The a la mode Advisor

Can I change the colors or images in the background and sides of my XSite?
Yes, we recently added this feature. To change them, log in to your XSite's Admin area and go to the Theme Preferences section of the Wizard. Scroll down to the bottom, and you'll see the "Customize Your Background" button. From there, you can choose from any of our provided backgrounds, or upload your own image to use.

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Is there a recommended way of organizing my reports in the File Cabinet?
Not necessarily, but there are some features in Aurora's File Cabinet that facilitate better file organization. The main thing is that in Aurora, you can create subfolders. Many appraisers use these to organize files by city, county, year or job type. For example, you could make a "2009" folder, with a sub folder for each county you cover. Or you could reverse that and make a folder for each county you cover, with sub folders for 2009, 2008, 2007, etc. A perk to organizing folders by date is that you can use that method to exclude old files and folders from Vault uploads. In the end it's really up to you, but we do recommend that you don't keep all your files in one single folder. Organizing them into folders and sub folders makes them load and display faster, as well as makes filtering and searching faster.

I recently got an e-mail from you about the XSites Desktop being included with my XSite. Where did you come up with the idea for the Collaborator plugin?
Our society has become more and more accustomed to getting information and communicating instantly from others using mobile phones, instant messaging clients, wikis and social networking sites. Technology not only puts these things right at our fingertips, but as a society we're growing to expect it. You and your clients, whether they're traditional lender clients or non-lender types, are no different. And being able to communicate better and more efficiently with clients and colleagues increases your opportunities to have more success growing your business and accomplishing more in less time.

Anyone who runs a business these days that's worth their salt knows that the Web is perhaps the single most important business tool today. It's where people come to find information about your company, what you do, how you do it, who you are, and make a decision about whether or not to buy from you. This is true if you're Amazon.com or ABC Appraisals. And since a website is so important, any opportunity you can get to "hook" a visitor while they're on your site is vital. Typically, browsing a website is anonymous. You don't know the visitor's name, e-mail address, or phone number. That's where the Collaborator comes in.

Having the Collaborator running on your XSite means you know when your site has a visitor, and it gives you the opportunity right then and there to start a conversation, get their name, e-mail address or phone number, and try to get them to place an order before they "get away."

Also, the Collaborator is built on top of the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), which is an open standard for IM applications. It's actually the same protocol used by Google Talk and Apple's iChat software. We layered in our own extensions that enable features like the ability to prompt an XSite visitor for their contact information with a custom form and being able to remote control the visitor's browser to specific pages on your XSite all while in the middle of a chat session.

My PC is admittedly well over the hill.  Is there a way I can make my File Cabinet faster (I’m on Aurora)?
You bet. The first thing I'd recommend is cutting down on the number of files you're storing in each folder in the Appraisal Desktop. (See the reader's earlier question on recommended ways of organizing the File Cabinet.) Also, you may want to turn off the auto-expand feature, being on an older computer. To do this, in your Appraisal Desktop click Options on the toolbar, then Configure WinTOTAL Settings, then uncheck "Automatically expand details grid." With this option turned off, clicking on a file will no longer automatically expand the report details.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I think I lost a client because I wasn't responsive enough. I try my best, but I'm a one man band. Do you have any suggestions on ways I can inexpensively and easily make some improvements?
That's a hard question to answer in an Advisor column, but it does bring up something I've been meaning to mention for some time now as it relates to being responsive - voicemail. One of the fastest ways to make sure a client gets a negative impression is to have a full voicemail box. If they need to get in touch with you, but can't because you didn't answer the phone and your voicemail box is full, that doesn't exactly make you look as though you're on the top of your game. The same goes for not having call waiting, and giving your clients a busy signal, as well as having your primary phone line also as your fax line. There are few sounds as irritating as the "fax screech" rattling your ear drum when calling someone's primary phone number.

Also, make sure to respond to e-mail quickly. You don't necessarily need to check e-mail 24 hours a day. But when you're wrapping up for the day, make sure you don't have any messages that still need responding too. Mobile technology, specifically cell phones, make it simple to check e-mail anytime and with very little hassle.

I'm in my 50's and single. I've seen a very attractive, also single, gentleman about my age at the last few AI chapter meetings. Got any good pick-up lines?
You could always try something like, “Hi, none of my amenities are functionally obsolescent, and I’d like you to be my intended user this evening.”  Or perhaps, “Is that a DISTO in your pocket or are you just…?”  If appraisal humor isn’t your thing, a safe bet would be, “Hi, my name is [withheld to protect the out of practice].  I’ve noticed you here the last few meetings and wondered if you’d like to buy me a cup of coffee?” Happy hunting!

When defining an area in DaVinci, what's the difference between "Non-Living Area" and "Subtract From Living Area"?
"Subtract From" will do just what it says. It'll subtract the amount from the total living area. You'll want to be careful when selecting this option. You should only use "Subtract From" when the area you're sketching is inside a previously drawn area. A stairwell that is open to below is a good example of when you should subtract from living area. The "Subtract From" amount goes in the Living Area column as a negative number.

Setting an area to "Non-Living" will just put the amount in the Non-Living column and won't subtract anything. Unless you're drawing stairwells or other open to below areas, it's probably best to use this option. And when "cutting out" a garage from an existing living area, you'll notice that DaVinci automatically redraws the living area and recalculates the square footage area. In that case you won't need to set the new area to "Subtract From".

I see you guys are now DISTO distributors. I've seen these before and saw your promotions over the last several months. I've always thought my trusty tape measure was fine. What's the real story with these devices?
Have you ever thought that there must be an easier way to measure a building than trying to keep a tape measure lined up with the corner of an exterior wall over a great distance, gotten tired of ripping shirts on the shrubs, slogging through mud or tip-toeing through landscaping? The DISTO works by placing the unit at a wall's corner and shooting a red laser at the far end, giving a precise measurement. If you have nothing specific to aim at it includes a Pythagoras function (a2 + b2 = c2) so you can measure a wall from afar. The next time you're in a class or with a group of appraisers, ask if anyone uses a DISTO. Then, ask that person if they'd ever go back to a tape measure. The DISTO is simply faster, easier and more accurate than dragging a tape measure around.