Go Paperless in 2009

It's obvious why we like paper: It's real. You can hold it. You don't need training to use it. It's been around almost as long as stone tablets, and it's a simple way to keep your old reports in case you need them for a court case or E&O. We physically print this newspaper because we want you to read it, and we know you'll keep it around if it's actually on paper. But paper and toner are an expense, plus you've got to pay for storage.

According to a government study back in 1996, a cubic foot of record storage was estimated to cost $23.24/yr. Even a small office might have 30 or 50 cubic feet of file cabinets costing $1000/yr. That's valuable space. Paper gets even more expensive when you think of the labor involved with locating a file, managing it while it's out of the cabinet and then re-filing it. For each file you get out, you eventually might spend 20 minutes or more shuffling it around.

By contrast, disk space doesn't cost much and is getting cheaper by the second. Plus, it only takes a few seconds to search for files stored on disk. It just makes sense that we should all get digital.

The causes for paper and how to cure them

Here are a few common uses for paper and how to overcome them. Don't feel like you have to do all of these things immediately at once. Set milestones for going paperless to work toward.

Paper is easier to read than computer screens

Two Monitors in use on an appraiser's computer
You can cure this with a 19" or larger LCD monitor ($200). LCD's are clear, energy efficient, and make comfortable reading. But consider buying two and running them side by side from the same PC (see image above). Dual monitors just may change your life. Most laptops support two monitors inherently, or you may need to buy a $40 video card for your desktop PC. Regardless, 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. You can copy and paste between screens, and XP and Vista inherently understand two monitors on one PC, expanding your desktop into a panoramic control center. Some appraisers even have 3 or 4 monitors!

Phone messages
Have these sent to you in e-mail or a text message so you can return the call while in the field or in the car.

Faxes
Get a $50 USB fax modem that saves faxes as PDF's on your hard drive, or try a service like eFax.com that e-mails faxed documents to you. Either way, you'll eliminate paper and save space.

Any paper document
Use a sheet fed scanner or multifunction printer to make a PDF for WinTOTAL's Digital Workfile or use DirectFax if you're just comfortable with a fax machine.

Electronic documents like web pages
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 goes in WinTOTAL's Digital Workfile.

Document storage
Once you've gotten 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.(pq)

Field data
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.
declutter your office and your mind

Since your clients don't see your workspace, it's easy for it to get out of control. Besides the hard costs of space and labor, another benefit of less paper is less clutter. Subconsciously, this affects your productivity and professionalism. Before trying any new paperless tools, do the low tech thing and get your office ready for your new paperless habits.

Clean your desk and office.
Rearrange. Scrub and dust everything. Don't stop until all piles and stacks are gone and everything has a place. It's a good way to start turning over a new leaf.

Trash outdated equipment and files Do you really need that DC210, the Mavica with the 3.5" floppy, or that old CRT monitor? Even if you don't trash it, get it out of your workspace. Sloppiness is contagious, so get your whole organization on board, and take an oath to keep your office clean.

Tutorials and more tools
Hopefully, we've inspired you to take a step towards shucking the paper. 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.