The a la mode Advisor

"I'm a one man shop and need a new pc. I've had my current computer since 2001, and I'm not sure what I need. Any thoughts?"

First, computers aren't like cars. They don't become classics. Upgrading or replacing your PC every few years is a good idea. You can get a beefy computer for less than $1,000. Second, just about any PC you buy "off the shelf" today will more than handle running WinTOTAL. So, you could shop blindfolded and chances are you'd get more than enough PC. We recommend a processor with a speed of 2Ghz or higher, and at least 1GB of RAM. When it comes to RAM, the more the better.

"I see these GoDaddy commercials on TV. What's up with buying multiple domain names? Is that something I should do?"

It's definitely something to think about. People use the web more than they use the phone book these days. So if they're looking for something specific, having the right web address matters. Let's say you're starting to market yourself to estate planners or attorneys in your county. You may want to buy the domain name OklahomaEstateAppraisals.com, so you could redirect that web address to a specific page on your XSite that you've put together explaining what you offer to attorneys or financial planners and why you're the best choice for it. Remember, if you own a specific domain name, that means someone else can't, which could be important to your marketing down the road. Most domains cost around $10 per year to own.

"I've tried to import comps from my MLS, but I can't seem to figure it out. What's the trick to doing this?"

Trick #1 is making sure you can export data from your MLS. Trick #2 is making sure that the file you export to, whether it's a CSV or Excel file, has column headings so you know exactly what fields are what when you're later trying to do the import into WinTOTAL. What stumps most people is one of these two things. The process for this varies from MLS to MLS, and I've even seen a few of them in California that have no way of including column headings in the exported file. But assuming you've got a useable file with exported MLS data, it's easy from there. It's simply a matter of walking through the Comps Import Wizard and matching the fields from your MLS export to WinTOTAL's Comps Database fields. Once that's done, it's saved as a "template" and you don't have to go through that process again.

"Where do you guys get off thinking it's your job to get involved in the HVCC mess? What's in it for you?"

(Seriously, this was a real question.) Let's think it through. If appraisers don't get paid, they decide not to be appraisers anymore, and that really cuts down on their need to buy appraisal software. Are we hoping that our advocacy efforts will contribute to appraisers switching to us from our competitors? It sure hasn't hurt. But like you, we are a business, and typically businesses like to stay in business.

"I use WinTOTAL Aurora, and have an XSite. What's the best way to start an order?"

If you have an office with appraisers working remotely, the best place to start the order is on the XSite. From there, you can assign the order to the correct appraiser. The next time the appraiser runs net.X Connect, the order will be downloaded into their copy of WinTOTAL Aurora. This method works best for this scenario because the WinTOTAL reports are only created in the copy of WinTOTAL that will actually be completing the job.

Conversely, if all your appraisers work in the office on a network, even with multiple appraisers on a single machine, it's easiest to start the order in WinTOTAL's Order PowerView and mark the report as an XSite Order. The next time you run net.X Connect, the report will be added to your XSite.

"Should I use DaVinci inside WinTOTALor continue with Apex? "

Absolutely you should use DaVinci instead of Apex. Since we made it, we're biased. Let's get that out of the way. Aside from that, there are several less biased reasons to use DaVinci. The first is that it costs nothing. The second is that there are several key features that make sketching easier, like the ability to click on an individual wall and change the dimension without having to reopen an area and hit delete 10 times to get back to the wall you need to change. The third is that since we made it, we can maintain it and give you the same top-notch 24X7 service you expect, rather than asking you to deal with an outside vendor. For more information, including how-to videos, visit www.alamode.com/DaVinci.

"I've put a lot of time into my XSite, but want to change the theme and other items. Can I save what I've got now and reuse it later?"

Absolutely. Enterprise level XSites have a "Snapshot" feature that lets you back up your theme and content so you can restore it later. For example, if you change things up on your XSite to match a particular season or if you have a special campaign, you can save a snapshot of your site before the changes and then restore them once the season or promotion is over.

"What's the easiest way to add PDFs or large plat map images to a page in my report?"

In a report, click the innocuously named "Add Document" button on the toolbar. Then choose what kind of file you need to import. Choose what kind of page you want it to be, give it a title, browse for the file, and like magic it's pulled into the report.

"What's the scoop on Windows Vista®? Is it safe to upgrade or should I wait?"

Yes, it's "safe." Or as safe as any complete upgrade to a PC's Operating System can be. The trick is to make sure you have a healthy amount of RAM, a good processor, and a decent video card. It's a new OS (although it's over two years old now), and like all new ones, it takes a little more juice from your PC to run it. If you have a six year old XP computer, and after upgrading to Vista it suddenly runs slower, don't be surprised. You never really gave it a fighting chance. As for WinTOTAL Aurora, it runs just fine on Vista, as does Armstrong, which actually is the only appraisal formfiller to have earned the "Certified for Windows Vista®" designation.

"I get lots of calls to do free comp checks. How can we get people to understand that we don't work for free and that these are a potential USPAP violation?"

First of all, BE POLITE and resist the urge to just slam the phone down. Even though you're not going to do free work for the person at that moment, it doesn't mean they aren't going to hire you at some point in the future. Russell Kitzberger of PointerAppraisal.com tells us he regularly converts these requests into money calls.

Russ starts by explaining they're busy with appraisals for customers that value their services. He assures the prospect he's familiar with the level of analysis the secondary market requires and throws in an example of how they often provide an active or pending listing in their assignments. He'll also ask what their office uses to find sales data. When it's, "I tried Zillow and sales are all over the place", he explains there are indeed huge variances and those "free" sources just aren't conclusive like a real appraisal.

Bottom line, these calls are an opportunity to establish competence and talk to the customer. Many originators and processors are new in the business or don't know your area. Share with them feedback you're getting from the underwriters and processors - with everything changing, this is a great chance to establish yourself as the source for credible information. Be the dude. The dude abides.

"You guys keep talking about how simple and straightforward Armstrong Standard (the next generation of wintotal) is going to be. Is it going to work with XSite plugins?

Absolutely. If you've read the article on XSites Desktop on page 6, then you understand that it houses various plugins. One of those plugins will be XSites Order Manager. The XSites Order Manager will poll for new orders, allow you to view them, open them in WinTOTAL (or whatever formfiller you use), and then deliver them when done. Statusing will be done via the XSites Desktop, and you'll be able to create new orders there as well. Unlike WinTOTAL Aurora, the XSites Order Management functions won't be integrated inside WinTOTAL. It will be similar to WinTOTAL Athena, in that they're two separate programs. But this time around XSite Order Manager will be housed inside XSites Desktop along with other important plugins.