Back That (Whole) Thing Up

Digital workfile and Vault: Cut expenses and get peace of mind

In past issues, we’ve published a few articles about Vault and the Digital Workfile. We’ve compared not using Vault to playing Russian Roulette with your business, and talked about using the Digital Workfile to save money. Both are true, but I’d like to talk about the convenience and necessity of using them together.

I look at the Digital Workfile like a wallet. You store important items there, and you’d be in trouble without it. But, can you imagine having a “Vault” for your wallet? So that if you lost it, you could recover it instantly, like it was never missing at all? Have you ever been in line at the grocery store and realized you left your wallet at the house? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to make it magically and instantly appear? No one ever plans on having their wallet stolen or lost, but it happens every day. Between hard drive crashes, weather, fires, or a myriad of other disasters, the loss of your appraisal files, it can happen to anyone.

The one-two automatic appraiser protector

If asked what you absolutely must safeguard in your appraisal business, you’d likely respond with something like, “My workfiles, and reports for five years.” As both appraisers and their appraisals receive ever increasing scrutiny, the Digital Workfile becomes even more vital. It’s a central place to store everything associated with an appraisal, and when stored digitally offsite it’s impervious to fire, flood or theft. Because every bit of your paper workfile is stored digitally inside the WinTOTAL file, you have no problem easily producing everything affiliated with the report should an inquiry arise. And when you deliver the final report, WinTOTAL will also drops a copy of the PDF you actually send into the Digital Workfile for you. This means you have a digital trail that can prove what you actually sent in case there’s ever a question in the future. As long as you’re archiving your Workfile digitally and you’ve set up Vault’s automated backup process, you don’t have to manually do any backup. Vault just stores the whole report, including the Workfile, on our secure servers.(pq)

A major benefit of storing your Workfiles safely off-site, is the ability to remotely access them quickly and easily. With many offices going virtual these days, we often see the Digital Workfile as a central repository and a means of managing other appraisers from remote offices. It allows appraisers to send their entire “paper file” without leaving their desk. Everything normally in (or on) that manila folder — sketch, field notes, tax page, full MLS printouts, plat maps — all comes in one electronic package. It saves appraisers time (and gas) and everything is contained inside the WinTOTAL file. Just open the report in WinTOTAL, review, and submit the file to the client. After all, you need more than just a PDF of a final appraisal. You need the “guts” to check for accurate research and support, based on the original docs the appraiser used to write up the report.

Rounding up the straggler papers

A common question we get asked is, “How do I convert my paper workfile into digital format?” One method is to scan them, but scanning a bunch of loose papers into the Workfile one at a time can be time consuming. If you have an Enterprise XSite, use DirectFax.

From within your report’s Digital Workfile PowerView, you’ll see a button to print a DirectFax cover page. Each cover page includes a unique bar code, along with a toll-free 1-800 number. Gather all your paper documents, notes, MLS printouts, etc, put the cover page on top, and fax it all to the 800 number provided. You’re actually faxing the documents to your XSite’s server, where it’s all converted into a PDF. WinTOTAL will then pull that PDF into your report’s Digital Workfile automatically for you. The barcode on the cover sheet you used was unique both to you and to your specific report, so the system knows exactly what to do with the PDF. It’s that easy. There’s no printing or scanning needed, saving precious time.

The alternatives to storing your workfile digitally is continuing to store it in paper form in file cabinets (which most appraisers obviously do), not storing it at all (which is jut bad all around) or manually scanning the paper documents into a digital file for storage on a network drive or external hard drive. But with WinTOTAL’s Digital Workfile and Vault, you’ll save money on file cabinets, paper, ink, toner and probably storage since you won’t be renting space in order to meet USPAP’s five year regulation (or the 7 year regulation for some states). Once backed up to Vault, it also serves as an online “file cabinet.” This is especially handy while away from the office, working with appraisers remotely, or retrieving a file on your home PC that you’ve kept at the office. By logging in to your Vault account, you can see all your files sorted neatly by categories like when they were uploaded, address, description, client, form type, file number, borrower and many others. In fact, you can set it up so that it nearly mirrors your local Appraisal Desktop.

