After seeing Valcre’s demo for the first time, Alex McIntosh, MAI’s mouth was on the floor. He couldn’t believe that all the tools and weapons he had been introduced to working for CBRE were now available to appraisers regardless of your place of employment.
It didn’t take long before Alex and his business partner, Geof Carmack, pulled the trigger on Valcre. After several years of working in corporate, the two broke out and started MAC Advisory and Valuation Services (Little Rock, Arkansas).
Read on to learn how Valcre provided Alex and Geof with a smooth transition from corporate to private practice.
Tell me a bit about MAC Valuation and your relationship with Valcre.
MAC Valuation was founded almost four years ago to the week, which coincidentally coincides closely with Valcre and their launch.
I started as a residential hack appraiser right out of college—about 48 hours after I graduated I got into it. I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do after college, but I started down that road in Northwest Arkansas, which is the home of Walmart Tyson Foods & J.B. Hunt.
I quickly transitioned into the commercial side, as well as litigation, eminent domain, trial testimony and trial support work. I worked for a small boutique firm with not a lot of technological weapons so to speak.
In 2006-2007, I switched to the biggest firm in the state and had about 15 full-time certified generals with absolutely no technological weapons. So in a way I went backwards. I stayed there for about 10 years. I got my certified general in 2006 and the MAI designation in 2010.
I stayed with them and was happy, but then the opportunity came to go to one of the big three firms—CBRE as their only vice president in the state.
It was a complete 180 as far as technology goes. I think everything was really predestined that I needed to really see the other side of the coin if you will,. CB at the time, In 2015 right out of the gate they sent all of their appraisers to a two- or three-day crash course on their Excel and Word interfaces and how their databases talk to their Excel models. It was a pretty steep learning curve coming from the stone ages.
Having seen that, I could see the importance of a really high-powered database system with all of the integration, all of the mapping features and all of the tools and toys that Valcre has.
To get more to your point about our background with Valcre, I’ve made friends all over the country through appraisal circles and professional groups and one of the guys that I quickly became friends with was Chris Ponsar, MAI, SRA (Ponsar Valuation) out of Honolulu, Hawaii.
When we met in 2013-2014, Chris was with the biggest residential firm in Hawaii. After a few too many glasses of wine with him, we talked about going over to CB. My current business partner had decided to go to CB in 2014 and I told Chris that I was thinking about going over there.
I didn’t see him for an extended period of time, but the next time we met up in Nashville or Dallas he said, “I’m leaving my firm to go to work for CBRE, is there a head residential guy out there?” We commiserated in 2015 and 2016 that we didn’t really like the corporate life so much.
We started having the same conversation almost simultaneously in the summer of 2016 and he said, “We’ve both gotten a taste of these systems and we never wanted to get away from that because once you have that power it’s really a game-changer.” We were both looking at another software provider and some of the older systems at that time.
A friend of ours locally, here in Arkansas told us, “If you guys haven’t seen Valcre, take the hour tour and let them walk you through it.”
My jaw was on the floor. I could not believe it. It was the same technology that the big boys use, only it was better. Valcre doesn’t have all the glitches and the bugs.
Lucas Rotter explained it to us and he hit the nail on the head—all of those old Excel models that the big boys use are built on old templates that have been piggybacked with code written on top of code written on top of code. And Valcre’s goal was to not have that issue(s). These Excel models are going to be fresh and refreshed every so often. You’re going to start with a fresh Excel model that doesn’t have glitches in it or macros that you have to run to initiate different modules.
After I saw Valcre, the first phone call I made was to Chris Ponsar. I told him, “Whatever you do, do not buy that other software. I want you to look at Valcre.” He called me back three days later and told me he had already bought it and was inputting data and writing reports.
We did a 30 day trial beginning in November 2017 and the rest is history.
Can you elaborate on your experience working in a corporate atmosphere and what it was that you were looking to pivot away from by starting your own appraisal business? In what ways did Valcre help support you in that venture?
A lot of the things that no one likes is equal across the board. A lot of heavy handed micromanaging and dealing with glitches, which to this day still exist.
I got to the point on more than one occasion at CB where you’d get 20 hours into a report and the whole Excel model locks up on you. Then you have to send it off to god knows where for tech support to fix it. But then they don’t fix it. And then you’ve lost all your work and you’re behind on deadlines.
Literally when I saw the very first demo, it didn’t look exactly like the big firm’s models, but it was as close to anything that I could imagine with all the functionality. We got a lot of heartburn on the price on the front end—we were thinking, “Do we really want to commit to this?” One of the negatives, I know y’all probably don’t want to highlight it, but it’s something everyone has to get over, is just it takes 6-9 months to get all the data in there to where it starts becoming efficient and paying for itself.
I had used other appraisal report writing software and some of the other writing mechanisms, but they were just way too complicated and had too much fluff. I don’t want to say you need bare bones, but you have to have some flexibility and having that background with a national firm’s system, we were able to produce templates that speed up our processes.
