot find something to bounce the beam off of but I’m working on that. 🙂

There are many appraisers who are able to use their laser tape exclusively but I’m not there yet. I sometimes find myself spending more time measuring the home when I only use the electronic tape because of the problem of not being able to find a wall to bounce the beam off of, so I decided that using the fiberglass tape occasionally helps speed things up.

I chose a Bosch originally because of the price, since it was on sale. Since buying it I’ve heard from others who use the Disto from Leica that the beam is a lot brighter and it has a few more bells and whistles. In the future I might go with the Disto but for now the Bosch is working well.

Improved Workflow

While the time spent during the home inspection has not been shortened the time re-entering data into the form, sketching, and labeling photos has been reduced. This has helped to speed things up, which increases my productivity. I’m still learning all the features of the software but I’m confident that the more I learn the more productive I will be.


Well, now you know what appraisal tools I’m using in the new year, care to tell me yours? If you’ve taken the plunge as I have I’d like to see how it’s going for you. I think it is helpful to hear the experiences of others to help us along on our own journey, so leave me a comment below. As always, thanks for Reading.

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  1. Hi Tom,

    Very interesting post!

    Regarding the laser measure, have you considered purchasing one with Bluetooth? As far as I understand it, you are able to send the measurements directly to an app and, if you measure the room following the app’s guidelines, the app already “draws” the plan for you.

    I don’t know anybody using one with this function, but being able to send your measurements directly to your phone or tablet seems like a very good way to speed up the process of measuring. Have you or anybody else had any experience with this?

    The Leica Disto D2 already includes this functionality and, if you are thinking about going for the Disto as you mentioned, it might be a good choice.



    • Miquel, I have not personally used the Bluetooth model but have heard comments from people that have and they do not think it is that great. I guess it’s one of those things that sound better than it actually works.

      • Cool, thanks for the feedback. 🙂

        Hopefully it will be a matter of time until it gets a bit more “functional”, because as a principle I think it is a very interesting option, both for appraisers and for Architects as myself.



  2. Excellent stuff Tom. Thanks a lot for sharing such a innovative idea. I’m glad that I found your post and like to bookmark it. Keep publishing.

  3. This is great review Tom! This post is impressive and informative as well. Thank you very much for sharing with us.

  4. Great post Tom, adopting new tools, including changing software, is daunting, even when you are assured that the change will be positive. And we can all get into that “I’m too busy chopping down this tree to stop and sharpen the axe” kind of mentality. I did not implement the Alamode mobile/tablet thing until I attended one of their three day road shows. That was awesome and really changed my business process. If anyone has that opportunity this year I highly recommend it. I went with a iPad Mini 2, largely because Lifeproof makes a truly waterproof case, that I could not get for the Galaxy. The Galaxy, in my opinion, had a much nicer screen. One other benefit of a tablet over a phone for me was using the MLS in the field those times when your comps need a little help. Navigating the MLS on the phone might be better for a 20 something. But not these eyes. Again great post and thank you for the positive, helpful topic.

    • Thanks Rob. I can’t wait until the road comes to my area. I would really like to learn some tips and tricks to streamline my workflow. I too was considering the iPad Mini as it looks like a great device but I’m really happy with the Samsung.

  5. Glad to hear about your switch to mobile Tom. Everyday will get better. As for using the laser all the time, it took me about five years, but I no longer get my tape out of the car (we will see what happens on a bright sunny day though, I might reconsider and grab it for an occasional run on the bright side). The key to not using the tape on any measurements is the plus and minus buttons so you can add or subtract several measurements to make a full wall and sometimes a Disto with screen on it will help in bright sun.
    My new tool this year, that I haven’t written about yet, is my gloves with device finger touch pads built in. I can use my touch screen on my tablet and phone without taking them off (It is cold here sometimes) I love them so much that I don’t take them off when I move to the inside of the house. Having touch gloves means that I don’t ever get a false touch on my tablet when the side of my hand hits it.

    • Thanks Gary. My Bosch does have the plus and minus button as well and I actually used it yesterday on a wall that had a window sill that I could bounce off of. I agree about the bright sun as the Bosch does not work that great in the bright sun on a long wall. That is cool about your new gloves. I’ve heard about them but didn’t know anyone using them. As time goes by let us know how they continue to work.

  6. You will love the Disto once you get one and get familiar with it. I had one in the past and have worn it out. I currently use a cheap Bosch that I picked up from Lowes/Home Depot when my Disto bit the dust, it’s just not the same. I will be going back to the Disto sometime this year, just tough deciding which model to get with so many options these days.

    • Thanks Lanette, I keep hearing the same good things about Disto. I will have to definitely choose one next go around. I was getting my feet wet with the less expensive Bosch but everyone says that the Disto is well worth the money and lasts a long time.

  7. Also, it would be helpful is someone had a good source for mapping out driving for
    comps to get the most direct way. I’m still doing it old school with just a map.

    • Not sure what software you use Hugh, but one of the cool things I found out about Total is that once you have your comps in the form and mapped out you can sync it to the mobile device while you’re in the office. I do this because I have wifi and wouldn’t want to do that in the field (although I could if I used my phones mobile wifi hotspot). When you open the file on the mobile device and pull up the map while you’re in the field you can still use the map because it downloaded that section of the mapping. You can’t get navigation but that has not been a problem.

      • Rick Nielson says

        Total mobile has interactive gps mapping for comps. I use an iPhone 6+ and just let it lead me to each comp touch a button that brings up the photo page for that comp take the photo and never think about it again. A quick look at the map will show if the comp has a photo just to double check before leaving the area. It does use LTE but worth every byte! Back at office it syncs over wifi and comp photo pages are done, as are subject photo pages. It’s a huge time saver for me.

        • That is one of my favorite features Rick. I like the feature that shows you the icon that you already took that picture. It’s nice to not have to print out maps or copy them to my old ipad in PDF format. This saves me several steps! Thanks for sharing.

    • Anthony Blackburn says

      Housecanary, when it is widely released, will have that as a feature.

  8. Good stuff, Tom. It sounds like you will be more efficient this year (and that is definitely one of my goals too). I see Tom Molinari’s comment above regarding Trendsheet. Someone else was telling me about that the other day.

  9. You’ll get there with the electronic measuring. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this to you in the past -I use a target plate which sticks to the corner in absence of having something to shoot at. Just google “disto target plate”. Around a $30 item.

  10. Tom Molinari says

    I switched from ACI to Total three or four years ago and I am happy that I did. About a year ago I started using Trendsheet 4 to analyze the market data. It integrates into the Alamode worksheet and it is an excellent product. Trendsheet 4 uses data on both the overall neighborhood and just competitive properties which is exported from MLS. It looks at 2 years of sales, listings, pendings, expireds, etc. and formats them into 3 month increments. The median price, average price, and average $/SF, per 3 month period is displayed along with median GLA, lot size, YB, etc. It also does graphs and charts of the data. It Also tells you the number of REOs and shorts in each period. It also indicates how many sales sold with seller concessions and the average and median concession amount as a percentage of sale price. It automatically fills out the MC and neighborhood section ranges and the top of page 2. It also does sensitivity analysis and a modified paired sale analysis of the comps in the report. It has a number of other features as well. It has a one time price of somewhere around a hindered and fifty buck. There are no other monthly fees. I highly recommend it. Developed by Brandon Reich in the Phoenix AZ area. The company name is Choice Valuation.

    • Thanks for the tip, Tom. I am really excited to see what apps tie into the Total appraisal package. There are so many tools available that help us to do a better job of appraising. I hope to see the quality of my appraisal increase as well as the time to complete it reduced.

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