If you think starting your own appraisal business during a pandemic sounds impossible, think again. Valcre user Cash Gill, MAI of Cash Gill & Associates opened his St. Louis-based appraisal shop six months into a global pandemic. One year, a subscription to Valcre, four computer monitors, two admin and one trainee later, and Gill has himself a profitable business.
This isn’t the first time Gill has found success by centering technology. Early in his appraisal career, he helped his father’s appraisal business (Gill Group) reach new heights by ditching the paper trail and embracing more efficient online systems.
Valcre is here to help you do the same thing. Read on to learn how.
What was the major pain point that led you to sign up with Valcre?
I prefer to use some kind of format that is Excel or Word because I’m good at both of those. I was using Narrative 1 and it just did not have enough features. I could go in and edit everything and build my templates, but I looked at Valcre and it has all those things built in there and I don’t have to go back and change a bunch of things. They’ve already edited a bunch of the Excel so that it changes [based on] whatever analysis
type you want to do, whatever grid you want to use – all of those different things just by drop-down menus – and adding and deleting different fields in the Word document so it all merges the way you want your report to look. In Narrative1, it was just a lot harder to do.
The reason I picked Valcre, though, is because I used to be an owner of Gill Group, which is a nationwide department appraisal company, and they had signed up with Valcre. If we ever worked together on something and wanted to use the same systems that they use—that was pretty important for me too.
How did you first hear about Valcre?
John called me. It came at the exact right time.
When you demoed Valcre for the first time, what were some of the first noticeable differences aside from the Excel and Word integrations?
So, the online platform for getting started—other services have that kind of stuff too, but I like the way it’s laid out and I like how you can add whatever files you want to the online service. You can put everything on there that you need. It also tracks your reports. You can put reports that you bid on, win or lose, the reports you’re working on, and the reports you’ve sent. Also, all the comparables are easy to search. I wouldn’t say they’re any easier than other services to search for, but I do like that feature.
I work in it all day long, so I actually have it pulled up right now. [Looking at his computer screen] So I like how they’ve branded my reports so I didn’t have to go in and do any of that. They update anything that I add as far as making anything my template, they’ll update that and add it to my dashboard so I can access it.
I like how you can pull your signature in so you’re not just copying and pasting from a file into a Word document. And then all of the statistics and everything—I love how it works with Site To Do Business and the US Census Bureau. It works well with Costar. Also, an investor survey we use called PwC. I have a subscription for that and it pulls in all of the cap rates and also exposure or marketing time – one or the other.
The Site To Do Business does all of my demographics. Before that, I was having to go pull everything piece by piece off of the census and build it myself. It would take 2-3 hours. Now it takes one minute.
I have all of my local area development, which takes quite a bit of time no matter how you put it together before [Valcre]. Now I just have to go on Costar (using my subscription) because Costar is updated all day long every day and it has all of the information I need right there so all I have to do is input whatever area I want and then I can go and look at those properties and then I can do my analysis based on the actual inputs that come in. And I cross-check it.
The regional unemployment data from the census is awesome. It gives me several different charts that I can use to determine what’s going on with unemployment, which is always going to help with the analysis—so it’s just added information there.
I really like the market analysis because before I was putting together my own and determining what all needed to go in there. The one that Valcre put together actually has everything that I put but then it also has the enhanced market analysis which is great because it’s going to show not just the typical stuff that goes in there – which is 5 years, what’s been happening, what might happen with rents and vacancies and the market.
Yet, then it goes in and gives us in-depth information about what’s been happening in the last 10 years, and then what is projected to happen in the next five years with vacancies and rents and deliveries and absorption. It gives you a really good idea of what’s going on and you don’t have to go out there and pull these together, build your own charts and figure that out. It actually does it for you right there and gives you the charts and everything. It’s just really helpful to make sure you’re not making any incorrect assumptions doing your own market analysis. You still do your own aside from this. But this gives you all the information.
Why are all of these efficiencies important for you as a business owner and appraiser?