More importantly when we formed the company, we said having trained between me and Geof combined 20 appraisers over our professional lifespan, we wanted the ability to build these templates and put a college grad on a computer and say, “Figure it out.” Because that’s unfortunately how every appraisal company in the world functions is sink or swim. Being able to have that database tool, we felt confident that the price was worth it and it really advanced us. I don’t think we would be here in the same capacity without Valcre.
What’s your history with your business partner Geof?
He started back in the 90’s at a firm here in Little Rock who uses Valcre because of us. I joined that company in 2006-2007 and we worked there together for about 10 years. He went to CB first, then I went over not quite a year later. We had enough of the corporate BS.
At the end of the day, it’s all a factor of money when you’re having to split your fees and your earnings are based on a fee split, then it makes a lot more sense for us to go out on our own and try to compete with the big guys.
To have Valcre, our clients know that we have all the tools that even Colliers, JLL, and any of those guys have. That’s a huge advantage for us. It wasn’t even there in the market prior to 2016.
Geof saw the demo just a couple days after I did and he said, “That’s just unbelievable that you can go out and purchase this technology and immediately be light years ahead of the competition.”
You mentioned the cost being a bit of a pain point for you at the beginning, would it be fair to say Valcre is paying for itself now that you are a few years in?
Oh yeah. And we knew that going in. Consciously I knew it would take at least 6 months to build that database to where you’re not sitting there day in and day out having to fight it and keep pumping data into it. Valcre is definitely worth the cost.
My one bug that I would share is that our average fees don’t really compare to places like Los Angeles or Honolulu…but at the end of the day, we are more than happy with it. We’re pretty much married to it.
How many people are in your office and are they all using Valcre?
There’s a total of four of us right now. At one point we were at five, but currently there’s three certified generals and one trainee, all of whom use Valcre.
How has Valcre supported your team through the pandemic?
One asset that we utilize is the job tracking and being able to tell workflow management. Being able to see where our staff is in the process. Every week is different. Sometimes we’re a month to six weeks out on deliveries and Valcre has definitely been able to help us manage the workflow in real time.
Be able to see when reports are being delivered. We don’t use some of the billing elements of it, but a lot of people do and I know a lot of Valcre users love it. They don’t have to use a second system for tracking billing.
Can you tell me a bit more about what the onboarding process was like?
Really there was not a tremendous learning curve or threshold. I can’t give enough praise about that. It was really easy. I don’t think I had to call Valcre’s tech support for a month or two or three. And after that it was just a user error—I wasn’t paying attention to a training video.
After we got Valcre, there was probably a month where we were just using it as purely a database system as opposed to a fully integrated report writing system. And that was just because it took a little while to input enough market data.
We cover markets from Tennessee to Oklahoma and Arkansas. And we might work in Memphis or Tulsa every other month, so trying to get a sampling of office sales in central Tennessee versus apartment rents in Broken Arrow Oklahoma— it just took a little while. Once we had enough market data and felt comfortable going over to the report writing side, it was almost seamless.
The onboarding was seamless. That’s why Valcre is so powerful—it has a lot of the learning curve built into it with the templates. By the third or fourth month, we were already full steam into Valcre. Just as we had planned, by month seven or month nine, we were fully operational and had gotten away from the old hunt and peck, copy and paste stuff.
What would you want your peers to know about what the transition to Valcre has been like?
Our team members have real-world, substantive real estate investment experience, so we understand that a run-of-the-mill “rearview mirror” approach to appraisal will not work for your needs.
One thing that our clients like is that Valcre gives us the opportunity to customize our data to separate markets. Where that largely stems from is a healthy database.
You can’t deliver a report with irrelevant data. With Valcre, we can customize our data. It’s a lot of work but our clients don’t want to see data that’s out of market. They want to see relevant, timely, confirmed information with all of the data metrics as far as gross income, cap rates, net income and the expenses comps.
What that shows your client is that you’re active and that you’re keeping up with 50 different markets that all act differently. While the big guys can do that to some degree with their systems, Valcre is very user-friendly to be able to go in and shine a light on a small market.
We don’t want our work product to look like it came out of a cookie cutter appraisal shop where we’re not taking the time to work on every single job like you should to crank the volume out.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate Valcre and your experience.
Compared to your competitors I would give it a 10. I’m just a negative person by nature so I would probably tell Lucas a 9 because there are some little things I would like to see better. We are more than happy with it though.
I’ve seen most of the old competition. I know y’all have new people out there trying to mimic you. I don’t think there’s any other analogous product out there that has the power, the ease of use, or the learning curve as Valcre.
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Alex McIntosh, MAI is the co-principle of MAC Valuation Group. He began his career working in the real property valuation industry in 2003 in Fayetteville, AR. working across the states of Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana. He is a graduate of the Walton School of Business of the University of Arkansas.
MAC VG specializes in complex real property advisory across a variety of property types and uses including retail, office, multi-unit residential, industrial, agricultural and other specialized categories. Receiving the MAI designation and Certified General (CG) licensure by the age of 30, made him the youngest designee and CG appraiser in the state of Arkansas for an extended period of time.