15 Tried And True Ways To Cut Costs In 2009

Here we are in 2009 at last. The economy is shaky, the industry is looking at some big changes, and we've just come through a harrowing year that made us all get serious about getting control of what we spend and looking for new ways to cut back. So for these reasons, I thought it germane to visit anew some of the many ways that you as an appraiser can make significant cost savings from technology either already at your fingertips, or readily available.

1. Use letter-sized paper instead of legal for things like printing MLS sheets or other documents you carry with you. Over a year, it's a big price difference. Or better yet, print to PDF and take them on your laptop.{txtAd_generic}

2. Review Reports in PDF format. Printing them to paper is just a waste.

3. Don't drive around, wandering for comps. Plan your route ahead, using a mapping program and GPS. Did you know that WinTOTAL even has route planning built in? If you've done your homework ahead of time and entered potential comps into the Side-by-Side comps view, when you get a map, look in the lower left corner for printable, turn-by-turn directions.

4. Refill printer cartridges with ink purchased in bulk at a fraction of the cost. You can also print internal office papers in "draft mode".

5. Use a cell phone for long distance calls. You probably have more minutes than you need in a month anyway, so why not use them?

6. Get a wireless USB modem/air card. You can get these from your cell phone provider for a monthly fee, giving you Internet access wherever you go. They plug right into your laptop, and give you a near high-speed Internet connection. This means you can take your office with you. Communicating with clients via e-mail, doing property research, searching the MLS, accessing your office network, or virtually anything else you do in the office can be done on a laptop on-the-fly with Internet access. This saves you on the astronomical Internet hotspot fees and saves gas because you don't have to drive back to the office for things you can now do on-the-go. (pq)

7. Look into switching from a plain old telephone service line to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider like VonageTM. Many VoIP providers allow you to keep your existing telephone number so you won't have to worry about updating clients and contacts. Basic VoIP plans can start around $25/month and include unlimited long distance service, caller ID, call forwarding, and simultaneous ring features (i.e. rings at your office AND your cell phone so you never miss a call).

8. Drop your dedicated fax line in favor of one of the Internet-based fax services like MyFaxTM or eFaxTM. With one of these services, you can send and receive faxes via your e-mail as an electronic file that can be included in your WinTOTAL Digital Workfile without having to be printed. Many services cost less than $15 per month, and are often cheaper than a dedicated fax line. Some VoIP providers also offer a separate fax line as part of their package.

9. Check out Microsoft OneNote®. It lets you create "workbooks" where you can keep just about anything in a completely free-form nature. Photos, e-mail, web pages, Word docs, PDFs, lists, Excel sheets, you name it. So saving all your files and research digitally in a OneNote file which can then be added to the WinTOTAL Digital Workfile is an incredibly effective way to cut down on paper and ink.

10. Use WinTOTAL's Digital Workfile. This alone will save you significant amounts of money on paper, toner and storage. And you'll save even more when you combine it with DirectFax and Vault. WinTOTAL's Digital Workfile is simply a digital version of the paper workfile you probably keep in folders and filing cabinets now. By keeping your documents digitally, you're not printing to paper, which costs money, and you're not paying to store it physically, which also costs money. Instead, by keeping everything digitally, when you back up your report to Vault, DVDs, external drives or however, you're USPAP compliant without the costs.
If you have an XSite, which most of our customers do, in the Workfile PowerView, click the DirectFax button in the lower right and print out a cover sheet. The cover sheet has a bar code unique to you and your specific report. Then simply take all your paper documents, put the cover page on top, and fax it all to the 800 number shown. You're actually faxing the documents to your XSite's server, where it's all converted into a PDF and then downloaded into your report's Digital Workfile automatically for you.
If you have Vault, which again, most of our customers already do, when you back up your files to Vault automatically, you're not having to hang on to any paper whatsoever because everything is being stored digitally.

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11. Don't print electronic documents, like web pages, on your printer. A lot of people needlessly print off web pages and stick them in their file. Instead, get an inexpensive PDF printer like the free one at www.cutepdf.com and create PDFs that go in WinTOTAL's Digital Workfile.

12. Use Vault. Once you're used to putting things in WinTOTAL's Digital Workfile "container", the Vault is as automatic as it gets as a secure offsite backup. A removable drive can protect you from hardware failure, but isn't much good when it comes to theft or disaster. CDs and DVDs are an option, but are laborious and put you at risk of losing the most important files - ones you've worked on since last burning a new disc. It's a good idea to purchase enough Vault space for a year or two worth of files, and then store DVDs of your really old stuff in multiple locations.

13. If you collect field data on paper, scan it. If you want to save time in the field and back at the office, use DaVinci Mobile Pro. In one fell swoop, you draw your sketch and enter property details room by room which are then transferred into your report.

14. Go paperless. To show you examples of a paperless appraisal office in action, Brian Davis has posted videos and other articles on the "Paperless Office" category of his AppraisalScoop.com site. Not only will you see things like eFax and tablet PCs, but there are also tools showing paperless techniques for note taking and organizing files during the appraisal process and even a link to a webinar Brian conducted for us. It's practical "real world" info that is a must see for any appraiser wanting to cut costs and become more efficient.

15. Get a bigger monitor. You can get a 19" or larger LCD monitor for around $200. LCD's are clear, energy efficient, and make for comfortable reading. But consider buying two and running them side by side from the same PC. Most laptops support two monitors inherently, or you may need to buy a $40 video card for your desktop PC. No appraiser I know has been sorry about this investment. Have your MLS, e-mail, or browser on one screen and WinTOTAL on the other so you aren't constantly opening and closing windows. And having a larger monitor makes it easier to read documents, like PDFs, which also keeps you from having to print them. This is one that will definitely pay off over time.

If your New Year's Resolution was to find ways to save money, and you're still serious about it, these are tried and true ways to spend less every month.