Everything boils down to how I’m going to be able to make money, right? Like any business. With being a small business owner, it’s just me and a couple of other people; I’m the only one doing appraisals right now. If I’m sitting here typing everything out in Excel and Word and I just put everything together, first of all, it’s not going to look as good. Somebody took time to build this – it looks really good, they do whatever colors you want and all that, but it actually looks really professional. Whereas I would just be building grids in Excel, outlining them, and then copying and pasting them as pictures.
So, first of all, they look good, second of all, I’m able to do most of the front-end of the report in Excel and cross-check all of the calculations and everything, which is pretty much spot on.
That’s going to take away a lot of my time having to start from scratch and build these, or even if I already have my templates and have to refill the information and all of that.
It’s going to merge everything from all of the sources and it takes so much time off my plate.
For example, let’s say I got an order today to inspect within an hour. I go do that inspection, I come back and I start my report. If I’m pulling all this information, I’m typing all this myself, not using databases, using paper, and having to type everything in, you’re looking at almost a week per report. I just got off the Missouri Real Estate Appraiser Commission and when you apply for your general certification, you have to submit a work log. A rule-of-thumb is that they estimate a basic commercial appraisal takes 30 hours. So you’re looking at just about a week’s worth of work doing one commercial appraisal.
With [Valcre] I can do one in two or three days so you’re cutting at least a day off, maybe two off of an appraisal using this kind of software. Narrative1 is what I used before; it took probably 25-30 percent longer to do it in Narrative1 than it does in [Valcre]. I’ve got this to where I can do a lot of reports so that those extra days are spent either trying to get more work, doing licensing CE, or all the other things that go along with appraising. I’m able to do the appraisal and my extra work in one week. Every week that I’m working, where I would’ve been doing just an appraisal that week and then have to find time to do that other stuff on the weekends, I’m able to use a full work week to do not only the appraisal but all the other things that go with it: the bookkeeping, the marketing, the licensing, the CE, all of those sorts of things.
It makes a whole business on a week-to-week model instead of doing appraisals during the week and doing all your extra stuff on the weekend. So working five days instead of seven.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Generally whatever my kids want to do. They’re 8 and 9 years old–a girl and a boy. We generally go on hikes or play football or basketball or tennis or go on bike rides. And then we like to travel.
Tell me about your appraisal business?
It’s important to know where I came from first. I started at Gill Group about 20 years ago. My dad built that business. Had it going decently until I got out of college. I grew it basically 1,000% in 15 years. When I left it was 10 times the size as when I got there. I was in charge of all the marketing. I got my MAI while working there at 26. I was the youngest MAI in the history of the Appraisal Institute. I was on the commission. I was on all these boards for affordable housing. I built that business up. Then I took a job at a local appraisal company and was there just a little while and then decided they weren’t doing what I like so I decided to start my own.
So I just started up late last year in the middle of COVID so it was hard to get a start. It seems like everyone’s going full force this year because I’ve got all that I can handle. Right now it’s just me and I have a trainee who is starting a single-family office for me, and then I have two admin people
e. That’s the size of the company, but I’m still able to do volume. I don’t let anyone help with my reports because I can do them pretty quickly and I just don’t need anyone’s help.
Right now I just have a home office because it’s just mainly me and everybody can do the other stuff I need from their home. My office is basically a desktop computer with four screens and a giant table which is my desk. I don’t have filing cabinets or anything like that. Everything is all digital. I don’t keep hard copies unless I have to. I don’t have a lot of paper. My expenses are limited to whatever it costs me to do the work—my computer, utilities, subscriptions, and all of that stuff. Doing it this way I can make quite a bit of profit on the actual gross that I have. That’s how I’m set up.
Can you tell me about what it was like to kick off during COVID? How did Valcre support you in this?
