I'm a little bit unique in that I bought an established appraisal company in 1986, and the company had been in business since 1971. So I really didn't have that curve to go through... the company was fairly well known, and I just had to gain the confidence of the people who were already working there. I was in commercial real estate previously, so I was fortunate to be able to keep on some key people while I went through the learning curve of
being an appraiser.
Our clients are mostly lenders. We do a lot of work with national and community banks, and we also do a lot of work for attorneys in the estate realm and divorce situations. Occasionally we do some work for accountants as well.
I love the fact that a la mode developed the General Purpose forms that are USPAP compliant to help us do appraisals for non-lender clients such as attorneys. We may have to add a few things to it, but they are a great pallet from which we can work. I still see a lot of appraisers who we face in divorce situations using the URAR as the basis for the appraisal, and it's easy for us to point out that these guys aren't USPAP compliant just by using that form.
Many of our clients are mainly concerned with 2 things: value and turnaround time (of course, this is a broad-brush statement). The value is what it is. We can't do anything about that. But we can try to give better service than you might find elsewhere. We can also respond to quicker turnaround times when there's a need, and meet special requirements. We have 15 appraisers here on staff, so if a client calls up saying they missed ordering an appraisal and need it by tomorrow, we can usually have it done for them in time.
There's usually not the "tyranny of the urgent" with that type of client. Also, there's usually not the problem with pressure like "we need this value or that value." They may infer that they want a conservative value or an aggressive number, but we always just state the value as what we think it should be.
Our first website was in 1996 or ‘97. It was really early on, and we could see the reasoning for having a web presence. That helped us a long time ago. We have an XSite now, and usually try to go in and update it once a month to keep it fresh. It can be as simple as just putting a different banner on it... something seasonal, for example. Right now, we have the American flag on there for President's Day. One day we got some snow so we ran out and got a picture of the office with snow on the ground and put that online. We take the tools that a la mode has given us and try to use them to the best of our ability.
Everything that we put out (invoices, calendars, e-mail, etc.) has our website on it. We get a fair amount of business off our website, but we don't look at that as our primary business driver. We still believe that relationships are really important in this business, even though appraiser independent rules and regulations have caused a little bit of that to go away.
One little thing that's worked well for us is that every year we give away about 400 big desk-top calendars that have our name, address, phone number and website URL on the top of them. Now we have clients calling us to ask when we're going to do our calendar. That's about all we give our clients, and try to get them out Thanksgiving week to be valid December through December. That's been a great way to keep our name in front of people.
2. Staff page. We've published pictures of everyone in our staff online. We've gotten a lot of great feedback from clients about it. We also include appraisers' license numbers, names and qualifications. Many customers call and ask for specific appraisers saying they feel like they already know them based
on their picture.
We wanted the staff pictures to show people where they work and be natural. We have one that's demonstrating the Disto. Several are at their desks. There's no one with extra make-up applied or anything like that.
We use the digital technology that a la mode provides with the XSites to be able to do this. We just took pictures of people and put them right up there. And as we lose weight we might change them (laughs). Our previous website (which we spent a lot of money for), didn't have the ability to go in and change anything. As we got a little older, the same stale pictures would be there unless I spent an arm and a leg to have the people who developed it change them. a la mode has given appraisers the ability to customize their website in innumerable ways.
3. Inman News. I guess a lot of customers and prospects see us as a portal to real estate news, and I love the fact that a la mode makes that available for us to share.
4. Contact Us. We love the fact that people are looking around at various pages on our site and are then going to the Contact Us page because we want everything to be driven to either an order or to a contact. They are looking around and doing a little navigating, and that's good.
5. Testimonials. This section has gotten quite a few hits. We post testimonials from our satisfied clients to help build credibility.
I think clients and prospects visit our site because: 1) we invite them in everything we put out; 2) to get more information about us. We often get very positive feedback and hear things like: "I like your website." "Your website is well done." "You offer some great content!"
I think having a good website that's robust and dynamic tends to create credibility. I've seen some appraisers' websites that are just static with a homepage and two or three other pages, and that's it. a la mode has provided us with a website that has a lot of content that can be customized in numerous ways. It can even be bilingual. It looks so professional that people think it costs far more than it does. You can put content on the website that builds credibility and also reflects integrity.
I think in our industry, credibility and integrity are the two most important things you can have. We also like to educate people (about PMI for example), and there are so many components that people can use right here in our website without having to leave to find the information.
Get an XSite. I think that's the easiest thing for an appraiser to do. Go to a webinar on how you can modify your website. That's the place to start. If you have to, find someone you can pay to show you how or to do it for you. Make it fresh by customizing it. I've seen many appraisers have the very same thing on their website... in other words, they've signed up for an XSite and then never changed it. You don't want that. You want it to be personalized to your company to make it effective, and there are so many choices and options available to do that.
The same thing I would say to myself: the things that we put a high priority on are the things we will do. Appraisers are typically dealing with the "tyranny of the urgent," so if you've carved out time to do some of these things, you end up getting that phone call or e-mail and everything gets set aside. It happens, but you have to keep prioritizing it until you get it done. There's an old saying that goes something like this: "people won't change until the pain of remaining the same exceeds the pain of changing." And we're like that. Our entire business is based on the principle of change, but many times appraisers are among the slowest to change how we do things.
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