While there’s nothing wrong with backing up files to CDs, DVDs or external hard drives, there are several downsides that, surprise, Vault doesn’t have. For instance, you don’t have to remember to run your backup, check for space remaining on your DVD or wonder when it was that you last backed up. Vault runs nightly. You don’t have to worry about scratches or media degradation, and because it’s all stored offsite with Vault, your files are 100% safe, no matter what. What also sets Vault apart from other back up methods is Exact. Exact backs up your user settings and customizations, QuickLists, comps and photos databases and contacts. That’s something no other back up service can easily do. So when recovering from a disaster or setting up a new PC, you can download your last Exact back up and you won’t skip a beat. So as you can see, Vault and the Digital Workfile work hand in hand. The Workfile contains everything you’d keep in that manila folder, and Vault is like your filing cabinet. Only that manila folder is much easier to find and doesn’t lose any pieces of the puzzle. That filing cabinet won’t catch on fire, get stolen or lost, and it makes sure that any changes you’ve made aren’t lost. Using the Digital Workfile and Vault together will make your life so much easier, and you’ll sleep better at night.

At a recent a la mode Regional Convention in Atlanta, Richard Ferris, a long-time WinTOTAL user, enthusiastically told a bunch of appraisers how he does it and why. Here’s what he had to say.

From a busy appraiser’s laptop

So how does it all work in the real world? Richard Ferris of AMC Appraisals in Central Florida will tell you. I sent him an e-mail to see if he’d tell his story again and this is what he sent back to me:

“Sean, Wow... Where do I begin? First, my entire operation is facilitated by a laptop. I carry my office with me wherever I go, using 100% digital documents from faxes I receive, emailed orders, contracts, etc. I have 5 years worth of appraisals on my laptop for reference, and anything prior to that, which was 100% digital is on DVD backup in a fire safe.

The Vault for me is truly a valuable piece of my workflow. Every time I do a Net.X connect, I let any revised files go up to the Vault so at anytime during the day, I never have to worry if my laptop is stolen, damaged, or dies. I could get back my files and settings on a new machine.

The Workfile is truly a life saver for me! I typically use the Workfile to keep all my finished documents with each report. In my Workfile are my original inspection sheets. I use a customized inspection form created with Pocket Genie/Pocket Total, and the custom text file created is placed into the Workfile. Also, my Field Pad sketch and my property sketch on site are retained there. So when writing a report, I can open all of these to complete my file as I work.

When I am done with my report, each and every transmission of the PDF to the client is retained in that Workfile with a time dated stamp. That is HUGE for me, as I may one day need to prove to a client which “version” of a report is the current one. If I made a mistake on the first transmission, I want to be able to show the client that I communicated a corrected file. How dangerous would it be to have multiple files out there for people to be viewing? I can always go back to my Workfile and show the time and date a new PDF was created for comparison!

After all is said and done, I upload/import all my Workfiles (Excel sheets, Efax documents, PDF contracts, etc) into the Workfile section. All of this is uploaded to the Vault each and every time I make changes, so I know I am not only staying USPAP compliant, but also for my own peace of mind that all my work is not lost should I have a hard drive failure! If I had to REMEMBER to back things up each day?? Well... I don’t want to even think about what would happen if my laptop died!

Because I just get too busy to think about these things. But when Vault wants to run, I just let it run in the background and keep working, knowing I don’t have to worry about my files! The two together are awesome as well, since I know that I can replace all of my completed work RIGHT NOW, for almost 3,000 files I keep in the Vault! So if I don’t get around to burning 2003 and 2004 files to a DVD for some time... no worries. They are all stored safely for me in multiple off site locations through Vault!”

Thanks, Richard. Every appraisal office is different, but one thing that I’m sure you all have in common is the threat of litigation and file loss. Using Vault and the Digital Workfile will help you get peace of mind and protect you in case you ever need it.