Putting the sign out for myself in the middle of COVID, I‘m not able to go out and meet a bunch of people. So basically the only marketing I could do was cold calling and emails and any kind of print or digital marketing. During that time the best thing that Valcre did for me was they helped me put out the product easier, faster and I think better than a lot of my competition. I was able to show them this really good work product, get it to them pretty fast and it looked professional. Because my dad is an appraiser and I’ve got all the background and all that, I’m able to do the analysis quickly anyway, but I do more in-depth analysis so that would be me not Valcre doing all that. But that’s how I was able to get started. And Valcre’s contribution to that was their platform. [Valcre] allowed me to be able to put out this really great product and have all this extra analysis that I normally wouldn’t do included on top of my normal analysis. So
they’re getting their reports faster, for less money, looking great, and with all of this analysis—and they’re just getting it for less money. It’s perfect for lenders and those types of people. Even though they slowed down, they still had a trickle of work, and what I found was I was able to get a lot of them to trickle to me because I was able to do those things using Valcre.
What was it like setting up your team during COVID?
That wasn’t difficult just because a lot of people were looking for work. The team I have contacted me. We had Zoom interviews and Zoom meetings and all that.
As far as technology goes, how does your set-up now compare to that of your dad’s appraisal company?
I started there in 2000. With affordable housing, you have to do specific [inaudible] that are required by HUD, and those were done in Excel. Well, they were still printing the reports out and sticking those in there so they weren’t even adept at copying and pasting pictures from Excel to Word, but that was also over 20 years ago.
I helped a lot with the technology going all through there. After three or four years of me working there, everything was digital. We got rid of a warehouse full of files. One day we said no more paper, no more files, everything is digital with a backup in a fireproof room. They still kept the files for another 10 years just in case. After 10 years of being digital they got rid of all the papers; they got rid of a warehouse.
The technology kept up with me because I kept saying we had to, and also my dad is very tech-savvy and always looking for the next thing. He brought on At Value and then it was Edge and then it was Narrative 1 and then they went to Valcre. I wasn’t there for the transition to Valcre, so I don’t know how that happened, but he was always the one pushing it. He wouldn’t let us get behind in technology. He just hadn’t had that training with Word and Excel-like I had just coming from college. When I came in I was able to bring all that kind of stuff to them. My dad is always preaching technology and I don’t differ from him as far as technology goes.
I do have to have four screens whereas they normally have two. I just have too many things going on at once. I told my wife I could have eight and be fine.
The way I see it is people have all of these offices with all of this different stuff, but, in my mind, when I come into my office and I sit down at my desk, I’ve got the whole world right here in front of me and that’s my office. It’s never-ending, it’s right there, I can get anything I want as fast as I want it and it’s just great. That’s how I see an office in this box.
Cash Gill and Associates’ slogan is “Deadlines Matter” — how does Valcre support your company with this mission?
They help me with a few different things. First, I’m able to see all of my workloads. As soon as I bid on something I put it in Valcre. As soon as I get it awarded, I put it in there and it shows me when it’s due so I have all my pending jobs – jobs I’m working on and when they’re due right there I know exactly what I need to do.
The second thing is that Valcre helps me pull things from all of my different subscriptions, put things together in nice charts and merge things into Word faster. They help me meet deadlines by helping me get everything done before it needs to be done. I can send it to clients and the clients can review it. If there are any comments or they need further explanation or anything, it’s always done before the deadline. Let’s say they give me a deadline of three weeks: I get them the report in two or two and a half weeks, then by three weeks they’re ready to finalize or are ready for their file, loan, case, etc. Valcre helps me with that because I’m able to put all of this together and do the reports more quickly and I know I can rely on the information. I am confident that what I send to my clients and my reports aren’t going to be wrong.
The third thing is my questions get answered so fast. The other day I was looking for how to add tax comparables to my report and I know it’s possible because in the Word document there’s a space for tax comps, but I couldn’t find the button. Rather than sending an email, I hit the chat button and sent a message. They said they would get back to me in two days. Maybe an hour later someone had sent me screenshots of exactly what to do. I know when I send emails asking questions or any edits, that stuff is always done really quickly. I know whatever I’m doing if I have questions that are not going to make me miss a deadline because they’re going to answer my questions and they’re going to help me get it done. All of that works together to help me get these reports done which clients love.
All I can say is [Valcre] is great. It covers all of my needs. It helps me do everything faster and better and it reduces my cost to do everything so I’m able to offer lower prices to my clients and still make more money than I was making before.